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What Is Religion Good For?


ritch81
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I believe that religion is having a truly adverse effect on our society i.e the recent political debates; who's a Mormon, who's a Catholic, who's an Evangelist; who's religious beliefs will significantly impact on his ability to run the country? Just as an aside, have you ever considered that of the more than five hundred members of congress there is not one Atheist. Not one has ever come out of the closet and said, "I don't believe in God. It has long been my belief that there are a lot more closet Atheists around than closet gays both in and out of political office. It's almost amusing that in our society, going public with your homosexuality is praise worthy; to declare yourself a non-believer sounds the death knell for your career, political or otherwise.

To get back on point, I have no idea how many religious sects are running around trumpeting " Our way being the only true way; and downright belligerent about it. Having been raised a R/C I think I have the right to say ...them especially.

To wrap this up on a lighter note I'd like to refer you to a poem written back in the mid-19th Century by Jonathan Saxe, a journalist noted for his humorous verse; I find this to be his best...probably because it best describes my own pov. It's too long to fit here so I'll just hit the highpoints. Titled,
The Blind Men and the Elephant, it describes six wise men of Hindoostan (sic) all who happen to be blind. They set out to determine what an elephant looks like. Each encounters a different part of the animal's anatomy and formulates his own opinion: the side...a wall; the tusk...a spear; the tail...a snake; the the leg...a tree; the ear ...a fan;the trunk...a hose. A lively debate follows. The poem ends with the following moral:

Oft times in theologic wars

the disputants I wean

rail on in total ignorance

of what each other mean

and prate about an elephant

not one of them has seen!

 

Just FYI I'm an ...Orthodox Skeptic; I'm not taking any new members!
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I would say each to their own and its up to each individual to recognise that which has meaning for them without it being dictated. I feel the issues is the same as in politics, once a group starts to dictate what ever everyone has to agree to then there is often a problem. I have seen it in many fundamental religions and also extreme athiest groups such as those that were found in some communist groups in China, Russia, Cambodia, and others.

Quakerism and Bhuddism, for example, could also be described as religions but I doubt one has to fear either. I do not think religion is the problem but fundamentalism and extremism does scare me. I do not see any problem with religious, agnostic or athiest groups until that inclination to start dictating what others have to think and do comes up and then tolerance gets over ridden and injustice occurs (IMO).

Edited by Pete
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Pete wrote: I do not think religion is the problem

 

I don't think it is either. I think it is the human drive to survive through controlling one's environment...and other people, society, is a basic element of one's environment. Religion in simply a tool, a means, toward attempting to accomplish that. Emil Durkheim, in his classic work, "The elemental forms of religious life" posits this as the very ground out of which religion arises, at the most basic and primitive level. It arises out of human need to meet the challenges of his environment neccesary to survival. It is also why when people feel helpless, their security, even survival, (their perception of it) challenged, they so often turn back ever more strongly toward religion.

 

Jenell

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Pete wrote: I do not think religion is the problem

 

I don't think it is either. I think it is the human drive to survive through controlling one's environment...and other people, society, is a basic element of one's environment. Religion in simply a tool, a means, toward attempting to accomplish that. Emil Durkheim, in his classic work, "The elemental forms of religious life" posits this as the very ground out of which religion arises, at the most basic and primitive level. It arises out of human need to meet the challenges of his environment neccesary to survival. It is also why when people feel helpless, their security, even survival, (their perception of it) challenged, they so often turn back ever more strongly toward religion.

 

Jenell

 

Stated as an introvert or as an extravert?

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The basic principles out of which religion arises, as in the paragraph I gave above, was positive toward meeting challenges of survivial. But the same positive nature has inherent risk of abuse. We really don't comprehend the value primitive religion offered becasue so much of what was once, and still is in primitive societies, addressed through religion are things we have now for the most part split off into other social institutions and structures to deal with in our world. Things like secular government, law and legal justice systems, public education, health and medical care, public education, even matters of public health and safety and consumer protection laws. All of these things were once under the auspices of religion.

In many of these areas i just listed, many people dismiss the relevance of religion to them by assuming there was only ignorant superstition involved, but much as quite effective in helping people understand surviving in their environment,

 

Coastal and island indigneous fishing peoples in the region of that horrendous SE Asian tsumani several years ago all survived with not a single loss of life, simply becasue they still hold to a primitive religion, in which still alive are myths and legends that warn of the angry sea god at times taking retribution and payback for all the fish they take from the sea, by charging onto land and gobbling up people and animals and houses....and, tells them how to know, what to watch for, how to be prepared, and how to react, when that happens.

