18 November 2009

What qualifies as a religion?

From today's news:

The Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has said he will consider calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the Church of Scientology. But he said the evidence must be looked at carefully before proceeding. Senator Nick Xenophon launched a scathing attack on Scientology, citing letters from former followers alleging extensive criminal activity: "letters received by me which were written by former followers in Australia, contain extensive allegations of crimes and abuses which are truly shocking." Senator Xenophon said their correspondence implicated the organisation in a range of crimes, including forced imprisonment, coerced abortions, physical violence and blackmail.

Good. I have no problem in questioning each and every religion of crimes and abuses made in the name of god. It seems, however, that in order to put a religion in a corner we must classify it as a sect:

Given [that Scientology has] religion status in many countries, it enjoys tax-free privileges - but revelations from former followers have sparked huge legal battles in Europe where in several countries it is deemed a sect, not a religion.

So, what, exactly, is a religion and what a sect? Is it a matter of age? Christian Science, the Bahai faith, Wicca, and Raelism, for example, are all relatively new religions. Or are they sects? What is the difference? Is it a matter of number of followers? Or is it, simply, a matter of whether, by classifying them as religions we make them tax exempt? At some point, all religions were young. And they were considered as sects. It seems to me that the division is arbitrary and the survival of the fittest rule applies here. If your religion makes it for a couple of hundred years then you're in good shape. Your descendants will benefit tax-free privileges and respect from all because their beliefs and acts will be blessed by some mataphysical, divine, superhuman force. Or so they will claim.

Last month, a French court convicted the Church of Scientology of fraud.
Excellent. I want to see the French court convict the Catholic Church of fraud and I want to see the Greek court convict the Orthodox Church for fraud too.


  1. I find it hilarious that the scientologists get so much attention for believing crazy shit, when most religions are just as asinine.

    For instance, a classic internet Christianity satire: the belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.


  2. I agree. But I have a question: You maintain that "most religions are just as asinine", implying that there are some religions which are not. Can you please point out one religion free of silly concepts? I can't.



What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant