“Religion” as a Pejorative

Man_ReligionLook at this fellow’s claim. Fill in the “X” with whatever activity, worldview, person or thing you’d like and try to imagine the emotion being conveyed when this sort of sentence is declared. Almost always when “religion” is used this way, the speaker is implying some negative quality such as:

  • blind devotion
  • all-consuming
  • obsessed
  • exclusive

Most believers want to deny that their faith is a religion. First because they don’t want their faith to be generic (like so many others) but second because of these common negative connotations of “religion” in English.

Woman_ReligionQuestions for readers:

  1. Can you name other negative connotations of this sentence?
  2. Can you think of this sentence being used as a compliment? What connotations would they be implying?
  3. Imagine a woman saying the same thing, instead of a man.  Did that bring up different connotations in your mind?  Why?
  4. If are fluent in another language, does your language have a word used for religion which also has these negative connotations?




Filed under Philosophy & Religion

12 responses to ““Religion” as a Pejorative

  1. For dirtbags: “Climbing is a religion for hm.” also, “Surfing is a religion for her.” Both compliments.

  2. Lamar87

    It could be used as a compliment as in someone is very passionate or dedicated to whatever is put in the blank. Not sure I’ve ever heard this phrase used negatively.

  3. @ keith & Lamar:
    Not wanting the post to be long, I left off what appears now to be an important pre-empt to your shared objection. That is:
    Though you often hear “X is a religion for him” used as an apparent compliment, it often carries a hint of criticism. For example.
    “Climbing is a religion for him.”
    Well, this may be said be folks who don’t understand climbing and while the comment is meant to say, “He is passionate and dedicated to rock climbing.” It also can have hint of “doing to much at the exclusion of other important things”, “inability to talk about much more but climbing” or “is constantly trying to proselytize others to rock climb” or “he looks down on others who don’t climb” ….. Sure, it may be a compliment, but my experience shows a lot of use with that touch of the negative, otherwise, they would simply say, Keith is passionate about rock climbing.

    @ keithnoback:
    Ah, a new visitor — may I ask how you found this site?
    What does “For dirtbags”: mean.

    Your thoughts guys?

  4. It’s all in the extent and quality of the contextualization, isn’t it? A dirtbag is anyone who has chosen to devote themselves to an avocation. This can be done self-consciously or on the basis of density alone. I’m attempting to refer to the former.
    Your site shows up in my reader under philosophy/atheism from time to time…

  5. @keith,
    Yep, it is all contextualization. Ah, “dirtbag” is a compliment or a criticism or both! 🙂
    Cool, glad I pop up on your reader. At first I though you may be an friend who does medicine, climbs and is an atheist — but I guess not. You are older than him if you have a 9th grader (as I saw on your site.) When you say “reader”, you mean WordPress reader?

  6. “‘X’ is a religion for him.”
    It could mean that one does it very seriously and with regularity.
    It could mean that one prefers any religion rather than to be an Atheists etc.

  7. Yep, WordPress reader. Not surprised by the confusion, those three things go together. In medicine and climbing, you see enough to conclude that the lord either doesn’t exist or works in ways so mysterious that we might as well ignore him. The inverse of Pascal’s wager, I suppose.

  8. @sabio:
    I’m afraid that the first thing that comes to mind (you asked about a different language too) is the expression “[a certain football team] is religion”, in Greek. It applies, in particular, and perhaps almost exclusively, to the football team Panathinaikos. They shout:
    ΠΑΟ θρησκεία
    (Panathinaikos [is] religion.)
    I never watch sports, but even I am aware of this slogan. To wit, in their current newsletter they exclaim: “ΠΑΟ θρησκεία μέχρι τη Ρωσία” (Panathinaikos [is a] religion [which has reached] Russia).

    I’ll think of other examples with negative connotations.

  9. Hey Takis,
    I read a bit about Panathinaikos — indeed that is amazing fanaticism.
    Sports is one of the many things that looks like much of what we also call religion — and to me, in mostly the negative ways. I hear atheists, on some sites, talking religiously about their favorite sport teams. They’d deny it, of course! 🙂

    I have written on this before, Takis. If you have time, read my post here: S.A.S. (Sports Allergy Syndrome)

  10. @Sabio:
    I used this example, actually, from the point of view of Panathinaikos fans. To them, to say “P is a religion” is a very positive thing. They do not joke. To you, and me, it reveals fanaticism. But to them it is the highest praise they can think of of their team. If, say, one day, they managed to get the government to change the name of the team from “Panathinaikos football team” to “Panathinaikos football team and religion”, its fans would have achieved their highest purpose in life. But this is not an entirely Greek phenomenon. You’ve heard of the Church of Maradona, haven’t you? And, indeed, atheists can use religious terms for non-religious things and, moreover, act religiously.

    I’ll read your posting–thanks.

    P.S. I managed (I think…) to change my link on wordpress from my professional page to my blog page. It was not obvious to me because this other thing, gravatar, gets involved and it wasn’t clear what I had to change where. I think that clicking on my ∞ logo™ now redirects to my blog, Thanks for the tips.

  11. @Takis,
    Indeed your link works well now — well done.
    BTW, your can’t trademark the infinity symbol — God has already done that!

    Thanx for more info on the Gate 13 crew!
    Thanx for the Church of Maradona — no, I had not heard of that. Fascinating.

  12. @ Sabio: Well, I wasn’t trademarking it 🙂
    But, seriously, I work in an area of mathematics where infinity plays a role because infinity is everywhere, it’s here, not far away, as most laymen think (infinity is not necessarily at “infinity”). By treating infinity this way, one gets lots of useful things and formulas and results for “real” objects. Oh well, I will stop my philosophising and get back to work.

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