Careful observations of people and the environment often led to things life food taboos, that we now know have valid basis, as contributing to people getting sick and dying or other adverse effects. A lack of a modern legal system of police and courts of law were served by instilling god commanded, sanctioned, and forbidden behaviors....you might sneak around and people not see what you do, but the gods do. Likewise, treating the environment, the land and other inhabitants, with respect, brought bountiful harvest.

Jenell

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It seems to me that today's political weapon of mass destruction is 'fear'. It seems most politicians prefer to 'scare' people into voting for their side. Similarly, IMO the main weapon for fundamental Christianity over the last few hundred years (if not longer) has also been fear. Non-religous societies such as China and the USSR made sure the population stayed afraid of authority in order to ensure there was little dissent.

 

What I am suggesting is that it is not religion itself that is having the adverse affect on society, but rather fear which is manifesting itself in religion (and politics).

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PaulS..chicken or the egg question...is it that fear that is being mainfested through religion and politics, or that politics is using rellgion as the delivery method for fear?

Jenell

 

Firstly, I think that fear preceeded religion. Man was afraid of the dark so he created religion (that's my short version :) ). Perhaps also, early man recognised the power that fear gave to one that was not afraid, hence our first politician was born.

 

So human fear has been with us always.

 

Religion recognised the power of fear and harnessed it to serve the religous agenda. Politics recognises the power of fear and uses it to serve political ends.

 

Of course, like the chicken and the egg question (when one understands that with evolution things weren't quite as so neat as to produce one or the other first), fear/politics/religion have become interelated where we do have aspects of politics and religion driving fear, and we do have fear driving people toward political persuasions and religion (although perhaps in massively declining numbers when it comes to religion).

 

Cheers

Paul

Edited by PaulS
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Friends,

 

I feel that painting the term “religion” negatively draws false conclusions partly because such efforts fail to discern and/or acknowledge the critical distinction between genuine, personal and individual religious experiences and the kaleidoscope of institutionalized socio-religious groups.

 

“Religion is first an inner or personal adjustment, and then it becomes a matter of social service or group adjustment. The fact of man’s gregariousness perforce determines that religious groups will come into existence. What happens to these religious groups depends very much on intelligent leadership.”…

“Since true religion is a matter of personal spiritual experience, it is inevitable that each individual religionist must have his own interpretation of the realization of that spiritual experience. Let the term “faith” stand for the individual’s relation to God rather than the creedal formulation of what some group of mortals have been able to agree upon as a common religious attitude. “Have you faith? Then have it to yourself.” (UP 99:5 – The Social Aspects of Religion - underlines mine)

 

“Sectarianism is a disease of institutional religion, and dogmatism is an enslavement of the spiritual nature. It is far better to have a religion without a church than a church without religion. The religious turmoil of the twentieth century does not, in and of itself, betoken spiritual decadence. Confusion goes before growth as well as before destruction.” (99:6 – Institutional Religion)

 

(True) “®eligion inspires man to live courageously and joyfully on the face of the earth; it joins patience with passion, insight to zeal, sympathy with power, and ideals with energy.

Man can never wisely decide temporal issues or transcend the selfishness of personal interests unless he meditates in the presence of the sovereignty of God and reckons with the realities of divine meanings and spiritual values.” (99:7 – Religion’s Contribution)

 

Gratefully Ches (His/Hers),

Brent

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Personally I think Wikipedia sums up the definition of religion quite well:

 

Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values.[1] Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.

 

The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith or belief system, but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect[citation needed]. Most religions have organized behaviors, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural), and/or scriptures. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, music, art, dance, public service, or other aspects of human culture.

 

I think the bit which says "religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect" best sums up what I mean by the word religion. I accept that people may have individual 'religous' experiences, but IMO that is not 'religion'. I don't think one has an inner experience of 'religion' but rather an inner 'religous experience' perhaps. The religion bit comes when man starts trying to document, and organise others, around that religous experience. Much like the Urantia papers are creating a religion by documenting and encouraging others to experience the religous experience the author/s believed they experienced.

 

Like the quote above says - "Let the term “faith” stand for the individual’s relation to God". I think that is a better term than religion in the circumstances.

Edited by PaulS
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chicken or the egg question...is it that fear that is being mainfested through religion and politics, or that politics is using rellgion as the delivery method for fear?

