This is actually a more difficult question than you might imagine, lots of people with lots of agendas have reasons to claim that religion is many different things. I bring this up because in a recent debate, a fundamentalist Christian kept insisting that atheism is a religion, which, of course, it is not. So I asked why they thought that and they pulled out a dictionary definition, presented here.
- the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.“ideas about the relationship between science and religion”
- a particular system of faith and worship.plural noun: religions“the world’s great religions”
- a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.“consumerism is the new religion”
Now I think most people would agree that the initial definition given is pretty accurate, a belief in a supernatural or superhuman power, gods or a god. However, instead of going with that definition, he picked the bottom definition that says “a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.” But that’s so absurdly vague that it really means nothing. Consumerism isn’t a religion because consumerism has nothing to do with a belief in a supernatural or superhuman power, gods or a god. Nobody in their right mind would agree to such a definition because it literally fits anything. Anything that you really enjoy, by that definition, is a religion. That means woodworking is, for me, a religion. Or stamp collecting. Or reading books. Or blogging. Or my family. Every single thing that I enjoy is now a religion, which really makes the whole idea of a religion completely irrelevant.
But he was adamant and the reason he was adamant is because he was desperate to cast atheists in the same mold as he, a fundamentalist Christian, was. This is very commonplace among theists, they don’t want anyone to criticize them, but if someone can, they want to put the other person into the exact same camp so they can be similarly criticized for the same thing. That’s why they use really vague, meaningless definitions for things, so they can pretend that their critics are hypocrites.
Of course, that’s not the case and eventually, I had to stop talking to this idiot because he was accusing me of having religion after religion after religion, which really just shut down the whole conversation, as was his goal. These people don’t want to listen to reason, they aren’t reasonable, they just want to hold the blind and completely unjustified faith that they have and nothing is going to get in the way. That’s why these idiots believe the stupid things they do. Logic never intrudes on their beliefs.
So the next time that a theist tries this with you, point out that they’re not using the main definition, the understood definition, of the term and be ready to just walk away because it’s unlikely they’re going to care. Some people you can’t talk to, you can only shake your head at sadly and realize they’re just not very bright.