Part of the problem

Toothpaste for Dinner comicI noticed this gem at (The Customer Is) Not Always Right, one of many — but one of my favorite — so-awful-it’s-funny anecdote collection websites. From a grocery store in Orlando, Florida:

Me: “I hope you’ve found everything to your liking!”

Customer: “Oh, thank you, I have! It’s so nice to meet a polite Christian girl nowadays! You know, it’s always best to love thy neighbor.”

Me: “Oh, actually, I’m not Christian. But yes, I agree.”

Customer: “Oh. Well, as long as you love Jesus our savior!”

Me: “Actually, I’m Muslim and Jewish.”

Customer: “What?”

Me: “Well, my mother is Jewish and my father is Muslim.”

Customer: “Oh. When I said ‘love thy neighbor,’ I didn’t mean you!”

Undoubtedly the customer is not right in this example. It’s tragic to see religious bigotry so open and explicit. For me, it’s perhaps more tragic that this customer didn’t revise their beliefs upon being confronted with a counterexample that disproved them (a nice person who was not a Christian), but instead went back and essentially edited out the observation of the counterexample.

But the customer isn’t the entirety of the problem here. The submitter is part of the problem, too. Granted, the customer’s way of thinking is obviously more pernicious — actively antagonizing others, expressing hatred to their faces. But the submitter is far from right.

First: you don’t inherit your religious beliefs from your parents. It’s true that you are much more likely to be whatever religion your parents are, because most people don’t question the religious teachings their parents hand them. But this person seems to think that religion is transmitted from parent to child via gametes. Religions are making truth claims about the nature of the entire universe. We’re talking about facts about reality, not hair color or perfect pitch. The true state of reality doesn’t change depending on which chromosomes you have — and only one religion, at most, could possibly be true. You shouldn’t pick your religion based on what your parents believe; you should examine the evidence and believe the things you are actually convinced of the truth of (even if that means no religion at all).

Second: you can’t be both Muslim and Jewish, unless you are using the words “Muslim” and “Jewish” in a magical, special way unrelated to what virtually everybody else means by those words. The statements about reality taught by Islam and Judaism are mutually exclusive. They might both be wrong, but they cannot both be right. Perhaps what she meant to say is that her ethnic background is part Arab and part Ashkenazi, Sephardi, or Mizrahi. Not all Muslims are Arab, and not all Jews are “ethnically Jewish,” so I don’t know. It’s also possible that she meant to say that in her family, they observe both Yom Kippur and Ramadan. But if that’s the case, they aren’t “Muslim and Jewish” — they’re neither.

Combining one and two: you don’t get to have two mutually exclusive sets of truths about reality because your parents contributed roughly equal amounts of genetic material to you! I’m tempted to make a crack here about which religions would be “dominant” or “recessive,” but I’m too annoyed. (Feel free to speculate in the comments.)

Leave a comment

24 Comments

  1. The waitress handled the customer well. No need to get philosophical with that sort, eh?

  2. Yes, I think that she handled this rude customer adroitly. But she could have done exactly the same thing by saying “Actually, I’m Muslim” or “Actually, I’m Jewish” or “Actually, I’m not religious.” Obviously this customer was extremely out of line; I don’t mean to suggest that that’s not the case, or that the submitter should have tried to engage her in a long philosophical conversation. I just found it to be a particularly good example of this broader misconception in society about religion as something you inherit rather than consciously consider.

  3. In my city, people expect me to be a fan of our football team. In fact, that has been the case in every American city I have lived in. People expect me to be an American first — the country of my birth. They expect me to be male-first. They expect me to identify naturally by that which I am surrounded by and “naturally” participate in.

    KIds mimic their parent’s religion, politics, language and more.
    Sure, she is neither Jew nor Muslim, but she is both Jew and Muslim.
    Atheists can be so illogical. They see religions as propositions instead of understanding the cultural side, the parental side. “Religion” is not just beliefs — fighting it as such will only lead to frustration.
    I get what you are saying, but …

  4. I definitely understand that for many people, religion is treated more like a culture. That’s actually why I wrote this post. I think that’s the wrong way to go about it, and I think it’s important to remind people that religions are more than just a bunch of fun holidays and special foods and little chants you say for no reason at all. You say atheists should fight religion as both a set of beliefs and a culture — and I think that a key part of doing that is pointing out that truth claims and culture are separable. You can participate in your parents’ culture without agreeing with all their opinions.

