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What is Religion?/the dynamic of religion : This is not about the definition of religion but the entity itself
Posted: 05 October 2012 11:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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dougsmith - 05 October 2012 11:11 AM
arv13 - 05 October 2012 10:41 AM

 

Well, I don’t think that is correct, really. Any careful student of religion will have their studies informed by anthropology and ethnography, and will indeed say that “religion” is only a relatively recent cultural invention, a systematization and institutionalization of what were various and sundry rites, rituals, and practices of magic and worship. Further, any theory or definition of religion that makes essential reference to God is not workable.

 

But the anthropology and ethnography is itself grounded in a theological framework. That is the tragedy of the whole situation. The so called social sciences of today is just ‘secularized’ christian theology.  As an example, take the issue of ‘Freedom’, which is a cornerstone of political science, philosophy, modern liberal democracies etc. It is widely accepted that Freedom is a self explanatory concept, it is a basic human value, and everyone ‘ought’ to have freedom of choice. Freedom of choice also has its roots in theology.

God created Man and gave him the ‘freedom’ to choose between God and the Devil. (In secularized terms, between ‘good’ and ‘evil’.) The possibility of ‘salvation’ (i.e. of being ‘saved’ from the clutches of the Devil) depended on this ‘free choice’. Therefore, theological issues arose: What then does ‘human freedom’ mean? Why did God give ‘freedom’ to man? Are we ‘condemned’ to be ‘free’? etc. etc What exactly are we doing then, when we discuss about a ‘free society’, ‘freedom’ of individuals, etc, etc?

Terms like worship, God etc are also christian theological terms.

In a nutshell, all the social scientists and scholars so far have been using secularized Christian theology to study other cultures and to study ‘religion’.

And this brings us right back to the original question: What is religion? Balagangadhara has developed a theory of religion that is not based on a christian theological framework.

[ Edited: 05 October 2012 11:39 AM by arv13 ]
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Posted: 05 October 2012 11:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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This is all hogwash based on circular reasoning from the the silly premise that a god exists.  Humans are a social animal, and any social animal has standards of behavior if the society is to survive.  Working cooperatively is the basis of a society, and morals grow out of that.  Very early on, humans came up with a cute way of enforcing those morals - they invented a powerful big daddy in the sky who would punish you for infractions even if you thought you got away with cheating.  To expand this concept to fit various situations, the keepers of the rules made up additional fairytales, and gradually these grew into books such as the bible. 

As we increase our knowledge of the universe through science, the ideas in those “religious” books are seen to be wrong and primative and fade from the minds of the intelligent, well-educated.  Unfortunately, most of the world is a few dozen generations behind the standards of intelligence and knowledge.  It will take many years for them to slowly realize the silliness of those religious stories and ideas.

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Posted: 05 October 2012 12:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Occam. - 05 October 2012 11:55 AM

This is all hogwash based on circular reasoning from the the silly premise that a god exists.  Humans are a social animal, and any social animal has standards of behavior if the society is to survive.  Working cooperatively is the basis of a society, and morals grow out of that.  Very early on, humans came up with a cute way of enforcing those morals - they invented a powerful big daddy in the sky who would punish you for infractions even if you thought you got away with cheating.  To expand this concept to fit various situations, the keepers of the rules made up additional fairytales, and gradually these grew into books such as the bible. 

As we increase our knowledge of the universe through science, the ideas in those “religious” books are seen to be wrong and primative and fade from the minds of the intelligent, well-educated.  Unfortunately, most of the world is a few dozen generations behind the standards of intelligence and knowledge.  It will take many years for them to slowly realize the silliness of those religious stories and ideas.

Occam

The discussiion wasn’t about whether God exists or whether religion is ‘true’ (I don’t believe in God either). The whole point is that the anthropology/psychology/ethnography that scientists use to study other cultures is itself grounded in a theological framework. and that’s a bad thing. we cannot use theology to do science.

