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On modern substitutions for religion

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If you count yourself among the secularists cheering for the demise of religion, it isn’t hard to find comforting statistics. Nearly every survey of the state of religion in my own country, the United States, presents a similar picture of faith in decline. Compared to their parents and grandparents, Americans are less likely to self-identify as religious, attend religious services, or engage in religious practices such as daily prayer. Full-blown atheism is still a minority position. But the ranks of the “non-religious”—a broad category made up of those who reject traditional conceptions of God and religious doctrines, or who express uncertainty about their beliefs—are growing.

Even those who self-identify as Christians are less inclined to talk publicly about God and their faith than their predecessors. Indeed, many Americans are Christian in name only—using the term more as an indicator of their cultural background than as a declaration of a spiritual life committed to the teachings of Christ. And the rest of the Western world is even farther ahead on this same path.

But secularism advocates should pause before celebrating such trends. A deeper investigation into the religious nature of our species casts doubt on the view that science-centered secular culture can succeed without a space for the sacred. . . .

 

https://quillette.com/2018/12/27/from-astrology-to-cult-politics-the-many-ways-we-try-and-fail-to-replace-religion/

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What is religion? Well it appears to be a belief, but a belief in what? In the West it seems to involve a belief in in God and historically gods. But this is not a necessary belief, as the third great religion Buddhism, by and large, does not accept gods. It is true Buddhism like Christianity has some quirky beliefs from a secular point of view, on the other hand being secular does not make us immune from these quirks.

The piece in Quillete, is accurate in some ways but it is speculative in others. Take the Blank Slate argument. While it is almost certainly wrong that our beliefs are totally a result of environment. It could be argued we have an intuitive affinity for cause and effect and as a result we are looking for causes all the time. Some ascribe God as a cause for existence; others might simply say it was the big bang and don’t speculate any further. Now of course just because we might have this tendency collectively to believe in God or gods does not mean they exist or that the belief in them are somehow beneficial form an evolutionary point of view. The benefit might simply be from a social cohesion leading to improved reproductive outcome.

So, this might be where secularly inclined people are at a disadvantage, by and large they don’t have the routine collective societal interaction. We quite often hear this from lapsed traditional Christians … they miss the congregation and friends. To get that interaction secularists can participate in services groups like Rotary.

At a service for a pastor friend of mine who passed away, I noted that among some of the congregation there was an endorphin like rush among some people who were close-by. I can’t help wondering if this is part of “the religious experience”?

And finally, what is religion for me? Taking a semantic tack, the commonly accepted etymology of the word religion is from the Latin to reconnect. Reconnect to what? For some it is to one another, to society, to one’s God, even to Love. For me it is to understand we are connected to the universe. It took the whole universe to make us and we shape our environment and in turn the universe albeit infinitesimally.

 

post script - the author Clay Routledge gets at least some of his funding from the Templeton Foundation, so his point of view is hardly surprising.

Edited by romansh

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When the author says 'religion', does he actually mean religion in the proper, broad sense of the word or is he referring only to Christianity?   I could probably list a number of religions and religious beliefs that have been successfully replaced throughout the development of our species, but this author seems to be taking a much narrower point of view and is looking at a speck along a grand timeline.  Certainly though in the west Christianity is the dominant religion, but I think this is more about culture and politics than it is about some well understood, universal truth.

However, it does seem to me that 'religion' is a common means to an end in achieving 'community', something we by and large are driven to want for ourselves.  I suspect the human species developed a need for this search for community and meaning in life when we started developing self-consciousness.  

Historically this need has been filled with all sorts of religious and non-religious ways of living, but religion has held an elevated place in society (whether that religion be zoroastrianism, belief in the Greek pantheon or other polytheistic beliefs, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism, or some localized version of tribal belief, etc).  I think that is perhaps because ultimately each religion has a 'good' message for us - i.e. there is hope for one in life after death.  I think self consciousness has developed in us a 'fear' of no longer existing.  I don't know if there are any religions that don't offer this carrot, so I am not surprised religion has a larger following than other secular ways of living one's life.

But it would seem that western society is starting to move toward believing that there is no life after death and what we do in the here and now is all that matters.  Perhaps people are turning away from religion due to this understanding, but some people still feel the need for hope and meaning because they are actually still alive and our human instinct is to be part of our community, and so they search of have an affinity for other 'beliefs' that give them satisfaction.  That, and quite naturally, they don't want their existence to end, so maybe that's why they try to trust other beliefs.

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It is and has been the case for many, especially Christians, that the focus was on 'life after death.' However neither Judaism or Christianity, in its beginning, shared this focus or belief. For the Jews of the second Temple and early Christians the belief/focus was the establishment of God's Kingdom, by God, in this world (not the next or another).

