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What is religion?
Posted: 26 October 2007 05:46 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Since most of us in this forum altough not religious ourselves are interested in Religion and how it affects society, I think a discussion of what religion actually is might be interesting.

In my view, all religions and all Gods were created by humans to meet human needs and fullfill human ends.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Languagedefines religion as follows:
1.) The expression of man’s belief in and reverence for a superhuman power recognized as creator and govenor of the universe.  2.) Any particular integrated system of this expression: the Hindu religion.  3.)The spiritual or emotional attitude of one who recognizes the exisitence of superhuman power or powers.  4.)  Any objectivearrended to or pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.  5.) Obsolete Sacred rites or practices.

Barbara Ehrenreich in her book “Dancing in the Streets” makes the observation that prior to the agriculutral revolution that and the beginings of bureauarcy and social class religion, often in the form of danced ceromonies, provided the social means to build and bind human relationships beyonf the immediate hunting band.

With the rise of agricutural society some portions of religion became organized and used as a tool of the elite for the control of society, among other things this led to “theology.”  I mention this because one of my pet peeves is that when you start discussing religion with academics the discussion seems to move immediately to move from religion to theology, which is not the same subject at all.


To me any religion is certain group of related activities carried on and participated in my many different persons sharing a base of common myths (in the scientfic sense), using the same basic stories and themes to a mutitude of different ends.  These ends can be viewed as evil or good depending on the actual activities involved.

Examples:  The civil-rights movement led by Dr King & Abernathy,etc and based in the black church.  The stong resistance to science and factual eductation located in todays fundamentalist movement.


Unlike some , I am not of the opinion that religion is going to whiter away any time in the near future, I think that it meets the needs of to many people that are not being met in any other way for it to have a quick demise.  In a society
where the nature of the economy tends to isolate people, destroy extended families, and disolve any long term relationships between humans on any but the smallest scale, religion appears to be meeting a deep seated human need by providing a place where humans can socialize with others on a long term basis.


Religion, like all other human social adaptations evolve and adopts to the society here it is located.  For a good discussion of how current religion is adapting to US society you may want to check out Alan Wolfe’s The Transformation of American Religion.

Gary

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Posted: 26 October 2007 07:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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These are my thoughts:  1. God is a human concept, just as the rest of religion was made up by humans.  2.  it is used to explain the unexplainable 3.  many are scared of death so they develope a human concept of the afterlife and 4. many need a security blanket or a parental figure in order to cope with life.  I can imbellish on this more later, if need be.

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 26 October 2007 07:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I agree.  Religion serves a number of purposes.  Some of them are:  1) to explain the inexplicable; 2) to enforce social rules; 3) to bind the community together; 4) to educate the young; 5) to serve as a vehicle for controlling the communty; 6) to offer solace in times of tragedy; 7) to offer justification when outsiders are harmed.

I believe a society that can accomplish 2), 3), 4), and 6) without the need for religion will be much healthier mentally and more mature. 

Occam

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Posted: 26 October 2007 09:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I agree, Occam.  It’s a shame we can’t do much about the first one though.

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 26 October 2007 10:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Occam - 26 October 2007 07:34 PM

I agree.  Religion serves a number of purposes.  Some of them are:  1) to explain the inexplicable; 2) to enforce social rules; 3) to bind the community together; 4) to educate the young; 5) to serve as a vehicle for controlling the communty; 6) to offer solace in times of tragedy; 7) to offer justification when outsiders are harmed.

I believe a society that can accomplish 2), 3), 4), and 6) without the need for religion will be much healthier mentally and more mature. 

Occam

I think you may have missed one.  It can also provide an alternative structure and/or base for those who oppose/resist the the current power structure of their society.

One of my critisms of Secular Humanism is that while it pays lip service to providing your 3,4 & 6 it is only just beginning to make any real attempt to meet these needs as well as the one I have added to the list.

