On the Run from the Thought Police

Kevin J. Rice, Kevin@justanyone.com, http://JustAnyone.com

Religion Paper 2, Operative question: "Hinduism bases itself on the wants of mankind. Is this enough to be called a religion?"

My first thought towards answering this question was that I had better define the terms. The textbooks and video presented the premises of Hinduism, but how does one define religion? The first class meeting formulated about six definitions:

  1. Any belief system seeking to explain the universe or a part of it (my response);
  2. Recognition of a higher power (a class suggestion);
  3. Outward expression of a belief system (a class suggestion);
  4. Means to ultimate transformation (Streng book);
  5. Reverence (Webster's Dictionary);
  6. To bind oneself to a supreme being (Derfler)
  7. Only that ONE belief system that corresponds to a certain set of beliefs AND NO OTHERS (this is an attempt at a fundamentalist definition: the "I'm right and everyone else is wrong" sects).

Once religion is defined, it is a simple matter to see if Hinduism fits it, or at least to see if that part of Hinduism that deals with conflicting human wants does. Hinduism itself passed all the tests save the last one, although the logic is too lengthy to be included here.

Just as soon as I'd worked out the logic confirming that Hinduism was a religion, I saw that I had missed the point. The question seemed to be asking if a valid definition of religion was "anything that addressed or bases itself solely on the differing wants of mankind." This is definition is both wide and problematic. To start with, no matter how pervasive is the issue of conflicting human wants, the popular term "religion" seems to encompass more than merely that one question (for example, was there a supreme deity?). Second, the definition did not distinguish between Southern Baptists and the [civil service] Police. A common sense answer is that the police have nothing to do with religion, yet they fit the definition in that they are very concerned with the resolution of conflicting human wants (especially when I want something that isn't mine).

Figuring that maybe there were ways around this conundrum, I resolved that maybe there was a clear definition of religion that included terms of addressing human wants but restricted the "Police" question. I tried dividing up human wants into a (Thoughts, Feelings, Actions) triune. Police only deal with actions, excepting when they attempt to reason back to a motive for a crime, but at least with current technology it can't be determined what any person is thinking; therefore one can't get in trouble for it. Thus, we have the hair splitter: Religion is that which deals with conflicting human wants on the level of what humans think they want (or want to think) and not necessarily with how they act on their wants (or want to act). The "Advertising test" then happily fails also, as it is concerned very specifically with what humans think they want, but does make the attempt to coerce action and therefore is disqualified.

The remaining unresolved issue is that of the term Religion superseding the limitations of a definition like the one above. Most of the other definitions mentioned in class dealt with belief systems and were primarily concerned with an existence of a supreme entity. Attention is only paid to human wants in the context that they reflected larger truths, such as self-sacrifice. Hinduism does fit in this category of religions, as it also addresses these truths. To take the resolution of human wants out of the context of Hinduism's larger belief system does justice to neither the ideal of resolving human wants nor the entity that is Hinduism.

This argument must therefore conclude negatively, that there are insufficient grounds for calling anything that merely deals with addressing human wants a religion. Religion encompasses that issue but is not solely comprised of it, at insofar as I can tell. However, I must hope (for now at least) that the Police do not become a religion (either in the musical or civil senses), and that my thoughts may thus remain legal.

On the Run From the Thought Police

by Kevin J. Rice

Tuesday, October 2nd, 1990

Introduction to World Religions

Professor Derfler

Tues & Thurs 9:30 am

Fall Semester, 1990


"Hinduism bases itself on the wants of mankind. Is this enough to be called a religion?"

Fundamental question: What is a religion and does Hinduism fit within the category?

Presumption:Hinduism is based on addressing the wants of humankind.

Presumption:Wants cause conflicts between individuals, society, and nature (derived from assigned text's description of rationale behind Hindu desire to address wants as a method for resolving religious issues).

Presumption:Elimination of conflict is a religious goal.

Reduction:A religious goal of Hinduism is the resolution of wants so they no longer cause conflict.

Necessary Reduction:Define Religion.

Religion, Definitions:

1.Any belief system seeking to explain the universe or a part of it (my first response, at start of course).

2.Recognition of a higher power (class suggestion).

3.Outward expression of a belief system (class suggestion).

4.Means to ultimate transformation (Streng book).

5.Reference (Webster's Dictionary).

6.To bind oneself to a supreme being (Derfler).

Analysis (what is required to satisfy each definition)

1.Religion is any belief system seeking to explain the perceived universe or a part of it.

A.Hinduism is a belief system. (given)

B.Hindu's belief system bases itself on addressing issues of conflicting human wants. (given)

C.Human wants play a large role in our perception of the universe.

D.Hinduism is a belief system that seeks to explain the part of the world consisting of human wants. (conclusion true, criteria satisfied).

E.Hindu is a religion.

2.Religion is any recognition of a higher power.

A.The Hindu formulation of the definition for a higher power consists of the Dharma, or the universal being of which everyone is a part.

B.The Hindu methodology of recognizing a higher power includes an ethical code of conduct, which addresses conflicts inherent in human wants.

3.Religion is the outward expression of a belief system.

A.Hinduism is a belief system surrounding recognition of a higher power addressed in item 2.

4.Religion is a means to ultimate transformation.

A.An ultimate transformation essentially means changing one's worldview.

B.All worldviews address human actions.

C.Human actions are most often based on human wants and needs.

D.Worldviews address issues of human wants and needs.

E.Changing one's worldview means changing how one addresses issues of human wants and needs.

F.Hinduism provides a paradigm for how to change one's wants and needs, and therefore worldview.

G.Hinduism is a religion.

5.Religion is binding oneself to a supreme being.

A.Accepting the conclusions of definition number two as read, then the requirement is that Hindus bind themselves to recognition of their conception of a supreme being.

B.For Hindus, to bind oneself to the supreme being is to act in conformance with prescribed ethical laws.

C.Hinduism is a religion.

There is a need here to address contrary formulations, those that restrict the definition of Religion such that Hinduism cannot fit into the category of said religion. Certain fundamentalist Christian sects might claim that Religion consists of a specific conformance to specific beliefs that they would define. I would not dispute this attempt at definition because it might be part of their religion to define religion in such a way. Thus, my answer to the essay topic, "Is Hinduism a religion" must be yes, based on these previous definitions that I find acceptable.

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