The Imperialism of the Religious Identity Marker

part four of “Four essays on Religion and Freedom “ – tr. from the Dutch 2019

previous: Freedom and religion, a love-hate relationship
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I open the newspaper and read: ‘Vogue portrays American Muslim women in festive edition’ . Curious, I leaf through the report of this anniversary issue that is freely available on the internet . 

One of the header images, used on the website for the 125 years jubilee.

The headscarf is omnipresent both on screen and in the short conversations. A woman reports that it had been years since she had worn a headscarf, but that she has now put on a headscarf again purely out of protest. Another woman says that she had recently participated in a number of Black Lives Matter demonstrations and had thought for a moment that this was where her calling as a human being lay. She was born black and had converted to Islam at the age of nineteen. ‘However,’ she continues, ‘studying the Quran more, I can really say that being a Muslim is first‘ (italics mine). After all: ‘When we go to our graves, I believe your race and your gender aren’t going to matter’.1


religion as a greedy identifier

The report quoted above is revealing on several points. It clearly shows how much external signs (outer badges) have inner meaning: ‘they say something’, and precisely gain importance the more they are controversial and contested. If the headscarf wasn’t ‘symbolic’ already, it certainly has become so. It also shows how ‘greedy’ the religious identifier is. It swallows up other identity markers, as it were . The last testimony cannot be misunderstood on that point. Race and gender must make way for religion, or at least be subordinated to it. This is done with a reference to the absolute character of her religious commitment: religion does not have to do with ‘penultimate things’ but with the ‘last things’, in this case: with the fact that you will one day die and then have to give account for God. From that point, all of life is interpreted, valued and lived. The holy book provides the ‘reminders’. It is no coincidence, in my opinion, that this testimony comes from the mouth of a convert, ie someone who feels that she has had to choose her own life (and therefore has had to ‘choose away’, reject other options). Here all identifiers (facets, aspects of being human, impulses to acts that determine your identity) are pushed into the background by the religious aspect. Her blackness, her womanhood no longer count when the relationship to the eternal, reports itself. The hegemony of the religious marker therefore obscures the fact that a person’s identity has many facets and that this also applies to the ‘sources of the self’, the sources from which man draws to give meaning to his life and his actions and to his determine your own place in this world. The religious marker relegates the other sources to second-rate status or – put more cautiously, but no less far-reaching – obscures their significance from view. The radical historicity of human existence is blurred by the weight of eternity. That’s why I call the religious identifier a ‘greedy’ identifier.

Jan Leyers effect

It is also revealing that the editors of Vogue – una pro omnibus in media , I’m afraid, they can hardly be blamed – speak unabashedly of ‘Muslim women’ in the title, thus pegging the women portrayed in advance on their ‘being Muslim’. In this way she gives free rein to the gluttony of the religious identifier. Everything that the photographer will capture in terms of details is linked to ‘being Muslim’ through this title alone. Cultural aspects, the fact that the roots of many of the subjects lie outside America, personal taste, growth processes, and so on, are all grouped under the religious umbrella term ‘Muslim woman’. In itself I would have no problem with that if the term ‘Muslim’ were a cultural marker , that is to say an indication for a broad spectrum of typical human behavior, which invites you to look for what exactly is behind it. . Then it is an ‘open’ inviting marker that allows great internal diversification. However, this is clearly not the case. The reporter does in fact talk about ethnic, personal, political and religious aspects, but instead of distinguishing and honoring them, she allows the greedy religious identifier to take its course. And of course the interviewees go along with this. If you are cast as a Muslim woman, you either are or you suddenly become one. I have elsewhere called this the Jan Leyers effect, referring to a Flemish TV series ‘The Journey to Mecca’ Jan Leyers addresses everyone he meets about their ‘being Muslim’, after which almost everyone dutifully switches into religious mode. Framing the question determines the answer . Thought exercise: What if Vogue wanted to do a report on ‘Christian women’? That immediately sounds strange. What exactly are these ‘Christian women’? What criteria would she have used to select them? Wouldn’t they have been tested on the extent to which their faith determines them? Because if that were not largely the case, then the epithet ‘Christian’ would make no sense. After all, then they would just be ‘ordinary American women’. By portraying a colorful and very diverse group of women in this report, all under the title ‘Muslim women’, and then addressing their ‘being Muslim’, Vogue portrays them as Muslims. The interviewer deprives the women of the opportunity to ‘just be American’, although this is exactly the opposite of her intention, which is clearly reflected in the explicit comments and the introduction. However, the subtext of the title speaks more strongly than the explicit text.

Unfair treatment

I wonder: Why is it that with one religion we are so naive that we immediately link everything one does, says, feels to religion, while with the other (especially the Christian one) we cut away all outward appearances with a filleting knife and only subsume deep inner convictions under the religious marker? Where does this unequal treatment come from? Is it laziness? Are we lazy? Not interested? Or do these religions themselves cause us to treat them unequally? If the latter is the case, then we should think about freedom of religion, because then our system privileges a religion that labels all outward behavior as “essential” over one that is concerned only with the inward. Just signaling. That the term “Muslim” acts as a de facto ethnic or cultural marker and thus designates much more than religious belonging alone makes the use of this very identifier particularly problematic. Language is not innocent. It orders reality, puts things, actions “on a certain denominator,” i.c. the religious one, and directs our perception of reality and our behavior. It also plays into the hands of those who want to make religion effectively the most essential part of our humanity. As far as Islam is concerned, we are all guilty of this – I call it for convenience – lazy language. We do it daily, without thinking. We see a woman wearing a headscarf and think, “Muslim. Strange really. We don’t automatically think ‘Christian’ or ‘atheist’ when we see a Flemish woman without a headscarf, do we? Why that religious term? It’s automatic. When Sweden has to play beach volleyball against Egypt during the Olympic Games, the Egyptian girls dressed modestly are called “Muslim girls,” while the opposing players in bikinis are simply “Swedish. Did the commentators do a survey on the religion of the players and determine that “beliefs are important to them? I don’t think so. However, that would have been the minimum requirement with all other volleyball players to have a religious adjective added to their nationality. Then again: Suppose both Swedish girls had been Lutheran (i.e. baptized as children in a Lutheran church, because then you are nominally “Lutheran”), would we have found it relevant to refer to them as “Christians”? No, because it’s about sports. And since there is no strong connection between religious membership and sports practice, the designation of religion is irrelevant. So why describe the Egyptian girls that way and then spend days debating Islam? There is clearly more to it there.

The imbalance in the way the religious marker appears in our language has social consequences. In the case of Islam, we use the term so broadly that actually an entire culture sails under the name “religion,” while in the case of Christianity we take seriously only the creed and call the rest “culture,” often also with a devaluing connotation (it is “only” culture). This has implications for how the adherents of both these religions appear in social debate and legitimize their behavior. As mentioned, the religious identifier can be greedy. Internally, too. Everything I do I can trace – if I want to – to or at least connect to my religious beliefs, but that does not make everything I do religious. I can connect the fact that I am enjoying the beautiful weather with God the Creator; I can, when I am busy with my work, connect my work morality with my Calvinism (à la Max Weber), I can, when listening to music, thank God for this gift to humanity (à la Luther), etc. Most of the time, however, I don’t do that. Normally I just enjoy the sunshine, do my job with pleasure (or not) and get absorbed in the music being played. Just like everyone else. I would find it odd if things like that were reported with the term “Christian” around. Yet we very often do with our fellow human beings who adhere to the Islamic faith. For example, a few years ago I saw a news item about the first Berber festival in Antwerp (in Roma, 2015, VRT news late): You saw people imbibing the sounds of their mother tongue, enjoying the music of their youth, straining to master writing during a workshop, or – other workshop – learning an intricate rhythmic figure on a traditional drum etc. And then suddenly the reporter on duty starts talking about Islam and asks an eager visitor, “And if you, being a Muslim, had to choose between being a Berber and being a Muslim, what would you choose?” The man confused; he did not understand the question: why is the journalist suddenly starting to talk about his being a Muslim? Fortunately, he found a way out: Berber was culture and Muslim was religion, and these were two very different things. Relief radiated from him. He had escaped, narrowly, from the imperialism of the religious identifier, which had not only triggered not himself but the journalist. A false choice, of course. If you attend a Dutch evening in Canada, where (peanut) cheese is eaten, and clog dancing, you’re not going to ask, either: And if you had to choose between your “being a Christian” and your “being a Dutchman” what would you choose?

Religion is not everything

Humans may be hardwired to view and experience the things of life also from a kind of religious perspective, but that does not mean that that religious outlook should push away or declare all those other things second-rate. That religious authorities insist on that, and see things that way, makes sense. They have an interest in doing so. That there are a remarkable number of religious precepts that interfere with ordinary life (food, clothing, human contacts), I also know. That theology looks over everything and determines morality as well is obvious. But for that reason, surely you don’t have to adopt that imperialist discourse without blinking an eye and thus reinforce it. Theology is human work, nothing more. So is religion. So it is and remains intertwined with general human culture and therefore partly determines a person’s identity, certainly. Precisely because that religious component in its interaction with all those other “sources of the self” tends to swallow up the others anyway, we should be alert and reluctant to go along with it. Why blindly adopt the claim from religious quarters that that component of identity is the most important? Why always make that religious component explicit? The vast majority of people do things simply because they do them, including religious ones. So think twice, I would say, before jumping into the religious discourse of professionals, with which they try to get a grip on human behavior. And this applies even when people themselves say that it “naturally comes from their religion or faith” that they act this way. Religious people are also perfectly capable of fooling themselves when it comes to the motives behind their actions. They are only human, too. So anything can very easily become religion, but religion is not everything. By focusing on the religious component you do violence to the complex reality of how a human being lives. And you don’t help people, including religious ones, move forward in their lives. So it is not a harmless thing to ‘catalog’ groups of people summarily based on their religious affiliation. Not only do you play into the hands of the ‘gluttony’ of the religious identifier (‘thank you’ says the religious leader), but you also make living together in diversity needlessly more difficult than it already is. Indeed, the religious marker is not the most convenient way to get people to live together. It reinforces the human tendency toward group formation. If we conveniently call people fleeing to Western Europe from failed states such as Somalia and Syria “Muslims,” we mortgage future integration more than is necessary. Nominally most of the refugees surely belong to the Islamic religion, but surely we are not researching the state of religion in the countries of origin and what it means to the inhabitants? So why always use that term? Why don’t we just say Syrians, Somalis. Most Poles are also “Catholic,” but I never read articles about “those Catholics” pouring into our country from Poland in large numbers to fix the leaks in our water pipes and repair our walls. They are just “Poles,” or plumbers or plasterers. Yet percentage-wise, there are at least as many nominal “Catholics” among these groups as there are nominal “Muslims” among the refugees. So why do we almost consistently name one group by reference to their religious marker and the other simply by national or professional identifier? Language does not necessarily reflect reality (it is not that simple, in which case truth would be much more dominant in public discourse than it is now). Language betrays and determines perceptions of reality. And can then act as a selffulfilling prophecy. It bends reality to its will and then creates a corresponding dynamic. Address people on the religious aspect of their person, and in their answers the questioning will recur. The identifier you use will become self-identifying for the person in question. Repeat that and focus on religion, and religion will become an important factor in social debate. And the groups that have to live together in the real world will be kept apart along religious dividing lines in that debate.

Structure of this chapter

In this chapter, based on this double observation – the gluttony of the religious identifier and the way in which religion is present in social discourse – I would like to look back at what we have encountered along the way in terms of religious experiences, forms of expression and how they have influenced society. , to see if that sheds any light on how we should and should perhaps not respond to it.

What we saw along the way was that religious experiences can be extremely diverse. We have not succeeded by a long shot in bringing them together under one denominator and that was not our intention, not on purpose. We wanted to stay as close as possible to the ‘lived and experienced religion’ ( live religion, everyday religion ) and the great stories of theologians and religious scientists ( expert religion , the ‘learned religion’, the religion of the professionals and religious leaders who appear on TV). come and explain what’s going on) avoid. It can therefore be just as much about a deeply felt conviction, spiritual, philosophical, abstract, as it can be about physically participating in a group dance or taking part in a procession, without any knowledge of dogma. And – I repeat once again – one is not more religion than the other. We also maintain our suspicion when people start throwing around ‘vérités vénérables’. We wanted to get close to reality.

