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Posted: 16 March 2011 02:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Jeciron - 16 March 2011 05:14 AM

After reading this thread I found myself even more confused than usual about what constitutes a religion.  I went the 1961 reprint of the Oxford English Dictionary hoping for a concise definition.  Now, while still confused, I understand why.

The first definition of religion is: A state of life bound by monastic views; the condition of one who is a member of a religious order, esp. in the Roman Catholic Church.

So I had to look up the definition of religious: 1.  Imbued with religion; exhibiting the spiritual or practical effects of religion; pious, godly, god fearing, devout.

There’s the better part of a page of definitions for religion,  definitions 1-5 of religion seem to indicate that it involves a practice of faith, worship, belief in the divine, recognition of a controlling higher power, most of them using the term “religious”, in what I’d assume to be its primary definition.  But definition 6 gets better:  Devotion to some principle ; strict fidelity or faithfulness ; conscientiousness ; pious attention or attachment.  obs.

So, while I like the idea that the term religion can be used in the sense of the sixth definition, and that theism, or belief in supernatural phenomenon is a subgroup under that definition, you do have to go all the way to the sixth definition to make it work, in my opinion.  My point is that if we’re talking about religion in the sense of a fairly obscure definition, we’re going to confuse a lot of people who intuitively use the more common definitions.  If in a conversation with a believer in the supernatural I wanted to use the term religion in this way, I think there would be a burden on me to define my meaning carefully.  Not doing so is at best going to be confusing, at worst misleading, in that you could be intentionally allowing someone to misunderstand the differences between you.  Doing so may be conciliatory, and may enable the discussion to continue on a less confrontational basis, but it may not be entirely honest.

Sorry about being pedantic.  Still, there’s that thing Confucius said about first getting the language right.

I don’t think you’re being pedantic but I also don’t think that you’re thinking the issue all the way through. Whose language is “right”: those who write dictionaries where their order of definition often is governed mainly by current social norms, or those who look at a subject in its broader historical context? See the quote from Paul Griffiths at http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/10169/.

Neither of these positions is right or wrong per se. Instead they approach the question on different planes of analysis. If you’re mainly interested in definitions that capture what people think in our culture right now, then consult a reputable dictionary. But if you want to understand an idea in its broader historical context, look to the history of the subject, in this case, religion.

Why would we secularists want to ask that question? For one thing, we might want to open some minds and disrupt some of the established norms. Many people in this culture think that everyone believes in a god. They are demonstrably, unequivocally wrong. Many people think that all religions are based on a belief in a god. They too are wrong. But as Griffiths observed, that culturally myopic thinking is what ends up in the dictionary.

What is the worst that will happen if we push the envelope and use the more expansive and more historically accurate definition? Maybe some people won’t understand us but we can eliminate most if not all of that by being explicit and clear. I don’t see any significant cost to our movement in doing that.

On the other hand, if we simply accept the myopic view that all religions are theistic, we participate in a popular distortion of history and inadvertently lend support to the forces we oppose.

So I say we should use the more expansive defintion (a) because it is historically more accurate and (b) because stratigcally it is the better choice.

[ Edited: 16 March 2011 07:49 PM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 16 March 2011 05:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Thank you for the polite response, PLaClair,.  After reading the other thread I suspect you’re very frustrated with responses like mine.  I tend to dip in and out of the discussions.  I have very little free time and don’t get to follow every discussion.  I’d have more time, I guess, if I didn’t end up spending so much of it prying my foot out of my mouth.

I find I agree with you, I can see that if you take a world view, Taoism, Confucianism, some types of Buddhism are phenomenon I’d find hard to define without using the term religion.  I can understand the term, philosophy, doesn’t seem to address the emotional, communal, and obligatory aspects of those practices very well.  But, while I don’t have another word to offer, it seems like readjusting the mainstream conception of religion is going to be a pretty huge battle.  I’d suspect that the people posting here would be much more receptive to such an idea then the average non committed christian, and yet it’s clearly a pretty rough go even in these forums.  As the guy in the subcompact said as he gave way to the Hummer, “Sometimes it’s not about whether you’re right or wrong, it’s about who’s going to win or lose”.  Still, it wouldn’t be the first windmill that’s ever been taken on, and it’s pretty clear the discipline of working toward such a definition is valuable.

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Posted: 16 March 2011 07:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Jeciron - 16 March 2011 05:49 PM

Thank you for the polite response, PLaClair,.  After reading the other thread I suspect you’re very frustrated with responses like mine.  I tend to dip in and out of the discussions.  I have very little free time and don’t get to follow every discussion.  I’d have more time, I guess, if I didn’t end up spending so much of it prying my foot out of my mouth.

