I hear comments like this quite often: “He’s angry at religion.”
The statement raises a rather glaring question: if he’s angry at religion then what exactly is he angry at?
And that requires us to define “religion”.
Here’s one dictionary definition of religion: “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe”.
Is that really what he’s angry at? Any and all sets of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe?
That seems doubtful, because even new atheists have beliefs about the cause, nature and purpose of the universe, and never when I’ve heard it said that he is angry at religion, has the statement been intended to include anger against new atheists and their beliefs.
Here’s another dictionary definition of religion: “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.” The problem with this definition is that it is every bit as expansive as the first. Large groups of philosophers and economists share a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices. So do large groups of nerds that populate the Comic-con world or the large groups of beer swilling fans that populate Nascar events or those diehards that paint themselves in the team colors for the next football game or …
The rather obvious problem that is emerging has a simple root: nobody has a satisfactory definition of “religion” which can include the things they want to include and exclude the things they want to exclude. (And make no mistake: the term “religion” is defined in various ways for all sorts of social, political and personal reasons.) As a result, if we persist in saying that he is angry at “religion” we are fated to fail to get a clear fix on what he’s really angry at.
Perhaps the face-value focus on the term “religion” is misplaced. Perhaps the term is really operating as a placeholder for something else. But if so, then what? God (where “God” is understood to be an omnipotent and omnibenevolent superintending intelligence of all events in the created world)? Or the particular members of some particular community? Or the tax-exempt status enjoyed by some group(s)? Or something else?