On "Religion"

Discussion in 'Religion' started by Tiassa, Jun 4, 2020.

  1. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    Religion is a word that derives from the Latin religio, religionis which translates variously as "reverence, awe, superstition, conscientiousness, piety, observance, ceremony", to name a few.

    Fairly obviously, the word has evolved to become more restricted in meaning. A religion (L. religio) is today recognised as an organisation, with places of worship, rituals, and a doctrine; also priests or other kinds of holy men are usually involved. But why do these religions exist? Why did we need them and do we still need them?

    There are any number of ways to discredit religious beliefs given the level of scientific knowledge; but does science actually do this? Science can point to obvious factual errors (the earth was not created, and not in seven days, it coalesced from the accretion disk around the star we call the sun), but science can't really point to factual errors in what people experience when they believe they know God exists.

    One way around the modern conflict between science and religion, is to not be religious; don't put all your faith in science either, because science doesn't really speak to ethics (the hydrogen bomb, biological weapons), it's clinical and emotionless. That's why we get excited and emotional about it: it doesn't provide any of that by itself. I mean, what really is so amazing about a Hubble image (for God's sake?). Shouldn't what you experience personally when studying astronomy and viewing such images, be entirely expected, because the universe is amazing and you know this?

    Someone who says they believe in science and don't believe in God is being kind of obtuse about what they actually do believe.
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2020
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  3. Michael 345 New year. PRESENT is 72 years oldl Valued Senior Member

    • have confidence in Scientists plus
    • have no confidence god is floating around in the Universe somewhere

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  5. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    But how does not having confidence in a floating god explain anything? What really, is the point you're making about the topic?
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  7. Michael 345 New year. PRESENT is 72 years oldl Valued Senior Member

    Let's nut this out

    For some reason you decide to give a brief history of the word RELIGION

    OK, go with the flow.
    Tick ✓

    I'm listening and willing to be educated

    Oh my gosh Scientists didn't do such a wicked act did they?

    All agog now, tell me more


    Oh wait a moment (light bulb moment)

    When did Scientists ever TRY to point out, in your words, factual errors in what people experience when they believe they know God exists

    I don't think Scientists have ever tried since it is understood experience is subjective and not composed of FACTS and - no facts = no factual errors

    If you are referring to hallucinations sure OK I can go with and change Scientists to Doctors


    Lots of factual errors in that mess

    Then there is


    Moving on

    Oh dear if only you had stopped at this point

    Let's go with confidence eh?
    Second tick ✓. If you revise later, be more assertive. Leave out the, doesn't really, emphasis more the clinical and emotionless

    Speaking for myself I don't get excited about science. Most of science is boring repetitive down in the doldrums work

    For me they are wondrous and amazing. For me they stand as such without Science telling me - they are just a bunch of suns which emit electromagnetic radiation from fusion reactions (boring)

    Half tick √ (best I can do

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    ) for being dismissive

    Sure keep it personal and some do give such images The Belongs in the Boring tray Treatment

    So we come to

    In, what appears to be a unsuccessful attempt, at NOT being obtuse, I posted, what I thought a clear statement of my belief (repeated below)

    As per what they actually do believe

    Again the (now the above) is a STATEMENT of my belief, as requested, NOT a explanation of how does not having confidence in a floating god explain anything?


    Answer a few of my questions about what I have picked from your post

    Then re-ask nicely for how
    have no confidence god is floating around in the Universe somewhere
    explain anything?

    By the way On "Religion" is a bit vague for

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  8. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    You're saying the subjective experience of daylight isn't factual? I say that's what it means, for the subject, experience isn't usually in the not-factual category.

    On the other hand, if you eat a handful of mushrooms and see thousands of eyes looking down from what should be blue sky, a few clouds, that might be something you do put in the not-factual category.

    So if you're all agog now, I could tell you more.
  9. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    ?? The only question in your post is: Let's go with confidence eh?
  10. Michael 345 New year. PRESENT is 72 years oldl Valued Senior Member

    Good try at moving goal posts

    Here, above, is *daylight

    Again your words

    and here above is god*

    See the problem?

    daylight = reality

    god = non existent = no facts


    Apologies was mixing threads. No need to answer such question it was rhetorical

    But while here, what the hell, may as ask you the questions

    What is your thoughts about many of the thousands of gods which have been proposed seem to have human failings?

    If god sins by breaking his own commandments, he does that a lot according to the bible, especially do not kill, so he breaks a commandment

    Does he go to hell?

    And since this (gods) metaphysical realm created our Universe, can you assign a motive / reason why they should do so?

    For god it has been sort of postulated he has a plan

    Since he supposedly knows everything anyway do you think perhaps he doesn't?

    So the Universe was made from nothing as a test run?

    Talking about test run, are any large scale religious organisations actively looking for any of the alternative realities you* suggested might exist?

    *Not you

    While these questions were not intended for you, do you wish to have a stab?

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  11. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    I see a conjecture, not a problem as such. It isn't well-framed though.
    The rest of your questions are too entangled with presupposition. Religion is a well-documented and historical fact.

