There is a discussion at Twisty Sticks of the subject we were talking about a few days ago (‘Immunity’), and will be talking about in the future – as I said, it’s one I’m curious about and would like to explore. The subject of Why Does Religion Get Special Treatment? Why does it get a blank check, a free pass, a dispensation, diplomatic immunity. Why are there special rules that apply to religion and nothing else, why does religion get to trump other concerns, why does the importance of religion outweigh the importance of other things – of other concerns, commitments, values, desires, goals.
Which raises a related question, one which probably needs answering or at least clarifying in order to think about all this. The question of what religion is. When I ask why the importance of religion outweighs the importance of other things, what do I mean by other things? What are we talking about here? What things, what kinds of things?
I think that’s part of the problem in such discussions, and maybe part of an answer to the why question. Religion is probably the ultimate example of being all things to all people. That’s part of what’s wrong with it, why it’s so irritating (and dangerous and harmful, often), why it’s often so futile and frustrating to argue about it, as Phil Mole notes in an article in ‘Skeptical Inquirer.’ Because it doesn’t have to pin itself down and limit itself, because it’s just anything and nothing. It’s a feeling, it’s morality, it’s meaning, it’s love, it’s Daddy, it’s goodness, it’s purpose, it’s community, it’s someone watching over us, it’s the intelligence of the universe, it’s Mind.
But one of the main things it is is a set of ideas and truth-claims. If it’s not that it’s not really religion, not in the normal meaning of the word (as we’ve discussed here before, at considerable length). It is institutional religion we’re talking about here, because that is the kind that gets this special treatment. It’s the big, powerful, traditional religions about which people say Well maybe we’d better let them ignore laws about humane animal slaughter or else they might burn down Leeds. (Someone did actually talk about cities in Northern England in flames, at Twisty Sticks, so I’m not exaggerating.) So what I’m wondering about is why other sets of ideas that people care a great deal about don’t get this kind of treatment. I only get more curious the more I wonder about it.