Should reason be recognized as a legal religion?

Religion is defined as:

“1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing amoral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.

3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.”

Reason is defined as:

“1. a basis or cause, as for some belief, action, fact, event, etc.: the reason for declaring war.

2. a statement presented in justification or explanation of a belief or action.

a basis or cause, as for some belief, action, fact, event, etc.: the reason for declaring war.

3. the mental powers concerned with forming conclusions, judgments, or inferences.”

People who claim to hold Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist beliefs enjoy special privileges under the law. They can demand special treatment at work to accommodate their beliefs. They can refuse to partake in activities that conflict with their beliefs. They can demand that other people alter and censor their behavior in their presence so as not to offend their religion. The military hires chaplains to provide ethical and emotional guidance to believers and provides deceased soldiers with free tombstones in the shape of religious symbols. Religious organizations can still operate tax free and pay their board of directors as much as they want.

Getting a religion legally recognized is a serious thing. The freedoms and advantages it gives to organizations and individuals effectively puts them in a higher class of citizenship than those who can’t claim a legal religion on a human resource form. This leaves atheists and agnostics at a disadvantage in society. To a small but significant degree, atheists and agnostics are literally second class citizens to Christians, Muslims, Jews, Mormons and Hindus since they don’t have a religion. Yet if you look at the definition of “religion” you’ll see that most atheists and agnostics do practice a set of beliefs and customs that are very compatible with that definition; those shared beliefs and customs are very compatible with the definition of the word “reason.”

Scientists have used the scientific method to construct a far more elaborate and reliable explanation of the universe than any religious prophet. The scientific creation story has been printed in countless books that are sold in the nonfiction section of book stores. Granted, we don’t know exactly how it all started, but we know more about the big bang than we know about Jesus. The point is that anyone who adheres to a scientific understanding of the universe holds beliefs on par with religion. Why should atheists and agnostics be punished for believing in an explanation of the universe that has independently verifiable evidence to back it up?

Every religious organization has rituals, rites and customs that define them as a unique and identifiable culture. So do scientists. Scientists follow the scientific method so methodically that scientists can work with other scientists from other cultures and different linguistic backgrounds and still manage to collaborate on solving extremely complex problems thanks to their shared understanding of scientific customs and courtesies. Science students and entry level professional scientists get crash courses on using the scientific method to ensure conformity of behavior. As a bonus, they conform in a logical, objective, self-critical, self-aware way that encourages reasonable dissent. Either way, they have uniquely identifiable behavior patterns that fit the legal definition of religious organization.

Reasonable people have strict ethical codes written in snippets and in collections of books that aren’t based on religion yet are followed religiously. Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie if you haven’t. That’s a book of ethics based on reasoning. Dale Carnegie lived by those ethics, and millions of others have followed his example. Every major scientific organization in the world has a handbook that includes a section on ethical guidelines. They even share the common language of mathematics, which some have even referred to as “the language of nature” and “the language of God.”

The members of scientific organizations go to great lengths to incorporate consistent ethical values into their lives. Those organizations themselves will fire members who don’t live up to their organizational bylaws. So people live, prosper, suffer and die by reason-based ethical codes written in books that are endorsed by major economic and political organizations.

According to the legal definitions of the terms “religion” and “reason” it stands that reason and/or science should be recognized as an official religion for the purpose of honoring the rights, privileges and freedoms due to practitioners of those beliefs and behaviors as set by the precedent of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. If you think this is nit-picking and anal and not that big of a deal then you should have no problem letting this insignificant little issue get passed into law. Or maybe we should just stop pampering people because they believe in fairy tales and let everybody be equal under the eyes of the law.

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Originally published at on October 12, 2011.