Jenell

 

My son just told me the origin of the joke, Why did the Chicken want to cross the street? To get to the other side. He said it came from Christianity.

I told him my take on it. Why didn't the Chicken want to cross the street?Because he was happy in the here and now and didn't want to.

 

We don't need religion to learn about life and like Paul said Religion is a net that catches people who are afraid of the unknown and Politicians use it to make people afraid of the known so we need to escape through the spaces in the net to the here and now. We need to just be happy for no reason. This is the highest service as it shows others the spaces that do not hold judgements. Peace

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Random thoughts

 

Reading Fukuyama's Origins of Political Order

He sees the first religious impulse to be ancestor worship. Land is usually involved and it belongs to ancestors and the descendants so it can not be bought and sold. Ancestor worship tightens family ties. Kinship and land use issues are a powerful drag on the development of modern governments. He says that there will always be attempts to reassert kinship or tribal influence on weak governments. Lack of strong religious impulse in China created space for the first 'modern government' 300 BCE.

 

The Catholic Church rules destroyed the kinship/property drag in Europe beginning about 600 AD so paving the way for the development of modern government.

 

a world without religion?

 

Well then we could bring out the list of the horrors that science has wrought. Just one to begin with. Based on science the APA waited until 1973 to declassify homosexuality as a disorder.

 

We would have been slow to provide public hospitals, schools, slower to achieve abolition of slavery, slower for women's suffrage. The development on modern government in Europe and America might have been delayed. India may have had it sooner.

 

The wikipedia entry should remind us that which we call religion is a many splendored thing. If we remove the spirituality aspect, and respectable people do, the USSR would be classified as one as would a..... oops, I promised not to call them a religion.

 

Dutch

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Random thoughts

 

Reading Fukuyama's Origins of Political Order

He sees the first religious impulse to be ancestor worship. Land is usually involved and it belongs to ancestors and the descendants so it can not be bought and sold. Ancestor worship tightens family ties. Kinship and land use issues are a powerful drag on the development of modern governments. He says that there will always be attempts to reassert kinship or tribal influence on weak governments. Lack of strong religious impulse in China created space for the first 'modern government' 300 BCE.

 

The Catholic Church rules destroyed the kinship/property drag in Europe beginning about 600 AD so paving the way for the development of modern government.

 

a world without religion?

 

Well then we could bring out the list of the horrors that science has wrought. Just one to begin with. Based on science the APA waited until 1973 to declassify homosexuality as a disorder.

 

We would have been slow to provide public hospitals, schools, slower to achieve abolition of slavery, slower for women's suffrage. The development on modern government in Europe and America might have been delayed. India may have had it sooner.

 

The wikipedia entry should remind us that which we call religion is a many splendored thing. If we remove the spirituality aspect, and respectable people do, the USSR would be classified as one as would a..... oops, I promised not to call them a religion.

 

Dutch

 

I think the debate about whether 'religion' was good or bad for the world could be debated until the cows come home. In references to Dutch's points, I think perhaps some of those items such as schools and hospitals may have happened anyway as the consciousness of the human race continued to evolve. Was it religion that made people care about others, or was it people caring about others that helped religion develop?

 

In relation to abolition of slavery, perhaps without religion it would have been quicker - I'm no expert but it seems to me the strongest arguments for salvery came from religous people using religous reasons.

 

I'm no expert concerning the Protestant work ethic or the industrial revolution, but to me the human race had achieved much in its evolutionary span to get it to where the protestant work ethic could kick in. And countries like China are responsible for lots of development in the human race - is there a Confucian work ethic?

 

Religion may be a many splendored thing but I think it is also a many splintered thing. There are a lot of nasty, sharp bits associated with religion as well. Like most things in life, there is a good & bad/pros & cons/yin & yang with just about everything.

 

Dutch, thanks for qutoing Fukuyama's view. I have also read a number of people who attribute religous impulse to man trying to appease or control nature. Man wanted good hunting & safe caves, so he tried to influence nature to give him such.

Edited by PaulS
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PaulS...what we need is for the chicken to be able to cross the road or not and nobody asks why he/she did or didn't, because nobody figures its any of their business anyway. :D

 

But Jenell, to impose our will on an innocent chicken would seem self indulgent. Surely it should remain an expression of the chicken's free will as to whether it is interested in crossing roads, or not.

 

If a chicken crosses the road and nobody is around to see it, does it actually cross the road?

