I have run across this particular argument twice in the last couple of days. Once in talking with a Christian and the other when talking to a Hindu.
The argument goes like this:
Christianity is not a religion because there are multiple denominations which have different rules. The denominations are religions but Christianity itself isn't. Christianity is just a path to god.
Hinduism is not a religion because there are multiple sects which have different rules. Hinduism is a path not a religion. Its a Dharma.
I am so struck with the stupidity of the defense that I just don't know what to say. I know its one more example of religious believers reworking definitions to make a non-existent point, but the stupidity of this one is melting my brain.
I've got to ask, how were they using this idea in an argument?? That is, what are they proposing to defend and how?
I mean, no one actually argues "Religions are wrong. Your belief is a religion. Therefore it is wrong."
Heck, not all religions are theist, nor do they all make wild, unfounded claims about the universe. Rather religious believers propose various individual claims based on their beliefs and we challenge those ideas on their own merit. So whether that belief stems from a religion, a specific sect, a cultural idea, or whatever really doesn't change whether it's accurate or not!
But i admit, without understanding what they are defending/arguing, i don't really see how this is terribly stupid. I mean, people in different sects/denominations DO believe some pretty wildly different things. But i'd might feel differently if i knew what conclusions they draw from this difference.
One of the arguments is being used to justify teaching Christianity in school because Christianity isn't really a religion. It would only be teaching religion in school if they were teaching a particular denomination. The denomination in this case being Eastern Orthodox Catholicism.
The other argument is that Hinduism cannot be a religion because it doesn't have a particular set of teachings which everyone can agree on. Therefore it is not a religion.
You can read them at:
Yeah, I guess my general response to them is not so much that it's stupid because denominations aren't separate religions, but stupid because it fails to miss the point!!
Taking the schools example:
I'm all in favor of teaching religions in school. It's a natural extension of common educational goals: history, literature, cultural competency. What i object to is teaching things as truth that we have no reason to suspect to be true. Or even reasonably suspect to be false!
Beyond that, whether it's a singular denomination or a whole religion, who cares! Sometimes singular denominations are worth talking about (ex, the way protestantism shaped the history of the United States) as are religions as a whole (the way Ancient Greek religion, all its various sects, influenced life during that time). Likewise, if someone specifically tries to claim any of these beliefs are true and i should be following them, whether they are generalized b.s. or more specific b.s. doesn't change that it's b.s.!
Meanwhile on Hinduism:
i don't actually know enough about the diversity of Hindu belief to know if they are making a valid claim. Certainly there is a lot of grey area between where one religion ends and others begin. Seems natural enough, as religions tend to develop over time and build on and mingle with the other religions around them.
In any religion where belief/faith is important, i see leaders in that religion struggling with the idea of "what, minimally, does one have to believe to be on board?" And i have to hand it to them, it's not an easy question!!