What is not religion

I remember when I was a young child, I found a video my dad had that was a man (probably a Fundamentalist Christian) arguing for the case that America is a Christian nation and was founded as such.  I recall at one point that he argued that atheism is a religion.  That was probably the first time I had heard such an argument, and it may have even been one of the first times I heard the word "atheist".  Since that day, I have heard the argument many times by many different people.

One time, I even said it to my office mate who was atheist.  This would become the first time I was exposed to an argument against the claim that atheism is a religion.  His case was that religion usually involves some sort of ritual or ceremony (baptism, communion, etc), of which atheism is devoid.  At the time, I thought it was a rather weak argument.  And I still think it's only part of a complete argument (just as cereal is part of a complete breakfast).

I don't really want to argue here whether atheism is a religion. I assert that it is not, and I'll briefly give some of the reasons why I believe this, but I don't want it to become central to today's post.  As mentioned above, I think a religion should involve some kind of ritual.  But, aside from that, religion requires active belief in something (a god, many gods, some kind of supernatural explanation of the natural world) whereas atheism is merely the position that things which are claimed should be supported with evidence, and that the more spectacular the claim, the more substantial the evidence backing it should be.

What I do want to talk about in this post is my own thoughts on why I think people say things like "atheism is a religion".  I've just recently heard a few people say that they think science and academia are religions.  I was completely baffled when I first heard this.  I would like to know what kind of argument someone would have for supporting the claim that academia is a religion.  Or how science qualifies for that word.

So, I've been musing about it and here is one conclusion that I came to.  The word "religious" and its adverbial form "religiously" are used to describe religion, but also as synonymous with "dogmatic" or "dogmatically".  Of course, I see good reason for this: most religions (until some of the more recent ones) are dogmatic.  Most religions require their members to follow a strict code of conduct, and those who do so are very devoted, very rigorous in their observance--very "religious".

I think this is perhaps one reason why people use the word "religion" (and its derivatives) to describe science, academia, atheism, and other things that I believe are completely lacking in anything resembling a religious belief.  It is because there are those in science who are dogmatic about science.  There are those who claim that science is the ultimate end-all be-all.  I assert that much of what we know about our universe is due to science, and that certainly the scientific method is a tried and true way of learning truth. And I think those who take science for what it is are in no danger of interpreting it as a religion.  But there are those who dogmatically follow science and even go so far as to condemn any other way of learning.  So, they are dogmatic scientists (or followers of science).

Likewise, there are those in academica that treat academia as a dogma.  But, in either case, I don't think there's cause to call it "religion".  There is no entity being worshipped, there are no rituals or rites that are performed.  Okay, in academia there is a lot of ceremony, but I think that's quite different.  I don't think there's anything religious about academia.  At times dogmatic, but never religious.

In short, I think that one main reason why the word "religion" is used to describe things such as atheism, academia, and science is because it is used synonymously with "dogma".  In fact, many dictionaries even include a definition for religion something like "a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance".  I don't believe that this word should be used in this way.  I think that it should be reserved for a specific kind of belief, but I'm sure I'm not the only one with an opinion on what the definition of "religion" should be.  I think the problem with being too inclusive with definitions is that it destroys the purpose of vocabulary.  If anything that people get overly excited about is called a religion, then it would include virtually every hobby and personal interest that we have.  So, I think that it should be reserved for things where people claim to worship a supernatural being or claim to have some connection with the supernatural world.

At any rate, I would say that science, academia, and atheism are most definitely not religion.  I admit that in just about any group of people, there are those who are dogmatic and stubbornly insist that their way of understanding things is the best, and I also believe that such behavior is silly, but I think that religion is just one place where such behavior is found, not the only place.  I think the world is much more amazing and wondrous when you admit that you don't know all there is to know, that there are wonderful things out there waiting to be discovered, and that no one has all the answers.