Cyberguy's Blog

Encouraging religion to "beget" off!

A Role-Focus Analysis of Religious Arguments

“But now I want to […] warn you against three bad reasons for believing anything. They are called ‘tradition’, ‘authority’, and ‘revelation’.”

Richard Dawkins letter to his 10 year old daughter

“There’s all the difference in the world between a belief that one is prepared to defend by quoting evidence and logic and a belief that is supported by nothing more than tradition, authority, or revelation.”

Richard Dawkins, Published in the Humanist, January/February 1997

I support the campaign to “Keep Religion Out Of School (NZ)”.  This campaign recently hit the headlines of a local newspaper, The North Shore Times, and generated a large number of letters to the editor, plus some feedback on the Facebook page.

I decided to collate the main religious arguments against removing religion from New Zealand schools, to group them into related themes, and develop a set of rebuttals as a resource. While doing this research, an interesting pattern arose that I want to share.

The letters almost grouped themselves by how defensive or aggressive they were. The extremes were “Funny how religion is so often accused of intolerance and yet so often the victim of it”, to “If there are parents who don’t want CRE in the school programme, the solution is simple – find a school near you that doesn’t include it”. In the middle was “At a time of crisis, it is to Christianity that we turn. Yet we constantly pick away at the Christian fabric of this country and then wonder why our society begins to unravel.”

The defensive, assertive and aggressive tones were so marked that the writers could easily be characterised into one of three religious roles:

  1. The Martyr (defensive)
  2. The Preacher  (assertive)
  3. The Crusader (aggressive)

The letter-writers had one obviously recurring theme among others, namely “tradition” – the building of a primarily Christian nation, our Christian heritage, the origin of our laws, the lessons of our history, etc.  I remembered that Richard Dawkins has pointed out that religious faith is founded on three main pillars – those of Revelation, Tradition and Authority. I decided to see if this pattern also fitted the letter-writers’ responses.

In practical terms, I took “Revelation” to mean an appeal to a set of God-given values. “Tradition” was marked by an appeal to a time-honoured utility. And “Authority” was an appeal to power – imposing, asserting or defending it.

The letters supporting religion in schools slotted into the Revelation/Tradition/Authority categories like Mickey Mouse’s three fingers into his glove.

In table form it appears like this:

Generic Role-Focus Analysis

Role \ Focus


(appeal to values)


(appeal to utility)


(appeal to power)

Martyr(defensive) You are attacking my religious values. You are attacking my religious traditions. You are attacking my religion.
Preacher(assertive) My religion has important values. My religion has an important traditional role. My religion is important.
Crusader(aggressive) You must comply with my religious values. You must comply with my religious traditions. You must comply with my religion.

When this breakdown is applied to the letters and other commentators defending religious instruction in New Zealand schools the summarised results look like this:

Religion in Schools – a specific Role-Focus Analysis

Role \ Focus




Martyr But we are teaching values! Christianity has values. What are we doing wrong? You secularists are causing the trouble.  Why can’t we just all get along like we used to? It is intolerant to not want Christian RI in schools. We’re being oppressed.
Preacher Religion is what gives us values.  It’s in the stories. Religion prevents the breakdown of society. Christian RI is necessary for our religious freedom.
Crusader The Christian religion must be taught, because the Bible says so. New Zealand law, culture and heritage are Christian. And the Bible? Bestseller! The majority rules!  Stop complaining, or go to another school.

I think this way of grouping religious apologist’s arguments into nine general categories might be a useful way to analyse and rebut them. It turns an apparently random collection of arguments into a manageable and structured whole.

In the example of Keeping Religion Out Of NZ Schools, I will go into these nine defining categories in more detail in subsequent posts, along with some of the associated rebuttals.

Posts to date on the 9 Role-Focus Categories:

  1. The Revelation Martyr – a defensive appeal to values
  2. The Tradition Martyr – a defensive appeal to utility
  3. The Authority Martyr – a defensive appeal to power
  4. The Revelation Preacher –  an assertive appeal to values
  5. The Tradition Preacher – an assertive appeal to utility
  6. The Authority Preacher – an assertive appeal to power
  7. The Revelation Crusader – an aggressive appeal to values
  8. The Tradition Crusader – an aggressive appeal to utility
  9. The Revelation Crusader – an aggressive appeal to power

7 responses to “A Role-Focus Analysis of Religious Arguments

  1. onefuriousllama June 4, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Hey S,

    Awesome post – I love they way you’ve neatly sliced the childish asshattery into manageable groups, which make perfect sense.

    Sometimes I wonder if any of them ever bother to think about what they are saying. When you view the outrage from this perspective it’s more than just a little childish.

    Nicely done sir.

  2. Pingback: Link: A Role-Focus Analysis of Religious Arguments « One Furious Llama

  3. Pingback: Religion in Schools – a Role-Focus Analysis. The Revelation Martyr. « Cyberguy's Blog

  4. Pingback: Religion in Schools – a Role-Focus Analysis: The Authority Martyr « Cyberguy's Blog

  5. Pingback: Religion in Schools – a Role-Focus Analysis: The Revelation Preacher « Cyberguy's Blog

  6. Pingback: Religion in Schools – a Role-Focus Analysis: The Tradition Preacher « Cyberguy's Blog

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