 

I'd better stop now before I get even sillier (if that's possible) :P

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In relation to abolition of slavery, perhaps without religion it would have been quicker - I'm no expert but it seems to me the strongest arguments for slavery came from religious people using religious reasons.

 

that's an easy statement to make but I have never seen it backed up. There may have been a lot of pro-slavery sermons by local pastors in the south and elsewhere. And there were many factors in the abolition of the slave trade. But I will need to see data before I change my mind about this.

 

In 1787 Thomas Clarkson, William Dillwyn and Granville Sharp formed the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Although Sharp and Clarkson were both Anglicans, nine out of the twelve members on the committee, were Quakers.

 

These people worked for 27 years to get the Slave Trade Act 1807 passed in British parliament.

 

Religious organizations like The Society of Friends founded by the Quakers, were actively campaigning for the abolition of slavery and had effectively forced emancipation on a gradual basis in all the northern states by 1804. wiki

The Quakers were tireless. In slaves states they worked around the laws to rescue slaves one by one.

 

The Church initially accepted slavery as a social institution in antiquity and even into the Early Medieval period. Some Catholics such as Saint Bathilde, Saint Anskar, Saint Wulfstan and Saint Anselm campaigned against slavery and the slave trade. By the end of the Medieval period, enslavement of Christians had been largely abolished throughout Europe, although enslavement of non-Christians remained an open question[citation needed]. Although Catholic clergy, religious orders and even popes owned slaves, Catholic teaching began to turn towards the abolition of slavery beginning in 1435 and culminating in three major pronouncements against slavery by Pope Paul III in 1537.wiki

 

 

Dutch

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I don't know what data would satisfy you Dutch. Surely if there were a lot of pro-slavery sermons by local pastors in the south and elsewhere, that would indicate that religous grounds were used to defend slavery and thus slow abolition down, would it not? I can't see how it would have done anything to speed up the process. Religion may not have been the sole defence of slavery, but I don't think anyone would think it didn't play a big part. Would they?

 

Certainly the Quakers were tireless in seeking the abolition of slavery, but not just them. Whilst the 'Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage' was the first American abolition society (formed in 1775) and 17 of the 24 initial attendees were Quakers, one notable irreligous man who was intimately involved from the beginning was Thomas Paine. So yes, we have religion seeking abolition, but alongside non-religous people simultaneously. (On perhaps a naive side-note, I picture the Quakers as probably one of the the least 'religous' God -believing groups).

 

I'm not going to chew up a lot of time arguing the pros and cons because I don't know all the details about slavery. I know I've gained a general impression from readings over time that lead me to think religion was just one aspect of the abolition movement and not neccessarily the principal driver. In a quick look now to give you a quick bit of data, I came across The Abolition Project ( http://abolition.e2bn.org/index.php ) which lists the main reasons why slavery was abolished in England (obviously before it was abolished in the US). Interstingly, 3/4 of the reasons are not religous:

  • A change in economic interests. After 1776, when America became independent, Britain's sugar colonies, such as Jamaica and Barbados, declined as America could trade directly with the French and Dutch in the West Indies. Furthermore, as the industrial revolution took hold in the 18th century, Britain no longer needed slave-based goods. The country was more able to prosper from new systems which required high efficiency, through free trade and free labour. Cotton, rather than sugar, became the main produce of the British economy and English towns, such as Manchester and Salford, became industrial centres of world importance.
  • Resistance by enslaved people. Enslaved people had resisted the trade since it began. However, the French Revolution brought ideas of liberty and equality, which inspired those seeking an end to slavery (for example, Toussaint L'Ouverture who led a successful slave revolt in Haiti). Major slave revolts followed (Barbados 1816, Demerara 1822 and Jamaica 1831-1832); they reduced profitability and gave a strong indication that, regardless of politicial opinion, the enslaved people were not going to tolerate enslavement. The revolts shocked the British government and made them see that the costs and dangers of keeping slavery in the West Indies were too high. In places like Jamaica, many terrified plantation owners were finally ready to accept abolition rather than risk a widespread war.
  • Parliamentary reform. When parliament was finally reformed in 1832, two-thirds of those who supported slavery were swept from power. The once powerful West India Lobby had lost its political strength.
  • Abolition campaigns and religious groups. The demand for freedom for enslaved people had become almost universal. It was now driven forward, not only by the formal abolition campaign but by a coalition of non-conformist churches as well as Evangelicals in the Church of England

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