Gary

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Posted: 26 October 2007 10:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Mriana - 26 October 2007 07:13 PM

These are my thoughts:  1. God is a human concept, just as the rest of religion was made up by humans.  2.  it is used to explain the unexplainable 3.  many are scared of death so they develope a human concept of the afterlife and 4. many need a security blanket or a parental figure in order to cope with life.  I can imbellish on this more later, if need be.

I question rather the fear of death is the real basis of religion.  I haven’t seen any studies on this, but I seldom hear this from the many average religious persons I talk with.  Have you seen any stdies that address this?

Security blankets would be useful, just ask Linus. cool smile

I think that people are looking more for the support and security of belonging to a community more than they are looking for a parental figure.

Imbellish on.

Gary

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Posted: 26 October 2007 11:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Mriana - 26 October 2007 09:17 PM

I agree, Occam.  It’s a shame we can’t do much about the first one though.

Science is advancing quite nicely, Patience is needed. :grin:

Gary

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Posted: 27 October 2007 12:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Gary, in reference to your two points 1) a counterculture force, and 2) science advancing to take care of the formerly inexplicable:

I agree that at time religions have acted as a center for counterculture, but religion is certrainly not necessary for this.  Examples, the American revolution, the Russian revolution, Tienamen Square. 

Yes, science is answering many of the formerly unexplained questions, but the problem is that the vast majority of the world (even in the U.S.) doesn’t understand.  For example, evolution, and the general distrust of science by more than half of the U.S. citizens. 

Occam

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Posted: 27 October 2007 12:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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HERE is an old thread on the topic. In that one I suggetsed the following, which I still think is a reasonable starting point:

Clear definitions are nice, but absolutes without exceptions are rare in human affairs, and attempts to create them usually cause more trouble than they’re worht, IMHO. I might loosely say a religion is a system of beliefs in which the supernatural figures prominently and which claims to be both descriptive of reality and proscriptive for how people should behave.

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Posted: 27 October 2007 11:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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garythehuman - 26 October 2007 10:58 PM
Mriana - 26 October 2007 07:13 PM

These are my thoughts:  1. God is a human concept, just as the rest of religion was made up by humans.  2.  it is used to explain the unexplainable 3.  many are scared of death so they develope a human concept of the afterlife and 4. many need a security blanket or a parental figure in order to cope with life.  I can imbellish on this more later, if need be.

I question rather the fear of death is the real basis of religion.  I haven’t seen any studies on this, but I seldom hear this from the many average religious persons I talk with.  Have you seen any stdies that address this?
Gary

I haven’t seen any studies, but many get upset about the idea of no heaven or hell; of it being a human concept.  It is a human concept in that we do not know if there is an afterlife and we can only imagine what it might be like IF there is one.  They want immortality so badly that they need to imagine an afterlife.  Some even state they are certain there is an afterlife, even when you say that this life is the only life we can be certain of having and we must make the best of it.  The religious desire an afterlife so much that some don’t care about this life… for the most part.  There are built in “rules” to keep people from just stepping out into traffic and “going to the afterlife”.  i.e. one can’t commit suicide just to leave this world and go to another.

Even so, they still flip out about the idea and start talking about worm food as though they are repulsed by the idea.  Well yeah!  At least the body is recycled into the earth.  IF they read their Bible they would see that what is said every Ash Wed. is true and the OT says, “Remember you are dust and dust you shall return.”  In that respect, the OT had something right- when our bodies die we decompose.  They can argue that point all they want, but I’m afraid when their precious little “Rapture” comes, there will be no bodies ascending because they are dust and the only “god” descending from the sky will be a freakin’ Nuke.  Of course, I really p*ss off those who truly believe we need start Arma-gettin’ out of here to make Jesus return when I say those things.  rolleyes

Now Gary, do keep in mind, I am in the Bible Belt and deal with a lot of Rapture believers.  Even my sons know what they say is shear stupidity, if not pure insanity.  I don’t know what the average religious person you are talking about is, unless they are like those in the Episcopal Church or U.U., which we have here.  There are some in the Lutheran Church here that believe in the Rapture too.  I think that is Missouri Synod though and not ELCA.  It’s another world down here when it comes to religion and alike.