During our tour we saw a huge surge of religious energy when Luther made the definition of what ‘being Christian’ actually is a general theme. He challenged the prevailing view (institution) and that had consequences for almost everything. Suddenly everyone was talking about it, not just academics and clerics. Even farmers began to motivate and legitimize their actions, an uprising, in a religious manner (in this case by referring to biblical texts). The importance of religion apparently grows as soon as it becomes a separate theme (which happened in the sixteenth century) and that growth is exponentially reinforced when a dominant articulation of it is contradicted. Palma sub pondere crescit , they say, and that also applies to the plant ‘religion’. It is not surprising that there has been much contention and conflict surrounding religious matters. And today there is no shortage of tension. We immediately saw in the first chapter, when we looked for the genealogy of the concept of religion (as a category), that religious views, actions, experiences, visions and behavioral patterns used to be so completely embedded in the general culture (= everything that a person does in life that goes beyond the fulfillment of his primary needs), that you could not actually separate them. The religion did not exist apart from that culture. It was part of it. The entire culture was permeated by it. And this finding had major consequences. Not only was it difficult to distinguish between them, we also saw that anyone who thought they could isolate the religious components from the culture (if necessary, cut them away as undesirable) and thus preserve the culture was mistaken. The patient dies under the surgeon’s knife. This was the story of the mission in South America. The attempt to save the souls of the people was the death blow to the culture. On the other side of the world we saw the discussion flare up as to whether the religious component could and should actually be mentioned separately when encountering another culture. The attempt not to do that for a change (Jesuits in China) and to leave the entire complex intact and just see if you could add a Christian component to it was nipped in the bud. It would be a betrayal of one’s own identity. Here too it became an all or nothing operation. The gluttony of the religious identifier led to cultural imperialism.

Anyone who wants to defend themselves against this is almost obliged to take an outside position in relation to their own culture, as the Jesuits in China de facto did. That is of course not simple, in fact, it is only possible if you put your own culture into perspective and that is actually not possible. You are taught culture at a young age, including its religious or non-religious aspects. In our country too – in Western Europe, characterized by Christianity – religion has been completely intertwined with culture. Just as the church towers mark the landscape, the Christian religion dominated the culture. As long as this was not problematized and set apart, there was little sense of need to distinguish between cultural and religious aspects (if such a distinction can be made at all). The interweaving was total. Anyone who watches old films about Flanders cannot miss it. You also see the clergy appearing everywhere, not only during religious processions, but also during civil, cultural, sporting and recreational events. Religion was everywhere and it was taken for granted. For example, one can leaf through the book ‘ For you beloved believers  by Jozef van Haver about the Rich Roman life in Flanders, or for Holland through ‘ The word in images ‘ by CW Mönnich and Michel van der Plas. How simple life still was, and how much the culture was permeated by religion (and vice versa). This awareness is also essential for the way you deal with religion. You touch on things that have to do with what you acquire in your first years of life: basic trust. Every developmental psychologist can tell you: Anyone who touches elements of childhood should expect severe reactions.

Religion as part of culture.

Culture and religion, you don’t choose it, you are part of it. You are “born into it,” you participate in it as soon as and because you are alive. So it is always first your parents’ culture (and therefore religion) that becomes yours. So “theologizing” with children as is popular in certain forms of religious education is not actually what the word says. It is engaging with children around the “theology” of their parents (and teachers). Only later, through a process of awareness and rationalization, can you begin to vary on this and develop your own thoughts. Both beaming and rejection presuppose a certain distance. That is a prerequisite for being able to choose, and even then: you remain stamped as a human being by what you experienced, felt, lived as a child, even if you have later distanced yourself from it. You never get rid of that stamp, just ask Etienne Vermeersch or Maarten ‘t Hart. In the construction of the new philosophical identity, the structure and contours of the old are still visible: Jesuit and Reformed in the above examples. And both know it. Thus, a child receives the religious component of the culture with the spoon. It takes everything in the life it receives equally for granted. Praying (or not praying) before eating, going to church (or not), making friends with Jesus (or not), ritual ablutions (or not), manners, dress standards: all as natural as food itself, school, soccer, St. Nicholas and family visits. When one has come to the years of discernment, some reflection can take place, but don’t expect too much of it, because by then the religious identifier has already been installed and calibrated. This mushrooming aspect of any view of life (God-believing, or not) should make us cautious about reducing religion to “deeply held convictions” for which one freely chooses as an individual (voluntaristic) – and in which one can then choose or not choose away a transcendent component, as is quite often readily suggested by opinion makers pro and con. Man is not that free and sovereign, especially when it comes to things he has acquired in his youth. This is one of those ‘vérités vénérables’ that obscure reality, almost untouchable because it also dominates human rights discourse. Much research on religion, in my view, does not take enough account of this, nor do the legislature and judiciary. So it will keep us busy later in this chapter when we turn to how we use the law to peacefully settle the matter of religion people. There, too, the mushrooming aspect of religion (communally experienced, often focused much more on actions than beliefs) is often overlooked, or taken little seriously. More deftly put: that religion is embedded in a general culture, into which one is born, and which one has therefore not consciously chosen, is much more decisive for the experience of religion than much discussion of religion in public debate and in the courtroom makes it appear, when it talks about man’s religious “choice.

Religion in a mono-cultural society

As long as only one well-defined religion is dominant in a society, few problems – at least to the eye – present themselves. Everyone is brought up on the same religion. It is omnipresent and self-evident. Why be difficult? Better: how could you be difficult, because you are hardly aware of it. Religion contains an overall vision of how the world works, why things are the way they are and what your place is within it. Descriptive and normative at the same time. If you live within it, you are hardly or not at all aware of the boundaries: like a fish in water is not aware of the bowl in which it swims. After all, all roads lead to Rome|Mekka|Geneva|… (cross out what doesn’t fit, complete if desired). As long as few sages or obstructionists stand up, such a society is seemingly at rest. The do’s and the don’ts are fixed. At the same time, to participate, one does not have to be personally convinced at all that it is all right, or correct. Nor does it usually come to that. After all, the do’s and don’ts come in with the upbringing and are internalized before they can even be problematized. The infamous statement, “Give me the child the first seven years of his life, and I will give you the man,” put by Voltaire into the mouth of Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits) may be somewhat exaggerated, but it is also not entirely unfounded. A recent European Union report on religious education (The future of religious education, 2015) identifies exactly this as one of the aporias when it comes to freedom of education. The rights of the child clash with cultural (and therefore often religious) views in which children have no rights of their own, but are socialized (raised) as part of the family according to established patterns in society. An aphorism, because the right of parents to raise their own children religiously is also guaranteed in the European Convention in as formal and absolute a manner as religious freedom itself.1 In a mono-cultural society, ‘All who wish to come with us must understand our ways. Such are our ways’, so and not otherwise. This means that culture feels natural because it is shared by almost everyone. And so does religion, which is part of that culture. The religion that was embedded in our Western culture for a long time was Christian. It was an exponent of it, or its guarantor, depending on how you make the analysis. We saw in Part I how far the entanglement of the religious aspect with culture went, and also how absurd it is to see the religious component as unchanging and pure within such a culturally grown complex. Thus Christianity was and is not an abstract religion, always self-equal, but a concrete historical human phenomenon, constantly changing thus. From this embedding in culture, Christianity derived its vitality.

In concrete terms, this meant that in our regions, religious identity took shape within a culture stamped by the dominant religion there (Roman Catholic or Protestant). People automatically adopted that color, even if they didn’t want it. That is, if you belonged to a minority in this society and went against the dominant religion, it was still true that you were born into the same culture. Religious identities matched, even and precisely when they clashed. You participated in them before you even became aware of them. The “pillar society” which was developed after tolerance began to prevail in the religious sphere and was guaranteed by law, was underpinned by a shared culture, which was therefore actually much more important than the religious divisions made it seem (veiling effect). For example, an outsider would immediately see how similar the Christian and liberal pillars were and how they mirrored each other. With a different set of beliefs they built a similar pillar. After all, a segregated society is also a way of shaping a plural society: living apart together. And more together, that is, than people themselves often realized. And this is not so long past: half a century perhaps. Morality, ethics, high and low art, social life, customs and practices, politics and education, yes especially that: education, was permeated by the dominant form of Christianity (or thus characterized by precisely the fight against it, whether or not in the form of an alternative).

The religious marker becomes social

A not insignificant consequence of this symbiosis of culture and religion is that when ‘moving’ to a country or continent where another culture is dominant, there are suddenly a huge number of questions to be answered. What aspects of your behavior, attitudes, morals, customs, are ‘just’ culture (and can therefore be abandoned, one then often tacitly adds, a conclusion that I think is far too quick) and what belongs to ‘the religion’ (and would therefore be unforgivable, an implication that I think is also debatable). The question – as you have already understood – is, in my view, misstated because unanswerable. The religious impulse cannot simply be separated from the cultural stature. It is itself a cultural expression and intertwined with all sorts of other behaviors. Protestants easily fall into the trap of believing that this is possible. Culture is only something “incidental” according to their theology (“expert religion”). It’s about “faith,” they say, and that is something personal and has to do with the heart. Protestants are critical of the form faith takes. It is only relative. Those are only “externals” they say. That’s not the point (Oh no? Have you ever wondered why so many quarrels are about psalmody, Bible translation, rituals?). You should, in theory, be able to do without it. So they see little problem here. Give us the Bible and let us come together. With that, the essentials of our religion are mentioned and therefore easily transferable to another culture. The rest will come naturally. They too soon discovered – when they also went on a mission – that many morals and customs (e.g., relationships between men and women, marriage, clothing, daily routine, child rearing, etiquette, manners, ideas about work, ideas about possessions, not to mention psalmody and organ playing, etc.) may be culturally determined, but that does not mean they are separate from religion and can simply be given up or exchanged. In theory, yes, but not in practice. Many of what we call “externals” were therefore transplanted to foreign soil with the result that Papuans in New Guinea sang psalms to French Renaissance melodies from the sixteenth century that had long lost their original musicality due to their Dutch inculturation in the seventeenth century. Very often, then, even in the Protestant mission – as in the Roman Catholic mission to South America – a total package was transplanted. Large chunks (the whole?) of Western culture was to be taken or left. That other forms, e.g. gradual inculturation, acculturation, would also be possible was often discovered when it was already too late. That being said: imagine an inhabitant of Syria, or of Somalia, moving to Europe. He too takes with him to the new world a package of “culture-where-the-religion-is-embedded. And when he arrives here and is asked to ‘adapt’ to our culture, I am sure he is willing to do so, but: ‘what is culture and what is religion’, because – so the person is told: for that which belongs to your religion, we want to stay away from it . You can get an exception for that. In fact, you can exercise it freely here, because ‘we have freedom of religion’. Well, what would you do? I would – because everything is connected to everything else in my opinion – go for a maximum option. Not just the set of beliefs and some rituals that take place neatly behind the closed doors of the ‘sacred space’ (What is that anyway, asks the Protestant?), but also the intercourse between the sexes, dress codes, child rearing. Surely these are all interrelated. And in case of uncertainty, I would ask the scribes, the religious professionals. They are educated, aren’t they. And – does it surprise you? – who always take maximum options, because service to God permeates and defines all of life, or at least it should. Whether you’re a Senegalese Christian, or a Syrian Muslim, chances are that when you move (forced or voluntary), a significant portion of the cultural markers from country x will continue to live on as religious markers in country y after crossing to country y. Especially if, on the receiving end, some of the newcomers are addressed over and over again by their religious marker, as “Muslims. Ergo:

When moving from culture A to B, cultural elements easily take on religious connotations.

Religion as a group marker

So in the past, religious, cultural, and ethnic markers usually just coincided. So we could speak of “Protestant Holland,” “Catholic Belgium,” and “Christian Europe. Reality was always a lot more complex than these terms made it seem, but still. Culturally, this did make sense. The dominant religious marker encompassed the whole. Anthropologists are familiar with the phenomenon that when different identity markers coexist for a long time, they can also take each other’s place, swapping places. Thereby, we observed, the religious marker is not only greedy, but also tends to be exclusive. Indeed, the religious marker connects a group of people together (indeed: religion connects, is cohesive, social glue), but unfortunately religion quite often does so – and we have seen in Chapters 2 and 3 how far this can go – by explicitly distinguishing itself from others (“the rest of the world” or at least “competing religion”). The extent to which this leads to a separation from those others varies by religion, by country, by time, but the principle is always present in the discourse. Even the most inclusive rhetoric about “elements of faith” that are present in other denominations or religions, or – let’s be generous – even outside the church (the official Roman Catholic view of religions) cannot disguise this, no matter how barmy and generous one’s attitude. Religion connects by including and excluding. You either belong or you don’t (or at least not quite). And the buck is always expertly played away to the out-crowd. We saw the dramatic power of this principle when Luther put the question of Christian identity on the table. The answers given ensured that within a few decades all sorts of new dividing lines had been drawn through society, at both the micro and macro levels. Families split, families, villages, cities, countries, kingdoms went to war. Internally strongly connected groups (through the religious identifier) faced other similarly connected groups. The fault lines quickly fixed, precisely because of a very conscious focus on the religious component. The era of denominationalization cemented the group-identity opposition for several centuries. Confessionalization is also always fixing oppositions. We followed this trail of ever-deepening split within Protestantism in England and only saw the repeating split come to a halt in New England. Here the Protestant adage became true: “One Protestant is a creed, two Protestants a church, three Protestants a schism. This process, however, was not limited to Christianity. The same is true for Sunnis and Shiites, and here, too, this split is only the beginning of many more schisms and strife. Anyone who gets to know other “established religions” a little better will see that this internal diversity is always present, usually to the regret of the professionals who often go out of their way to minimize its importance, or subsume it under an original or theoretical unity, both fictions that obscure the view of the reality of the “lived religion.