Even the story of how ‘primitive’ humans invented God to enforce morals etc is based on some theological assumptions

First, when you say humans invented God, you are assuming that religion is a cultural universal, which it is not.  The idea of a primitive man coming up with God to enforce morals etc has no empirical basis. It is just adhoc theorizing based on a very Judeo Christian conception of human beings and human history:

One of the main purposes of Christianity’s philosophy of history is to show that all human cultures and traditions are preparations of the Gospel. That is, the idea is that all traditions were merely laying the red carpet for the coming of Christ and Christianity. This theology of history-as-divine-providence has been secularized into a philosophy of history which conceives of a progressive development of civilizations from traditional to modern. Naturally, the modern West is considered to be the climax of human development in this evolutionary scheme. (a) The Christian story says that the workings of the Divine Spirit in human history are to be understood as
announcements of Christianity. All the desirable elements in the non-Christian traditions are rays of Divine light, which fade away once the full glory of the true religion shines again. From God’s Revelation in Jesus Christ onwards, even the greatest of civilizations can be nothing but embryonic stages in the movement towards the climax of Christianity. (b) The secularized variant of this story devises a neat scheme of cultural evolution: first, there was the primitive stone age; then came the Mesopotamian civilization followed by that of the Ancient Egyptians; next, we have the Greeks and the Romans; then the Dark Middle Ages (a typically Protestant way
to conceive of Roman-Catholic Christendom) which gave way to the Scientific Revolution of early modern Europe; and finally humanity arrived at the civilizational climax of the modern West and its scientific progress, moral emancipation, economic welfare, etc. The funny thing is that contemporary cultures are placed in this scheme as arrested stages in the development of the West. For instance, it is said that the Papuas of New Guinea still live in the stone age.

Thus, Western history is made into World history, and Europe is made into humanity. The basic scheme of the Christian theology of history has not changed that much.

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Posted: 05 October 2012 03:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Hello Arv; welcome to the forum.

S.N. Balagangadhara called ‘The Heathen in his blindness: Asia, the West, and the dynamic of religion’  Sounds like a book I would be interested in.  Just tried to order it on my Kindle but it’s not listed as yet.  I assume it is relatively new.

My basic view of religion is that it is a tool humans use to organize societies; it can have many different theologies and many sects.  Organized religions, as we know them today, seem to have originated with the city-state at the time of the agricultural revolution.  One thing I like to keep in mind, because we westerners seem to overlook or deny it is due to our tradition of separation of church and state that most all religion can be considered both as political and social organizations.  Religion is not a separate sphere of human activity; but a major one of several overlapping spheres.

IMO, one of the major roles of religion is to get individuals to look past their individual interests to the interests of the broader society they live within.

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Posted: 05 October 2012 05:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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arv13 - 05 October 2012 11:36 AM

God created Man and gave him the ‘freedom’ to choose between God and the Devil. (In secularized terms, between ‘good’ and ‘evil’.) The possibility of ‘salvation’ (i.e. of being ‘saved’ from the clutches of the Devil) depended on this ‘free choice’. Therefore, theological issues arose: What then does ‘human freedom’ mean? Why did God give ‘freedom’ to man? Are we ‘condemned’ to be ‘free’? etc. etc What exactly are we doing then, when we discuss about a ‘free society’, ‘freedom’ of individuals, etc, etc?

Terms like worship, God etc are also christian theological terms.

Unfortunately none of this is factually correct. Greek philosophers theorized about freedom of the will centuries before Christ, as did Indian philosophers around the same time.

Worship existed in ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, ancient India, precolumbian America, etc., and ancestor worship so far as we know was virtually omnipresent.

The notion of a single God originated in Akhenaten’s Egypt, and central aspects of what became theology came from Plato, both of whom lived centuries before Christ.

The view you cite sounds a lot like historically challenged Christian apologetics. On that matter, there’s a good blog post just out this week from John Shook. See it HERE.

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Posted: 05 October 2012 05:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Thank you for the welcome garythehuman.

yes, take a look when you find the time.

One of the things which is accepted as a given and not challenged is the assumption that religion is found in all cultures ie a universal human thing.

Balagangadhara makes the controversial claim that religion is not a cultural universal. He focuses on Asia, and says that cultures like India and China are actually cultures without religion.