    I understand that it’s possible to say, “I’m culturally Muslim — my entire family is Muslim, and we celebrate the holidays together, and I think of that tradition as part of my heritage.” At the same time, when you say, “I’m Muslim,” you haven’t communicated any of that nuance. You’ve said, “I believe that the religious precepts of Islam are true.”

  5. Aristarchus

     /  November 14, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Sabio, I would be totally happy if people got religion from their parents the same way they got political opinions. People’s political opinions correlate pretty well with those of their parents, but no one thinks that’s automatic or fails to think for themselves – they correlate because the opinion of people you trust and hear every day for years has a large effect on how you think when you think for yourself.

    Imagine the analogous thing happening in politics. Someone’s mother is pro-choice, and their father is pro-life. Could you imagine them saying to someone that they were “half pro-choice, half-pro-life”? They obviously wouldn’t, and anyone who they said that to would look at them like they were crazy. Sure, our parents are very important in determining both our beliefs and our culture, but the two are very different. The whole point here is that religion *should* be seen as a fact/opinion claim, not as just cultural practices.

  6. Atheists can be so illogical.

    Apparently Sabios can be “so” insulting, too.

    Semantic disagreements aren’t “illogic,” sir.

  7. @ NFQ :
    You said:
    when you say, “I’m Muslim,” you haven’t communicated any of that nuance. You’ve said, “I believe that the religious precepts of Islam are true.”

    I think you are laying your demands on what a person’s communications should mean.

    You said,
    I think that’s the wrong way to go about it

    Again, you are telling people what they should feel and say. You are saying, “Look, this is what ‘religion’ means. Using it any other way is just wrong.”

    Go ahead and fight that battle. But I think people use notions in very different ways and we need to learn to listen and address them in their own language when we can.

    Karen Armstrong tells us that “true religion” is mysticism. She is wrong. She is telling fundamentalists that they misunderstand their religion. Ironically you seem to me to being doing what Karen Armstrong is doing. You are saying, “Look, real religion is propositions. You have to realize that.”

    I wrote a short post on “Religious Prescriptivism” , and ironically, I feel you are doing that as an Atheist.

  8. @ Aristarchus :
    I think you draw a false analogy argument. You chose a proposition (abortion should be legal or illegal) to equate to religion. I am speaking about religion being broader than propositions. In fact I think more atheists look at religion as strict propositions than do religious folks.

    My criticism of your last sentence would be identical to my criticism of NFQ. It strikes me as ironic that we have two atheists telling religious folks what “religion should be”.

    @ Rieux :
    I am an atheist. If you’d visit my site, you may understand why I say “atheists can be so illogical” without being insulting. I guess it is insulting if (1) You strongly identify with being an atheist (2) You think you aren’t illogical at times.

  9. Sabio, language is one way we communicate with others. I’m all for letting people live the lives they want and express themselves how they want. But communication depends on both the sender and the receiver. If the majority of English speakers think a word means a certain thing, then you should know that when you say that word, most people will understand it to mean that thing. The definition of religion is pretty clear. Being [x religion] is generally understood to mean believing that [x religion] is true. Anyone is perfectly free to practice a religion’s rituals and traditions without accepting its factual claims, but if they want to be understood by others, they should say, for example, “I am a secular Jew” or “I am culturally Jewish” rather than “I am Jewish.”

    You wrote,

    Again, you are telling people what they should feel and say. You are saying, “Look, this is what ‘religion’ means. Using it any other way is just wrong.”

    Go ahead and fight that battle. But I think people use notions in very different ways and we need to learn to listen and address them in their own language when we can.

    I wonder how far your tolerance for completely individualized language extends. Is it okay for a white person to walk up to a black person and address them as “nigger,” because to the white person “nigger” is a term of endearment with no implication of racism? What if a high school student calls their school and says that they planted a bomb somewhere in the building — but then resists arrest saying that when they use the word “bomb,” they actually mean bouquet of flowers? I could go on with crazy examples, but I think you see my point.