We can even go a step further. If in the past one could still assume that the religious designation was grosso modo consistent with at least nominal membership in the religion in question (“sociological Christians” e.g.), over time the religious marker can also take on a life of its own. Indeed, it may take the place of the ethnic, cultural, or any other group designation. And it can persist even when the strictly religious reference (associated with a form of cult) has long since evaporated. The most striking example of this offers the terms “Protestant” and “Catholic” as used to this day in the context of Northern Ireland. Here the religious terms have lost all connection with religious connotation and have been reduced entirely to group labels. Its absurdity is best captured in an anecdote told by Christopher Hitchens in his strident indictment of religion2. It is found in the chapter “Religion kills,” where the bloody civil war in Northern Ireland is cited as one of the examples of the pernicious influence religion has on people’s coexistence. The scene is set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, while the battle between the “Protestants” and “Catholics” is still in full swing. A man is stopped at a roadblock. ‘What religion do you belong to?” roars the soldier. ‘I am an atheist’ the man replies. ‘A Protestant or a Catholic atheist?” replies the soldier.2

This anecdote is revelatory because the point makes it clear that the religious markers (Protestant and Catholic) do not refer to a religious practice and/or a lived faith, but only serve to distinguish ‘ours’ from ‘theirs’.3 I will leave aside the fact that religion does allow itself to be used very easily when you want to divide the world into ‘us and them’ and is then also very apt to throw oil on the fire. Hitchens has a point but it is not the only one to make. And my concern now is with that other point, which is that a religious marker can apparently lose its philosophical significance and then live on perfectly well as a cultural, social, ethnic or political marker. To stay with the example of Northern Ireland for a moment. There it was not religious affiliation, let alone a “deeply held religious conviction” that distinguished a “Catholic” from a “Protestant. One could be a fine atheist and Marxist (like many IRA members) and still be known as a militant Catholic. In the early years of the IRA, IRA members were also excommunicated several times by the appropriate bishop, but without any impact on their ‘Catholic’ identity. Even without repentance and conversion, they continued to call themselves “Catholic. Also, they could (and can) march with Orange flags through Catholic streets just fine (yes, even ‘streets’ can have a philosophy of life!) without ever having touched a Bible, which is surely – given the chapter on Luther – the bare minimum to be called ‘Protestant’ in a cultic sense. In this context, the religious marker has atrophied into the designation of the camp you belong to, a party name, a nom de guerre even. And that was certainly not the first or last time. In fact, as a designation of a group, the religious marker seems particularly appropriate. Christians against Muslims, that’s how we like to summarize the Crusades. It’s easy to talk and it’s clear. Whether it does justice to reality remains to be seen. More strongly, or more sharply, the use of a religious marker to name the parties (us-versus-them) in a conflict obscures the complexity underlying all human actions. For example, anyone who thinks that the 30 Years’ War (1618-1648) was a religious war between Protestants and Catholics – and that is how it is written in many history books – who, when studying the actual alliances, intrigues, acts of war, will be baffled many a time as to who he now sees fighting together against whom. The religious marker in this case is not “discovering,” but “covering up,” sometimes even deliberately. Then it becomes propaganda, a rallying cry. This does not ‘warm up’ the importance of the religious component; on the contrary, it is the ultimate fuel for the war machine, but it must be brought forward in the right way. Fuel is different from source. Precisely because I am convinced, that religion plays a major role in conflict, I want to know how it does so. If I skip that stage of analysis, then even my attempt to counter this pernicious use of religion will be no more than a slap in the face.

Thus, if religious and ethnic (or political or national) markers occur together long enough, i.e., if several centuries of the same religion is dominant in a (part of the) society, then the religious marker can simply replace the cultural one. Thus, we speak of Poland as a Catholic country (whereas four centuries ago Poland was largely Protestant), we automatically assume that Russians must be Orthodox, and Tibetans Buddhist. Whether they really are remains to be seen. In any case, all are not, and certainly not all are in the same way and to the same extent. And there will be many “sociological believers” among them. To bring it a little closer: After centuries of philosophical apartheid between the Northern and Southern Netherlands, we readily speak of “Calvinist Dutchmen” and “Catholic Flemish. Yet we all know that there are so many exceptions to this combination that the statement is only meaningful if you interpret the religious markers as cultural. So that means that liberal humanists in Flanders are also Catholic (culturally, that is) and that Catholics in Holland have something Calvinist about them. Interesting thought. So the religious identifier can remain in use when religion itself is already almost completely gone from society. Denmark is one of the most secularized countries in the world, yet Denmark is still on the world philosophical map as belonging to the Lutheran areas, along with all of Scandinavia and large parts of Germany. Thus, although rendered meaningless from a religious perspective, the marker still sticks to the identity.

Administrative classification and religion

This can have strange consequences – and I am now picking up the thread from the beginning – if within a unified world, religious reference (in the strict sense) is sometimes relevant and sometimes irrelevant without awareness. I already pointed out the difference between using the term “Christian” (only when faith is involved), and “Muslim” (covering the whole culture). As a result, the wearing of a headscarf (a common item of clothing in large parts of the world) is labeled ‘religious’ without blinking an eye, while a Christmas tree (a fairly common present appearing around December 25 in large parts of the world) is ‘not religious’, but ‘part of Western culture’. In both cases, I think it would be more correct to begin by noting that headscarf and Christmas tree are both cultural things that both also have theo-logical significance depending on the context. Both have deep roots in the culture in which the religion associated with them has been the dominant one for many centuries. Of course theology can claim them and sweetly so . The religious identifier is is greedy. But whether it is wise to allow that to happen in all contexts or even to bring it forward is questionable. Everything can be connected to religion, but religion is not everything. In any case, for ordering society, it does not seem to me to be the most appropriate category, precisely because it creates separation. That is why the category was invented, I mean: both to order society and to make distinctions (see our exercise in the first chapter). Religion connects people by placing them in subgroups on the basis of the religious marker, which in turn has the central characteristic of distinguishing its own people from other groups. Religion always works with incrowd and outcrowd. If you want to strengthen the “social fabric” in a plural and diverse society, I think you better bet on things that people can all share with each other, even across the boundaries of religious views. And those things are there, because society is made up of people, not religious people. Some restraint in labeling activities, behaviors, practices as “religious” seems to me a good start. How far-reaching the consequences can be of ordering a society according to religious identifiers, we see particularly well in former British colonies. Indeed, the idea of using the religious identifier as a sociological (neo-ethnic) category is a British invention. 4

The British Empire as ‘manufacturer of religions’: India

In particular, the registration of British subjects in British India (which at the time included present-day India as well as Pakistan and Bangladesh, you can feel it coming) is a telling, if not to say ominous, example of the consequences of classifying groups of people according to their ‘religion’.5 Simply in order to collect taxes (i.e. a ‘census’), the officials had to classify the Indians. Not easy in a country that consists of dozens, hundreds of states (yes, we have already forgotten that: India does not exist. We are obsessed with simplifications, unifying categories, so much so that we very quickly believe that there are always realities that correspond to them) . These areas, regions, are as diverse as the European areas were a few hundred years ago. In order to classify who belonged to which group, reality had to be simplified: it was found that here and there there were groups that distinguished themselves from their fellow residents because they had been influenced by Islam in one way or another. I say that so vaguely on purpose, because these groups were very different from each other and very often accepted each other hardly or not at all as fellow believers. The current, real, religious practices were therefore very diverse and very often syncretistic, that is to say strongly determined by the ‘Umwelt’ in a balance of participation and distinction that had sometimes been sought for centuries and constantly adjusted. However, the officials did not want to provide too many boxes. So it was ‘Muslim’ or ‘Hindu’. That the latter category occurs in as many colors as the rainbow and is hardly even a meaningful religious marker, is rather an ethnic term (‘that of India with their strange customs and customs, of which I do not understand much’, see the end of chapter 2), couldn’t spoil the fun. One could now start classifying and putting the system in order. The basis of any government that wants to exercise power. The greatest common denominator (which was actually very weak as an identity creator, personally and as a group) was thus brought to the fore. From that moment on, the inhabitants of British India were neatly referred to as ‘Muslim’ or ‘Hindu’, both types of religion with which the good Englishman interfered as little as possible, because he was ‘Christian’. Thedivisivenessand the gluttony of the religious identifier has subsequently done its work. The religious component became more and more decisive, group formation stronger, plurality decreased. When the iron fist of the colonizer weakened, the division of society according to the simple ‘religious marker’ was a fact. A weak identity component (Muslim, or non-Muslim) had become a strong one. She now clung to people. Religious leaders and their ‘spokesmen’ had ensured that their vision of what ‘Islam’ was or was not, was clearly explained. Through upbringing and education, the religious identifier became more and more inherent and the color palette became impoverished. It became monochrome. For example, the Muslims of Bengal, who often had Hindu names and addressed ‘God’ not as Allah but as a Bengali equivalent, also began to call their children Ahmed and Youssouf, and to call God as ‘Allah’. Language is also such a cultural identifier, which can easily coincide with the religious one. Anyway, the British standardization of the religious marker was linked in the early twentieth century to the creation of electoral districts (according to religious affiliation), which also made religion a (party) political matter. Add to this British categorization according to religious affiliation that a reform movement had emerged within Islam, which also strove for standardization and attempted to define religious identity more precisely (fundamentalist tendency, also a modern phenomenon by the way). She did this in order to better organize and profile herself in the late colonial world and has strengthened, not to say ‘hijacked’ the process of social organization along lines of religious belonging. Zealous Muslims thought it was high time to turn those half-hearted and syncretistic Muslims (they were ‘Muslims’ just as many Flemish people were and are Catholics) into ‘real Muslims’, to get to know their religious roots again. This is how they formulate it, historically misleading, because where they say they are returning never existed. The ‘weak Muslim cultural marker’, which mixed very well with other local cultural (whether or not partially religious) markers, had to be replaced by a pure, purely religious marker. Do you feel the violence in this kind of language, the judgment that is expressed about the religiousness of the other, the pressure that is exerted on ‘cultural Muslims’ (pejorative term, just like cultural Christians). The religious marker is greedy, it swallows up, it decreases, it has a totalizing tendency. Together with the British administration as ‘manufacturer’ of the religious category as a political element, this sheds a stark light on the way in which this British colony – despite intense resistance from people like Gandhi – split into two states, segregated along religious lines: the ‘Partition’ of 1947 (India and Pakistan-Bangladesh). The human suffering and the resulting political disruption (half a million deaths, and ten to twelve million ‘displaced persons’). The social fabric was completely torn and the consequences are still felt today, not least in Pakistan.

Effect on identity construction

This example (which unfortunately can be multiplied by many) may serve as a warning. Using religious markers as social categories is not harmless. And the fact that we do it so blindly is actually unforgivable given history. So, if we notice that this language not only begins to determine our perception of reality, but also begins to create reality itself, then it is time for a pause. And I feel like that moment is near. We see ‘Muslims’ everywhere and the spokespersons who come to explain their presence in the world and in our society are almost always theologians (religious professionals). If there are tensions with young people in concentration areas, religious leaders are called upon to put out the fire. Where are the sociologists, where are the anthropologists? And I don’t mean the people who explain away the religious component by reducing all behavior to socio-economic or socio-psychological factors, but those who include the religious component in their analysis of general human behavior. If we only give the religious a say in this matter, then we are strengthening ‘Islam’ as an identity marker and we should not be surprised that the religious component will suddenly become really important for many people. Paradoxically speaking: If you call in religious leaders to extinguish a social flashpoint, you are also adding fuel to the fire because you are giving free rein to the religious identifier.