I find I agree with you, I can see that if you take a world view, Taoism, Confucianism, some types of Buddhism are phenomenon I’d find hard to define without using the term religion.  I can understand the term, philosophy, doesn’t seem to address the emotional, communal, and obligatory aspects of those practices very well.  But, while I don’t have another word to offer, it seems like readjusting the mainstream conception of religion is going to be a pretty huge battle.  I’d suspect that the people posting here would be much more receptive to such an idea then the average non committed christian, and yet it’s clearly a pretty rough go even in these forums.  As the guy in the subcompact said as he gave way to the Hummer, “Sometimes it’s not about whether you’re right or wrong, it’s about who’s going to win or lose”.  Still, it wouldn’t be the first windmill that’s ever been taken on, and it’s pretty clear the discipline of working toward such a definition is valuable.

Thank you. It’s an enormous battle but that’s the very reason not to give ground. The other alternative is to capitulate and pretend that all is well.

To expand on the point a bit, millions of US citizens think “American” means WASP. If you show them two photographs, one of John McCain and the other of Barack Obama and ask them which looks more like an American, they’ll say McCain does. Given enough play, eventually “American” gets defined in the dictionary as a white guy of European descent. The entire culture tends to capitulate to its most narrow-minded elements.

Think about the idea of food. Play it to the lowest common denominator long enough and the four basic food groups are cheeseburgers, French fries, pizza and milkshakes.

I shared a disc of Indian classical music with a friend who I thought knew a lot about music. He listened for about ten seconds, then pulled it out of his player and handed it back to me, saying flatly “That’s not music.” Indian classical is among the finest of all musical forms. See http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/nikhil-banerjee-bbc-performance/796b051f6fc4ef0e4e6d796b051f6fc4ef0e4e6d-527710814937?q=Nikhil+Banerjee&FROM=LKVR5&GT1=LKVR5&FORM=LKVR. Or think of someone like John Cage, who pushed the envelope on the definition of music. See, for examaple http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/john-cage-water-walk/729a1c560d2a4c20cfd4729a1c560d2a4c20cfd4-407957931295?q=John+Cage+I’ve+Got+a+Secret&FROM=LKVR5&GT1=LKVR5&FORM=LKVR. To me, a humanism that doesn’t challenge conventional limits reminds me of Plato’s observation via Socates about an unexamined life (http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2005/may/12/features11.g24). I wouldn’t go as far as to say it isn’t worth having but it’s not nearly as good as a humanism that does push the limits and especially one that questions common assumptions.

You’re right, I do get frustrated that we don’t see this clearly and that we keep accepting the push from know-nothings to reshape the language. One thing I have seen, though, and in particular from your responses, is that this isn’t coming only from an emotional reaction against everything associated with religion. We secularists are subject to the same factors of social psychology as everyone else, and those seem to have exacted their price.

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Posted: 17 March 2011 01:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Thanks PLaClair for those excellent links.

I find Indian music fascinating and hypnotic.  I believe it is also considered to be some of the most difficult to play. The time signatures can be very long and intricate. Probably a little to complicated for your friend. Have him listen to Ravvi Shankar playing modern Indian music.

http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/ravi-shankar-with-daughter-anoushka-shankar-and/480451a997682a8c049f480451a997682a8c049f-527767176762?q=ravvi shankar

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Posted: 17 March 2011 02:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Write4U - 17 March 2011 01:46 AM

Thanks PLaClair for those excellent links.

I find Indian music fascinating and hypnotic.  I believe it is also considered to be some of the most difficult to play. The time signatures can be very long and intricate. Probably a little to complicated for your friend. Have him listen to Ravvi Shankar playing modern Indian music.

http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/ravi-shankar-with-daughter-anoushka-shankar-and/480451a997682a8c049f480451a997682a8c049f-527767176762?q=ravvi shankar


`
Thanks for the link Write4U :) I think some Westerners respond to Indian music the way PLaClair mentioned (“that’s not music”) because the musical conventions are soooooo different ~ we in the West respond to things like cadences (which depends on there being a ‘home’ chord), whereas the Indian tradition is more about replicating vocal music…....Indian music has a completely different musical structure that most in NA can recognize as being ‘not like our music’ without exactly knowing why that is. 

Hard to overcome our societal/cultural and conditioned musical responses :)

`

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Posted: 17 March 2011 06:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Axegrrl - 17 March 2011 02:05 AM

Indian music has a completely different musical structure

Yes, less notes.

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Posted: 17 March 2011 02:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Whatever provides a framework for one’s central concerns is that person’s religion, even if that individual is the only one doing it that way.