However, even with this focus in later Christian history, as a child of the 50s and 60s, although there was a good deal of talk about the next life, for many of us the focus was always the 'here and now' and we hoped and trusted God for the rest (or the next). With the advent of progressive Christianity, it seems, many are "starting to move toward believing that there is no life after death (as traditionally understood) and what we do in the here and now is all that matters" because that is all we have responsibility for and the capacity to address and make better. The difference with others in western society is that where others believe this existence is mere happenstance for which we can find some fleeting meaning, the (progressive) Christian believes this life participates in something more, of which (for lack of a better way to phrase it) the human is part and in which the human finds and lives abundant life - the ultimate details of which are left to God.

I, speaking as a progressive Christian, don't tie this to fear of no longer existing or not wanting this existence to end. It seems obvious that this existence will end (that was always the case) and no one has any 'earthy' idea what 'continued existence' looks like or consists of - as evidenced in our long ago discussions of all becoming One. I doubt progressive Christians think of this as a carrot; it is simply a 'consequence' of what such a person believes about God/Life. 

The original insight of Christianity was 'this life, this world' transformed and, thus abundant life (which once part of remained, so to speak, abundant).

 

Edited by thormas

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8 hours ago, thormas said:

.... for many of us the focus was always the 'here and now' and we hoped and trusted God for the rest (or the next). With the advent of progressive Christianity, it seems, many are "starting to move toward believing that there is no life after death (as traditionally understood) and what we do in the here and now is all that matters" because that is all we have responsibility for and the capacity to address and make better.

My point really was that there isn't a single religion that doesn't promote some sort of belief in a beneficial afterlife for adherents of that religion.  Judaism perhaps less so for the ordinary punter, but hope nonetheless if you should happen to exceed that ordinariness and become one of that God's 'select' few (say Moses or Elijah).  However, in regard to establishing 'God's Kingdom', this too in essence was/is an after life because it was referring to a life completely different to the one that Jews of the day actually lived/live in.  They didn't/don't see the Kingdom as simply a better way to live but rather a specific occurrence which would distinctly mark a new way of living (i.e. a distinctly different time to be brought in by the hands of a Messiah).  Christianity changed The Kingdom to be about a more inclusive, better way to live.

Even PC does this (if it should be regarded as another religion instead of a philosophy) - it may be vague about what any potential afterlife should actually look like, but by saying 'everything will be okay' it does still promote a beneficial rather than negative view of death and as you point out, gives adherents 'hope' and 'trust' about an afterlife.

It might not be the 'focus' so to speak of in day to day interactions for any of those religions, but the underlying 'carrot' is always there and is a primary message of those religions.  If not an outspoken message then at the very least, as in PC, it is promoted as a positive of all things being part of some grand scheme and therefore death is beneficial to the adherent.

To me the stand out is that NO religion ever says "this is all there is", "Live a good life for you and the benefit of humanity because there is nothing else to follow and when you die, you cease to exist".  We can speculate about the reasons why NO religion actually sells itself on the premise that this life is all that one can possibly expect.

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Fair enough. Although some would definitely disagree that the idea of the Kingdom being established in this life would be considered 'afterlife.' Although it is a transformation, it was definitely about this world, not the next - as traditionally understood (heaven). However, I take your point.

Again, I take you point but most or many modern or progressive Christians would not lead with "everything will be okay." In addition, many believers are not thrilled by death. My point was not that it gives hope but that one hopes in God and carries on.

Agree it is not the focus but it also isn't a carrot, especially for progressives. A carrot, like the cartoon of old, is suspended in front of someone and is 'the' motivation for action. Not so in more progressive expressions of Christianity. I also don't see it as a promotion but a consequence of what belief in God signifies and many religious people don't see death as 'beneficial' - merely a given. Of course, I guess the atheist in pain of death or old, failing age, can look forward to death and see it as beneficial; so too, the religious person, not wanting it, could also in the same circumstances, see it as beneficial (a release from pain). 

The religious person can say, "live a good life for you and others and the benefit of humanity because all of it is valuable, meaningful and when you die, the hope is 'it' continues; it all meant (means) something.  

Both positions are simply belief statements.

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It seems to me that Life never ends. It only sees a change of form.  Death is, according to Christianity in my view, overcome by dying daily to the flesh and a transformation that occurs which may be said to becoming alive to the Spirit which one might see as the one life in all things. 

I personally no longer see it as an afterlife because there to me is only Life. No before or after.

It seems to me that the Kingdom is here now, howbeit, all are not aware of it as if blinded by life in the flesh.

Just my thoughts on the matter,

Joseph

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I agree with much of what you have written Joesph. I change 'flesh' to self-centeredness but becoming alive to/in the Spirit rings true. 

I also agree there is only Life, although that is difficult to see for many since death seems to be an (the) end, and in that Life there is (the possibility of) continuous movement/transformation    into Its Fullness (whatever that means). 