  10. I think you are laying your demands on what a person’s communications should mean.

    And you aren’t? You want to pretend that a potshot like “‘Religion’ is not just beliefs — fighting it as such will only lead to frustration” has nothing to do with “laying demands on what a person’s communications should mean”?

    Of course, with regard to your above-quoted assertion, one might note that what NFQ actually argued was:

    [Y]ou can’t be both Muslim and Jewish, unless you are using the words “Muslim” and “Jewish” in a magical, special way unrelated to what virtually everybody else means by those words.

    NFQ appealed to the empirical status of “what virtually everybody means” by the words “‘Muslim’ and ‘Jewish.’” That is a positive argument about what people actually believe, not a normative argument about the proper meaning of words. (Though NFQ, at your rude prompting, has now voiced the latter as well.)

    I am an atheist. If you’d visit my site, you may understand why I say “atheists can be so illogical” without being insulting.

    First, if “illogic” is what you’re looking for, you might want to read that very passage of your own comment. Implying that being an atheist somehow makes you incapable of illegitimate and nonsensical attacks on atheists is, in a word, illogical.

    Second, “Atheists can be so illogical” is a patent, sneering put-down. Obviously all human beings are capable of illogic, but your formulation is a direct shot at atheists. It’s a silly insult, and your own atheism (an ad hominem irrelevancy) does not change that.

    And third, as I pointed out (and you ignored), your subsequent statement did not substantiate the notion that atheists “can be illogical.” You and NFQ obviously disagree about what the word “religion” does and/or should mean. Even if she is wrong, you have shown nothing “illogical” about her semantic position; you’ve just sneered your disagreement with same. As a result, your attack was empty as well as insulting.

  11. @ NFQ :I feel as if I have written on this topic a lot, but it must be on other sites. I can’t find posts of mind to illustrate my point. Well, this sort of hits on it but not too well:

    For Pedant Word Nazis

    I am guessing we disagree in our understanding of language. I lean more toward the idea that language is merely an unwritten working contract between two people who are gambling the terms of the contract. I view it much more fluidly than you do.

    Or, we may just be arguing words. But my sense is that we hold these notions very differently and they have real consequences in our lives.

    Oh yeah, here is one I did on the definition of religion which may help you understand my confused position:
    Religion as a Syndrome

  12. @ Rieux :
    Words are not defined by the majority. They are a working relationship between two individuals. Thus language changes.
    Sorry you took offense. I did not mean to attack something precious to you.

  13. Aristarchus

     /  November 15, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    I am guessing we disagree in our understanding of language. I lean more toward the idea that language is merely an unwritten working contract between two people who are gambling the terms of the contract. I view it much more fluidly than you do.

    Sabio, you are entirely correct. Language is simply an agreed meaning for words between the people in the particular conversation. When you are talking to your friend, it’s fine for the two of you to agree between yourselves that the word “table” now actually means the thing the rest of us call “lightbulb”. That’s fine. However, we don’t have a carefully agreed-upon set of languages for every pair of people to use when talking to each other. We often want to talk to strangers, or the public at large, where we have no way of arranging a particular personal explanation of what our words mean. When doing that, we use the standard, widely-accepted meanings – the ones that appear in dictionaries. If you want to use a word in this context to mean something non-standard, you have to explicitly say that at the time. If you want to be a good communicator, you should use the words that your audience will interpret to mean the things you want to convey.

    Also, do you have any reason to believe that the standard interpretation isn’t what the person meant in this case? You are saying that the majority belief for what words mean isn’t definitive, but isn’t it the best way to guess what the person in question meant?

  14. It is tough discussing with three people I don’t know — I can’t keep your comments straight in my head. But you all seem to be in agreement, I think. Did anyone read my link on Religion Syndrome?

    BTW, I speak and write several languages and dialects — just to let you know I am not language naive (unlike most Americans).

    Even given “dictionary definitions”, the more abstract a word, the more unshared the nuances and connotations between ideolects. For example: love, faith, freedom, democracy, and in our case, religion. Discussing “faith” runs into similar problems. Many atheists try to unproductively cram their understanding of the word down the theist’s throat — only to waste hours of blogging time. Please see this post: FAITH.

    The position I am describing is rather generic, actually. And the debate between those holding the view of you three and myself is also generic. I don’t care to duplicate it here. Are you familiar with this debate? Have you heard it before?