Hmm, to me that makes the term “religion” so broad as to be useless, even if everyone did agree on that definition.  Given the choice between a narrow definition that people generally agree on, and an all-encompassing term that most people are unfamiliar with, I see very little reason to push for the latter.

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Posted: 17 March 2011 02:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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EricP - 17 March 2011 02:18 PM

Whatever provides a framework for one’s central concerns is that person’s religion, even if that individual is the only one doing it that way.

Hmm, to me that makes the term “religion” so broad as to be useless, even if everyone did agree on that definition.  Given the choice between a narrow definition that people generally agree on, and an all-encompassing term that most people are unfamiliar with, I see very little reason to push for the latter.

That critique makes no sense to me. Our central concerns are the most meaningful and important things we know: what is life all about, where do we fit in, how should we conduct ourselves, what meaning can we derive from life and what can we give back. Not everyone has to ask those questions or frame the issue precisely that way but if you look historically at the life of religion, these items or things very much like them are the common elements among the religions.

I do not see how this conception is excessively broad. The idea that it’s so broad as to be useless just ain’t so. People can identify the central concerns of their lives and when they are put in a religious context, it’s not hard to understand what is meant.

Furthermore, this is what drives religion, which is why it is the definition that makes the most sense. We secularists have accepted the false notion that just because people have narrowed religion down to their particular culturally-based ideas, therefore religion should be narrowed to whatever it means in our culture right now. As I’ve intimated elsewhere, you can define food as cheeseburgers, french fries, pizza and milkshakes but that’s not the whole picture.

What I don’t understand is why or how people who come here can be content, it seems, with narrow, culturally-driven conceptions of these ideas, which in fact transcend any particular culture. We know better than that and it’s adverse to our interests to accept the narrow view of it; so why do we keep insisting on it?

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Posted: 18 March 2011 04:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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I often wonder about the appeal of religion, (using the common sense of the word).  In some of the posts people discuss the phenomenon of people who claim to be “religious”, but when they explain their “religion” they don’t focus on their belief in a supernatural power.  My father is like this.  He loves to dissect the bible, (he is a retired pathologist), pointing out the impossibilities and contradictions.  He has no time for the traditional idea of heaven, virgin birth, or the raising of the dead When I was in my early teens, one Sunday as my family was leaving the church I asked him why the judeo/christian belief structure was any more valid than that of the ancient Greeks.  He replied that if I had really thought about that, I wouldn’t be expected to come to church anymore unless I chose to. But almost every Sunday you can find him at his Episcopalian church, not just observing the rituals, but volunteering, donating time and money.  When my mother died last spring I sat through the full formal service, dead man on a stick, cannibalism, prostration, the whole “daddy in the sky” dance routine.

If we use the idea PLaClair promotes, it gives us a more sensitive tool for examining the appeal that “religion” holds, especially for intellectually focused people.  While I sense that, in general, the people who participate here are fiercely independent, have no use for ritual, and have a healthy suspicion of organizations in general, I’m sure there are many people out there similar to my father.  I have mixed feelings about proselytizing for humanism, and I don’t think we should construct some mock up of conventional religion, but I think our community might be strengthened if we could provide a place where people like my father could find acceptance, comfort, and fulfillment.

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Posted: 18 March 2011 05:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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Jeciron - 18 March 2011 04:41 AM

I often wonder about the appeal of religion, (using the common sense of the word).  In some of the posts people discuss the phenomenon of people who claim to be “religious”, but when they explain their “religion” they don’t focus on their belief in a supernatural power.  My father is like this.  He loves to dissect the bible, (he is a retired pathologist), pointing out the impossibilities and contradictions.  He has no time for the traditional idea of heaven, virgin birth, or the raising of the dead When I was in my early teens, one Sunday as my family was leaving the church I asked him why the judeo/christian belief structure was any more valid than that of the ancient Greeks.  He replied that if I had really thought about that, I wouldn’t be expected to come to church anymore unless I chose to. But almost every Sunday you can find him at his Episcopalian church, not just observing the rituals, but volunteering, donating time and money.  When my mother died last spring I sat through the full formal service, dead man on a stick, cannibalism, prostration, the whole “daddy in the sky” dance routine.