Ofcourse this is controversial, because immediatly ppl will say: ofcourse India has native religion. it has many religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism etc

But his theory is that these entities like ‘hinduism’ and ‘Jainism’ are not religions at all, but merely western theoretical constructions created by early indologists, anthropologists to describe what they encountered in India

You see, when the first European travelers, missionaries, anthropologists traveled to places like India and China, they already went with the assumption that they would find religion there. So when they landed there, they started seeing various practices and traditions, and started seeing them as ‘religion’.


In India there are certain behaviours and practices like going to temple, doing puja etc When Europeans came to India , they classified these behaviours as religious behaviours or practices

Why?

1. They used a certain framework to classify these behaviours as religious.

2. This framework, consciously or unconsciously, was derived from Christian theology

3. This framework stated that all peoples must have religion, because biblical theology states that God gave religion to all of humanity, however this religion has been corrupted by the devil and his minions into many false religions.

4. So when they encountered Indians, Chinese, Native American Aborginals etc they assumed that these people MUST have religion.  In other words, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The current social sciences STILL continue to operate within this theological framework. What has happened is certain theological ideas have become ‘secularized’ and become part of our common sense as ‘neutral’ concepts. But in reality, there is nothing neutral about these concepts (concepts like human rights, freedom of choice etc). They are still rooted in Christian theology, but have been ‘dressed up’ in a secular garb.

For more on this, read my earlier post on secularization. The next obvious question is why and how does this occur? and it is explained in Balagangadhara’s theory of religion

According to Balagangadhara’s theory of religion (which I will put up in the next post), only Christianity, Islam and Judaism are religions.  more on this on the next post smile 

I started this discussion, because if his theory is true, it has profound consequences when it comes to understanding both Western culture and other cultures. not just religion.

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Posted: 05 October 2012 05:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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ExMachina - 05 October 2012 03:18 AM

You can’t really spend too much time on these type of questions, but if you do want to go down this road, why not find out when is a painting considered art. If you can answer that for me it’d be much appreciated.

I’ll have a crack at that. see my signature….. cheese

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Posted: 05 October 2012 06:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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IMO, religion or belief in unknown forces, has been around since we (hominids) were able to ask questions about what causes natural phenomena, such as the sun (sungod), water (watergod), fire (firegod), weather (stormgod), etc. 

Seems to me completely natural to stand in awe of these things and as it was impossible to “know” the causes at that time, it was entirely natural to ascribe them to unseen intelligent forces, i.e. gods.  I believe that the phrase “made in his image” reveals the question of what intelligence caused man to exist. From there it seems natural to demand worship and sacrifice to please those gods and curry their favor.

From wiki,

100th to 34th century BCE
9831 The Neolithic Revolution begins and results in a worldwide population explosion. The first cities, states, kingdoms, and organized religions begin to emerge. The early states were usually theocracies, in which the political power is justified by religious prestige. 9130 - 7370 BCE The apparent lifespan of Göbekli Tepe, the oldest human-made place of worship yet discovered.[11]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_religion#300th_to_51st_millennium_BCE

[ Edited: 05 October 2012 06:36 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 05 October 2012 06:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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dougsmith - 05 October 2012 05:28 PM
arv13 - 05 October 2012 11:36 AM

God created Man and gave him the ‘freedom’ to choose between God and the Devil. (In secularized terms, between ‘good’ and ‘evil’.) The possibility of ‘salvation’ (i.e. of being ‘saved’ from the clutches of the Devil) depended on this ‘free choice’. Therefore, theological issues arose: What then does ‘human freedom’ mean? Why did God give ‘freedom’ to man? Are we ‘condemned’ to be ‘free’? etc. etc What exactly are we doing then, when we discuss about a ‘free society’, ‘freedom’ of individuals, etc, etc?

Terms like worship, God etc are also christian theological terms.

Unfortunately none of this is factually correct. Greek philosophers theorized about freedom of the will centuries before Christ, as did Indian philosophers around the same time.

Worship existed in ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, ancient India, precolumbian America, etc., and ancestor worship so far as we know was virtually omnipresent.

