jump to navigation

Religion as a Club January 9, 2009

Posted by Ian in Religion.
Tags: ,

One of the biggest problems that I have with religions is not that they exist, but that they expect their existence to warrant special attention.  There is not really any justification for this however despite a long tradition of society giving religion a special place in the world.  This begs the question of why we do so, and whether or not we should do so.

Why Religion is Treated Specially?

I think this is fairly easy to answer historically.  In tribal times the shaman (or similar) was a man of significant power in the tribe.  For some tribes he was the leader but for most he had a role that was an advisory role to the chief of other leaders.  Leap forward to the so-called civilised times and we see a very similar pattern evolving in different civilisations.  Many were literally run by religious creed while in most others religious figures were high level advisors.  There are a couple of reasons for this but the main one seems to be that most people historically have been religious in some form or another. 

In other words it is habit.  Call it tradition if you want but there is still no actual reason for religion to have any special standing in society other than the fact it always has.  It is a testament to how ingrained the habit is that saying so seems like a big deal but it really isn’t.  To see why, we need to briefly consider what a religion actually is.  Loosely speaking a religion is an organised system of beliefs that are shared by many people.  Whether those beliefs are true or not has no bearing on whether it is a religion or not.  There isn’t really anything more to religions than this… 

What do I Mean by a Special Place in Society?

There are many examples.  Some of these are official such as the inclusion of religion as a sufficient criteria for charity status or the enforced recognition of religious holidays (such as christmas day being a statutory holiday) or workplaces being forced to recognise an employees religious holidays.  

Others are unofficial but still significant such as the societal discomfort at discussing religious issues, the muted respect of religious beliefs regardless of veracity, and so forth. 

Should We Give Religion a Special Place?

It will surprise no-one that I think the answer is no.  If enough people believe something then in a democracy this will be reflected in the governing officials of a region or country – there is no need to grant it a special place regardless of it’s popularity or deservedness.  In that sense a church should be no different to a rugby club in terms of it’s respect, access to official protection or benefits, and so forth.  The point is not that religion should be denied everything but that religion should earn what benefits it gets.  I think modern day religious organisations are simply riding on their predecessor’s success and in some cases even abusing it. 

Why should religion be considered anything but a club?  It is a group of like minded people that do similar things and believe similar things.  In this sense it is hard to see how a Church is any different to a Scouts group or a tennis club.  It is worth noting that rugby players outnumber many religions in NZ – there are roughly 140,000 registered rugby union players which outnumbers all but four of the recorded religions in NZ.  There should be an option to do religious education just as there is an option to play rugby in school.  It should have no more or less signficance than that. 

I think it is clear that religious organisations are just clubs in practice but they are rarely treated as such.  I think it is high time that started to change.


1. Elliot Sanders - January 9, 2009

If you want to both shock and delight your friends during this Darwin Anniversary year, here’s something to pass on that an American evolutionary systems scientist has discovered. Here’s the result he discovered by simply running a computer word count on Darwin’s Descent of Man. In the whole book of 828 pages in fine print, “survival of the fittest” comes up only twice – once for Darwin to apologize for ever using the term. Contradicting the pseudoDarwinian paradigm for over 100 years, instead what shows up is: 95 times for love – with a single entry in the index still used today. 92 times for moral sensitivity. 200 times for brain and mind. Wholly contradicting Dawkins and the “selfish gene,” Darwin specifically writes that “selfishness” is “a base principle” accounting for “the low morality of savages.” Wholly contradicting Dawkins’s “blind watchmaker” Darwin writes of “blind chance”: “the understanding revolts at such a conclusion.” The revolutionary full story told in Darwin’s Lost Theory, Darwin on Love, Bankrolling Evolution, and Measuring Evolution by evolutionary systems scientist David Loye is now available from online book sellers worldwide. Published by progressive new American publisher Benjamin Franklin Press (www.benjaminfranklinpress.com). Behind all this lies the saga of the formation of The Darwin Project with Council of over fifty leading American, European, and Asian scientists and educators – including wellknown Brits (see http://www.thedarwinproject.com).

2. Ian - January 9, 2009

Thanks for a vaguely interesting comment that is entirely irrelevant 🙂 Also I suggest you read Dawkin’s book slightly deeper than it’s cover.

3. Dace - January 11, 2009

Ian, you might be interested in a recent article from the Dom. post, if you haven’t already seen it: http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominionpost/4814110a6479.html

…it looks as though there will be an option to recieve religious education or not for students in the state system. (Although I did cringe at the comment “Everyone’s beliefs should be treated with respect and all views equally valued.” – it seems to me that only people should be treated with respect, not every kooky opinion they happen to hold).
Speaking of which, have you also heard Daniel Dennett’s view on religious education? He argues that we *should* teach about religion, but that we should not teach one religion to the exclusion of others. We can teach about religions in an entirely secular way, an understanding of which is necessary to understand history and culture, and also include a module on atheism to complete the survey of beliefs. I think this is a very sensible option – it should satisfy theists (of all stripes) since their views get a hearing, but also atheists since they too get a hearing and they can be satisfied that the topic of religious belief is presented in the correct way, as diverse and a matter of choice. What do you think?

4. Ian - January 11, 2009

Thanks for that, I missed that article.

I agree entirely with Dennett’s view, which is slightly different to what where NZ is heading. I have no problem with education about religion – it is fundamental to history and to where we are today. My problem is teaching religious beliefs as if they had the same standing as science or mathematics – i.e. allowing religious indoctrination.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: