By Robin Marie on August 23, 2012 | Discuss
Richard Dawkins, easily the most well-known leader of the atheist movement, loves to define religion as a scientific theory. Religion makes claims about how the world actually works, Dawkins argues, and is therefore making scientific claims that can be scrutinized in the light of reason and available evidence.
By and large, this is the definition of religion that the atheist community likes to work with. And undoubtedly, Dawkins is correct that religion is a theory about reality.
But it is a mistake to assume that this is all religion is. Now, nearly no one in the atheist community makes this argument explicitly – the vast majority of us acknowledge that religion is a lot of other things as well, such as an identity, a political tool, an aesthetic choice and a cultural critique. Nonetheless, there is a disjuncture between what we claim to understand about religion and the way in which we tend to talk about religion. For if most of us understand that religion is not merely a theory about reality, in our own writings and preoccupations we usually ignore all the other things it is.