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Author Topic: Atheism: A religion?  (Read 17562 times)
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Last Login:July 30, 2011, 05:18:30 pm
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« Reply #21: January 11, 2009, 06:17:23 pm »

I suppose the question is "what in the various differences is substantive, and why should it be considered a meaningful point of differentiation between these things (e.g. atheism, capitalism) and a religion?".

This would require a definition of religion, which is the tricky bit.  Cheesy

I'm inclined towards a Wittgensteinian attitude towards definitions in general, and religion is no exception. I do think there are both substantive and structural markers of a religion -- substantive markers include, for example, theism of some sort, devotionalism, an idea of some sort of right conduct in life, etc. while structural markers include, for example, holy texts, places of worship, a clerical institution, etc. Hence Theravada Buddhism in general would qualify as a religion despite being relatively atheistic, because it ticks many other definitional boxes.

There are both substantive and structural differences between religion (in general) and capitalism and atheism (in general). (I note in general because, following a Wittgensteinian attitude to definitions means that it's possible to conceive of belief systems on the cusp of each category, such as a religion that prioritises capitalist acquisition as a means to salvation.)

A substantive difference between capitalism and religion would be, for example, an exclusively materialistic focus in the former compared to the metaphysical emphasis of the latter. This substantive difference reflects itself in structural differences, so that capitalism has places of commerce but religion has places of worship, for example. (This example also highlights how both are interlinked; it's primarily because of substantive differences that we can tell places of commerce apart from places of worship.)

Similarly, while structurally you could say atheism and religion were similar in having 'congregations' or 'temples' or 'a position on the existence of a god', it's generally a metaphor that's only sustainable as long as you ignore substantive differences. The big one being that, while it's true atheism and most religions share something in common in having a position on the existence of god, this structural similarity shouldn't obscure the substantive difference that those positions are often diametric opposites. And of course, atheism in general not only lacks but often directly opposes other substantive markers of religion such as devotionalism.

To this you could object that atheist 'congregations' and 'temples' have functional similarities to a religious congregation or temple, e.g. being a place to meet people of like mind about religion, psychologically bolster belief in a doctrine, etc. But this again dismisses the substantive differences, namely that atheists of like mind will still be quite unlike religious believers, or that the doctrine in atheism is opposed to the doctrine in most religions, etc.

Is there a reason to emphasise the substantive differences between religion and capitalism/atheism, or that the substantive differences should influence the way we look at any structural or functional similarities? Yes, I think so, and the reason is that religion, capitalism, and atheism are belief systems. Beliefs are primarily distinguished by their content or substance, so ultimately differentiating belief systems rests more on substantive rather than other kinds of analysis. If we were looking at different kinds of living room furniture, for example, a functional analysis might be more dominant, simply because the way you tell chairs and tables apart is seldom by the substance they're made of, but what they're used for.

Of course, YMMV.  Wink

EDIT: P.S. I don't have any real grounding in these matters so I have no idea what a philosopher of religion, for example, would say. Just my two cents.

'Whatever such a mind sees is a flower, and whatever such a mind dreams of is the moon.' - Basho

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