  15. Sabio, I’ve been following the links to your posts, and I believe I understand what you are getting at. (As far as I can tell, Rieux and Aristarchus understand you too.) Language changes, and people use words in different ways, and we need to understand that words don’t have fixed meanings that we can or should strictly enforce on others. Is that correct? I agree with you to some extent, but while you have repeated this basic point, I (and others) have been arguing that it doesn’t extend infinitely and in particular doesn’t extend to the example at hand. Your repetition makes it seem like you do think that the subjectivity of language extends infinitely, that I should never assume that people mean anything by any word they use. (I’d echo Aristarchus’ concern on this. How we will clarify words’ meanings between each pair of people? Perhaps grunting and pointing?) You’re typing with words here in this comment thread, so I don’t think you actually believe this — but it would be nice if you took a moment to deal with what we’ve been saying in the meantime.

    If you are trying to argue that the subjectivity of language is infinite, the posts of yours you cite as arguments don’t really make your case. For example, the Stephen Fry video condemns “pedant word nazis” (nice lack of judgment there, eh) who get their panties in a bunch over extra apostrophes and “less”/”fewer” mixups, because the subtleties of English grammar and syntax do gradually change and there is no lack of clarity when someone says “five items or less.” You’re the one who leapt to apply his point to any attempt to reach a consensus on the definition of an “ism,” and in this case there is definitely a lack of clarity. In your post about religion as a DSM-style “syndrome” (a classification religious people would all stand behind, right?) you talk about laying out the qualities which a religion “must” have in order to be properly classified as such. I’m not going to get on your case for being “prescriptivist” about the definition of a word, but I think it’s worth pointing out that even you recognize that cultivating public understanding of definitions is a worthwhile endeavor, so maybe you shouldn’t condemn others for doing so too.

    I understand (as you wrote about in that FAITH post) that words can have multiple senses and associated nuances. What I have been arguing is that if you want to be understood by others, what you should do is use words according to their most widespread definitions. (Thanks to Rieux for catching this subtlety; I meant to make this a normative argument only if we assume — and I do think this is a reasonably widely-applicable assumption — that one wants to be understood by others. I mean to say, “If this is your goal, x is the most effective way to achieve your goal.” I don’t think there’s any inherent moral quality at stake in words, although at some point unconventional word use can amount to lying/fraud.) Do you agree with this basic statement?

  16. Words are not defined by the majority. They are a working relationship between two individuals.

    As you’ve been shown in the interim, that’s unworkable nonsense when, as here, the words in question are simply being tossed off into the ether, and there is no dialogue between “two individuals” to build anything on.

    NFQ at least has a widespread semantic conception of “religion” to infer a meaning from. You’ve simply shown up and declared her wrong (and, baselessly, “illogical”), even though you have no more “relationship” with the Orlando grocery clerk than she does. You’re sniping absurdly from the sidelines, and your philosophical digressions do not support your central position.

    Sorry you took offense. I did not mean to attack something precious to you.

    Cut the crap. You posted a stupid insult that—as I explained—is both meaningless (persons of all kinds of theological outlooks “can be illogical sometimes”) and irrelevant (NFQ’s argument, even accepting your dubious criticism of it, is not illogical).

    You acted like a jerk, and you’ve refused to own up to it. That, and not some sensitivity you attribute to me, is the problem.

    And hey, look, you did it again:

    …. just to let you know I am not language naive (unlike most Americans).

    You seem to have a very hard time expressing yourself without launching ridiculous insults. (Self-aggrandizing ones, too.)

    Neither Americans nor atheists deserve your empty taunts, sir.

  17. In light of our discussion of the uses of language, I wonder if the nature of “Not Always Right” changes things slightly.

    I’m a fan of the site as well; I’ve been reading it for several months. I also read the “Customers Suck!” LiveJournal, which treads more or less the same comic ground. “Customers Suck!”, though, has considerably higher post volume and—here’s the rub, I think—far less editorial control.

    After reading several hundred “Not Always Right” anecdotes, supposedly derived from incidents that have taken place all over the world (though it’s mostly English-speaking nations, with an occasional European or Latin American example thrown in) it’s hard not to notice that the narrative voice, the writing style, and even the (ahem) word choice are all very consistent. It’s clearly one person, or a well organized small group, who are compiling and refining the entries.

    As the editors admit, submissions to “Not Always Right” undergo some… massage:

    My story got published, but it’s slightly different! How come?

    Sometimes we will need to edit a story slightly to make it suitable for publication. Scene-setting is great, but extraneous detail may need to be cut down a little. Your submission might explain that this didn’t happen to you but to your friend/sister/uncle, but the audience doesn’t need to know that.

    If it isn’t important to the punch-line we’ll also remove reference to brand names, overly strong language and overly long sentences.

    Don’t worry, we still aim to keep the spirit of the story alive and ensure it remains as hilarious as ever!

    Given the stark contrast between the rigid “Not Always Right” style and the anarchy on “Customers Suck!”, I think the above downplays the severity of the “NAR” process a bit.

    Anyway, the point of all this is that I don’t think it’s so clear who is responsible for the “I’m Muslim and Jewish” line in the anecdote NFQ quotes. Quite possibly the Orlando grocery clerk herself would never say something like that (though she would report the religious beliefs of her parents), and an “NAR” editor inserted that line to distill “the spirit of the story.”

    How this plays into the exchange about people using language I’m not sure; an “NAR” editor has the same kinds of options, and is subject to the same criticisms, that a grocery clerk has and is. (Perhaps the editor is quantitatively more subject to criticism, given that (1) (s)he has a lot more time to consider word choice and (2) (s)he clearly doesn’t feel obligated to adhere to what was actually said in the grocery store.)

    This is not particularly an objection to the original post, though I think it’s a relevant digression. Hell, it’s still entirely possible that “I’m Muslim and Jewish” was in fact what the grocery clerk said. In which case never mind.

  18. @ Rieux : Thank you for your thoughts. But from here out, I will only be discussing this issue with NFQ.

    @ NFQ :
    So, you state you have been arguing the following:
    “if you want to be understood by others, what you should do is use words according to their most widespread definitions.

    My reply:
    I think you argued that point but you also argued further. I think you made a suggestion of what to do when misunderstandings resulted from these assumptions.

    So, indeed I agree with most of your statement. When I speak with someone I don’t know and find out we both share the language of our dialogue, I will (as you say) use words assuming we both share understanding of the words. I would, of course, hope that most dictionaries would even mention the “definitions” of the understandings/nuances that I am employing.

    Great. I think we agree up to there.
    But now the problem comes when that person and I are using different nuances. For example.
    Both of us say, “I believe in Democracy” but one means “majority rule” and the other means “free elections” or some different nuance. When our conversation then becomes confused because of both of us assuming the other is using the same “definition”, I will try to back up and discover the difference. I have no vested interest in that person carrying all the same nuances in the word “Democracy” that I do. So perhaps I will suggest we use a different word, or add adjectives to the word to keep the nuances separate or I will use a different word to capture what I am interested in and let them keep their nuances.

    Sure, if my partner thinks “Democracy” means hippopotamus, I may bring out a dictionary to assist. But if they are persistent, I may give up on the dialogue.

    But abstract words invite such misunderstandings.

    So my point is simple: Insisting that the rightful definition of “Religion” is a set of propositions is to misunderstand the various ways people use that word. Indeed a good dictionary lists the many nuances of the word which are not by any means mutually compatible. When it comes to conflict in usage, seeking common ground may be more fruitful than try to strong-arm one’s preferred “definition”.

    Again, I think this is straightforward. I am not making huge philosophy of language claims except that of course when it comes to abstract words, we need to understand the wide variety of nuances and definitions between sub-cultures and idiolects due to the nature of abstract words.

    I had hoped my post on a Syndrome approach to defining “Religion” would have helped at that. In my Syndrome Definition of Religion, I am illustrating that by choosing different permutations, a huge variety of meanings could result. I think it better models what actually does happen in language and why any given abstract word has such a huge variety of nuances between ideologies and idiolects.

    Does any of this help? Do you feel I understand your objections? Does it help clarify so you can say where you think I am mistaken? (Back to work for me — have a good day)

  19. But from here out, I will only be discussing this issue with NFQ.

    I’d just prefer that you didn’t leaven your comments with childish insults directed at huge swaths of people. Your resort to demeaning generalizations reflects rather poorly on you.

