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what is meant by 'religion'?

Reader comment on item: "The Battle against Islamism Has Not Yet Started"
in response to reader comment: Is Islam a Religion?

Submitted by rw (United States), Sep 15, 2016 at 22:09

Dear Dr Pipes,

There is a problem here with the word 'religion'. You have noted, I presume, correctly that the term 'terrorist' has been emptied of most of its meaning; this is a view I trust because I trust your expertise. When it comes to discussions of 'religion' I think you are not on such good ground.

What is or is not a religion? Is a belief system a religion because it talks about God? Then Buddhism is not a religion. Is a system a religion because it has a firm stance on 'spiritual' issues, controls people's lives, conducts rites of passage for birth, marriage, death, etc.? Then Soviet atheism/communism was a religion. We can go on . . . the term religion is not a helpful one.In fact etymologically, the word religion probably refers to a set of behaviours to which a person is bound. The King James Bible uses the word correctly - 'pure religion and undefiled before God the Father is to visit the widow and orphan'. It is correct also to say "I religiously buy my lottery ticket every Saturday morning."

One result of this is that no special privilege should be accorded any belief system simply because it might be termed a religion. Each belief system is exactly that, a system or set of beliefs. Accordingly it is to be judged as such — what does the belief system say?

To say that 'islam is a religion' is an essentially meaningless statement (unless there is the deliberate intent of according it a privileged status). Like everything other belief system it needs to be judged for what it says. This will certainly in the case of islam lead to its rejection; in the end this is the western world's only real defence against islam - subject it to critical scrutiny.


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