The notion of a single God originated in Akhenaten’s Egypt, and central aspects of what became theology came from Plato, both of whom lived centuries before Christ.

The view you cite sounds a lot like historically challenged Christian apologetics. On that matter, there’s a good blog post just out this week from John Shook. See it HERE.

Greek philosophers did not talk about freedom of the will. the concept of “Will” was absent from Greek thought and St. Augustine was the first to develop it. Aristotle, for instance, had the notion of practical cognition and not ‘will’. “Akrasia” can only be loosely translated as “weakness of the will” simply because we do not quite know how to translate it otherwise.  Till 300 B.C.E. this notion was `absent’ in what we call the western culture today. Neither the Greek thinkers (like Plato or Aristotle), nor the Roman jurists (who wrote their law digests) had such a notion or such a picture of human beings. The first person to struggle with this notion and write tracts
about it was Saint Augustine, one of the most influential Fathers of the Christian Church.

Indian philosophy definitely does not have a concept of ‘will’ or free will.

Why call those practices as worship? As I mentioned before, these practices get classified as religious practices and worship because they are viewed and experienced within a theological framework.

As for the notion of God being in ancient egypt, I will elaborate on God in the next post (when i post his theory on religion)

The book is actually made free by the authors as a pdf file. you can google it. I wanted to put up a link, but it got rejected as spam. THE HEATHEN IN HIS BLINDNESS

ps. I actually don’t support the notion of ‘free will’ or “freedom of choice”. I am just pointing out that these concepts don’t make sense outside of a semitic theological framework. Non Judeo/christian/Islamic cultures do not have the concept of concept of ‘will’, ‘free will’ or “freedom of choice”. It is not because these cultures are immoral and backwards, but because they have a completely different way of conceptualizing human beings and morality.

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Posted: 05 October 2012 06:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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I can’t wait to hear what Balagangadhara’s theory of religion is. Please do tell us ...

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Posted: 05 October 2012 06:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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George - 05 October 2012 06:27 PM

I can’t wait to hear what Balagangadhara’s theory of religion is. Please do tell us ...

In another hour or so. I have to cook now. smile

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Posted: 05 October 2012 08:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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OK here goes: Religion is an explanatorily intelligible account of the cosmos

In order to understand what the hell this means, I’ll first talk about the notion of intelligibility. Intelligibility refers to many things at once, but within the context of balu’s theory it means this:

What makes some thing (an entity, an action, or an event) *intelligible*? (This is how we have to pose the question, if we need to understand what Religion is and what it does.) As a first approximation, some thing (an event, an action, or an entity), is intelligible if, and only if, it expresses the *intentions of an agent* (and not otherwise). That is to say, if some purpose or the other is exemplified in an event (like opening a door), an action
(like eating), or an object (like a cheque) then such events, actions and entities are intelligible. Thus intelligibility presupposes an agent who not only intends (i.e. hopes, desires, wills, etc) but is also able to express them (in objects, events and actions).

In our world we generally have two types of accounts of human actions: explanatory accounts, and intelligiblity accounts. An explanatory account explains an action or behaviour in terms of causes. a causal explanation. An intelligible account explains the same behaviour by appealing to the intentional state of the actor (beliefs, desires, goals, intentions).  For example, consider this question: “Why did he become President?” A causal explanation would be “because he won the majority of the votes”. An intentional explanation would be “because he wanted to change politics”, “because he wanted more power”. So, there are two kinds of accounts for the same event: an explanatory (causal account) and an intentional (intelligibility) account.

Now we come to his theory in his own words:

“Consider an account, which suggests or hints that some sets of actions are intelligible because they instantiate some set of beliefs or intentions. And that the relationship between ‘intending’ and ‘acting’ is not only constant but that nothing else interferes between the former and the latter to such an extent that they virtually become identical. To those from the outside who only observe the actions, knowledge of these actions is sufficient to draw inferences about the reasons for these actions. There is only one proviso attached. Because the observer’s knowledge of these actions is always framed in some description or the other, one can only read-off the purposes of the actions exhaustively if the descriptions of these actions are themselves exhaustive. That is to say, a complete and totally accurate description of the actions is required before we can be said to have a complete knowledge of the reasons for the actions. Such an account, when it is forthcoming, of such set of actions, if they are possible, of such a being, if it exists, together will give us an explanatory intelligible account of that being and its actions. The reason for calling it thus must be obvious: the causes of actions are also its reasons. Further, because each type of action instantiates one and only purpose, prediction becomes possible as well. The causal law will be general, predictive power is not reduced, and the causes are intentions of such a being.


