Religion, language, and gross generalizations.

  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Oct 04, 2010 5:10 PM GMT
    Regular RJers know how common threads about religion are on these forums. Recent news, such as the ground zero mosque and a spike in gay teen suicides has made talk about religion on these forums even more pronounced lately. As such I thought I would take some time to discuss some bad uses of language in such discussions, uses of languages that make those discussions far less fruitful, far more prone to fallacious reasoning, and far more prone to people talking past one another.

    Think about the meaning of words like religion, Christian, Muslim, or Islam. It is very common to hear and read extremely broad-brush statements such as:

    Christians are homophobes
    Christianity is a religion of acceptance
    Islam is a religion of peace
    Muslims are evil

    Statements as vague as these at best very confusing and unhelpful. At worst they are bigoted and unfair. This is because what is meant by words like Christian and Islam can be (and almost always is) extremely variable. Thus, statements that use words like these should not be used without qualifications or definitions of terms.

    What is a Christian? I use this word only as an example, but probably one of the best ones as the forum dwellers here are likely to be more familiar with this religion than, say, Islam. But the point I want to make here about the word Christian applies just as well to the word Islam or Hindu or dozens of other such words.

    When we talk about a Christian we are usually talking about someone who holds a certain set of beliefs. But which beliefs? There are a lot of people who call themselves Christians and they believe a wide range of things. If you think about it hard enough I think you will find there is not a single belief that everyone who calls themselves a Christian shares.

    We could list all of the beliefs of a large group of "Christians" from the southern US and list all of the beliefs of a large group of "Christians" from a very liberal British upbringing and easily find no overlap in beliefs whatsoever. Likewise, what most "Christians" believed a few centuries ago, including beliefs like the age of the earth being 6000 years old, is so foreign to what most "Christians" believe now that one would likely not recognise the other as a Christian in their own time. Yet all of these groups are "Christians".

    We sometimes use the same noises and scribbles to actually refer to almost completely different things and yet treat them as if they were sufficiently the same in an argument, characterise them in the same way, or draw conclusions about both. Such is the vague nature of words like "Christian" nowadays and it can get us in a lot of trouble if we are not clear with our meaning.

    So any statement of the form Religion X (or members of religion X) is Y (or believes Y) is untrue insofar as there are people who call themselves members of that religion who do not believe in Y.

    Let's take the issue of the ground zero mosque. Lets just grant, for the sake of argument, that we should never allow a place of worship to be built near a site that was attacked by adherents of the religion that the house of worship represents. If the people who attacked the site in fact believe largely different things than the people who are building the place of worship then we should not be fooled just because we often use the noise and scribble (i.e. "Muslim") to describe both.

    Some words, like numbers, have meanings that are extremely precise and univocal. We are not likely to equivocate on the meaning of the word two or the word thirteen. But most words are not like that. I think you will find that words like religion, Muslim, Christian, and so on are on the opposite end of the spectrum of word specificity. Users beware.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Oct 04, 2010 5:15 PM GMT
    Some very astute points, hopefully the general pop here will be able to understand a collegiate approach.....Keithicon_cool.gif
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Oct 04, 2010 5:43 PM GMT
    school_philosophers_mathematics_392995.j
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Oct 04, 2010 11:29 PM GMT
    vetteset saidSome very astute points, hopefully the general pop here will be able to understand a collegiate approach.....Keithicon_cool.gif


    Thanks!
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Oct 05, 2010 12:08 AM GMT
    Very nicely put (but do you know what I mean by "nice")?icon_lol.gif

    The world isn't black and white (shades go from infrared to ultraviolet). Most statements are not logical, and cannot be summarized by
    Correct.
    Incorrect.
    False.
    True.