Sunday, November 04, 2018


Part of the reason that discussion of religion is so bolixed up is that everyone is using a different definition and therefore is invested in different assumptions and outcomes.  We are invisible to one another.  I'm not talking about denominations, which are a way of sorting only Protestant Christianity by sects, nor about world religions, which are institutionalized -- some to the point of being the same as the state or the king.  I'm talking about the most basic thinking approaches I can, well, think of.

So this is a "tick list" of aspects of religion as it appears in the world, just to jog thinking about what we are doing.

1.  The three Mediterranean historical institutions descended from a certain time and place: Judaism, Christianity, Islam (a little later).  They draw on the same environment, therefore compete, therefore fight each other.

2.  Ways of thinking about the sacred among indigenous people anywhere, without institutions but with practices, ceremonies, and special categories for what is sacred or taboo.

3.  Those based on the community and family, like Confucianism or Shinto.  These will have temples and groups dedicated to religion, but they are not quite like Western institutions.

4.  Ideas from approaching a previously unknown religious system and seeing the objects, the songs, the acts, as being supernatural, whether they really are or not.  

5.  The phenomenological sensation of feeling something is sacred, like standing at an abyss or mountain, watching a cyclone.  

6.  The valence of dimension.  Some feel this includes doorways, fire places, the top of a house or the bottom of a house.  There is some support in brain theory for this, since the sensation of direction, drops, walls, and so on are very elementary in brain perception, perhaps assigned to certain cells.

7.  Anything extreme and not expected or reasonable.  Anomalies of weather and geography.  High waterfalls.  Geysers.

8.  Human relationship.  Romance, family, best friends, other bonding in what is shared.  Confucianism at its best.

8,  Dogma.  Moral and reality-equivalent rules about what should be done, often in writing in a document or book.

9.  What is inherited and never contradicted because of living in an unchanging and circumscribed environment.

10.  Philosophically reasoned positions like existentialism or some kinds of Buddhism.  The big questions: where do infant souls come from, what is death?

11. Understanding nature's patterns as symbolizing the meaning of the world.  (The New Guinea trees and cassowaries -- this is an anthropological rationalization of an indigenous system.)

12.  Felt concepts formed in the womb and then in the next few years after birth.  Is the world trustworthy?  Should authorities be extensions of the self?

13.  Religion as a coalescence of identity or a way of organizing meaning in the world, or an interweaving of the two.

14.  Joke religions like the academics who organized "Upright Burial" meaning you couldn't "go to heaven" unless you were buried head up/feet down.

15.  Dissociation, the felt displacement to a different world that is more convincing than a hallucination.  Sometimes happening in the face of unbearable danger.

16.  Ordeals, deliberately enduring something like walking on hot coals or handling snakes, or as the old-time Plains Indians did, inviting risk on a high place without water or food.  Or dancing while tethered and pulling as in Sun Lodge ceremony.  The experience is taken to be a guarantee of protection or a payment for the gift of existence.

17.  Reversal religions, meant to take advantage of the power of the forbidden and evil, like Satanism.

18.  Comparative religion, different systems in different times, reflection on the likenesses and differences, usually meant to be an academic study but sometimes literary.

19.  What some would call "superstition", or "luck", like crossing oneself without being a practicing Catholic or using incense or keep a "charm."

20.  "Story theology," a narration of how things began and went on to become.  Perhaps naive, maybe personal, or even scientific.

21.  "Deep" and "long" -- the new awe and wonder that comes from science, pushing back cosmos, time, history, mind, and the capacity of minds -- all expanding and transforming.  It has not been institutionalized so it remains somewhat literary.  An assurance of eternal life --  or at least a return in a new guise -- is replaced by the assurance that everything is connected and merely a transformation.

22.  "Humanism" is the claim that what humans do in terms of science, math, art, writing, civilizations, and so on can be elevated to the level of religion.  This is the claim of many in the American Humanist Association.

23.  It has been said that it is possible to make money into the entire content of religion: getting and spending replace virtue and sin.

24.  Religion can be unconscious, unacknowledged until there is some incident that requires answers to be found.

25.  Dogma, in particular, can be overcome, reversed, giving over to a new realization, a conversion.

26.  Some conflate religion with morality, completely blocking anything but right and wrong.

27.  To others religion is about ultimate authority:  God said what to do, kings are empowered by God, the Declaration of Independence is authorized by God.  People invested in hierarchy accept this.

28.  Personalizing God through Jesus or the Holy Family can be fulfilling for some people.  The Edmonton UU Church, where I've preached and done workshops, posted on today's tweet a little story.  "Famous Universalist minister Hosea Ballou argued with a Methodist colleague over the issue of eternal damnation."  (Universalist reasoned that if God were able to love and understand everyone, they would be saved in the end.)

"So the Methodist asserted, "If I were a Universalist and feared not the fires of hell, I could you on the head, steal your horse and saddle and ride away, and I'll still go to heaven!"  Ballou answered, "If you were a Universalist, the idea would never occur to you!"  So this idea depends on the nature of the person envisioned.

29.  Then there are the people who attribute to aliens in outer space some superior knowledge that will be equivalent to or explanatory of whatever religious ideas those aficionados already have.  They have let the desire to go to outer space displace the idea of heaven.

30.  Belonging to an institution gives an individual gathered with like-minded others into a force politically both on the local level and the national.  Maybe even worldwide.  It can lend force to derived NGO's such as Amnesty International and the various Service Committees.

31.  Joining in regular congregational singing, prayer, thought, ceremony or even dance is a way of strengthening human identity and peace of mind.

Much of religious thought is defensive, more academically called "apologetics," which limits thought.  But the most effective way of shutting down much religious thought is the forbidding of what is "felt" -- not emotions, but perception that may or may not have a name for what it perceives.

This is not definitive.  There may be more aspects.

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