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Mriana
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Posted: 27 October 2007 01:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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For me, religion is the human attempt to bring all things together into a coherent whole. This can be applied on any level: individual, interpersonal and to our understanding of nature, i.e., all things. It can also be applied to any and all of our endeavors throughout all three domains of being, which are thought, emotion and action. To be truly religious, it must encompass all of these, in short it must encompass all.

I consider myself a deeply religious person because I am constantly engaged in the religious pursuit. To make the obvious point explicit, looking at religion this way completely eliminates any conflict between science and religion. It also substantially eliminates the dogmatism that so often characterizes so-called religions (which aren’t really religious if you think about it in terms of this definition), because it focuses on the pursuit with a humility that there are plenty of things we don’t know. In other words, religion is a constant pursuit, not a set of final answers; as with science (the new religion will employ the scientific method), the truths of this kind of religion are all provisional.

The fact that the human religious quest has gone horribly and tragically awry does not diminish the beauty, power and importance of the endeavor. In practical terms for us non-theists, I do not believe we will ever succeed socially and culturally until we come to this understanding of what religion can be, and for some of us, already is.

I don’t understand why this isn’t Humanism 101. It’s very frustrating to me that it isn’t.

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Posted: 29 October 2007 08:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Occam - 27 October 2007 12:30 AM

Gary, in reference to your two points 1) a counterculture force, and 2) science advancing to take care of the formerly inexplicable:

I agree that at time religions have acted as a center for counterculture, but religion is certrainly not necessary for this.  Examples, the American revolution, the Russian revolution, Tienamen Square. 

Yes, science is answering many of the formerly unexplained questions, but the problem is that the vast majority of the world (even in the U.S.) doesn’t understand.  For example, evolution, and the general distrust of science by more than half of the U.S. citizens. 

Occam

Occam:

I don’t know about the Russian revolution or Tienamen Square, arguements about the American Revolution can and are being made that the First Grewat awakening was a stong influence on it.  Not in its political ideology as much as in teaching the colonial peoples that they were able to organize themselves and jointly gain the confidence to exert control over the society they lived in.

The US is certainly much weaker in science than it should be and I agree that the religious right is at partially responsible for this.  However the way science is taught in the US is also a large contributer to this problem (as well as serious underfunding of scholls in the US inner cities nd certain states.)  The method of teaching science in the elementary and secondary schools in an almost exclusively lecture format, with reading assignments and written question and answer tests with only one correct answer is extermely boring and counter productive.  Hell,  the same method is used to teach theology with much the same results. :tongue: Science of all things should be taught hands on, it is interesting even exiciting when you allow people to actually perform the experimental method.

As far as distrust of science, IMO, there isn’t as much of that in practice as there is in theory.  The fundamentalists who object to it loudly & persistently are for the most right in line with the rest of us to get their flu shoots which, even they have to admidt if they are being truthful, are the product of evolutionary based science.

It is not just counterculture that I am talking about,  religion ogranizations & movements provide a place for people to develop their confidece and social skills.  Just one example from my life experience:  A man I worked with in the foundry was just strutting with pride on the day his 14 yr old son gave his first sermon.  I have followed his son’s carrer since then.  The son went on and founded his own church, which is now one of the largest in the City of Buffalo, he has served on the City School Board and his church is a leaing actor in tearing down decriept and rebuilding housing in the City.  They are strongly organized against gang viloence and have programs to help inner-city youth to improve their academics.  Also they have an excellent choir from what I hear from musicians I currently work with. cool smile

On paper there may be other ways to achieve these same ends, but in reality none exist here and now.

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Posted: 30 October 2007 06:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Mriana:

“They want immortality so badly that they need to imagine an afterlife.” 

They aren’t the only ones, a few years ago the “Humanist” devoted an entire magazine on how to live forever, unfortunately it appears we will always have the Ponce de Leon factor in humans. rolleyes Very few of us want to deal with the idea of our own death (its called the survival instinct.)  However wile we may be able to delay it there ar only two sure things in life, death & taxes. (PS I am a tax man)

“I don’t know what the average religious person you are talking about is, unless they are like those in the Episcopal Church or U.U., which we have here.”