So: from the moment we call ‘them’ (de facto a very differentiated group of people with whom we have everything in common and from whom we also distinguish ourselves on a number of points, different per person. Identity is always composite) ‘Muslims’ , we do not just tar these fellow citizens with the same brush, but we put them outside our group, using the most divisive identifier there is, the religious one. We pin them down to a religion that may not be theirs at all (or that may not be all that decisive for their self-experience, just an identifier among others). Religion is increasingly weighing on our self-image and we have ended up in a vicious circle. The religious component will determine our perception (self-fulfilling prophecy) and the time is not far away when other groups in society will determine their identity more religiously from now on. Before you know it, we will be facing each other again as ‘Muslims’ and ‘Christians’. The impact of this careless use of the religious marker is especially great among migrants, because they have had to leave behind many things from which they derived their identity: profession, colleagues, work, home, family, city, nation. What they can do and what they are is hardly appreciated here (education, profession), which makes them feel insecure about ‘who they actually are’ and what they are still worth. They have to reinvent themselves, as it were. By addressing them as ‘Muslims’ you steer the construction of their identity in a religious direction. And that is – it gets monotonous, I admit – not without danger, precisely because there is now a whole battery of religious spokesmen hereis ready to help them fill that gap in their identity. The lazy habit of naming people according to the religion we assume has a positive effect on the praxis of that religion. If you offer an employee the opportunity to interrupt work for daily prayer, he will consider doing it, even if he never thought that he could/must/ought to pray at work. And before you know it, a subgroup has been formed in your company along religious demarcation lines. Not bad in itself, but not necessarily conducive to solidarity. And among the religious professionals, the fundamentalist ones are the most passionate. They are ready with their political-religious construct (Salafists for example) to hijack the discourse. They would like to help strengthen the weak religious marker (cultural identity) towards what they call a real serious religious identity. And you get the feeling of being ‘somebody’ again (self-esteem) for free. I’m not looking forward to that, and I suspect many of those we call ‘Muslims’ aren’t either. Think back to the Berber in the ROMA and the Egyptian volleyball players. Only, protect yourself against that if you don’t know how it works. You already feel guilty that you are not ‘pious’ enough. A person is an impressionable being. That is why it is high time for general toilet training when it comes to the use of religious terms in social debate. This takes on even greater weight because the debate about religion has also become highly legalized. Anyone who even touches on something that someone experiences or refers to as ‘religious’ is immediately hit with the ‘constitutionally anchored freedom of religion’. This historically incredibly important right to freedom (which protects people against religious coercion and gives people the opportunity to use their religious talent themselves) has become the instrument par excellence to claim all kinds of prerogatives that suit their own identity. If only measured by the way in which it is used, this fundamental right (right of defense) appears to be wrong on the contrary. It is very easily invoked to give internal religious rules an appearance of justice. This is related to the fact that in the elaboration of this right of freedom we have given the right of claim priority over the right of defense and, in my opinion, have not sufficiently realized that freedom of religion can only be guaranteed if at the same time serious attention is paid to a real hands-off policy, in parallel. to the non-establishment clause of the American Bill of Rights.

I will spend the rest of this chapter substantiating this far-reaching statement. Starting with a ‘résumé’ to clarify what happened with ‘freedom of religion’.

Freedom of religion (résumé)

Every so often the question arises – especially in the media – whether the concept of ‘freedom of religion’ is actually still usable given the enormous diversity of phenomena that come under the heading of ‘religion’. Pastafarians and Jedi-ists regularly corner the judges. And anyone who consults Wikipedia for the keyword ‘religions’ will see a list that is very long and does not aim to be complete at all. The layout also seems rather arbitrary. Recognized religions? World religions? Other? Why one, not the other. Especially because the world is actually one big village and you only have to turn on your screen to see even the most exotic variants live. What are the criteria? What exactly is religion? The question with which we started this book is very important to us. When the right to liberty was introduced into the US Constitution – we evoked its turbulent history in the previous chapter – the situation was very different. That is important to realize if you want to assess the current use of that right. The framers of freedom rights could not have foreseen the globalization of the world. They also mainly had their situation in mind, in the US. And what it was about was then more or less clear to everyone involved. As a refresher: The religious impulse was considered to be a ‘given of nature’ (inherent in being human) and its expression was therefore a ‘natural right’, inalienable and in theory valid worldwide for all people. The meaning of the article on freedom rights in the Bill of Rights is fairly straightforward: the state should not interfere with the practice and design of religion. Point on the line. She had done that before, mainly by privileging and financially supporting one church and not others. That had led to a lot of misery and especially to a feeling of religious lack of freedom. That would be a thing of the past in the new Union of States. In matters of religion, the government would not support anything or prevent anyone from doing anything. The government also did not determine ‘what’ was and was not desirable for society. Hands-off, that was the intention. Shoemaker, stick to your last, and religion was not part of that for the state. The government would do what it had to do: regulate the coexistence of free citizens, ensure primary goods (such as safety, education) and ensure that no one’s rights were violated, the latter together with the judiciary. She already had her hands full with that, but she was authorized to do so by the citizens and she was allowed to levy taxes to finance this. Not for religious matters. The combination of Freedom of Religion and Non-Establishment is a short summary of this: Hands-off. The state said to all religious organizations (churches and an occasional synagogue in the beginning): You figure it out for yourself. Don’t count on us for money or logistical support. Most citizens were convinced of this arrangement because through this fundamental right they were freed from some unpleasant matters, for example that their tax money would be used to finance a religious community that was not theirs (and/or that they considered pernicious). In the former British colonies this would have been the Anglican Church ( Episcopalians ) or a Presbyterian Church, depending on the colony’s charter. Furthermore, one church would no longer be able to thwart another church through political lobbying, for example by banning certain ‘sects’ (because that is what the official church, the ‘established church, invariably calls its unwanted rivals) or otherwise through government regulations make it difficult to shape their religion. Despite this fundamental right, outright persecution has still occurred. Laws are just made of paper. The Mormons were driven out of the country in the 19th century (Utah was outside the United States at the time). Trials involving Jehovah’s witnesses are also still being conducted. Calling unwelcome religious groups ‘sects’ does not get rid of the problem. Freedom of religion means that you can adhere to a variant that is objectionable in the eyes of the right-thinking rulers and shape it within the limits of the law, of course. That’s exactly what it was about. Baptists and Quakers had been persecuted as ‘sects’ according to the right-thinking rulers. Hands-off also means accepting that unwelcome religious groups have their hands free.

Freedom of Religion & Non-Establishment

Today, and certainly in Europe, we mainly focus on freedom of religion and find the non-establishment clause less important. According to many, these two principles can easily be separated from each other, without jeopardizing freedom of religion. It is then believed that a system of well-regulated government support is compatible with freedom of religion. However, the fact that when the Bill of Rights was formulated these were experienced as two sides of one and the same thing, concave and convex, is something to think about. Is one available without the other? In my opinion, there are major questions here for Europe. It is not without reason that I have discussed this in such detail in Chapter 3. In the US, this thought exercise had already been done before the Bill of Rights and forms of multiple establishment (de facto the most common European model) were being introduced. called or tried to work out on paper in the run-up to the constitution. It was rejected precisely because it was found that it did not work and led to tensions. A government that interferes with religion in any way will in any case become entangled in internal discussions and will de facto restrict religious freedom or steer it in a certain direction. Many, including George Washington, I already referred to it, did not see it that way at first. It also sounds innocent and even sympathetic, but when discussions began about how to establish criteria that religious groups had to meet in order to qualify for government support, many changed their minds. It remained as much of a tug-of-war and bickering as in the time of the ‘established church’, only the cards were dealt differently. And – as Washington noted – society as a society deteriorated because the theological debate was certainly not without obligation. After all, there would be political and financial benefits associated with the outcome. Church and political power were thus mixed again, leading to more or less subtle forms of domination of one group over the other. And an unavoidable question: how on earth was the government supposed to determine which religion would and which would not be ‘salonfähig’ (socially suitable). Every ‘preference’ in religionis also entails a ‘disapproval’ and is therefore de facto substantive interference. In the eyes of the Founding Fathers , this was a violation of freedom of religion, if only the administrative form used by the government to channel support for the various religions. In Belgium, the multiple establishment option has been chosen within the religiously neutral constitution. The practice of religion (‘cult’, ‘worship’ are the legal terms) is supported on the condition that one is recognized as such. Although the system was set up for one church (the Roman Catholic Church), it has evolved into a system of multiple establishment . The inherent problems this entails are clearly visible in Belgium. The organization of the recognition and the method of financing is tailored to the Roman Catholic Church. That’s inevitable – she was the dominant church. Religion is something cultural and the roots of that religion in Flemish soil are deep and naturally made this religion the ‘model’, the mold into which others – later – would also have to fit. Exactly as the Protestant model in the US has forced other religions into that mold (emphasis on personal faith, choice, independent communities, flat organization), so not that simple for the Roman Catholic Church. In the eyes of the English Roman Catholic writer GK Chesterton, American Catholics behaved like Protestants. It’s just inconceivable that things would have happened differently. Laws are written by people in concrete situations. In Belgium, the Roman Catholic Church was virtually the only player when the system was set up in the Kingdom of Belgium. Napoleon’s legacy was still on the table and there was also a religious administration under King William I (1815-1830), in which multiple establishment was the norm, with strict control from the government. The worship financing has been developed tailor-made for a hierarchical unity church (episcopal structure) and this is of course visible in the outcome. Because the core religious identity of the Roman Church is closely linked to the existence of a separate class, the priestly caste, the financing of ‘ministers of worship’ is a structural part of the legislation on religious services. Furthermore, there must be buildings and other ‘material’ to give the liturgy the required form (financing of church buildings and liturgical mobile equipment). Only in this way can the people (the laity) enjoy these goods. Other religions have to squeeze themselves into this mold if they want to enjoy the same benefits, and that is not at all as obvious as it seems. Although historically no more than normal, the question is whether structural discrimination is not taking place here. Many people who are considered part of Protestantism do not agree with exactly the things listed aboveimportant for their religion, not to mention Jews and Muslims. And then I leave out the followers of unrecognized religions (small or large: Mormons, Kimbangists, Hindus, Buddhists, Rastafarians, Raelians). You cannot call such a government policy very neutral. And you can also doubt whether the freedom of religion of all citizens is equally guaranteed. By supporting the religious institutions, you strengthen the institution’s religion. And it is not at all said that religious institutions best regulate the right to the free development of the religious impulse. The fact that quite a few people have felt ‘coercion’ in the church is a sign of the times. But this is entirely beside the point for the time being. Belgium is not the only country that has introduced a form of multiple establishment (sponsoring ‘worship services’ that are ‘recognized’ by the state). In fact, every European country except France (since 1905 – laïcité) and the Netherlands (since 1983 – redemption of the last material obligations of the state) has set up its own variant of a system of multiple establishment . Kirchensteuer in Germany, tax choice in Italy for example). I wonder whether this is not one of the roots of the problems we have in Europe in dealing with freedom of religion. In addition to the logical impossibility of objectively defining what is and is not eligible for support in religionis , there is also the realization that government interference in religious matters apparently always leads to disputes about ‘what is and what is not’ and that thus the social divisiveness that dormant in the religious option is strengthened although people often have the opposite intentions. The opposite of ‘right’ is not ‘wrong’, but ‘well-intentioned’. In any case, in my opinion, the net result of multiple establishment is that religion is less free than it would be with a hands-off policy. Support follows.

The ‘Wall of Separation’: fixed idea, mirage?

