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Religious information / Comparison of religions

Disagreements over religious terms:
An introduction.

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Introduction to disagreements about religious terms:

Consider some terms picked at random and used widely in this web site. They are listed in alphabetic order:

  • Agnostic:
    • Is it a person who neither accepts nor rejects the existence of a God at this time, or
    • A person who believes that the existence or nonexistence of a God can never be known with certainty?

  • Atheist:
    • Is it a person who firmly asserts that no God exists, or
    • A person with no belief in God. perhaps a person to whom the concept of God has no meaning, or
    • Both?
    • Since probably in excess of 99% of adults in North America don't believe that Baal, Thor, or Zeus exist, should the vast majority of Americans be considered Atheists?

  • Christian:
    • Is it a person who genuinely attempts to follow the teaching of Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) as they understand those teachings to be, or
    • A person who has trusted Jesus as Lord and personal Savior, and thus has attained salvation, or
    • A member or adherent of a Christian denomination, or
    • A person who was raised in a Christian denomination but hasn't darkened the door of a church in decades?

  • Gender:
    • Is it assigned for life by a physician at birth after a physical inspection of the newborn, or
    • Is it defined by the presence or absence of X and/or Y chromosomes in each cell of the person's body, or
    • Is it defined by the individual later in life according to their gender identity: their firmly held, sincere belief of their own gender?

  • Homosexual:
    • Is it a person who is sexually attracted to members of the same sex who may or may not also be attracted to the opposite sex, or
    • Is it any person who is sexually attracted only to a member of the same sex
    • Is it restricted to a person who engages in same-gender sexual activity, or
    • Does it only refer to a person who meets one of these definitions who is also politically active, and committed to advancing equality?

  • Marriage:
    • Is it restricted to the voluntary union of one woman and one man, or
    • Is it the voluntary union of two persons either of the same gender or opposite gender, or
    • is it a union to be entered into and abandoned if the going gets tough?

  • Mormon:
    • It is only a person who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (the LDS church) or
    • Is it a member of any of the faith groups who consider Joseph Smith to be their founder, like the Community of Christ.

  • Unitarian:
    • Is it a Christian who rejects the existence of the Trinity, and believes in a single, indivisible deity, or
    • Is it any person who believes in a single, indivisible deity, or
    • Is it a member of the Unitarian Church (Unitarian Universalist Association in the U.S.)

  • Witch:
    • Is it restricted to followers of the Wiccan faith, and is prohibited from harming others by the Wiccan Rede, or
    • Is it any person who practices ancient Pagan rituals, or
    • Is it a person who worships Satan, is believed to fly on a broomstick, and who uses black magick. or
    • Is it a woman mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) who issues spoken curses to harm or kill people, or
    • Is it a person mentioned in the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament) who uses poison to kill people, or
    • Is it any person who practices Witchcraft -- which itself has at least 17 different and often mutually exclusive definitions?

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Perhaps the greatest disagreement about the meanings of religious words involves the word "Religion:"

Many people have their personal favorite definition of "religion." Unfortunately, there no thing approaching a consensus exists. Many people firmly hold their own definition to be absolutely correct, and believe that those held by everyone else are false.

Many definitions of religion contain a requirement for belief in one or more deities. If belief in at least one God or Goddess is to be a requirement for a religion, then Buddhism would not be considered a religion. Yet it is always included as a major religion in books and articles about the religions of the world. It is considered the fourth most popular organized religion on Earth, after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. In addition, requiring a belief in deity/deities would eliminate Unitarian Universalism (a.k.a. Unitarianism) as a religion, because they do not require such a belief among their members.

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Our web site's difficulty with governments over the definition of religion:

Back in the 1990's, during the infancy of the Internet, this web site was evolving from a personal hobby to a registered Canadian organization. We attempted to have the group recognized as a non-profit charity. That would allow us to issue tax exemption certificates to Canadian donors. We were refused because the Government of Canada's definition of "religion" required religious non-profits to teach the belief in the existence of a God.

Any God would do: Yahweh, Allah, Jesus Christ, Aphrodite, Artemis, Astarta, Athena, Baal, Bast, Diana, Venus, Zeus, etc. In spite of this restriction, the federal government registered -- and still registers -- Buddhist and Unitarian groups as non-profits. But it would not recognize our web site as religious. Go figure!

So, we registered our group as a "for profit" entity. Even then, we ran into problem with definitions. We initially registered as Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance. This was rejected by the Ontario Government because the word "Center" in a company name can only be used in that province if the organization is a registered charity. So we changed our group's name to "Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance." This was not a great name, because we don't do consulting work. But we were finally able to register, and thus obtain a bank account.

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A recommendation from the Webmaster:

Please give other people some slack. When you disagree over the meaning of a religious word, please consider that there may not be a universally held meaning. Perhaps it is OK for people to hold diverse understandings.

Please try to put things in perspective. You probably hold many beliefs in common. Try to get along.

If you are ever in the Netherlands, please considering visiting with the Pastafarians at the newly recognized Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. News came of this Church's government registration as I was updating this essay.

Site navigation: Home page > Religious Information > Definition: "religion" > here

or: Home page > Comparison of religions > Definition: "religion" > here

Copyright 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2016-FEB-13
Latest update: 2016-FEB-13
Compiler: B.A. Robinson

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