There has been much debate about whether or not Shofar is a cult. I prefer not to take part in such debates, being someone that doesn’t care much for labels. I’m too fluid in my definitions. And besides, those already debating this point are providing more than enough entertainment for the observer. (And more than enough food for thought for those more directly concerned or involved.)
So how does a label-agnostic approach such claims then?
- You are addicted to computer games.
- Atheism is a religion.
- Richard Dawkins is a fundamentalist.
- Shofar is a cult.
You are addicted to computer games
I’m borrowing the first example from a friend, whose mother was concerned about his World of Warcraft “addiction”. Apparently the debate then centred around what an addiction is, and whether his behaviour with regards to World of Warcraft is formally an addiction or not. My label/word-agnostic approach to the statement is to rather dig into what his mother meant when she used that particular label to describe his behaviour. What is it that his mother is referring to, when she makes that assertion? Is her concern a valid one, irrespective of whether she’s using the “supposedly correct” definition of “addiction”? Or, in other words, in what ways could he be said to be addicted?
Atheism is a religion
I had planned to blog about this specific claim. However, considering adherents of our local pentecostal church claims they’re not religious, that religion kills — claiming that their “relationship” is something different from “religion” — I decided the local definition of “religion” is anyway too enigmatic for such a discussion to be of much use. Locally, that is, and that’s one aspect of my blog’s focus. So some pentecostals claim they’re not religious, while some religious people call atheism “a religion”, thereby indicating yet another definition of “religion”, in my opinion. So does it matter? When does it matter?
Here’s the crux, pointed out succinctly by Steve’s comment on my old “Is Atheism a Religion?” post:
Calling atheism a religion means nothing unless the people doing this “name-calling” use this “fact” to draw conclusions.
Thus the relevant definition of religion for this question actually depends on these people who typically claim atheism is a religion – what do they mean by religion?
Discussing the question for other definitions of religion is not likely to be very fruitful…
I had one particular example I wanted to use in a follow-up to that post, it was this: an example where a court ruled that atheism was a “religion”. This is a great illustration of how important the context is, because this ruling was in fact in favour of the atheist involved: see Court rules atheism a religion. (For those too lazy to follow links: too bad. I can recommend learning web-surfing techniques like opening links in new tabs — middle click does the trick in Firefox, but not everyone uses a three-button mouse and Firefox: try shift-click and ctrl-click.) So for that particular context, for that particular purpose, atheism is indeed a religion. Context.
Richard Dawkins is a fundamentalist
I’m guilty of having done this kind of name-calling. And I realise that it is very dependent upon the definition, and I have repented, and don’t do this (as often) anymore. The definition the “New Atheist” movement typically uses, deals with how prepared you are to change your viewpoints, when given convincing, empirical, verifiable evidence. By their definition, they are not fundamentalists.
Rather the question then, in what ways could they be considered fundamentalistic? Empirical fundamentalism? Reality fundamentalists? — You know, they’re fundamentalistic about having their world-view being based on “reality”… A George W. Bush aide famously used “reality-based community” in a pejorative sense (from a New York Times Magazine article by Ron Suskin, pilfering references from Wikipedia):
The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
I think someone’s been too busy watching things like “What the Bleep Do We Know?” or reading books like “The Secret”.
So what exactly is it that earns the “New Atheist movement” the label “fundamentalist”, fairly or unfairly? What is it that people mean by that, what is it that they’re pointing to and upset about? I think it is probably mostly the way they present themselves. Passionately and with confidence, maybe… and upsetting to people that disagree. As such, I suspect this version of the “fundamentalism” word has much to do with tolerance or intolerance for diverse viewpoints (irrespective of whether it is justified or not), and the perceived attitude of “I’m right and you’re wrong”. A perceived lack of humility. A perceived air of superiority… Something like that.
I suspect people want a more “neutral” approach, something that doesn’t come across as condescending of their beliefs, more sensitive to their sources of meaning in life. The next post considers this particular point with regards to how I’d like to handle differences of opinion on this blog. (That post inspired me to write and publish this one first.)
Shofar is a cult
This is another assertion I don’t care that much about. It doesn’t really make any difference to me whether Shofar is a cult or not. To some it might. Hypothesize for example the existence of an “anti-cult task force”: if their mission statement is to dismantle cults, they’d first need to decide whether an institution in question is a cult or not.
But I’m not part of that kind of task force. And I’m label-agnostic. Like I said, I couldn’t care less whether Shofar is formally a cult or not. Frame humanity in a particular frame, and we can claim “humanity is a cult”. (Yes, frivolous, I’m just sharing how I feel.) What difference could it possibly make if some people conclude “yes, Shofar is a cult”, or others conclude “no, it isn’t”? Is there any real value in this semantic debate?
Why I’m Wrong
Maybe everyone involved couldn’t really care less about formal definitions… maybe it is like the typical stale-mate debate on whether God exists or not. That debate never reaches a conclusion, it ends in a stand-off. However, what should not be overlooked, is the value of the arguments that are exchanged in the process of debating the label. The very debate of the matter ends up answering the question in what ways might Shofar be considered a cult?, irrespective of any eventual conclusion. The assertion has value in sparking discussion wherein people’s opinions and perspectives of Shofar can be shared, and the curious can observe to gain some insight.
If you are interested in the discussion/debate around the “Shofar is a cult” assertion, the most vocal prosecutor is most likely Al Lovejoy. On this blog, the prosecution has stated his case at comment 17 of the post “Shofar Marketing, or Turning a New Page?”. The defence then typically questions the prosecution’s motives and character, and it turns into a fist fight. Metaphorically speaking. The defence falls back to skepticism of the prosecution’s claims and motives, exhibiting and spreading distrust of the prosecution, not particularly concerned about the arguments. Technically, that’s an ad-hominem attack, isn’t it?
But this is no court case. There is no defence. The defence doesn’t want to play by the prosecution’s rules. Presenting a defence would be acknowledging that there is something to defend, thereby granting the prosecution’s arguments too much attention. So they avoid that debate, or play by different rules. With no defence, there is no court case, and with no court case, there can be no conviction. Strategically, often the best way to not risk loosing, is to not play in the first place. It makes very much sense.