My only reservation is "life in the flesh' for that, for me, is essential to our knowing and transformation. 

thanks.

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On ‎1‎/‎17‎/‎2019 at 9:31 AM, thormas said:

Fair enough. Although some would definitely disagree that the idea of the Kingdom being established in this life would be considered 'afterlife.' Although it is a transformation, it was definitely about this world, not the next - as traditionally understood (heaven). However, I take your point.

Jesus made it clear that some would not enter this 'Kingdom' that Jesus believed was imminent, including hypocritical Jews and of course those outside of the Jewish faith.  The Old Testament also seems to represent the era to be brought in by the Messiah to be a new life, but only for some and not all.

So if it wasn't an afterlife, where did Jesus and the OT expect these 'others' to end up?  Was the Kingdom going to be like its own country with borders, or was it expected that the non-starters would somehow be wiped off the face of the earth instead?

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8 hours ago, PaulS said:

Jesus made it clear that some would not enter this 'Kingdom' that Jesus believed was imminent, including hypocritical Jews and of course those outside of the Jewish faith.  The Old Testament also seems to represent the era to be brought in by the Messiah to be a new life, but only for some and not all.

So if it wasn't an afterlife, where did Jesus and the OT expect these 'others' to end up?  Was the Kingdom going to be like its own country with borders, or was it expected that the non-starters would somehow be wiped off the face of the earth instead?

Good to see you becoming a bible believer, Paul.

 

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9 hours ago, PaulS said:

Jesus made it clear that some would not enter this 'Kingdom' that Jesus believed was imminent, including hypocritical Jews and of course those outside of the Jewish faith.  The Old Testament also seems to represent the era to be brought in by the Messiah to be a new life, but only for some and not all.

So if it wasn't an afterlife, where did Jesus and the OT expect these 'others' to end up?  Was the Kingdom going to be like its own country with borders, or was it expected that the non-starters would somehow be wiped off the face of the earth instead?

It's not a topic I focus on but, if memory serves, some Jews, throughout their history, thought death was the end and others thought of Sheol, often translated as 'the grave' sometimes as 'the pit" (mass grave??) but many believed that at the end of time God would raise people from the dead for a new life to be lived in the body - so this pointed to a transformed body in the Kingdom that God established here.

Also, the belief was that the 12 tribes and the 70 nations (i.e. the gentiles) would all worship the true God in his house: the Temple in Jerusalem. So no borders, the whole of humanity would recognize the God of Israel as the True God. 

The 12 and the 70 was the expectation so it is questionable if Jesus believed that the gentiles would not worship God and partake of his earthly Kingdom (additional 'proof' of this belief by the early Christians is found in their mission to spread the gospel to all nations). 

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16 hours ago, PaulS said:

Jesus made it clear that some would not enter this 'Kingdom'

I thought Jesus also suggested the kingdom is all around us?

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10 hours ago, Burl said:

Good to see you becoming a bible believer, Paul.

 

You might be jumping to some conclusions there Burl - don't get too excited.  :)

 

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2 hours ago, romansh said:

I thought Jesus also suggested the kingdom is all around us?

I think those sort of words may have been placed on Jesus' lips by some NT writers.  I think it's pretty convincing that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who believed the coming of the Kingdom was imminent and that the evil powers (Rome) would be overthrown 'in this generation'.  When Jesus got executed and 'this generation' didn't see the coming of the Kingdom, Christians began to 'interpret' Jesus differently and make up new stories about the Kingdom.

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9 hours ago, thormas said:

The 12 and the 70 was the expectation so it is questionable if Jesus believed that the gentiles would not worship God and partake of his earthly Kingdom (additional 'proof' of this belief by the early Christians is found in their mission to spread the gospel to all nations). 

The 'earliest' Christian writers (e.g. Paul and those pseudepigraphic authors who pretended to be Paul) seemed to think the Kingdom was imminent and was going to happen in their lifetimes.  That does seem to be in line with Jesus and the OT messiah talk (to a degree).  Later 'early' Christians then seemed to turn the 'good news' into this other future 'kingdom' that relied upon either faith or works (depending on which view you take of elements of the NT) and definitely excluded people who didn't make the grade.

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1 hour ago, PaulS said:

I think those sort of words may have been placed on Jesus' lips by some NT writers. 

There are those that believe quite the opposite.

From the Jesus Sayings

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Seemingly, Jesus thought the endtime was imminent, as did the Baptist - not sure off hand about all the prophets. But it continued to the early disciples and, as you mention, Paul. Actually one biblical scholar I'm reading believes that Jesus announced the 'time' when he entered Jerusalem for the last time and this led directly to his crucifixion since it ignited the people and put the Romans and priest on edge - always worried about insurrection (pointing out that he was not crucified with two robbers but insurrectionists (correct translation). 

