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Scintific (?) Definition of Religion
Posted: 30 September 2009 04:44 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Hello fellow humans:

I have been trying to come up with a fairly scientific definition of religion for some time now.  I am trying this on for size.

A myth or group of myths, rituals & symbols created or adapted by groups to establish identities and to organize or change the existing society they are within. 

Note: Supernatural beings may or may be involved.

Comments & criticisms welcomed.

Gary the Human

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Posted: 30 September 2009 05:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Boy, did you open the door with this one. Here’s Ambrose Bierce’s definition:

RELIGION, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

“What is your religion my son?” inquired the Archbishop of Rheims.
“Pardon, monseigneur,” replied Rochebriant; “I am ashamed of it.”
“Then why do you not become an atheist?”
“Impossible! I should be ashamed of atheism.”
“In that case, monsieur, you should join the Protestants.”

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Posted: 30 September 2009 07:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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1. I don’t see anything scientific about your suggestion, Gary. There’s more to it than myths, rituals and symbols.

2. I am not in favor of categorically limiting (or worse, denouncing) religion by definition. I see your definition in the former category, Gary.

In its broadest terms, religion could well be defined as (a) the human quest to bring things together into a coherent whole and (b) the human attempt to seek the highest.

The fact that most religions got lost doesn’t diminish the importance of the quest.

[ Edited: 01 October 2009 03:33 AM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 01 October 2009 07:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I think your problem comes with your attempt to define.  Religion is one of those polymorphic ideas like love.  It means so many different things to different people that you most assuredly will not get a consensus on a definition.  Nice aspiration though.  I like the wikipedia definition:  The term “religion” refers to both the personal practices related to communal faith and to group rituals and communication stemming from shared conviction.   I think that is pretty clinical and vague.

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Posted: 01 October 2009 01:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Chris Crawford - 30 September 2009 05:18 PM

Boy, did you open the door with this one. Here’s Ambrose Bierce’s definition:

RELIGION, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

Not very scientific. <G>

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Posted: 01 October 2009 01:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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P La Clair
Let’s see if I can answer your objections:

1. I don’t see anything scientific about your suggestion, Gary. There’s more to it than myths, rituals and symbols.

I Have been reading about religion as a cultrual or social structure for past fifteen to twenty years (and sociology & politcal science for 45 years or so.)  As a result of this I have come to the conclusion that human socities cannot exist without myths, rituals and symbols and that these are often combined into what we term as a religion.  These items very often result in motivating human actions.

2. I am not in favor of categorically limiting (or worse, denouncing) religion by definition. I see your definition in the former category, Gary

.

IMO some sort of definition is necessary to limit the field of study.  After all we cannot call ourselves non-religious if we do not have some ides of what we are refering to as religion.  I have no intention of denouncing religion through this definition, I respect the power, both benefical and destructive, of various religions far to much for this.

In its broadest terms, religion could well be defined as (a) the human quest to bring things together into a coherent whole and (b) the human attempt to seek the highest

.

As does philosophy, which by the way possibly may, be classied as a religion under this definiition.  My actual concern is that this definition may be to broad.

The fact that most religions got lost doesn’t diminish the importance of the quest.

I don’t disagree with this, however I am seeking a clearer understanding of society including its religions as part of this quest.

Thanks for the input.

Gary the Human

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Posted: 01 October 2009 01:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I like the wikipedia definition:  b]The term “religion” refers to both the personal practices related to communal faith and to group rituals and communication stemming from shared conviction.   I think that is pretty clinical and vague.[/quote

]

Chicken:

Thanks I add that to my list.

Personally I don’t think it takes into enough account the activist part of religion.

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Posted: 01 October 2009 02:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Gary, quite often I call myself a born-again Humanist. I am a deeply religious person, and also a scientific naturalist and a secularist. I don’t call myself non-religious at all. So one might be led to say that our goals are not the same; but I’m not so sure about that.

There is no separation between my religion and my life. My religion is about all things. That includes science. The universe is my cathedral, etc. To be clear, so as to leave no doubt in your mind, I am also a non-theist.

No particular myths or rituals are associated with my religion. However, it does include science, history and logic, as well as love, compassion, kindness, wisdom, courage and other human values and attributes that most people, I think, count as part of the good. You could say that I spell God with two o’s; although I rarely use the word.

