I just read a review of the book The Myth of Religious Violence by William Cavanaugh. The book eloquently puts into words the reason I have decided to delete the word ‘religion’ from my vocabulary. To be explicit, the use of the word is arbitrary, deceptive and offensive. It is ambiguous in its definition. The word isn’t something with a definition to which you can then put examples. It is something to which examples are put without definition because defining it is problematic. Try to produce a definition of religion that works without problems and you’ll meet with little success. Merriam Webster defines it as “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods”. This definition is fine as long as you have a working definition of ‘god’, but it means that Buddhism, which is non-theistic, is not a religion. This is certainly not the way ‘religion’ is used in public. A cursory study of Buddhism would reveal that it is definitely a religion as the word is commonly used. This is also a problem with the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of religion as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods”. Defining a religions using practices rather than beliefs results in a definition that makes Capitalism, Communism, and Patriotism religions.
Given the arbitrary nature of religious classification then, making statements about the nature of religion smacks of dishonesty and encourages deception. What does it mean to say that religion causes violence when ‘nonreligious’ ideologies like Communism and Imperialism are equally guilty? Why should Christianity be banned from the public sphere when Capitalism is not? Why should ‘religious’ people be forced to keep their beliefs to themselves when every other ideology enjoys expression in public life and government? It is unjustified marginalization masquerading as reasoned demands. A word so badly defined it useful mostly for oppressing those on its wrong side. So, to hell with the notion of “separation of church and state”.
You can see that I’m quite passionate about this topic. I never respond well to being hurt or unjustly marginalized whether it’s by being forbidden from building churches or being told not express my beliefs in public. If other people can promote policies based on their philosophical views, I should be able to.