The problem of the verbalistic (and the journalistic) is expressed in an aphorism earlier in the Incerto: mathematicians think in (well precisely defined and mapped) objects, philosophers in concepts, jurists in constructs, logicians in operators (...), and idiots in words. We saw that risk and tail risk are mathematically separate objects, conflated by the IYI (intellectual yet idiot) crowd. Two people can be using the same word, meaning different things, yet continue the conversation, which is fine for coffee, but not when making decisions, particularly policy decisions affecting others. But it is easy to trip them, as Socrates did, simply by asking them what they mean by what they said –hence philosophy was born as rigor in discourse and disentanglement of mixed up notions, in precise opposition to the sophist’s promotion of rhetoric. But, since Socrates we have had a long tradition of mathematical science and contract law driven by precision in mapping terms. But we also have had many pronouncements by idiots using labels.
People rarely mean the same thing when they say "religion", nor do they realize that they don't mean the same thing. For early Jews and Muslims, religion was law. Din means law in Hebrew and religion in Arabic. For early Jews, religion was also tribal; for early Muslims, it was universal. For the Romans, religion was social events, rituals, and festivals –the word religio was opposition to superstitio, and while present in the Roman zeitgeist had no equivalent concept in the Greek-Byzantine East . Law was procedurally and mechanically its own thing, and early Christianity, thanks to Saint Augustine, stayed relatively away from the law, and, later, remembering its foundations, had an uneasy relation with it. The difference is marked in that Christian Aramaic uses a different word: din for religion and nomous (from the Greek) for law. Jesus, with his imperative “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”, separated the holy and the profane: Christianity was for another domain, “the kingdom to come”, only merged with this one in the eschaton. Neither Islam nor Judaism have a marked separation between holy and profane. And of course Christianity moved away from the solely-spiritual domain to embrace the ceremonial and ritualistic, integrating much of the pagan rites of the Levant and Asia Minor.
For Jews today, religion became ethnocultural, without the law --and for many, a nation. Same for Syriacs, Chaldeans, Armenians, Copts, and Maronites. For Orthodox and Catholic Christians religion is aesthetics, pomp and rituals. For Protestants, religion is belief with no aesthetics, pomp or law. Further East, for Buddhists, Shintoists and Hindus, religion is practical and spiritual philosophy, with a code of ethics (and for some, cosmogony). So when Hindu talk about the Hindu "religion" they don't mean the same thing to a Pakistani as it would to a Hindu, and certainly something different for a Persian.
When the nation-state idea came about, things got more, much more complicated. When an Arab now says "Jew" he largely means something about a creed; to Arabs, a converted Jew is no longer a Jew. But for a Jew, a Jew is someone whose mother is a Jew. But it somewhat merged into nation-state and now means a nation.
In Serbia-Croatia and Lebanon, religion means something at times of peace, and something quite different at times of war.
When someone discusses the “Christian minority” in the Levant, it doesn’t mean (as Arabs tend to think) promoting a Christian theocracy (full theocracies were very few in Christian history, just Byzantium and a short attempt by Calvin). He just means “secular” or wants a marked separation of church and state. Same for the gnostics (Druids, Druze, Mandeans, Alawis).
The problem with the European Union is that the naive IYI bureaucrats (these idiots who can’t find a coconut on Coconut island) are fooled by the label. They treat Salafism as just a religion –with its houses of “worship”—when in fact it is just an intolerant political system, which promotes (or allows) violence and refuses the institutions of the West –those that allow them to operate. As we saw with the minority rule, the intolerant will run over the tolerant; cancer requires being stopped before it becomes metastatic.
We will see in the next chapter that “belief” can be epistemic, or simply procedural (pisteic) –leading to confusions about what sort of beliefs, are religious beliefs and which ones are not, disentangled through signaling. For, on top of the “religion” problem, there is a problem with belief. Some beliefs are largely decorative , some are functional (they help in survival); others are literal. And to revert to our metastatic Salafi problem: when one of these fundamentalists talks to a Christian, he is convinced that the Christian is literal, while the Christian is convinced that the Salafi has the same oft-metaphorical concepts to be taken seriously but not literally –and, often, not very seriously. Religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, and, to some extent Shiite Islam, evolved (or let their members evolve in developing a sophisticated society) precisely by moving away from the literal –in addition to the functional aspect of the metaphorical, the literal doesn’t leave any room for adaptation .
Nassim Nicholas Taleb