In the United States it is possible to speak of a separation of church and state, in the sense that they do not interfere with each other at an institutional level . In Tocqueville’s time this went so far that even a combination of ecclesiastical and civil office was out of the question (later America also added water to this and legally started to nibble at the institutional separation). This was very different from Europe, where until well into the twentieth century the churches had very short lines to the ‘seats of power’ and helped determine legislation. In America, however, the metaphor of the ‘Wall of Separation’ often dominates the debate in such a way that people sometimes forget that there too the separation between church and state is not absolute. How could that be? The vision of life that one learns in the church (or anywhere else) always partly determines the political choices one makes, consciously and unconsciously. In the US, the separation is therefore limited to ‘non-interference’ with each other’s institutions. People accept them as they are. This then prohibits neither church nor state from interfering with the behavior of citizens, with coexistence, with relations between the sexes, with upbringing and education. There may also be serious tug-of-war. However, the believer’s vote will never have more value than any other random vote. It will have to go through conviction. In a parliamentary democracy, citizens have the right to bring their ideas, regardless of where they come from, into the social and political debate and thus influence legislation. The fact that this was happening so actively in the US was what Tocqueville admired. A participatory democracy. The specifically religious part of human views therefore does not influence decision-making through channels installed by the state, but does so indirectly, i.e. by educating people to become free, assertive citizens who are encouraged to think along and have their say about how things should be done. joint life is best arranged. As Tocqueville delicately shows, the famous ‘Wall of Separation’ in the US has not led to the banishment of religion from society, as some freethinkers in Europe wanted. On the contrary. The entire society (and also its legislation) was permeated with it. America was the land of the WASPs: White Anglo Saxon Protestants. That Protestant religion, however articulated, was part of the broader American culture. The ‘second table of the law’, the ‘natural law’ and the ‘conscience of every human being’ (the then most common term to indicate the subjective side of freedom rights) were – or so it was believed – on the same track. Only in retrospect and/or as an outsider is it clear how particularistic (Protestant-Christian) that general moral-ethical feeling actually was. In terms of upbringing, gender roles, male-female relationships, master-slave relationships, property and racial issues: people in the US also thought in terms of dominant Christian patterns that had become cultural heritage. The first test in the US for the reality of religious freedom as an inalienable human right was the moment that a large influx of Roman Catholic settlers from Ireland started, who immediately had to realize that the laws on paper did not automatically also provide rights in meant in practice. Conflicts at state schools where people ‘of course’ read a passage from the King James Bible every morning (‘That Bible translation is the best translation there is, how those Catholics are whining!’ was the response) led to people creating their own network and mini-column started to expand. And indeed it worked. Even the most rabid food eaters couldn’t stop this, even though they tried. The constitution turned out to effectively safeguard the right, but you had to make an effort yourself to shape that right. The Roman Catholics, Although centrally controlled from Rome, they managed to settle down religiously in the New World and to shape their church within the ‘laws of the people’. The freedom of religion along with itThe government’s hands-off policy gave them an opportunity and they seized it, even though it took JF Kennedy before the president could be anything other than Protestant.

Multiple establishment (Europe)

The Problems of ‘Governed Religion’

The further development of this form of religious freedom, anchored in legislation, has written history, also in Europe, albeit – as already mentioned – with the one striking difference that the freedom clause can be found in modern (post-Napoleonic) European legislation and certainly in the various formulations of human rights after WWII, but that the non-establishment clause has not really caught on here. Anyone who considers the situation in Europe will quickly notice that a wide range of forms of state aid have been developed here, differing per country, and can usually be easily explained from the historical background. Religion is a cultural fact that has been passed on in a long tradition, so it is not surprising that legislation is based on it, it must regulate reality, not formulate ideals. Almost everywhere it has been (and often still is) the opinion that multiple establishment , legally regulated government support for multiple religious institutions, would not harm freedom of religion. I doubt that. The example of Belgium, which I outlined above, already showed that even something as innocent as setting out a legal framework within which people want to support religious expressions already has an influence on a person’s freedom to shape their religion. As soon as you formulate religion as a category (form of thought) that wants to capture a piece of human reality, you must be careful not to violate freedom of religion. Saying you don’t is not enough. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Now we should not expect judges and lawyers who want to regulate religious freedom to provide a comprehensive scientific definition of what religion is. How could judges do where religious scholars fail? However, it is the task of the judiciary to ensure that if there is any form of support for religious institutions, this does not lead to discrimination or pushing away of other forms of religion or religiosity. Using an open concept of religion and allowing a large ‘margin of appreciation’ is the way in which they try to do this. I doubt whether that is enough. In any case, the point deserves more attention than it receives. Anyone who has any feeling for the gluttony of the religious identitfyer will quickly realize that this not only leads to a diminishing of the ‘sources of the self’, but also to a monochrome of the religious aspect of personal and group identity. . The religious identifier that can profile itself best also pushes in the other articulations of religionone’s own religious movement, pushed into the background. Here too, a subtle interaction is observable between the way in which social perception of ‘religion’ manifests itself and the way in which religious institutions respond to it. In my opinion, many of the social tensions surrounding the place of religion in the public space can be traced back to a lack of awareness (and therefore also failure to account) for the mercurial nature of the human phenomenon we call religion. In addition, ‘ governed religion ‘ (the term for the ‘legal construct’ with which politicians and judges operate) is caught between ‘ expert religion ‘ (the ‘theological and religious science construct’ with which scientists of all kinds assist politicians and legislators) and ‘ lived religion ‘ (the activity of people who interact with religious authorities, texts, rituals and their fellow human beings and try to determine their place in the world, whether or not they fall under one of the above constructs). The enormous tensions this creates become particularly clear when we focus on the way in which freedom of religion functions as a human right.

Religion as a human right (UN and ECHR)

After the horrors of WWII, the UN issued a universal declaration of human rights. One of the rights included here is freedom of religion. Completely in line with the American Bill of Rights, freedom of religion is here too an ‘inalienable’ right that every person has for the simple reason that he is ‘human’. This does not mean that this right is enforceable everywhere because human rights only come into effect if a state ratifies them. It might be useful to quote the standard formulation. Because the European version is the most recent and the reference for our legislation, I will leave the UN Charter for what it is and focus on Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Characteristic of this treaty is the duality of the articles, with the second paragraph indicating the limits of the freedom described in the first paragraph. Because I will come back to it later, I also give the English and French variants of the basic terms, so you can immediately see how many misunderstandings are possible. I will discuss some of these semantic issues in more detail.

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion ; pens ée , conscience, religion ); this right includes the freedom to change religion or belief and the freedom , alone or in community with others, and in public or private, to manifest one’s religion or belief in worship services ( worship; culte ), in teaching, in their practical application and in observance of commandments and regulations (practice and observance; les pratiques et l’ accompissement des rites).
  2. The freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief shall not be subject to any restrictions other than those provided for by law and necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public security, for the protection of public order, health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

What is striking is that freedom of expression (Article 10) is regulated in a separate article in the ECHR. ‘Thought, conscience and religion’ are therefore seen as a separate category and are therefore worthy of protection as such. ‘Religious beliefs’ are therefore different from ‘opinions’. This is one of the recurring points of criticism of the article on ‘religious freedom’, especially from the atheists. After all, religious beliefs are just opinions, and not just in their eyes. Religious people think so too, but mainly because of the religious beliefs of religions other than their own. As Etienne Vermeersch says: Believers are selective atheists, namely only religions that are foreign to them. Hence, some believe it is not fair that people who profess to a particular religion (for whatever reason) can claim more rights for their behavior and beliefs ‘both publicly and privately’ than someone who does not identify as an adherent of a religion. If I am vegan, I cannot demand at a conference that they serve me a vegan alternative to the standard meal with a smile. However, if I am a Jainist (i.e. my veganism is part of my religious beliefs), I can at least try to refer this to discrimination based on religion. Not that this process is immediately won – there is also such a thing as proportionality, etc. – but you can at least try to make a case out of it. A cynical formulation of the same phenomenon: Everyone in Belgium commits a criminal offense if he slaughters a sheep without stunning, unless you are a Muslim or a Jew. Then you can fall back on Article 9. What do you mean, everyone is equal before the law!? In other words, the right to freedom of religion gives privileges to certain groups of people, on grounds that are not actually an objective basis for such a privilege. After all, from a strictly ‘neutral’ perspective – ie hands-off in matters of religion, including the definition – religious beliefs are just beliefs, opinions. They would be equally covered and protected by Article 10 (and 11: freedom of assembly) as other opinions. The separate mention of freedom of religion places religion at too high a level, namely among the primary goods without which man could not live (= the basic assumption for the category ‘human rights’), while de facto people can function perfectly well without religion . So it is only a ‘secondary good’, i.e. it belongs to those things that help people to perfect life (‘perfectionist goods’).6 . Now the soup is not eaten as hot as it is served. In a long series of rulings, the Court has attempted to address these objections.

Religion… and belief

There is a tendency to increasingly treat religious, philosophical, ideological and even political beliefs as equal before the law.

It is common opinion among political and legal philosophers that we no longer really have to worry about this discrimination, because the jurisprudence itself has rejected the transcendent connotation attached to the standard definition of religion (the reference to a kind of ‘god’ with associated legitimizing and explanatory story) has, as it were, put it in brackets. The opening for this was found in the fact that the right to freedom is defined in the explanatory sentence as ‘religion or belief ‘ (in French conviction ). I suspect that this term (persuasion, belief, conviction) was originally intended as a further explanation of freedom of conscience , but because the word ‘belief’ is also used more or less as a synonym of ‘religion’ (as in Dutch it word ‘faith’) it is also possible to use this to indicate a secular set of beliefs . At a time when conscientious objections were often still related to military service, ‘pacifism’ could be invoked as ‘belief’.7 Be that as it may, the judges have used this term in their case law to meet the objections of atheists. They are drawn ‘into the article’ by this word. It has become the breeding ground for particularly creative applications of Article 9. In the official explanations that the European Court provides for these articles, for example, it emphatically states that this article concerns much more than justreligiousviews or expressions. De facto this becomes an umbrella concept that also includes religion. Religious beliefs are thus aligned with ‘philosophical, moral, and political beliefs’.8 From a supposedly neutral perspective, this sounds very convincing and will undoubtedly reassure many non-religious people. The discrimination seems to have been lifted. Religious views have lost their separate status in the judiciary and have been reduced to human ‘beliefs’ with a religious character. The juxtaposition of ‘religion and conviction’ therefore seems to be an elegant way to neutralize the objection that non-religious people had against Article 9. The term ‘belief’ is then often further developed in the direction of deeply anchored views about the good life (Rawls). Non-religious people can now also use Article 9 to claim space for their ‘beliefs’ and ‘convictions’, in the same way as religious people. This is also explicitly done in the case law of the European Court. In Dutch, the word ‘philosophy’ has started a successful career as an umbrella term that can include both religious and non-religious ‘beliefs’. Article 9 then grants the right to their own philosophy of life to every person, religious or not. And the state should ensure that all people can develop that right in freedom (within the margins of the law). As long as the government does not impose any ‘conception of the good’ on its citizens, including atheistic ones, it is doing well. In other words, its task is to guarantee philosophical pluralism. It is thus neutral and every citizen can appeal to the court with such a ‘deeply held conviction’ if he feels that he is being discriminated against because of it. Equal treatment is the touchstone. As mentioned, this seems like an elegant solution and it is being used worldwide. In its reporting on the state of human rights, the UN also systematically uses this duality of ‘religion or belief’ and thus systematically incorporates the protection of atheists into its vision. All commendable things, but like I said, itseems likean elegant solution. It’s not. On the contrary. Because the implicit definition of religion used here is narrowing and discriminatory.

Definition of religion as ‘set of beliefs’.

This definition obscures what ‘religion’ (as it becomes visible in people’s behavior and experience) is actually  about. After all, the juxtaposition of ‘religion’ with the terms ‘belief’ and ‘conviction’ means that the subject that is said to be regulated in legislation has been interpreted in a tendentious and one-sided manner: It is – so the implicit suggestion – in ‘religion’ about a ‘set of beliefs’ and ‘convictions’, in short about human  views . Where has lived religion,  everyday religion gone? I mean, those weird things people do, like painting themselves with henna, hanging crosses, dancing in the streets, going to Santiago or Mecca? That is now even further out of the picture than was already the case when ‘lived religion’ only had to interact with ‘expert religion’. Furthermore, the definitional problem surrounding ‘religion’ has not been solved, but has only shifted. The question now is: What requirements must human beliefs actually meet in order to be entitled to the rights covered by religious freedom? How do you distinguish ‘beliefs’ and ‘convictions’ from the ‘opinions’ in Article 10? In fact, the tendency to abolish Article 9 completely because it has become redundant is increasing. The choice of the terms ‘belief’ and ‘convictions’ also raises fears for the worst for freedom of religion. After all, we know both terms all too well from Chapter 2. There, precisely these terms marked the narrowing of the traditional concept of religion (with its communal, participatory and ritual elements) into a ‘set of beliefs’ with derived action prescriptions. We then called this the Protestantization of the concept of religion. This narrowing of the concept of religion already played a major role in the formulation of freedom of religion, because it was the tacit common denominator of all those Protestant groups involved in the discussion surrounding the Bill of Rights . They could manage their difference (which went deep) by reducing it to a – with all due respect – difference of opinion. Theological points of contention and evangelization campaigns have always been about the set of beliefsand whether you really ‘believed’ in it. There was no agreement about the content, but there was agreement about how the subject of discussion should be roughly defined: through a coherent list of points of belief, based on fundamental scriptures, with compelling derivation from there from praxis. We called that the confessionalization of religion. If you strip down this already narrow Protestant concept of religion again by secularizing the term ‘belief’ (‘set of convictons’), you are left with exactly the definition used by the European Court: It must be about more than just individual opinions. Religious freedom concerns ‘ideas that have attained a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance’, based on a ‘formal content of convictions’.

