Nov 29, 2012

'Christianity is not a religion'

I don't know whether it's really possible to have a meaningful, reasonable debate about the place of religion in public, and about the question of what it means for the government to not "respect an establishment of religion," but a lot of examples like this "discussion" above seem to indicate it's not.

This debate, like so many on this subject, gets very weird very fast, as Bill O'Reilly claims Christianity is actually not a religion (unlike Methodism and Catholicism), and thus not subject to that clause of the First Amendment. "It is a fact," O'Reilly says, "that Christianity is not a religion. It is a philosophy. If the government was saying that the Methodist religion deserves a special place in the public square, I would be on your side." Even attempting to make any sense out of that claim just makes me tired.

And that's before the argument reaches its apex, where these public figures argue about who would have a hypothetical problem with what, and the host launches into accusations of insanity and fascism.



  1. I don't find the "above" discussion you reference, although it could easily be staring me in the face!

  2. In Salazar v. Buono, Catholic Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the cross is not a symbol of Christianity, and therefore that its erection on public land did not implicate the Establishment clause.

    The cross. Is not a symbol of Christianity.

  3. @gauche: There was also the court case where it was argued the Lord's prayer was not Christian. The judge's question: who does "the Lord" refer to?

    @Gretchen: Are you saying it's not really a discussion (in which case, I agree), or are you having problems with the embedded video?

  4. I was having problems with the video loading as well.

    Having viewed it, I wish I hadn't. O'Reilly's position is even more bullying unsupported assertion than anything else. When you argue on television that, for legal purposes, Christianity is not a religion, you are just showing the world how threadbare is the position you are clinging to.

  5. Perhaps in the future I'll load a broken link and then just write "trust me, you really don't want to watch this."

    There are, of course, arguments that would end up where O'Reilly (I think) wants to end up that are actual arguments. It's frustrating that this is what we get instead.

  6. I heard (or read, I can’t remember) recently that a similar argument was made about the Nativity scene that was to be erected in a public square: it isn’t, they claimed, unique to Christianity or overtly religious. I don’t recall the grounds they gave for this claim.

    On O’Reilly’s comments, though: I wonder if this is more attributable to the confusion that Americans seem to have about the concepts of “religion” and “denomination”? I hear these equivocated all the time; I’ll tell someone I’m a pastor, and they will say, “which religion?” by which they ACTUALLY mean, “which denomination?” — a fact that doesn’t become clear until I say, “Christianity.” Then they roll their eyes and say, “I know that, but which RELIGION in Christianity?”

    It’s conceivable to me that this equivocation/confusion could be so widespread that O’Reilly may simply not know what he is saying; he may be THINKING denomination when he says “religion” and if that is the case, then (in his own vernacular) he would be correct.

  7. This is basically the same argument made in 1954 when the National Reform Association was trying (again) to get the so-called Christian Amendment to the US Constitution passed--that the "religion" mentioned in the establishment clause refers to organized denominations, and that Christianity transcends those denominations. No particular denomination may be established, but everyone knows that America is a Christian nation, so state support of Christian practices doesn't really tread on anyone's toes. No one that matters, of course.

  8. @Ed I'd be more sympathetic to that interpretation if he didn't say twice that Christianity "is a philosophy."

  9. That said, I have certainly heard the kind of confusion you're talking about. Also with people who say they're "not religious," they're "just Christian."