It may seem that we are speaking different languages, in a sense. And yet I suspect that we agree on most of the main points, like the importance of science and reason.

You may not think of religion as I do; however, this probably is a case of the tail wagging the dog, with the battle being over the meaning of the word instead of the various concepts that you and I might hold true. I agree with Chicken, who pointed out that “religion” is a polymorphic idea like “love.”

Einstein was language delayed as a small child. He later observed that this helped him become a scientist because it allowed him to experience the world on its own terms for a longer time, instead of having to fit it into the arbitrary constraints imposed by language. I think we secularists/humanists/non-theists are guilty of excessive and debilitating literalism quite regularly. It leads us to talk past each other and to miss both the essential and the fine points of discussion because we get too wrapped up choosing sides, where the dividing line is a word and how we react to it. I also think we could have a useful discussion, if we discuss sets of concepts without needing to express them in a single word. So I’ll ask:

Why do you want to have a scientific (?) definition of religion? What are you trying to accomplish?

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Posted: 02 October 2009 12:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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PLaclair:

Why do you want to have a scientific (?) definition of religion? What are you trying to accomplish?

What my reading has been on is religion’s role in socities.  Both in political socities that are nation states and those socities that are not.  It seems to me that religon is a key organizing factor of many if not all socities particularly of those who were not or are not yet nation-states.  Under my definition humanism would be a religion where atheism is not.  As far as this study is concerned it is not whether a group worships higher beings such as Elohim, Budda, or Aristotle and Einestien, etc, but how they are organizied, what they support or oppose at particular times in society.  How they support peolpe and how people support them, how this breaks down into action of various groups within a socieities and how religions react when socities come into conflict.

IMO opinion a definition of religion is useful to seperate certain social organizations from others based upon other factors such as guilds, political parties, rival clans and families, etc. I don’t think we can truely understand our many of our fellow humans, nor peaceably resolve our differences without this knowledge.
and if they find a workable answer before we do they are going to win the long term battle for how our society defines itself

One thing I have observed about my fellow humanists is that they seem to have no understanding that the activity by the religious right in the US draws its support from people who are reacting to what the Marxists call alienation. What Buster Keaton was addressing this in “Rage Against the Machine,”  To many Humanists simply reject these people as superstitious no nothings with no thought or analysis given to why they are reacting to society the way they are.
.

I do not think that my fellow Humanists have given much the extreme individualism that they seem to be supporting to the point where we are required to discuss the excesses of libertarianism in Free Inquiry (see editiorial by Kurtz in the current Free Inquiry.)
To many people in the US have their children growing up in child care, never make more than a few long term close friends because they are constantly relocating for job oppurtunities, while there parents, as they will themselves, end their lives wharehoused in some more or less fancy old folks home.  The fundamentalists are looking for answers to this “family value” problem and if they find a workable answer before we do they are going to win the long term battle for how our society defines itself. 

One of my favorite quotes is:  Rationality is not the gold standard against which all other forms of thought are to be judged.  Adaptation is the gold standard against which rationality must be judged.  Pg. 228 David Sloan Wilson “Darwin’s Cathedral.”

Oh oh, there I go preaching again confused

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Posted: 02 October 2009 12:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Gary,

I’m not trying to be difficult but I don’t see how that answers the question. If you want to study the role played by myth, ritual, etc., that makes perfect sense to me. What I don’t understand is why you think you need a hard-and-fast definition for religion.

In an important sense, there’s no there there. Religion is an artifice, a name we give to entities we call religious. What is a religion for one person isn’t a religion for another.

For me, as someone who grew up as a Roman Catholic, religion is what ties the important things together. I say that because as a Humanist today, the elements of Humanism (love, compassion, reason, courage, wisdom, humanistic Faith, etc.) now fill the spot where my Catholicism used to be. So for me, Humanism is a religion. Other Humanists don’t see it that way, and don’t even use a capital H.

Take one element of this. One of the great myths in most religions is its Creation narrative. I don’t have a set Creation narrative, not even the Big Bang, because I don’t think even the Big Bang fully answers my questions. And yet I can play with all kinds of conceptualizations; I can’t honestly even call them possibilities because I don’t know whether they are possible. They are conceivable. So I can imagine what it might be like being Beethoven in another life. Before my fellow secularists jump all over me for that, I’ll remind everyone that it’s just a musing, an imagining. So is it a myth? In a sense it is, because it fills a similar role as the fundamentalist’s Creation story. But my approach to these things differs from the fundamentalist’s as night differs from day.

