What is religion?

That sounds like a stupid question, but the word is used so much and so often that its meaning seems to be taken for granted. I say this because last night I wrote a flippant post titled “Entertaining Satanic thoughts” and this morning I am more baffled than entertained. It’s like, whether there is a God and/or are gods/deities is one dividing line. People who believe in God are believers, while people who don’t are either agnostics or atheists. Whether by not believing in God they are lacking in religion I am not sure. Atheists often strike me as highly religious people, because they are just as convinced that they know their version of the unknowable as the people they condemn for having a false view of the unknowable. But just saying that could provoke arguments with atheists, and such arguments only go in circles and ultimately lead nowhere. Anyway, my point here is not belief or lack of belief in God, but belief or lack of belief in Satan. To many people, Satan is absurd, even a comic figure. (The Devil made me do it!) To others, Satan seems to be an article of faith. It’s as if belief in God carries with it the necessity of belief in Satan. Why? I don’t know, just because. After all if God created Satan, then we have to believe in Satan as well as God, even though he is there to do bad things, while God is there only to do good things, except by creating Satan he seems to have deliberately created bad choices to mess with the humans heads or something. Personally, I’m skeptical about Satan. I think man is inherently evil, and does not need the assistance of a weird spirit do be that way. Yet man also has the capacity to be good, even if it’s a lot more hassle. Because of the difficulty in being good, having a Satan hovering about would almost seem to make it easier to be bad, and maybe rationalize it. And if Satan is not there, you’re just stuck with your own miserable evil being your own damned fault. Which is hard.

So Satan is easy.

And also funny.


I think it’s funny that millions of people believe America is Satan. (Well, that’s a qualified funny; I don’t think it would be funny if they had nuclear weapons….) My question, though, involves what is religion. If belief in Satan is religion, then is it not also a religious belief if you think America is Satanic? I don’t mean to sound silly; there’s a Wiki entry on the subject, although the belief is called a “derogatory epithet”:

The Great Satan (Persian ????? ???? Shaytân-e Bozorg) is a derogatory epithet for the United States of America in some Iranian foreign policy statements. Occasionally, these words have also been used toward the government of the United Kingdom.

The term was originally used by Iranian leader Ruhollah Khomeini in his speech on November 5, 1979 to describe the United States whom he accused of imperialism and the sponsoring of corruption throughout the world.

Ayatollah Khomeini also occasionally used the terms Iblis (Diabolis – the primary devil in Islam) to refer to the United States and other Western countries.

If the Ayatollah Khomeini is a respected religious leader, then his pronouncements are religious pronouncements, are they not?

Or are one man’s religious pronouncements another man’s derogatory epithets? We live in a free country, and there is freedom of religion. Which means that Americans have the right to believe for whatever reason that their country is Satanic, right? Does that mean I have to respect such beliefs? Does that mean that if I do not, I am guilty of disrespecting religion?

Or would that be selective disrespect, depending on how, um, “mainstream” the views? It seems that we are generally entitled to disrespect some religious views  more than we are others, but I am trying to find out where that line is, and who gets to draw it. By disrespecting certain Satan-oriented references, am I disrespecting only that thinking, or am I disrespecting religion itself?

I have problems with certain religious beliefs more than I do with religion itself. For example, not only do I think Khomeini’s brand of Shia is bunk, I think the Nation of Islam is bunk. Ditto Scientology. How disrespectful is that? Do I have to move on to the Christian Scientist idea of praying for a ruptured appendix to be healed in order to be guilty? (When he was a boy, a friend watched his father die that way, and became a lifelong atheist as a result.) Or how about the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal to accept blood transfusions? Do I have to “respect” that? How far do the religious rights of people go? Millions say they have a religious belief that homosexuality is an abomination; if I take issue with that, am I disrespecting their belief, or am I disrespecting religion itself?

Anyway, last night I was ridiculing the belief that Romney is Satanic, but the fact is that there are people who think his religion is Satanic, or at least not Christian. Oddly, that’s one of the things I most like about Romney, and even though I think his religious beliefs might border on kooky (and will certainly be made an issue of if he gets the nod), it’s a reminder that there is not just one view of God, even in the party that is supposed to be “theocratic.” Well guess what? If Romney is the Republican candidate, I’d say that meme is discredited. By any standard, having a Mormon on the ticket is a hell of a way to run a “Christianist theocracy” (if that’s the right term).

Birth control anyone? Personally, I worry that millions of women are poisoning their hormonal flow and making themselves into female eunuchs or quasi-eunuchs, much to the benefit of their employers who want a controllable work force. But because that is not a religious view (unlike the encyclical of Pope Paul VI rejecting a “majority report” at the time), it is not entitled to respect. While I believe in total freedom of religion, I don’t see why religious views on a given subject should be more entitled to respect than non-religious views on the same subject.  But I’m repeating myself here.

I’m wholly unable to come up with any standard I can understand, much less respect.

My apologies to all who believe in whatever I don’t.

(Well, except for the total loony tunes, and most of us know who they are, don’t we?)