Thursday, March 27, 2008

What is religion? (Rut roh, I let a sociologist in)

While considering whether or not the Boy Scouts are a religion, it helps to have a definition of what a religion is. So let's see what Emile Durkheim said - or at least what L. Joe Dunman said that Durkheim said.

The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, the last major work published by Durkheim, five years before his death in 1917, is generally regarded as his best and most mature....

Durkheim set out to do two things, establish the fact that religion was not divinely or supernaturally inspired and was in fact a product of society, and he sought to identify the common things that religion placed an emphasis upon, as well as what effects those religious beliefs (the product of social life) had on the lives of all within a society.

Dunman then included several quotes from Durkheim:

"For we know today that a religion does not necessarily imply symbols and rites, properly speaking, or temples and priests. This whole exterior apparatus is only the superficial part. Essentially, it is nothing other than a body of collective beliefs and practices endowed with a certain authority."
(1973, p. 51 [excerpt from "Individualism and the Intellectuals"])

"A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices [relative] to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden -- beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them."
(1982, p. 129 [excerpt from The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life]

Of course, if you apply this definition, then the Boy Scouts could be considered a religion, while Hinduism or Unitarianism could not be considered a religion.

Here's what says about Hinduism:

Hinduism does not have any one founder, and it does not have a Bible or a Koran to which controversies can be referred for resolution.

Consequently, it does not require its adherents to accept any one idea. It is thus cultural, not creedal, with a history contemporaneous with the peoples with which it is associated.

Buzzle elaborates:

Supposed to be the world’s oldest practiced faith, Hinduism is actually not a religion at all. It does not have a single God concept and it has no rules laid down....

There is a great difference between the religious beliefs between the North, South, East and West of India. The South worships Shiva’s elder son (born from a seed of grass) Kartikeya. The West worships his younger son (born of Parvati’s’ skin), with an elephant head, Ganesha. The North worships the incarnations and of course, Durga, the Female power and the East worships Durga primarily. Apart from this, the regions where each of these Gods lie is also pilgrimage points, and accordingly, every year millions go for a visits up in the Himalayas, the abode of Shiva, and that of the Mother Goddess, braving snow, hail, mountain trails, and now, terrorism. Hindus seem to believe, either have full faith, or none at all.

And Off the Kuff addresses the 2004 Unitarian controversy in Texas, quoting from an expired article at

[A]ccording to the office of Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Denison Unitarian church isn't really a religious organization -- at least for tax purposes. Its reasoning: the organization "does not have one system of belief."...

Strayhorn's ruling, as well as a similar decision by former Comptroller John Sharp, has left the comptroller's office straddling a sometimes murky gulf separating church and state.

What constitutes religion? When and how should government make that determination? Questions that for years have vexed the world's great philosophers have now become the province of the state comptroller's office.

Questions about the issue were referred to Jesse Ancira, the comptroller's top lawyer, who said Strayhorn has applied a consistent standard -- and then stuck to it. For any organization to qualify as a religion, members must have "simply a belief in God, or gods, or a higher power," he said.

"We have got to apply a test, and use some objective standards," Ancira said. "We're not using the test to deny the exemptions for a particular group because we like them or don't like them."

So now we're back in Texas, where this whole thing started. And I never have looked at Rick Perry's views on religion. Here's an excerpt from the Dallas Morning News:

Gov. Rick Perry, after a God and country sermon attended by dozens of political candidates Sunday, said that he agreed with the minister that non-Christians will be condemned to hell.

"In my faith, that's what it says, and I'm a believer of that," the governor said.

The sermon was presided over by John Hagee.

Throughout much of the 90-minute service at Cornerstone Church, Mr. Perry sat on the red-carpeted stage next to the Rev. John Hagee. Mr. Perry was among about 60 mostly Republican candidates who accepted the invitation to be introduced to the megachurch's congregation of about 1,500, plus a radio and TV audience.

"If you live your life and don't confess your sins to God almighty through the authority of Christ and his blood, I'm going to say this very plainly, you're going straight to hell with a nonstop ticket," Mr. Hagee said during a service interspersed with religious and patriotic videos.

Perry was asked about Hagee's statement after the service:

Asked afterward at a political rally whether he agreed with Mr. Hagee, the governor said he didn't hear anything that he would take exception to.

He said that he believes in the inerrancy of the Bible and that those who don't accept Jesus as their savior will go to hell.

But remember that Perry is a politician:

A little later at another stop, the Republican incumbent clarified his beliefs.

"I don't know that there's any human being that has the ability to interpret what God and his final decision-making is going to be," Mr. Perry said. "That's what the faith says. I understand, and my caveat there is that an all-knowing God certainly transcends my personal ability to make that judgment black and white."

He added: "Before we get into Buddha and all the others, I get a little confused there. But the fact is that we live in a pluralistic world but our faith is real personal. And my Christian faith teaches that the way is through Jesus Christ."

Good Boy Scout response.

But speaking of John Hagee, True Discernment has raised some questions about Hagee's own beliefs. For example:

Pastor John Hagee’s new book, In Defense of Israel: The Bible’s Mandate for Supporting the Jewish State (Lake Mary, Florida: Front Line, 2007), was publicized by announcements stating that the book would “shake Christian theology.” The following positions are explicitly laid out in the book:

The Jewish people, as a whole, did not reject Jesus as Messiah.

Jesus did not come to earth to be the Messiah.

Jesus refused by word and deed to be the Messiah.

The Jews cannot be blamed for not accepting what was never offered.

Statements like this must be evaluated in light of 1 John 2:22: “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ [i.e., Messiah]. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son.”

But then there was an announcement of a book rewrite:

Since the writing of [Don Geraci's] commentary, “The Mystery of Lawlessness and The Hagee Heresy”, a significant development has taken place that must be both publicized and applauded: ‘The Hagee Heresy’ has been retracted! Rev. John Hagee has agreed to rewrite the chapter in question in his new book, “In Defense of Israel” - i.e. the section of the book that made the clearly heretical claims about the Messiahship of Jesus.

But hold the presses:

As of Thursday afternoon, December 6, Dr. [Michael] Brown had received the manuscript, flown in from Texas, reviewed the document, and concluded that the rewrite is “not what was expected”, terming it “cosmetic”.

Or perhaps Hagee does not have a unified system of beliefs.

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