Religion Does NOT Exist

Anti-Religion Atheist ironically attacks the myth of religion

Am I a fool?  Previously I wrote a post saying “Culture does NOT exist“, and now I am trying to say that “religion” is a myth [irony intentional].  But before you rightfully dismiss me as totally delusional, please read this fantastic and important article by Pascal Boyer, author of one of my favorite books: “Religion Explained” (amazon).

I have argued some variant or other of Pascal’s points with lots of very different folks: anti-religion Atheists, religion-defending Buddhists and exclusivist Christians.  His last 3 points are brilliant!   But the difference between Boyer and myself is that Boyer (an anthropologist) knows his subject.  So, if you have time, read his short article and see if you can understand what he is getting at or if you have major disagreements.

My post entitled “Religion” as a syndrome illustrates the illusory notion of “religion” by comparing its definition to the illusory psychiatric conditions that the DSM-V (the psychiatrist’s bible) tries to nail down.  Generalizing about religion is a large error I see taken by many scholars.  For instance, I have brought this up with Tom Reese at Epiphenom several times and Tom is not only way brighter than I am but publishes amazingly useful stuff about this topic.

I think Boyer’s main points are important.  Help me explore them with your comments. In the end, I am always trying to point us back to more basic aspects of our mind instead of being fooled by imaginary creatures.  We often get fooled by our manipulative abstractions and grant them an ontology they do not deserve.  Boyer’s article can be helpful for anyone who thinks “religion” is important either as a good thing or a bad thing.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

11 responses to “Religion Does NOT Exist

  1. Dr. Jim

    Haven’t had time to read the material you linked to yet, but the Journal of the American Academy of Religion 78 (2010) has an article (that I also have not yet found the time to read yet) call “Religions: Are there Any? by Kevin Schilbrack (pp. 1112-1138). It might be of interest to you.

  2. @ Dr Jim:
    I can’t find that anywhere on-line unless you want to pay $25. It must just be for in-house digestion — closed to influencing the rest of the world. Ah academics.

  3. Religion does not exist, I’d agree. At the end of the day, I don’t consider myself a “ZEN BUDDHIST,” I realize this is just a label to express my practice. I think delusion comes in when people buy into either the supernatural gift of this religion to them or that people buy into the label so much, they define themselves into a corner.

  4. @ Kyle,
    Did you read the article? It is not talking about the “delusion” of identifying with a religion.

  5. Temaskian

    Is the article saying that there was a time when religion did not exist, but now it does?

    And doesn’t this again depend on how you define religion? Pascal seems to see ‘religion’ strictly as an institution only.

  6. I did and came away with the same thoughts as Temaskian. He talks a lot about definitions, like usual, I went off the beaten track to expand on this thought of the existance or non-existance of religion. 🙂

  7. Hi Sabio, I think Boyer’s perspective is excellent. He recently wrote a book about this (there’s a review of it at Open Parachute ). It’s also well known among anthropologists. although less so among other scholars of religion.

    Gotta dash cos I got a plane to catch 🙂 but I just wanted to say that in my blog I try to differentiate among the different things that tend to get bunched together under the catch-all term “religion”. e.g. Belief in gods vs religious attendance vs fundamentalism vs religious identification. All these things are different – not simply different aspects of religion, but different aspects of culture that often found lumped together as ‘religion’

  8. Boyer’s article made me smile. I enjoyed it.

    Made me wonder if there is a kind of cycle to any academic field of study that is based on an abstraction.

    Psychology began as a way to figure out how the mind relates to behavior. Now we don’t know what ‘mind’ points to.
    Sociology began as a way to figure out how social groups relate to culture. Now we don’t know what ‘culture’ points to.

    Boyer’s description of religion as a ‘useful category’ reminded me of the phrase ‘useful delusion’.

    Are we getting to a point in our development where abstractions are allowed to be merely abstract, and not fixed or set things?

  9. i’m confused by this article. i don’t get it nor will pretend to understand it. he’s saying there’s no religion as a concept? that in fact we’re dealing with traditions ideology and tribal thinking?

  10. Boyer’s article may be important but it’s not brilliant, you’ve said it much better in your other post.
    He’s wrong to say it’s not a matter of definition, and the binary choice he offers does not cover all the options. He almost seems to be trying to impose his own definition on everyone, but at any rate his conclusion is no more than Voltaire’s advice to define your terms.

  11. @ Uzza
    For other readers, here is my comment on “unreasonable faith” you are referring to:

    I think many atheists would benefit from understanding the implications of Boyer’s insights. Because I see broad generalized attacks against “Religion” as being as misguided as broad generalized defense of “Religion”.

    Atheists who ignore the many, many functions loosely, and flexibly aligned in the notion of “Religion” that are not mere propositional statements will always be puzzled at their resilience.

    And I agree that definitions are very important but Boyer does more than just discuss definitions, he is showing the construed nature of the word, I think. For sometimes when we struggle with definitions we can see that something was just created out of nothing.

    Take, for example, the word “Ego”. Freud used it, it became come language, but on examining, all we come back to is that Freud made it up — no substance. Maybe that is a bad example, but I imagine you see my point.

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