“Religion” is a deceptive word. When people generalize about “religion” (“religion is…”, “religions causes …”) the deceptive nature of the word soon becomes clear.
Tomas Rees reviews of an article here which tries to correlate a country’s religious diversity with unhappiness. In his critical review Rees warns us of the deceitfulness of the word “religion”:
“I think that what this really does is show once again that it is simply too simplistic to talk about ‘religion’ as if it is a real, single entity (Voicu used a basket of different measures of religiosity, and lumped them all together). Religion is, in fact, a jumble of different cultural and psychological traits some of which (at different times, for different reasons, and in different mixes), we lump together and call it ‘religion’.”
–Tomas Rees (emphasis mine)
Many atheists misuse the word “religion” when they overgeneralize in order to support their favorite gripes. Not that their gripes aren’t important, but their misuse of the term delegitimizes their points in their attempts to strengthen their rhetorical flare.
Whereas when discussing other issues, these same atheists may be careful about matters of sociology, linguistics, cognitive science, statistics and science. But when discussing the word “religion”, they turn off their reasoning — almost like a religious person! 🙂
Theists misuse the word “religion” too. By molding their own definition, they often want to deny that their religion is a religion. So, both Theists and Atheists misuse the word “religion”. Each imagines their own special definition and use it to serve their agendas. Abstractions are the favorites of rhetorical prescriptionists.