Actually part of my family is “Church of Christ.” and or “Assembly of God” depending on who is aguing with whom this week.  Some are United Brethern which appears to be the referee.

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Posted: 30 October 2007 07:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Yes, but Gary, there are Church of God and Free Methodists (FM), in my family, who believe so strongly in their beliefs that they’d sooner go into a deep depression to find out a loved one does not believe. They also pound that person with religion too and re-enact the inquisition to make them recant.  They feel it is their duty to make sure people don’t go to hell, esp family.  rolleyes  How do you referee THAT?! It becomes sickening after a while and we just have to avoid them- until someone in the family dies, then they have the minister preach “The Path to Salvation” at the funeral in hopes to “save” everyone present.  rolleyes  They think that sermon is better than the invention of sliced bread.  Now mind you, they don’t understand how I could have no concept of their “salvation” bit.  Truth is, I’m respectful (maybe too respectful) of those in my family in their 60s and older as to not disabuse them of their beliefs, at least avoid doing that if at all possible.  There sometimes comes a point in their bashing that I can’t.

They truly believe there is an afterlife and they get extremely scared, I’d dare say even psychotically scared, of themselves or family not going to heaven.  Don’t get me started on religion being a symptom of mental illness.  I’m telling you, it is their security blanket to survive this life- which they feel is so horribly satanic (“satan has been unleashed in this world”).  Thing is, suicide is a sin, so they have to indure this life until the “Good Lord calls them Home”.  Which reminds me, they have a hymn called, “This Is Not My Home”.  rolleyes  It’s bizzar.

The way I see it, I’m coming back as roses.  :D My son, a professed Buddhist, rolled his eyes and said, “I don’t think it works like that.”  I said, “It does if you cremate me and put my ashes in a rose garden.”  LOL  Yeah, I sort of tease him about his afterlife beliefs.  I’m so terrible.  wink

BTW, are you doing taxes for free this coming Tax season?  LOL

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Posted: 31 October 2007 03:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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religious control that helped the revolution occur.

While this was sort of off the subject, I certainly agree that science could be taught far better in schools than it is.  I credit my success in science to two friends and I becoming very interested in chemistry and electronics well before we were exposed to them in school.  We did our own experiments, made a lot of mistakes, but came to think about the real world within the framework of science.  Of course, were I in school today, doing what I did then, I’m sure I’d be locked up as a terrorist.  (Even though they were beautiful fireworks, only guys who deserved it got a drop or two of skunk odor in their lockers, and not too many people got knocked on their rear when they grabbed a door knob that was hooked to a high-voltage, low amperage Ford coil.) 

But that goes for everything we are taught.  There is so much information that they feel must be crammed into us, there are so many kids, and there are so few teachers they can afford with the tight budgets that everyone is stuck with rote and cookie cutter education.  Although I learned the rules of English, I didn’t learn to write well until after my academic education.  I would have found philosophy boring and meaningless had I taken classes as an undergraduate.  When I realized that I needed to express myself more clearly, I went back and learned what English and writing were all about.  When I heard some dumb philosophical arguments I realized I had better get some ammunition, so I started reading, and was astounded.  Then I took courses and had a ball because I had developed the understanding of where it fit in my psychological world.

Occam

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Posted: 01 November 2007 01:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Before there was “religion” there were our ancient ancestors carving the Venus of Willendorf out of rocks over 22,000 years ago and some similar artifacts predate that according to paleontology and they’re all deified females.

No wonder, seeing as how females give birth to humans, our ancient ancient ancestors would’ve deified a female as giving birth to the cosmos…......or existence as it were. Where it went from there is determined by socio-environmental effects of civilization due to the dawn of agriculture and “class struggle’ instead of hunting and gathering in which all in the familial band were equal.

Dominant misogynistic males who suffered from “womb envy” would not be satisfied with only a “female” author of existence so animism and polytheism took root in ancient Mesopotamian- Egyptian beliefs and more and more male “gods” were invented to take credit for “existence” and all causes.

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