This may be called a very strange choice when it comes to religious freedom, especially if you look through the eyes of a theologian and religious historian. In recent decades, even in Protestant circles, there has been a growing realization that this fixation on the set of beliefs was misleading. In the Protestant religion too, as we indicated in Chapter 2, it is not necessarily about ‘accepting a number of religious truths’ with the mind, but about an ‘act of faith’, about ‘faith’, not about ‘beliefs’ . And there is a big difference between those two words. It is certainly the case that many believers also ‘believe’ that the sentences of the Apostles’ Creed are true in the simple sense of that word, that is, describing a state of affairs (fides quae). But it is certainly equally true that faith does not end the moment one begins to doubt it. Then the ‘faith’ character of faith (fides qua) reveals itself. And that has more to do with a feeling than with a belief. ‘Faith’ refers to having faith, to a kind of basic trust. It can be shocked and violated, but it goes deeper than the tenability of ‘beliefs’. How strange that political philosophers from the secular corner are now coming up with a ‘set of beliefs’ again. If you then examine the concrete case law and try to identify which criteria, in addition to those already mentioned, are used to determine whether a ‘set of beliefs’ qualifies for ‘equal treatment with freedom of religion’, then that doesn’t make me happy. by. With reference to the various rulings of the ECtHR, you often read a list of five points. The ‘non-religious belief’ must be truly believed (1), be more than an opinion based on available information (2), it must concern a weighty or important aspect of human life (3), it must be internally ‘a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance’ (4, which we already knew), and it must be compatible with the values ​​of a democratic society (5).9

Subjective value judgments

I don’t know how you are reading this, but I have rarely seen so many subjective value judgments in one paragraph. How can a judge make an objective judgment on such matters, so to speak? What standard does he use in his considerations? How does he do that, I wonder, to determine whether someone ‘really believes’ it. And how on earth do you measure the ‘weight’ of a view? How do you assess the inner coherence of something that transcends reason, because if it were ‘simply reasonable’ it would not be eligible anyway because the second condition would not have been met. Randomness lurks, and not just around the corner. You can also – if you wish – formulate your complaint in such a way that your complaint or requirement already meets these criteria in advance. For example, in 2009 Tim Nicholson, an employee of Grainger PLC, the largest property developer in the United Kingdom, succeeded in challenging his dismissal on the basis of his ‘belief that climate change exists’. Nicholson was the head of sustainable development at Grainger PLC until he was made redundant in a redundancy scheme. He claimed that this dismissal was related to his ‘belief that climate change exists’. The lawyers put his defense in the right form. His ‘belief’ was more than an opinion, more than a lifestyle issue, and the seriousness and depth of his convictions were beyond question. In short, everything was neatly formulated according to the five criteria. The judge had no choice but to agree and ruled that this was indeed more than an opinion. Nicholson received generous compensation. Once the case was settled, Nicholson assured the assembled press that views on climate change are not ‘a new religion’, as one journalist suggested. It was not based on ‘faith’ but on ‘science’. If he had said this during the trial, he would have missed out on compensation.10 A perverse side effect of this victory in court is that ‘belief that climate change exists’ is qualified as ‘a belief’ and not a ‘state of affairs based on available knowledge’. If the lawyers had argued the latter, the appeal to ‘freedom of religion’ would have been inadmissible. Talking about backfiring. The secular expansion of religious freedom through the juxtaposition of ‘religion and belief’ means that you can certainly have environmental concerns recognized as ‘faith’, and so can veganism (and Jediism and Pastafarianism?) as long as you frame it all properly. But does that help humanity move forward?

Overvaluation of ‘expert religion’

The problem with this development is that this articulation of freedom of religion privileges those philosophies that are well developed and that can properly substantiate it verbally (convincing or not). Governed religion and expert religion join forces. This also fits perfectly with the needs of talk programs, interpretation magazines and discussion forums. They can invite ‘eloquent believers’, ‘theologians’ and ‘religious scientists’ to explain the various ‘sets of beliefs’. The debate about the place of religion in society is therefore almost completely dominated by these ‘experts’, ‘religious professionals’, both to explain the various viewpoints (convictions) and to enter into discussions with each other (one then automatically switches often switches to ‘debate mode, especially if there is someone who advocates completely secular legislation (laïcité)). This atmosphere is further reinforced by the fact that both old and new militant atheists in their attacks on religion always attack the ‘set of beliefs’ and the associated ‘truth claims’ of religious people, as if that were the core of religion. Like flies on molasses, I almost wrote, everyone rushes towards the ‘convictions’, probably because that is how they view life themselves. They are often scientists, teachers, in short, professionals, and the philosophical component automatically takes on a rational and philosophical character. The science-faith discussion often plays into this in an annoying way. This creates a bid for ‘deeply held convictions’. And they are – indeed – worth as much as other people’s beliefs. By using ‘deeply held convictions’ as a common denominator for both religious and non-religious claims, the discussion can then turn to who is right with his claims. As if it were about truth claims in religion. They are there, but that’s not what most people care about. And you shouldn’t argue with anyone who does care about that. In Flanders, however, both the old liberals (Etienne Vermeersch) and the new ones (Patrick Loobuyck) always fall into this trap. The result is a deaf conversation. The reduction of the religious to a ‘set of beliefs’ that is individually accepted (choice) leads to a narrowing of view and the conversation is ultimately no longer about ‘lived religion’ and very rarely about ‘the way in which we all try to understand the finite’. of our lives a little bit’ to name a typical religious topic with an anthropological basis. Shame.

In the media you hear ‘experts’ explaining the situation and there is a lot of discussion about abstractions. People forget that most people are not really interested in the ‘theory behind their supposed religion’ (expert religion), but are all the more devoted to the ‘lived religion’ (lived religion, everyday religion, folk religion). How lighting a candle or a prayer (or not) to Mary works is something most people won’t care about, they just do it. And even if it doesn’t work, it apparently still works, because they continue with it. Religion is free. She does not allow herself to be captured, not by her own theologians, nor by the anti-theologians. In my opinion, religious freedom as a human right means that a person is free to determine for himself what he does or does not do with his religious impulse. One person has no right to judge another here. And certainly not the state. And that happens infinitely often, and not only from people who have a related view of life (Christians among themselves), no, very often people from ‘set of beliefs A’ also explain to people from ‘set of beliefs B’ that they not doing well. For example, you may hear atheists say, “Most Christians do not know their essential dogmas and sacred texts. In fact, there are no real Christians anymore. It is not only presumptuous to judge, as a non-participant, about what a person should or should not do within a living religion, it is especially stupid to simply take the fundamentalist variant of a religion as the norm. Of course, anyone who wishes to do so can conclude that for many people who call themselves Christians today, the dogmas from the fourth and fifth centuries no longer mean much. Of course, one may conclude that many believers are quite selective with the book that they call holy. But that should not be a reason to pass judgment on the quality of their ‘Christianity’. One would rather be surprised at the boldness with which many Christians deal with their religion. And when you make such an observation you say: ‘hey, that’s interesting!’. That invites conversation. People – fortunately – use their ‘religious freedom’ to determine for themselves how they interpret their religion and do not care much about the institutions to which their religion is classified by others. That is why the right to ‘freedom of religion’ was invented, in order to be free and bold.

By concentrating on ‘deeply held convictions’ as the core of the religious question, the turn that took place in the aftermath of Luther’s radical challenge to institutional Christianity reaches its final conclusion: partisan confessionalization, religious design that is mainly concerned with to demarcate themselves from the other variant. As we saw in chapter two, Luther’s redefinition of Christianity turned away from the complex tradition of the church (a mix of beliefs, practices, communal customs) and focused instead on the holy book, the Bible. And he set himself the task of developing a consistent Christian doctrine from there, culminating in – not so much with Luther, but certainly with his followers – a neatly defined confession (a consistent set of beliefs ) with an equally consistent moral code grafted onto it . embedded in a general vision of life, which a person accepts through his or her own deeply felt personal choice of faith. Luther’s view would certainly qualify as ‘belief’ if he were taken to court. Catholics with their more communal, ritualistic faith would have a harder time, not to mention the millions of ‘nominal Christians’ – and Muslims and Hindus and Baha’i and Dacai. Consistent? Serious? ‘deeply hero’, ‘personal’?

This narrowing of the concept of religion has major consequences, especially because the state believes that it may and can strengthen ‘the good’ in religion and belief  with a view to the general well-being, of course without discrimination: multiple establishment. In this way she also hopes to be able to manage ‘the dangerous sides’ of religion (which are assumed to be just as easy as the good). ‘Governed religion’ as a panacea for real social problems. And as advisors to the state, there are the ‘policy experts’ who draw their inspiration from the professionals (‘ expert religion ‘). I wonder what that means for reality, where there are mainly ordinary people, with a usually not very consistently developed form of ‘ everyday religion ‘, the focus of which is often very different from what the ‘policy makers’ think, advised therein. by the ‘experts’.

Counterproductive effect: less freedom in religion

Those who invoke freedom of religion (because they feel discriminated against or are hindered in shaping their religion) get what they want from those who can explain it well. After all: if you can prove that there is a set of beliefs that oblige you to a certain behavior, then you have a case, provided of course that you can prove that you are serious (exit Pastafarians). Within every ‘recognized religion’ (or – non-religious – a known philosophical tradition with a sound set of views) there are always those who are flexible and precise. What the latter consider an essential part of the religion (e.g. wearing a headscarf: hijab or niqab), may be an ‘adiaphoron’ (something that does not really matter) for others within the same religion. The judge cannot and should not judge about that, because that is an internal matter within religion. Naturally, most complainants or claimants will belong to the type of believers who ‘take everything seriously’ in matters of faith. Muslims who do not wear a veil or a loose cloth, but not necessarily always (the ‘flexible ones’) will not have to file a lawsuit. After all, they don’t get into trouble. The ‘exact ones’ are. They also consider themselves ‘true’ believers, otherwise they would not do this. They are willing to do a lot for it. In their hearts they also look down on those others who don’t take things so seriously. They are not doing well. Every time they win, freedom of religion for the more liberal and compromise-seeking believers has diminished a little bit. I mean: If the judge says that you should be able to wear a headscarf at school or at work, then there is a very strong subtext that says: ‘real Muslim women wear headscarves, and not only when it suits them, but especially if they have to fight for it’. The importance of the religious identifier grows best against pressure, doesn’t it? The general human right (freedom of religion), once invented to protect people against mono-religious coercion, guaranteed every citizen that the government would not interfere with the way you fill (or do not fill) your religious space. Well, in our plural society, that human right is starting to work more and more as a kind of fixing machine for religious identities, which by their very nature tend towards clearly defined sets of beliefs.(including code of conduct): fundamentalist. The religious expressions that are more diffuse, the religious souls that are not so eloquent or have no need for it, the more mediating, often somewhat eclectic forms of religion, do not occur in the legal system and cannot rely on the constitution. professions if they feel that they are slowly being overruled by the more fundamentalist movements within their own religion. If you think I’m exaggerating here, I’m afraid not. I notice a reification, a ‘Verdinglichung’, a petrification, in the religion debate. There is a constant suggestion that you need to be able to define ‘what Islam is and what it is not, what Christianity is and what it is not’, and in its wake what qualifies for Article 9 protection and what does not. The playing field on which all these various philosophical impulses and incentives meet and mutually question and fertilize is becoming increasingly smaller, because the boundaries are becoming increasingly sharp. I experience it this way within my own small Protestant Christian pillar, I also notice it in the Catholic pillar: Essentialists have the wind in their sails. It is up to those who know ‘what Christianity is’ and who can clearly state their opinion. They are (they think) ‘the true believers’ and the media mindlessly parrots them, and the courts amplify your voice a thousandfold. And the ordinary person, who just muddles along, also in terms of religious customs, does not appear in the story. It is painful to see how a right of freedom that was intended to guarantee the free development of human potential, in practice leads to the voice of fundamentalists of all kinds being amplified.

To conclude this chapter, two concrete examples of this adverse effect. One on a macro scale (Sri Lanka) and one taken from everyday life.