If we use the idea PLaClair promotes, it gives us a more sensitive tool for examining the appeal that “religion” holds, especially for intellectually focused people.  While I sense that, in general, the people who participate here are fiercely independent, have no use for ritual, and have a healthy suspicion of organizations in general, I’m sure there are many people out there similar to my father.  I have mixed feelings about proselytizing for humanism, and I don’t think we should construct some mock up of conventional religion, but I think our community might be strengthened if we could provide a place where people like my father could find acceptance, comfort, and fulfillment.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

You’ve stated my argument better than I did. I’ll just add this. There’s no central authority figure in Humanism, which is as it should be. So we’re not all going to do the same thing. But there is no reason why any of us should oppose efforts to create Humanist organizations and meeting places that serve your father’s desires. Some of them will call themselves religious organizations, like Ethical Culture. Some won’t. Each of us will choose which groups to affiliate with. That’s all as it should be. The knee-jerk reaction against anything that feels or sounds or looks in any way like a religion is what I oppose so strongly because it weakens and divides us for no good reason. In a country in which a president can say with complete political impunity that an atheist is not a good American, that should be of sufficient concern to us all for us to seek ways to support our fellow Humanists or secularists or scientific naturalists or whatever you want to call us.

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Posted: 20 March 2011 02:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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George - 17 March 2011 06:04 AM
Axegrrl - 17 March 2011 02:05 AM

Indian music has a completely different musical structure

Yes, less notes.

`
Actually, it’s just the opposite!  Indian music has more (because their smallest ‘steps’ are quarter tones whereas in Western music, the smallest step is a semi (half) tone :)

The closest Western equivalent to Indian music is the blues, because of all the ‘bended’ notes.


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Posted: 20 March 2011 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Axegrrl - 20 March 2011 02:02 AM
George - 17 March 2011 06:04 AM
Axegrrl - 17 March 2011 02:05 AM

Indian music has a completely different musical structure

Yes, less notes.

`
Actually, it’s just the opposite!  Indian music has more (because their smallest ‘steps’ are quarter tones whereas in Western music, the smallest step is a semi (half) tone smile

The closest Western equivalent to Indian music is the blues, because of all the ‘bended’ notes.


`

This is what the Wiki page on music theory says:

Arabic and Persian classical traditions often make use of quarter-tones, half the size of a semitone, as the name suggests. Contrary to popular belief, however, this is not true of Indian music, which uses seven notes and five variant notes that correspond to the twelve tones of the European chromatic scale, but are used very differently.

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Posted: 27 March 2011 12:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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George - 20 March 2011 10:33 AM

This is what the Wiki page on music theory says:

Arabic and Persian classical traditions often make use of quarter-tones, half the size of a semitone, as the name suggests. Contrary to popular belief, however, this is not true of Indian music, which uses seven notes and five variant notes that correspond to the twelve tones of the European chromatic scale, but are used very differently.

`
This demonstrates why no one considers the information on wikipedia to be ‘unequivocal’ :)

google “indian music” and “microtones” or microtonal, microtonality….....the scales used in Indian music are generally more nuanced than Western scales.


regardless, what you just posted above directly contradicts your claim that Indian music has “less notes” than that used in Western music :)


`

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Posted: 27 March 2011 01:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Jeciron - 18 March 2011 04:41 AM

While I sense that, in general, the people who participate here are fiercely independent, have no use for ritual, and have a healthy suspicion of organizations in general, I’m sure there are many people out there similar to my father.  I have mixed feelings about proselytizing for humanism, and I don’t think we should construct some mock up of conventional religion, but I think our community might be strengthened if we could provide a place where people like my father could find acceptance, comfort, and fulfillment.

`
Really nicely said, Jeciron :)

As much as I hate using words like ‘religion’ or ‘God’, words that have soooo much ‘baggage’ attached to them, that doesn’t mean that I dismiss the meaning that many people have or give to such terms.

I truly think we need to dispense with those terms ~ if only because there are so many different meanings attached to them, they’ve become more problematic than helpful when it comes to clear communication.

I recently interacted with a theist who said that ‘God’ “isn’t an entity and isn’t imaginary” ~ and concluded that ‘God’ is, in essence, “metaphorical” more than anything else.

I can agree with/understand that.  But what I don’t get is how someone goes from a man-made ‘metaphor’ to “objective moral truth”.  If you agree that ‘God’ is a metaphor, then you’re acknowledging that the concept is man-made ~ and if that’s the case, then you can’t make any claims about objective truth.

`

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Posted: 27 March 2011 05:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Axegrrl - 27 March 2011 12:12 AM

This demonstrates why no one considers the information on wikipedia to be ‘unequivocal’ smile

google “indian music” and “microtones” or microtonal, microtonality….....the scales used in Indian music are generally more nuanced than Western scales.


regardless, what you just posted above directly contradicts your claim that Indian music has “less notes” than that used in Western music smile

According to Daniel Levitin (“This is Your Brain on Music”), “...close analysis reveals that scales [of Indian music] also rely on twelve of fever tones and the others simply expressive variations, glissandos…, and momentary passing tones…”

And yes, their music is based on twelve notes but that does not necessarily mean that they use all twelve notes. On top of that, two of their notes never change from octave to octave.

As far as Wikipedia goes, it’s good enough for me.

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