In addition, she believes that Jesus and his beliefs in the endgame actually carried through his crucifixion and his 'resurrection' was interpreted as the first fruits of the resurrection of the dead that would mark the endtime. 

Later Christians, realizing that time, as we know it, did not end (especially Luke) begin to deal with the delay and split the 'coming of the messiah' into two events: the life, death, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the '2nd coming' of this messiah who will return to establish God's Kingdom. Would have to check when this future kingdom became heaven but it doesn't seem to have been the early Christians (1st C). 

But there were definitely people who didn't make the grade, although even early Christianity had theologians who thought that salvation was universal and it seems some progressives today agree.

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The critical event triggered by Jesus' life, death, resurrection and session was Pentecost and the reconciliation of God and mankind.   This modern confusion of 'the kingdom of God' with an end times scenario is incorrect.

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15 minutes ago, Burl said:

This modern confusion of 'the kingdom of God' with an end times scenario is incorrect.

I agree that the 'modern' confusion is incorrect, but it does appear that the ancient view (in Jesus' day and shortly thereafter) was that the arrival of God's Kingdom was imminent and was an end times scenario of sorts as Rome would be overthrown and Israel, with God at its head, would rise above all).  But of course, that didn't happen.

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1 hour ago, Burl said:

The critical event triggered by Jesus' life, death, resurrection and session was Pentecost and the reconciliation of God and mankind.   This modern confusion of 'the kingdom of God' with an end times scenario is incorrect.

Any 'modern' confusion predated the moderns. 

As for Pentecost, it depends how one understands it. However, given Luke's timing of Pentecost, does that mean the earliest disciples were not reconciled to God until that time?

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1 hour ago, PaulS said:

I agree that the 'modern' confusion is incorrect, but it does appear that the ancient view (in Jesus' day and shortly thereafter) was that the arrival of God's Kingdom was imminent and was an end times scenario of sorts as Rome would be overthrown and Israel, with God at its head, would rise above all).  But of course, that didn't happen.

This raises an interesting point: for progressive Christians who believe, is there still a position that this world will be made new, with people reborn (resurrected) to it or does it make more sense to envision a movement to a higher consciousness, a higher state of being (whatever these terms might mean) that, of necessity transcends this life/world?

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35 minutes ago, thormas said:

This raises an interesting point: for progressive Christians who believe, is there still a position that this world will be made new, with people reborn (resurrected) to it or does it make more sense to envision a movement to a higher consciousness, a higher state of being (whatever these terms might mean) that, of necessity transcends this life/world?

Progressive Christians who believe what precisely?

What about a 3rd choice - neither a new world with people reborn, or a movement to higher consciousness (whatever that means) and any 'necessity' to transcend this life/world, but rather, simply an understanding about trying to get along and be the best of what we are.

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25 minutes ago, thormas said:

Any 'modern' confusion predated the moderns. 

As for Pentecost, it depends how one understands it. However, given Luke's timing of Pentecost, does that mean the earliest disciples were not reconciled to God until that time?

It is difficult to see Pentecost as anything less than than the removal of the curse God placed on mankind at Babel.  Trying to discern individual souls touched by Christ is overreading.   Better to see the universal outpouring of spirit upon all flesh as prophesied by Joel 2:28.

Pentecost is the central focus of Christianity.  Not the nativity, the passion or the resurrection.  Not Jesus' brief spell as a teacher.  Pentecost and the willingness of God to dwell within every individual is the overarching story.

 

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10 minutes ago, PaulS said:

Progressive Christians who believe what precisely?

What about a 3rd choice - neither a new world with people reborn, or a movement to higher consciousness (whatever that means) and any 'necessity' to transcend this life/world, but rather, simply an understanding about trying to get along and be the best of what we are.

So the purpose of life is remaining in our plane seats without fighting over the shared armrest without a thought as to where we are going or why?  Barf bag, please.

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7 minutes ago, Burl said:

It is difficult to see Pentecost as anything less than than the removal of the curse God placed on mankind at Babel.  Trying to discern individual souls touched by Christ is overreading.   Better to see the universal outpouring of spirit upon all flesh as prophesied by Joel 2:28.

Pentecost is the central focus of Christianity.  Not the nativity, the passion or the resurrection.  Not Jesus' brief spell as a teacher.  Pentecost and the willingness of God to dwell within every individual is the overarching story.

 

Well Burl, I respect you but I simply don't see God placing a curse at Babel. Not so much individual souls but the death and resurrection seems to have reconciled the disciples and Pentecost was seen as the outreach to others. Never have read that Pentecost was the central focus.

Finally, (for me) there was/is no need for a miraculous 'pouring out of Spirit' since that Spirit was always with man and God has eternally dwelt in us all.

 

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