Some religions are religions

Sunday, June 17th, 2018

Some religions are religions, Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains, while some religions are just bodies of laws:

Judaism and Islam are not religions like Christianity is a religion, the exact opposite. Let me explain.

The foundation of Judaism was law, but it was minuscule, it was for a tribe. It was law: “you should not go and do this or that.” Then in Islam, the same word, din, in Arabic means law in Hebrew, but not in Syriac, which is a Semitic language used by Christians, where they use two different words, one nomos, law, and one, din, for religion. Why is it so?

Islam and Judaism are laws. It’s law — there’s no distinction between holy and profane — whereas Christianity is not law. Why isn’t it law? A simple reason — you remember the Christ said what is for Caesar and is not for Caesar? It’s because the Romans had the laws. You’re not going to bring the law because they already have the law, and very sophisticated law at that, the Romans.

With Christianity was born the separation of church and state. It’s secular, so it’s effectively a secular religion that says that when you go home, you do whatever you want. Of course, Christianity, they got to have theocracies, a few, but it was all cosmetic.

For example, when you have the codes, whether Theodosius or Justinian Code — you take Justinian’s code, you look at it. You see, just cosmetically, he said you were blessed by the grace of God , et cetera — two pages.

The rest is intact, the Roman law. When you talk about religion, when people are talking about Salafi Islam — it’s not a religion in the sense that Mormon Christianity is a religion. It is a body of laws. It’s a legal system. It’s a political system. It’s a legal system.

So people are very confused when they talk about religion. They’re comparing things that are not the same. Effectively, when I say that I’m Christian, it’s very different from saying I am something else.

The same weakness that I see sometimes describe ethnicity. Being Greek Orthodox is more ethnicity than something else, or being Serbian versus Croatian. Sometimes religion becomes an identity, sometimes law, sometimes very universal.

And sometimes you have pagan tendencies hidden under some kind of Taqiya that you see in the north, you have the monastic religions. Comparing religions naively is silly, it’s heuristic and leads to things like saying, “Well, he has a right to exercise his faith.”

Some faiths should not have the right to be exercised, like Salafis or extreme jihadism because they’re not religions. They’re a legal system. They’re like a political party that wants to ban all other political parties. If you go with that, you’re repeating certain mistakes.


  1. David Foster says:

    I’ve wondered, though…was Jesus’s remark about Rendering to Caesar really intended as guidance for separation of church and state, or was it merely a spur-of-the-moment way to get out of an intended trap?

  2. Lucklucky says:

    Probably the second, David Foster.

    Nevertheless, Christians, Muslims, and every political party are proselytistic, while Judaism is not. In the western world we replaced religion with politics. People today believe in politics.

    The Political religion has obviously priests: they are the journalists; they define the moral. Journalists today even try to convince us the Political God can control the Climate.

    Today the mass is TV news at diner time, in my country at least.

    That is why no one goes to journalism school to give us the news. They go to be priests of Political God. And what is the ideology that wants to control everything, that fits better with this logic?

  3. Gaikokumaniakku says:

    “Christians, Muslims, and every political party are proselytistic, while Judaism is not.”

    False. Jews love proselytizing when it suits their purposes. Jews refuse to proselytize when it doesn’t suit their purposes. Thus the fraudulent propaganda is that Jews don’t proselytize, but basic observation disproves that.

  4. Wang Wei Lin says:

    I spent some time talking with Bill Warner, Phd, a vocal critic of political Islam. He has books and youtube content. He made a useful distinction as it concerns Islam in America. Everyone is protected by the 1st Amendment including Muslims. Muslims are free to worship in their homes, free to worship in their mosques. However when Muslims bring Islam into the public realm of civic law then there are no protections, only legal processes that apply equally to all citizens. As such I am free to resist, protest and ‘fight legally’ the rotten influence of political Islam. In reality though it seems Islam is a politically correct protected class. Just ask Tommy Robinson.

  5. Harry Jones says:

    Law was in ancient times always gussied up with religious trappings. So I would call it a kind of religion, but we’re talking about two different classes of religion, with two different purposes.

    Both Old and New Testaments confront the problem of human depravity, but at different levels. The Mosaic law, like all legal codes, attempts to manage the consequences of human nature in society. But Christianity is explicitly about saving the individual soul from sin for a good afterlife. Christianity tries to stop the flow of vileness from the human heart, but Law only tries to mop up the spill.

    Saint Paul tried to articulate this, I think. The Law doesn’t save your soul because it wasn’t intended to. Christianity doesn’t improve society because it wasn’t intended to.

    When Jesus said “render unto Caesar” his point was that Roman Law is irrelevant to godly concerns. But The Pharisees saw – correctly – two competing legal systems: Mosaic and Roman. Jesus didn’t dispute this point, because he agreed on a factual level, and just didn’t care. He said, in effect: “Yeah. So what?”

  6. lucklucky says:

    “…but basic observation disproves that.”

    Basic observation:
    Jews less than 100M
    Christians: +1B
    Muslims: +1B

    Jews: first of 3 named religion less than 100M
    Christianism an evolution of Judaism many more.

    Sometimes i look a Judaism and Christianity as the first is the Roman Republic and the second the arrival of Ceasar and Populism.

  7. Gaikokumaniakku says:


    Jews convert outsiders when such conversion suits their purposes. They don’t like mass conversions. Jews do proselytize. Jews *don’t* want to open up their club to any outsider who wants to join. So Jews lie and say that they don’t proselytize because they want to avoid getting called out on their blatant discrimination.

  8. Lucklucky says:

    Haha! They proselytize but don’t proselytize. 1984.

    “Blatant discrimination.” Typical Marxist, even with weaponized word.

  9. Gaikokumaniakku says:


    You have a failure to comprehend. That is your problem.

  10. Lucklucky says:

    I understand perfectly well what you are.

  11. Graham says:

    I think Taleb is being a little unfair here.

    There’s some truth- Christianity in the west in the last couple of centuries has largely given up as a source of law or as the overall shaper of society. Byt its own historical standards and the standards of any serious religion/belief system, at any rate. It became a religion of personal conscience, as many commentators are wont to put it.

    There is a case to be made that this constitutes unconditional surrender, since it is just replaced by other metaphysical beliefs whether or not derived from it, and however inchoate and difficult to single-name. Certainly I can imagine even some quite not-extreme Muslims considering this the wrong path for their civilization’s future.

    But it’s true that Christianity has trod this path and Islam largely has not, at least not yet.

    On a broader level, the distinction can be self-serving. All religions may not put the same emphases in the same place, but they all try to describe some kind of structure to the universe, some meaning to it, to connect that to the meaning of human existence, and to lay down templates for society and human conduct. To be a source of law. All the Abrahamic religions in particular. But not only them.

    Polytheisms and mixed polytheisms/philosophical/mystical systems like those of India and China have actually offered quite a bit in that last area. They’ve relaxed largely under intense millennium long military pressure from rival religious systems, the construction of new syntheses thereof, or because we sold them liberal democracy and communism more recently. So we substituted different moral/legal organizing principles based on somewhat different moral assumptions about man and the universe.

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