  20. Wow. I didn’t expect that to happen. Sabio, you should know that I agree with Rieux’s criticism of your tone. I was trying to be patient with you and move the dialogue forward, and now I think I should have said something earlier about it instead of assuming it was about to be resolved. I imagine you think it’s okay because you’re in the groups you’re criticizing, but try substituting others. “Latinos can be so illogical.” “I’m not naive (unlike most French people).” It’s a very presumptuous and abrasive way of communicating, and as Rieux pointed out, it doesn’t even add any content to the discussion. (All people can be illogical.)

    That being said, I think most of where we differ comes down to a disagreement about what exactly the statistical trends in word use are. “Democracy” is commonly used to refer to majority rule, to having free and fair elections, to having minority rights protections, etc. etc. In my experience, the vast majority of people understand “religion” to involve some beliefs about reality and truth. I don’t have polling data, though. Anyhow, there’s a lot to unpack here — I think I may do a follow-up post on it soon.

    Oh, and Rieux — that’s interesting about the editing of NAR submissions. In many ways the same arguments do apply to an editor choosing these words (maybe more so, especially if the thought process was, “This will be more clear!”) but there’s also the “this is more succinct and better for comic effect” angle. Ah well. At least it was a springboard for talking about what’s undoubtedly a real tendency among many people.

  21. @ NFQ

    (1) Misunderstanding
    I must say, the majority of the problem here has not been content, but the “tone” issue you mention. That fault is mine. Not because, however, I personally had a bad tone, but because my writing indeed did. I am writing very quickly in the morning trying to write before my kids awake. I was sloppy. Re-reading the writing, I can see how easy it is to read a poor tone. But reading my site would reveal that the tone you read into the statement is not my tone. “Atheists can be so illogical” is absolutely true. And I am one of them. Because as you said, “All people can be illogical”.

    I should have spelled out my thought more carefully but didn’t, so in that form, I can see how it is offensive. So spelled out, I would have written:

    – “Atheists can be so illogical”
    – all of us are illogical at times
    – I think that assuming an essentialist approach to language is an example of a common cognitive illusion.
    – I wonder if our assumptions of language contain some cognitive illusions that lead to misunderstandings — all of us.

    Secondly, the comment about language was not meant to put down others but just to show my background. But given that the whole tone was already set, offense was now sought in all realms. People were no longer interested in content but only in tone and pounding down the offender.

    (2) The Argument is still Unclear
    So hopefully setting tone aside, I still think we disagree. You said,

    where we differ comes down to a disagreement about what exactly the statistical trends in word use are.

    I don’t think that is the issue at all.
    We could draw up a chart of the frequency of usage and probably come to agreement fairly easily. I am not at all invested in frequency.
    I will quote what I said above:

    “When our conversation then becomes confused because of both of us assuming the other is using the same “definition”, I will try to back up and discover the difference. I have no vested interest in that person carrying all the same nuances in the word.”

    My point is that you seem invested more in a definition of “religion” than in communication about the more essential components which would facilitate real understanding between believers and non-believers. My “Religion as a Syndrome” post was trying to address this common issue I find when there is dialogue between theists and non-theists. I have had many dialogues in person with believers using this approach and have found it very helpful.

    That is my impression. I could be very wrong. But that is the conversation I was trying to add. It is not meant as deriding, offensive or otherwise. Sorry for previous misunderstandings. Writing is so one-dimensional. Avoiding mis-impression takes time and careful crafting of this stripped-down form of communication (which I did not do). Hell, I think if misunderstandings developed, they would probably be cleared up easily by Skyping where the communication content jumps exponentially.

    I hope this helps. But who knows, some phrasing, some notions or some feeling may start a cascade of offense I don’t intend because I was sloppy again. Or heck, maybe my ideas are just plain offensive. Or worse yet, I may, at core, just be a habitually cocky, offensive, blind individual.

  22. Hmm. When I wrote about the “statistical trend in word use,” I was thinking: “Is using ‘religion’ to mean ‘culture only, no truth claims at all’ more like calling a light bulb a ‘table’ (very rare and likely confusing to most) or is it more like using ‘democracy’ to refer to simple majority rule (people anticipate the ambiguity between multiple common uses and know to look/ask for context)?” My understanding is the former — that it is very rare. And that understanding informs my reaction to it.