Suppose that we now have a doctrine which says the following: such a being exists, such actions exist as well, but we could never provide a complete description of the actions of such a being. At best, we could have a very partial and fragmented description of such actions, but we cannot possibly observe all the actions of that being either. Further it adds that this being has communicated its purposes to us the understandability of this message is again restricted by descriptive possibilities open to us. In such a case, we have two sources of knowledge: some set of actions that we try to understand; and the message, which we try to make sense of. Let us further suppose that this being is ‘God’. His actions are the universe. His message is precisely the above doctrine. We now have on our hands what we call a ‘religious doctrine’. This doctrine makes the Cosmos an explanatorily intelligible entity – not by providing us with a detailed explanation of all cosmic events, happenings, but claims, instead, that all there is, was, and shall be are expressions of a will that constitutes the cementing
bond of the Cosmos. It fuses causes and intentions together”

[ Edited: 06 October 2012 05:36 PM by arv13 ]
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Posted: 05 October 2012 11:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Religion in the sense we are discussing here, means spiritual belief or metaphysics, and that is a universal thing.

What this book seems to say, is basically a form of postmodernism. However, since the social sciences are not actually science anyway, rigorous empirical research is irrelevant.  Who cares about “cultural framework”, in this case.

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Posted: 05 October 2012 11:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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arv13,
OK here goes: Religion is an explanatorily intelligible account of the cosmos
and
Thus intelligibility presupposes an agent who not only intends (i.e. hopes, desires, wills, etc) but is also able to express them (in objects, events and actions).

So the gist is that god has hopes, desires, wills, etc and the universe is proof of that? Sounds like an intellectual account of irreducible complexity to me. And not to be ignored, all these qualities of hope and desire and communication are human qualities. Of course we can only judge other religions and social structures by our own Christian experience in the western world. But so do Muslims and just about any religion which seeks to dominate.
Thus we end up with a human interpretation of something we do not understand and therefore we just compare it to human experience and understanding.
It is true that until recently our human experience (social teaching) was that god/deity is/was the creator. But now that we have science which is beginning to understand how it all works and that religion IS JUST a human invention from human desires and hope, the entire discussion becomes moot.

Moreover, intelligibility does not presuppose anything. It merely means that it can be understood. I understand how the notion of god emerged with hominid’s growing intellectual capacity. In that respect the argument for a god is intelligible. But that does not make it true.
And if we assess other gods, religions, social structures or philosophies by the intelligibility of our false understanding of how the universe works, then we are still wrong.
wiki,

Definition of INTELLIGIBLE.
1: apprehensible by the intellect only.
2: capable of being understood or comprehended <jargon intelligible only to the initiated>

[ Edited: 06 October 2012 12:20 AM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 05 October 2012 11:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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mid atlantic - 05 October 2012 11:08 PM

Religion in the sense we are discussing here, means spiritual belief or metaphysics, and that is a universal thing.

What this book seems to say, is basically a form of postmodernism. However, since the social sciences are not actually science anyway, rigorous empirical research is irrelevant.  Who cares about “cultural framework”, in this case.


This book is trying to study religion and culture in a scientific manner: by scientific, I mean actually producing knowledge about them.

You are absolutely right that most of the social sciences are not scientific. That is infact one of the main points of the author. The reason why it is not scientific is because it is secularized theology (christian concepts and beliefs in a neutral guise, a dechristianized christianity).  He wants to change that.

The research program of the professor actually frowns upon postmodernism. Postmodern studies have not produced any knowledge about human beings, their cultures and societies. In contrast, his research and the book actually does do social sciences scientifically.

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