Legal settlement leads to hardening of contradictions (Sri Lanka)

When Ceylon became independent (1948), it was logically felt that the new constitution should do justice to the religious reality of the island. The culturally most deeply rooted religion was and is Buddhist in color.11 British rule, it was felt, had deliberately and unintentionally damaged the dominant position of Buddhism on the island. The administrative rules for the management of monasteries, the expropriation of religious property, the abolition of traditional political structures: it had had an impact, and I am not talking about Christian missionary work. However, the new legislative assembly did not want to rescind everything in a vindictive manner. They started looking for a reasonable compromise. The basic human rights regarding freedom of thought, religion, and conscience had just been formulated by the UN and they were being adopted. At the same time, people felt that there was a historical duty towards Buddhism. They had suffered most from colonization and deserved some form of ‘Wiedergutmachung’. Thus, in addition to the ‘negative freedom rights’ in the American spirit (keep religion and government apart, then both will flourish), it was decided that it would be fair to also include a private commitment by the state towards Buddhism in the constitution. The following formula was proposed (emphasis mine): ‘In the Republic of Sri Lanka,Buddhism, the religion of the majority of the people, shall be givenits rightful place, and accordingly, it shall be the duty of the Stateto protect and foster Buddhism, while assuring to all religions the rights granted.’ Follows a reference to a clause closely related to the UN Charter on freedom of religion, including the right to its public practice. This was hoped to do justice to social reality (pluralism) and history (Buddhism as a ‘culturally embedded religion’). None of the parties in Sri Lanka were illiberal, and after independence there was broad support to ‘do something’ for the Buddhist monks. The compromise was accepted. However, anyone who thought that this was the end of the matter was mistaken. First, some Buddhist groups (!) felt that this was not enough. Furthermore, the largest Tamil party on the island (mainly Hindu, but also Christians), which claimed to represent all Tamils ​​(!) felt discriminated against. Buddhism was clearly privileged (‘protect and foster’) and as a religion (Buddhism) recognized while the other religions had to make do with the personal right to freedom of religion. This discrimination was challenged through a series of bills and legal complaints and resulted in a minor downgrade in the status of Buddhism. It was no longer said that the preferential treatment of Buddhism had to do with the fact that it was the religion of the ‘majority’ and it was no longer a matter of right (‘rightful place’) but only based on the historical circumstance that in Sri Lanka this religion simply occupied the ‘foremost place’. A few years later, after some more wrangling, a not insignificant semantic change took place. Some Buddhist groups (!) found the term Buddhism too Western and too focused on the ‘set of beliefs’. They wanted another term in the law that was broader and also included folklore, customs, customs and possessions. She defended this by referring to the fact that the Buddhist tradition cannot actually be equated with other religions, because it encompasses a total life practice. Wasn’t the ‘entire culture’ of Sri Lanka stamped by it? They felt that they could not be compared with ‘foreign religions’ such as Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. They got their way. A term was introduced that, as it were, included the entire Buddhist culture in the religious privilege.12 At the same time, however, the section guaranteeing freedom of religion was also upgraded to constitutional level. The balancing act of favoring one religion (established religion) without disadvantaging others was therefore maintained, despite international criticism that this did not meet the high standards of the UN. The question is: has this worked to settle the tensions in Sri Lanka, as far as they were related to religion, in a way that promoted people’s coexistence? Here is the strange phenomenon that the attempt to regulate conflicts with religious connotations by law has in practice led to the hardening of religious divisions in Sri Lanka. Not only because the various factions during the civil war (Tamil Tigers) also used the religious marker to maintain enemy images (cf. Northern Ireland). Then after its termination there should have been a relative decrease in tensions. However, this is not the case. On the contrary. More and more often, increasingly widely and with increasing public resonance, lawsuits were filed between religious groups or by religious groups against the state. In parallel with this, it became very common to ‘recode’ social tensions between population groups into violations of religious freedoms and to bring them to justice. The legal tools that the Sri Lankans had invented and fine-tuned to manage precisely those tensions led to the divisions between Buddhist and non-Buddhist Sri Lankans (you can sense that these are the parties that, over time, legislation has been formed) have deepened and hardened. In the ongoing litigation, what we see happening all over the world happened: First there is a ‘reification’ of the term ‘religion’: what is meant by it is being defined more and more precisely by those conducting the litigation and their experts. The positions are also becoming increasingly sharply defined against each other. The contradictions are fixed as such in religious language. This came to light very sharply when a member of parliament from the Sinhala-Buddhist political party submitted a bill in which he tried to have the supposed proselytizing of Christian missionaries banned on the basis of the constitution: after all, the state had the duty ‘to protect and to foster Buddhism’. Almost immediately the country was turned upside down. Violation of freedom of religion, it was said. Newspapers were full of opinion pieces pro and con, etc. As many as 21 people filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court to have this bill declared unconstitutional. These 21, very diverse in background, had in common that they were non-Buddhists. Against this, of course, various parties immediately grouped together, each of which claimed that they had the well-being of Buddhism in mind in the broadest sense of the word. Both parties emphatically stated that in principle they had nothing against freedom of religion, but there are limits.religious markers serve to demarcate groups from each other. Furthermore, people did not give each other an inch during the process. The Buddhists argued that they were not violating religious freedom at all. After all, everyone had the freedom to ‘change their religion’, as stated in the constitution. Only they felt that it was part of Buddhism to ‘live in an environment where one is left mentally alone’ and that guaranteeing this was part of the government’s mandate ‘to protect and foster’ the Buddhist culture. In contrast, the Christian societies maintained that it is essential for a Christian to testify of his faith and that the same constitution therefore commands the government not to prohibit this. Benjamin Schonthal, who describes this process, notes that throughout the process there was no link at all with a concrete case. Examples of proselytism cited were anecdotal and came from the newspaper. No witness was heard. The battle between the two groups in the courtroom was abstract, detached from lived reality. Local real tensions were ‘recoded’ as global conflicts over inalienable fundamental rights and universal freedoms. The contrast in the court was ‘the West vs. Sri Lanka’, ‘Christianity vs. Buddhism’.

In fact, people have fallen into all the pitfalls I mentioned above. Living religious traditions, which in themselves are very colorful and diverse, have been transformed into fixed, stable and unchanging concepts. As a result, ‘expert religion’ took the place of ‘lived religion’. Not only did the diversity disappear, the groups also increasingly started to act as if they were the legitimate representatives of everyone. This allowed some Buddhist groups to speak on behalf of ‘Buddhism’ and ditto the other party. By legalizing religion as a separately regulated business (‘governed religion’), a diffuse social and cultural concern that was effectively present in society was reformulated in religious terms and subsequently fought out in an already polarized debate about to concepts frozen world views, abstract ideas and hypothetical situations. The court tried to keep ‘the church’ in the middle and to defuse the case by agreeing with both parties in its ruling and not making a ruling on the merits. Neither faction could claim victory. Whether that’s right or wrong doesn’t matter. In any case, it was a statement that took the context into account. The judges were not unworldly. However, Sri Lanka was subsequently reprimanded by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights because it had not met the standard formulated in its Charter. The privileged position of Buddhism is really incompatible with ‘freedom of thought, religion and conscience’. The circle is round. Legal experts believe that more ‘rule of law’ will solve this problem. They apparently trust more in the power of abstract transnational concepts (the liberal legal principles) than in historical arguments that try to take into account the reality on the ground: colonial legacy, minority positions. Benjamin Schonthal also finds the statement not really satisfactory, but it is in line with attempts to ‘manage’ tensions in Sri Lanka since independence. Jurisprudence is not abstract, but concerns concrete living people. The key question is therefore not whether the statement deserves a beauty prize, but whether the people of Sri Lanka benefit from the way in which religious aspects are regulated in their society. He himself suspects that ‘more law’ alone will provide little relief, on the contrary. He fears that if people continue to seek justice through the courts, the hardening of positions will increase and the social divide between the various factions will deepen. ‘Recoding’ a social reality into clear religious contradictions jeopardizes the resolution of those conflicts because it fixes the contradictions. And that is such a shame, he argues, because at the basic level ( live religion) there is a long cultural tradition in Sri Lanka in which the boundaries between the various religious movements are actually very porous, and there is a lot of border traffic, meeting, exchange and influence, much to the annoyance of ‘some Buddhist monks’ (!) and ‘ some Christian missionaries’ (!). They call that ‘syncreticism’ and that is not good, they think. They are also the ones filing the lawsuits. Even the boundaries between religious and non-religious were not really strict in Sri Lanka, mainly because the dominant religion (Buddhism) does not make a clear distinction between them (see the end of chapter 2 on whether Buddhism can be called ‘a religion’ in Western sense, but these statements have now actually become meaningless). Religious identities in Sri Lanka are therefore relatively open and there is a lot of traffic back and forth. This means that religious expression cannot be (or should I say: ‘let’) be captured in single, well-defined religious traditions, guided by religious leaders and cared for by hierarchically structured institutions. On the contrary: you will find deities from the Hindu world in some Buddhist temples and many Christians who faithfully go to church on Sundays also participate enthusiastically in the local Buddhist festivals. Many sites are sacred to multiple religions at the same time. In some of those places ‘plural worship’ even takes place. ‘Buddhism’, which has manifested itself as a collective power bloc through legislation, is not that at all in practice. Like all other religious institutions, it is an amalgam of competing factions, sometimes fighting each other, each with its own rituals, sacred texts and followers. Now that there is power and benefits to be gained (‘governed religion’), the tendency to present themselves as one bloc has increased. You are stronger in society and can get more done in court. It is therefore certainly not innocent if the ‘lived religion’ is simply overwritten with the construct ‘religion’ included in the law. The way in which freedom of religion is discussed in case law does not capture the reality of human religious activity. She even threatens to destroy it. What already applies to ordinary language (it can also influence and determine the reality it purports to describe) applies exponentially to legal language: it can change social life, even for the worse. Benjamin Schonthal ends his essay on this with the thought-provoking sentence: ‘If Sri Lanka’s religious communities are to have a harmonious future it may be in spite of the law, rather than because of it.’

I take away that the application of the rightly praised human rights in religion must be done carefully. That is to say, taking into account the real situation at the grassroots and focusing on increasing the freedom of citizens to shape their religion in their own way (let a thousand flowers bloom) and not on the power of religious institutions to shape their religion. version of a religion. In the example of Sri Lanka, we saw how wrong choices promote social division along artificial religious lines, which is politically disastrous for a country where social cohesion is still so vulnerable.

Non-mainstream religiosity between two stools (Boca Raton)

In addition to the major consequences for a society, as described above, the legalization of freedom of religion (‘governed religion’ driven by ‘expert religion’) also leads to a silent discrimination against irregular religiosity, or in other words: to the restriction of the religious freedom of individuals who do not fit into a religious box (or alternatively: a ‘respectable belief’). A famous example is the outcome of a lawsuit brought by a number of residents of Boca Raton (Florida) against the manager of the public cemetery.13 This was a logistically very efficient modern cemetery in the form of a park. All gravestones were horizontal and, for aesthetic reasons, included only part of the concession. Some had some difficulty with this and had demarcated the concession of their dearly departed with posts and a cord, others had also decorated the space between them somewhat, for example by planting a bush, placing a cross, stones on a Star of David, etc. a statue of Mary. This was turned a blind eye for a long time until the manager thought that things were starting to get out of control. The rules were brought up again and after a number of information meetings about this, the vertical memorabilia was removed. However, some surviving relatives had independently filed an objection with the judge, invoking thefreedom of religion. They therefore had to convince the judge that their vision on the design of a grave monument for their dearly departed was rooted in a ‘deeply held conviction’ that could be linked to the views, doctrines and practices of a known religion (or ‘belief’). , and all this of course consistent, coherent and serious. We now know the criteria. And in the US they do not differ much from the European ones. However, the concession purchase contract was clear. The application of signs other than horizontal was prohibited. The families therefore requested an exception on the grounds of freedom of religion. Their claim was ultimately rejected by the judge, because he was of the opinion – after hearing various expert witnesses (theologians, religious historians, clergy), appointed by both parties – that the insistence on erecting vertical monuments on a grave concession had to be be qualified as ‘a matter of purely personal preference regarding religious exercise’. To determine this, the judge had used a fourfold test that the complainants’ ‘deeply held convictions’ had to meet if they wanted to be eligible to invoke freedom of religion.14 To this end, he interrogated the plaintiffs, sometimes almost cross-examining, to find out how “they justified their actions” (they did so clumsily, you understand, emotionally, and with whatever arguments they could come up with). He compared these testimonies to the information he had learned from the expert witnesses (‘expert religion’). On this basis he concluded that erecting vertical signs could not be considered part of the essence of ‘the religion’ of those involved. It was not prescribed in a text that had authority within the various traditions, it was not a universal practice, nor present as a custom in the tradition to this day. He did not consider it important that grave monuments are usually vertical in practice. According to him, it did not count that the family members themselves indicated that they considered it essential for their religion. It was and remained a ‘matter of purely personal preference’. The plaintiffs were able to do this, also on appeal (2004).15 The judge was quite satisfied with his own arguments and even published his evaluation of the proceedings afterwards. Nowhere does he indicate that he realized that he had squeezed the religion of the complainants into the mold of his concept of religion, that by determining what was essential and what was accidental, he had behaved as a theologian and thus interfered with other people’s religion. . And the reporting even regularly shows that – despite explicit assurances to the contrary at the start of the trial – he spoke condescendingly about their experience of religion. He himself had good memories of the process. He would have liked to be able to put things in order in the theological area as well. His Protestant glasses, his blinders fixed on the leather: he was not even aware of it. The lawyer Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, an expert witness at the trial, has written a descriptive and compelling account of it in a booklet with the provocative title,The Impossibility of Religious Freedom. She is not against freedom of religion, on the contrary. However, she doubts whether the concept of ‘religion’ as it currently functions within the legal context still protects that freedom. She notes that case law increasingly interferes with the ‘spirit of the law’ with what does and does not qualify as religion, so that in practice the judges seem to be more concerned with restrictingfreeexercise than withsafeguardingof it. After all: Every definition (literally: boundary determination) of religion is a form of restriction of the freedom of religion. Saying what religionisnotSullivan puts the question on the table that legal scholars and judges cannot ignore if they want to maintain their impartiality: Can you, as a judge, still judge objectively given the hyperdiversity of what today presents itself as religion and invokes the freedom of ‘ religion or belief’? Many judges themselves also find it annoying that every judge regularly has to sit in the chair of the theologian in order to make a ruling. It doesn’t feel good, it’s not fair.

