Barry SCHWARTZ (Barijo ŜVARC) (chemoelectric) wrote,

definitions of religion and atheism

A few months ago, I don’t remember quite when, Air America Radio was starting up a new weekend program about atheism, and the hosts of the new program made a promotional appearance on the Thom Hartmann program. Hartmann (who is Christian), despite a reputation for great tolerance, wasted most of the interview and antagonized the guests by insisting upon the question of whether atheism ‘is’ a ‘religion’.

His antagonized guests had no interest in this waste of time and so, according to my memory, never provided Hartmann the opportunity to say (as many of us did as schoolchildren) how he thinks atheism ‘is’ a ‘religion’ while agnosticism is not. In some later show he used a thin excuse to state this during some caller’s time.

Let’s nail down Hartmann’s definition: ‘Religion means believing something’.

Now let’s examine Bojo Ŝvarco’s definition. First I need to sort through a list of belief systems, dividing them into religions and not-religions, according to our ordinary usage of the term religion, paying no attention to Hartmann’s formulation.

Christianity --> religion
Hinduism --> religion
agnosticism --> not religion
Zoroastrianism --> religion
Apollo worship --> religion
rabid atheism --> not religion
thoughtful atheism --> not religion
Buddhism --> religion

And so on like that. Alright, now, here is the bojic definition of religion:

Religion means Christianity, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Apollo worship, Buddhism, etc., but not agnosticism, rabid atheism, thoughtful atheism, etc.’

Hartmann’s definition and Bojo’s are examples of two different forms of definition, sometimes called intensional and extensional, respectively. Dictionary definitions usually are in the intensional form. Both forms are essential, but in this case Hartmann was using the wrong form, so that he antagonized colleagues and wasted airtime.

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