There are various kinds of myths and several definitions of the term. Do you mean an epic story with no basis in fact, a narrative that is culturally significant or something else? Culturally significant narratives include the story of the American Revolution. It’s part of our mythology but it’s also true – at least some parts of it are true (probably). That’s how blurry this becomes, very quickly.

My point is that you can take a collection of variables, such as ideas or practices, and study their impact on people and their societies. That is an excellent undertaking, which I encourage. But you’re dealing with an amorphous mess. You can’t make it neat; if you try, you’ll probably generate more confusion than light because you’ll be operating from a false assumption. It’s like jumping into a tub of soapy water and trying to grab all the bubbles.

[ Edited: 02 October 2009 01:10 PM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 03 October 2009 04:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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PLaclair:

I’m not trying to be difficult but I don’t see how that answers the question. If you want to study the role played by myth, ritual, etc., that makes perfect sense to me. What I don’t understand is why you think you need a hard-and-fast definition for religion

.


My definition - A myth or group of myths, rituals & symbols created or adapted by groups to establish identities and to organize or change the existing society they are within. 

I think is what you may be missing is the point that this definition is not to define the myths, rituals and symbols themselves, although that is a necessary part of it at times, but a study of how these things are used by groups to influence and/or control society.  A find a definition is useful to seperate these influence out from other influences such as geography, climate, technology, economics, overall political structure, etc.  I do understand that these are all intertwined and there are many grey areas.

I am not trying to impose a definition and understand that definitions by definition are abstractions.  cheese  But without abstractions any serious study loses its focus.  Ask any biologist.

If you feel you do not need a definition of religion that is up to you,  but I find it necessary.

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Posted: 03 October 2009 10:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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garythehuman - 03 October 2009 04:59 PM

PLaclair:

I’m not trying to be difficult but I don’t see how that answers the question. If you want to study the role played by myth, ritual, etc., that makes perfect sense to me. What I don’t understand is why you think you need a hard-and-fast definition for religion

.

My definition - A myth or group of myths, rituals & symbols created or adapted by groups to establish identities and to organize or change the existing society they are within. 

I think is what you may be missing is the point that this definition is not to define the myths, rituals and symbols themselves, although that is a necessary part of it at times, but a study of how these things are used by groups to influence and/or control society.  A find a definition is useful to seperate these influence out from other influences such as geography, climate, technology, economics, overall political structure, etc.  I do understand that these are all intertwined and there are many grey areas.

I am not trying to impose a definition and understand that definitions by definition are abstractions.  cheese  But without abstractions any serious study loses its focus.  Ask any biologist.

If you feel you do not need a definition of religion that is up to you,  but I find it necessary.

So you’re using a working definition of religion for the purposes of your study. I agree with that but that’s not what you wrote originally. Look at your title and your first post.

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Posted: 04 October 2009 08:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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PLaclair:

So you’re using a working definition of religion for the purposes of your study. I agree with that but that’s not what you wrote originally. Look at your title and your first post.

Opps! I just looked back at, I apologize, my typing is horrific and I can’t get the spell checker on this forum to work.  The correct title should have been scientific (?) definition of religion.  I am presenting my definition as a hypothesis and was hoping for useful criticism, which you have given me.

Thanks

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Posted: 04 October 2009 11:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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How about: “the hypostatization of the will of the community” ?

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“In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides.” (Heinrich Heine)

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Posted: 09 October 2009 01:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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MikeD:

How about: “the hypostatization of the will of the community” ?

You are underestimating the uses of religion.

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Posted: 09 October 2009 05:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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garythehuman - 04 October 2009 08:08 AM

PLaclair:

So you’re using a working definition of religion for the purposes of your study. I agree with that but that’s not what you wrote originally. Look at your title and your first post.

Opps! I just looked back at, I apologize, my typing is horrific and I can’t get the spell checker on this forum to work.  The correct title should have been scientific (?) definition of religion.  I am presenting my definition as a hypothesis and was hoping for useful criticism, which you have given me.

Thanks

Garythehuman, you can edit your title. It would make your intention a lot clearer.

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Church; where sheep congregate to worship a zombie on a stick that turns into a cracker on Sundays…

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