Should religious freedom be abolished, as is argued here and there? I don’t think so – you know what you have, you don’t know what you get – but I think it is high time to provide some more clarity in this area and at least become aware of the side effects that the practice of ‘ governed religion’. To conclude, an introduction.

The concept of religion reconsidered

expert religion, governed religion, lived religion

In this chapter, in describing the way in which religion presents itself in the various domains of our lives, I have functionally dissected the concept of religion, that is, broken it down into parts depending on the context in which it is used. It is a response to the complexity of the subject. No one can define religion. We already knew that. I refused to do that at the beginning of this book, and I continue to do so, because that is the only way reality has a chance to make itself known. But now it was exactly about that complex reality and in order to tell the story I needed structures. Although we cannot define it in a way that is convincing and appropriate for all contexts, we can try to say it a little more precisely depending on the context. So they are working definitions, ‘heuristic methods’ that you can use when you look for how religion works in all possible areas. In this chapter, three terms – derived from the context in which the word religion occurs – guided our analysis. Expert religion, lived (everyday) religion, and governed religion . I borrowed the terms from Elizabeth Shakman Hurd. She uses them in her book Beyond Religious Freedom , in which she uses a number of case studies to outline the impact that fencing with ‘religious freedom’ has on social and political relations in a country/region. I hope that the use of this triad above was sufficiently convincing to have demonstrated its relevance. In conclusion, all I want to do is describe these three concepts (which do not exist separately, but constantly interact) in a little more detail and list some insights again.

  • Expert religion  is religion as described by professionals. These can be internal experts (theologians, pastors, monks), but also ‘experts’ in a general sense: philosophers of religion, scientists, etc. Within the social debate, it is very often those experts who are involved in the way in which people want to ‘control’ religion. or ‘manage’. They are policy makers, or they are consulted by them. They answer questions: What about you? Is that the case everywhere? How does that work? How important is that? It is about that knowledge that is important for policy. Their knowledge is used in the ‘reassurance discourse’ (Religion, they assure, is fundamentally ‘peace’, a source of morality and indispensable for social cohesion). We also encounter them in the ‘control discourse’ (Because religion can also be a source of violence, we recommend…). You know them. They cannot be removed from the pipe.
  • Governed religion is religion as it appears in legal texts, both within the judiciary and in politics. This definition is, by its very nature, quite flat. Above all, it must be functional. She is at the service of the legislator. Yet, as we have seen, this definition, together with ‘expert religion’, has a lot of influence on reality and drives it. In addition to the fact that the way in which religion is managed has always been strongly historically determined, it is political and religious authorities that provide the input here. One therefore also speaks of ‘official religion’ or ‘Law’s religion’. The link with expert religion is close. They advise lawyers and politicians. The religious institutes (representative bodies) are of course very interested in being included in this category, especially if some form of government support is possible for part of their program (churches, schools).
  • Lived religion (or everyday religion) . Although also a paper term, it is mainly intended to provide resistance to the two above-mentioned ‘constructs’. It is religion as practiced and experienced by ordinary people, privately or in groups. Of course, this is not separate from the two above-mentioned designs in the field of religion. You could speak of a constant back and forth (attraction and repulsion) between these three. In everyday religion, authorities play a role, just like rituals, texts, buildings, places. It includes all kinds of human activity, relationships, commitments, views and actions (rituals, behavior), although these are not limited to those ‘officially recognized by the institutes or experts’. Expressions of lived religion can easily remain under the radar of the governed religion , and the relationship with the institutions and experts is often somewhat tense. Sometimes this category is also referred to as ‘folk religion’. It often resembles more what people do spontaneously when they are deeply affected, for example after a disaster or an attack, than what is written in the church books. Confidential handling of ‘the sacred’, irreverent in the eyes of the officials (the statue of Saint Anthony on the mantelpiece is turned over if he has not prayed), are also characteristic here.

So I looked at the way we deal with religion from these three perspectives. It will not have escaped your notice that I have mainly tried to make the case for the third category. Especially because I have the impression that this voice is not heard enough. ‘Ordinary people’ do not preach, do not act, do not write opinion pieces about religion. Only when they are personally affected do they take action, and often clumsily (example of Boca Raton). They often have beliefs that deviate from the official discourse and are not always very coherent. Also, much of what they do and consider important is not appreciated by religious officials and experts. The relationship between popular religiosity and church theology is always somewhat tense, even worse in Protestant circles than in Roman Catholic circles, to limit myself to Christianity. Terms such as ‘popular belief’ and ‘superstition’ are often used and are pejorative. This makes it difficult to classify lived religion in the categories ‘religion or belief’ as used by the law. Religious leaders (expert religion, governed religion) rarely speak on their behalf, busy as they are to defend the interests of the institution (based and built on ‘expert religion’). Why would they? These are just people whose behavior ‘fails to qualify as religion worth protecting by law’, to quote the Boca Raton judge again. By extension, I also include in this forgotten group those who do not allow themselves to be classified into the simplistic dichotomy of ‘religious or secular’. This is a rapidly growing group that does not feel at home in any official religion, and certainly does not feel the need to affiliate with an institution, but who also has no idea about joining organized liberalism. They are sometimes called cultural Christians, or somethingists5 or post-modern bricoleurs. All nicknames, I would say. Anyone who does not speak the language of the official religion, or does not want to speak it, does not participate in the conversation about religion. Or if he does raise his voice, he is not heard or understood. I think more attention could be paid to that.

Furthermore: Official statements about ‘freedom of religion’ fall into the field of lived religion (and belief) and have consequences there. Generally positive, let that come first. Without human rights, it would be even more unfree in large parts of the world. On the other hand, those rights are only worth as much as they can be developed on the ground. And here we saw indications that ‘human rights’ have been given the status of ‘vérités vénérables’, about which no one is allowed to say anything anymore. However, the implementation of the human right ‘freedom of religion’ turned out to be far from a straightforward story. The Protestantization of the concept of religion, reinforced by its expansion to also include ‘philosophical, political and moral convictions’ without reference to ‘god’, caused some short circuits. It may accommodate the non-religious and thus remove serious discrimination, but it had the side effect that much of what is also religion falls out of the picture (zb). This also overexposed one aspect of religious activity, namely the doctrinal side of religions. having a set of beliefs with actions based on it became the model, the mold, that should fit all who want to participate in the field of ‘religion and belief’. Religious organizations or philosophical associations that can portray themselves in this way are seen. They are therefore eligible to be ‘recognized’ (official religion) and can subsequently benefit from both legal protection (constitution) and support in the event of multiple establishment . Apart from the discriminatory aspect, this appears to lead to a strengthening of those religious communities that can clearly profile themselves and indicate exactly what they want from their followers and what they do not: well-defined religious communities. The paradoxical conclusion is that freedom of religion de facto promotes fundamentalism and strengthens religious (philosophical) institutions, while it does not respond when more free-floating religiosity within those institutions is compromised. All religions (religious expressions) may be equal before the law, but some are more equal than others. In addition, the clearly defined religious identities that arise in this way seem in practice to confirm (even fix) social differences rather than help to bridge them. Gray areas that are rife in lived religion and where many social tensions are naturally weakened, thus disappear from view. Not very conducive to the much desired social cohesion.

© Dick Wursten: fair use policy : ie all use is permitted provided the source is mentioned.


  1. Protocol 1, Article 2 states: “In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions. ”
  2. Christopher Hitchens,  God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything  (2007) is primarily an attack on organized religion. In the English edition, the book had a different subtitle: God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion .
  3. Salient detail: In Holy Ignorance, when religion and culture part way, Olivier Roy also quotes this anecdote in a footnote. With him, however, the setting is slightly different. The atheist has become a Muslim: ‘On the corner of two streets, one Protestant, the other Catholic, a grocer from Bangladesh had opened a small supermarket, serving both communities to their complete satisfaction. On a dark winter evening, a man in a balaclava bursts into his shop, points his gun at the owner and shouts: ‘Catholic or Protestant?’ “Muslim,” he answers. ‘A Catholic or a Protestant Muslim?’
  4. You can read a more extensive version of this section on my religious freedom blog .
  5. This line of thinking is strongly promoted in Flanders by Leni Franken. E.g. in her essay ‘Towards a real
    separation of church and state’, in Sampol  2017/2
  6. This works fine in English (religion or belief), less so in Dutch and French. It says ‘persuasion’ and ‘conviction’. In Dutch is ‘faith’ and in French ‘croyance’ is the religious variant. In the English explanation, ‘belief’ and ‘conviction’ are then used synonymously.
  7. Even though Article 9 talks about freedom of religion, the ‘scope’ is much broader. An explanation from the European Court itself expressly states that the guarantee of freedom extends ‘to all personal, political, philosophical, moral and, of course, religious convictions. It extends to ideas, philosophical convictions of all kinds […]. For example, as a philosophy, pacifism falls within the scope of application of Article 9 of the Convention, since the attitude of a pacifist can be regarded as a “belief”.’ However, they add that it must be about more than ‘mere opinions’. It concerns ‘ideas that have attained a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance. It must also be possible ‘to identify the formal content of convictions.’
  8. The belief must be sincerely held, must be a belief and not an opinion based on present available information and a weighty or substantial aspect of human life and behavior, have a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance and worthy of respect in a democracy society as well as being not incompatible with human dignity or conflict with others’ rights. [Equal rights, UK, 2010].
  9. see Yvonne Sherwood, ‘On the Freedom of the Concepts of Religion and Belief’, 29-44, in Winnifred Fallers Sullivan (ed),  Politics of Religious Freedom , 2015).
  10. This section is based on Benjamin Schonthal, ‘constitutionalizing religion: the pyrrhic success of religious rights in postcolonial sri lanka’, Journal of Law and Religion 29/3 (2014)
  11. For the experts: buddhāsana instead of buddhāgama.
  12. extensively described and analyzed by Winnifred Fallers Sullivan:  The Impossibility of Religious Freedom  (Princeton, 2005)
  13. Court should consider whether the practice: 1) is asserted or implied in relatively unambiguous terms by an authoritative sacred text ; 2) is clearly and consistently affirmed in classic formulations of doctrine and practice ; 3) has been observed continuously, or nearly so, throughout the history of the tradition ; and 4) has been consistently observed in the tradition as we meet it in recent times.
  14. see
  1. Vogue 125th Anniversary, testimony of Lyric Harris (link)
  2. Christopher Hitchens,  God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything  (2007) is primarily an attack on organized religion. In the English edition, the book had a different subtitle: God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion .
  3. Salient detail: In Holy Ignorance, when religion and culture part way, Olivier Roy also quotes this anecdote in a footnote. With him, however, the setting is slightly different. The atheist has become a Muslim: ‘On the corner of two streets, one Protestant, the other Catholic, a grocer from Bangladesh had opened a small supermarket, serving both communities to their complete satisfaction. On a dark winter evening, a man in a balaclava bursts into his shop, points his gun at the owner and shouts: ‘Catholic or Protestant?’ “Muslim,” he answers. ‘A Catholic or a Protestant Muslim?’
  4. section based on Olivier Roy’s analysis in chapter 3 ‘Religion, Ethnic group, Nation’, in  Holy Ignorance, p. 67-108, there p. 79-91. He describes how colonial officials of the British Empire  were ‘manufacturers’ of neo-ethnic groups by dividing citizens according to their religious identities.
  5.  (Dutch: ietsisme (pronounced [itsˈɪsmə]) – “somethingism” is an unspecified belief in an undetermined transcendent reality.