    I have a lot more to say in response to what you’ve written, but I’m going to have to save it for that follow-up post. This is getting geometrically more complex with each successive comment. :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  23. I could have sworn that I made a list of the different uses of “religion” in common conversations, but that must have been as a comment on another site because I can not find it on my site.

    Before giving a short list, I must say, calling something a “use” vs. a “definition” may be important in keeping things clear. Dictionaries try to list the various uses of a word and we call them “definitions”. But Dictionaries vary from one to another because of opinions of editors and/or access to various uses. Also, a short look at dictionaries separated by 50 years reveals the continual changes of recorded uses.

    The word “definition” has the connotation of “Definite” or “Fixed” which begs the points of these conversations and is a trap I feel many fall into. So much so, that people often assume that the first definition in a dictionary is the “real” definition or perhaps, “the major or most common” definition. You will notice a differing of numbering too. The numbering furthers this misunderstanding of language.

    For example, whatever definitions a dictionary writer lists for “religion”, must account for common usages like:
    ( ) “people turn to religion in time of crisis”
    ( ) “Hockey is a religion in Canada”
    ( ) “I don’t have a religion, but I am spiritual”
    ( ) “Food is religion in their house”
    ( ) “I am Buddhist/Jewish but it is not my religion”
    ( ) “My religion is Shinto, but I don’t believe most of it.”

    I didn’t put numbers in the brackets intentionally. You can decide what the ordering of them would mean — that is my point.

    I just google a bit and came to this site at Atheism.About.com — he basically says some of the things I think I am saying.

    I look forward to your next post and hope the above gives you more info so as to put your position forward “definitively”. :-)

  24. Your non-apology apologies are amusing, Sabio.

    “Atheists can be so illogical” is absolutely true. And I am one of them. Because as you said, “All people can be illogical”.

    Yes. The problems with that excuse are that (1) it appeals to a silly triviality (on a par with “the universe is big”—no, really?) that is hard to believe you actually had in mind and (2) it is utterly irrelevant to the actual criticism you claim to be making. Given a choice in hypotheses between you posting a trivial irrelevancy and you posting an ugly personal insult directed at the blogger, the latter still seems somewhat more plausible. Notwithstanding your assurances that you, “personally,” couldn’t possibly have had “a bad tone”—oh, no no no.

    Honest apologies for misconduct don’t generally look as self-righteous as yours.

    I would have written:

    – “Atheists can be so illogical”
    – all of us are illogical at times
    – I think that assuming an essentialist approach to language is an example of a common cognitive illusion.
    – I wonder if our assumptions of language contain some cognitive illusions that lead to misunderstandings — all of us.

    And the explanation of why you leap from “cognitive illusion” to “illogical” is… ?

    You are aware that illogic and illusion are two different concepts, right? Such that one who has illusions is not thereby “illogical,” right? A reality that renders your “Atheists can be so illogical” insult entirely divorced from and irrelevant to the actual criticism you say you were trying to voice, right?

    Secondly, the comment about language was not meant to put down others but just to show my background.

    Ah. And your decision to append the parenthetical “(unlike most Americans)” to “I am not language naive” added information about your background… how?

    How you think you can wriggle out the nastiness of “unlike most Americans” I have no idea.

    But given that the whole tone was already set, offense was now sought in all realms. People were no longer interested in content but only in tone and pounding down the offender.

    Riiight. It’s your critics’ fault that you posted a gratuitous insult directed at “most Americans”; there wouldn’t have been anything wrong with that if it hadn’t been for “offense being sought,” huh?

    Boy, it must be so uncomfortable for you, forced by meanie opponents to post personal attacks on broad swaths of people against your will. How unfortunate for you!

    Look: NFQ, playing the good-cop role on this thread, described the problems with your early comments here as one of “tone.” As the bad cop, I disagree. Weird, unprovoked attacks on “atheists” and “Americans,” in so many words, are problems of content, and despite your creative denials, you are responsible for what you wrote. Your attempts to pass it off as a matter of fatigue and/or (laughably) oversensitive opponents are unavailing.

    You acted like a jerk. “Tone” aside, the content of your comments has included at least two absurd insults directed at broad categories of people. These were and are wrong, and so are your attempts to pass of responsibility for them.

Leave a Reply