    But why not ask, why do we have them and why did they emerge? Since generally, we humans tend to not retain certain cultural traditions if we don't really need them. So why do we need religions? Is it so that people can doubt other people's beliefs, for instance, like you seem to be trying to do.
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2020
  12. Michael 345 New year. PRESENT is 72 years oldl Valued Senior Member

    Lot of words to my suggestion of answering 6 questions and noted no answers given

    Allow me to side step the 4 questions you submitted

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  13. Michael 345 New year. PRESENT is 72 years oldl Valued Senior Member

    Fun fact (???? Not really but stay with me)

    god did this when no sentinent beings exists. So can't use the flood myth (which came much later - but he already knew that)

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  14. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member


    If there are aspects of your prior discussion of fascination that failed to strike me in their proper context, it makes much more sense when I attend Armstrong's↑ related consideration:

    In the premodern world, religion permeated all aspects of life … a host of activities now considered mundane were experienced as deeply sacred: forest clearing, hunting, football matches, dice games, astronomy, farming, state building, tugs of war, town planting, commerce, imbibing strong drink, and, most particularly, warfare. Ancient peoples would have found it impossible to see where "religion" ended and "politics" began. This was not because they were too stupid to understand the distinction but because they wanted to invest everything they did with ultimate value. We are meaning-seeking creatures and, unlike other animals, fall very easily into despair if we fail to make sense of our lives. We find the prospect of our inevitable extinction hard to bear. We are troubled by natural disasters and human cruelty and are acutely aware of our physical and psychological frailty. We find it astonishing that we are here at all and want to know why. We also have a great capacity for wonder. Ancient philosophies were entranced by the order of the cosmos; they marveled at the mysterious power that kept the heavenly bodies in their orbits and the seas within bounds and that ensured that the earth regularly came to life again after the dearth of winter, and they longed to participate in this richer and more permanent existence.


    While various aspects of this persist even today, we might work backwards, as such; before traditions formalized in the Talmud sought to "bring the whole of human life into the ambit of the sacred" (4), even before the recording of Sumerian legends°, or the "expression of an inexorable political reality in mythical terms" (26).

    What we're looking for is a manner of transition. At the near end would be what Armstrong describes of Mesopotamian civilization:

    Sumer had devised the system of structural violence that would prevail in every single agrarian state until the modern world, when agriculture ceased to be the economic basis of civilization. Its rigid hierarchy was symbolized by the ziggurats, the giant stepped temple-towers that were the hallmark of Mesopotamian civilization: Sumerian society too was stacked in narrowing layers culminating in an exalted aristocratic pinnacle, each individual locked inexorably into place. Yet, historians argue, without this cruel arrangement that did violence to the vast majority of the population, humans would not have developed the arts and sciences that made progress possible. Civilization itself required a leisured class to cultivate it, and so our finest achievements were for thousands of years built on the backs of an exploited peasantry. By no coincidence, when the Sumerians invented writing, it was for the purpose of social control.


    And we can think back through our other discussion; social control can mean a lot, and is not a radical proposition. Even the Inca, as we considered↗ developed a system of coded knots for counting in distribution and trade, and the question of proto-writing in Inca toqapu is argued to be some code of heraldry.

    Still, though, Göbekli Tepe involved particular artistic symbolism and what appears to be extraordinary sustained cooperation among ostensible hunter-gatherers. I'm sure there is much we can say about the evolution of enforced cooperation over the millennia 'twixt what is described as "the first human-built holy place" (Curry↱) in the tenth millennium BCE and the construction of a ziggurat at Tepe Sialk, ca. 3000 BCE; even more so when we consider early settlement of Sialk dates to 6500 BCE.

    But we might look farther beyond the archaeological mysteries of Fertile Crescent temples and early seeds of civilization. Armstrong attends a triune brain for the explanation, including the rise of the limbic system 120 mya, and the neocortex all of 20 kya:

    Although these limbic emotions would never be as strong as the "me first" drives still issuing from the reptilian core, we humans have evolved a substantial hard-wiring for empathy for other creatures, and especially for our fellow humans ....

    .... About twenty thousand years ago, during the Paleolithic Age, human beings evolved a "new brain," the neocortex, home of the reasoning powers and self-awareness that enable us to stand back from the instinctive, primitive passions. Humans thus became roughly as they are today, subject to the conflicting impulses of their three distinct brains. Paleolithic men were proficient killers. Before the invention of agriculture, they were dependent on the slaughter of animals and used their big brains to develop a technology that enabled them to kill creatures much larger and more powerful than themselves. But their empathy may have made them uneasy. Or so we might conclude from modern hunting societies. Anthropologists observe that tribesmen feel acute anxiety about having to slay the beasts they consider their friends and patrons and try to assuage this distress by ritual purification. In the Kalahari Desert, where wood is scarce, bushmen are forced to rely on light weapons that can only graze the skin. So they anoint their arrows with a poison that kills the animal—only very slowly. Out of ineffable solidarity, the hunter stays with his dying victim, crying when it cries, and participating symbolically in its death throes. Other tribes don animal costumes or smear the kill's blood an excrement on cavern walls, ceremonially returning the creature to the underworld from which it came.

    Paleolithic hunters may have had a similar understanding. The cave paintings in northern Spain and southwestern France are among the earliest extant documents of our species. These decorated caves almost certainly had a liturgical function, so from the very beginning art and ritual were inseparable. Our neocortex makes us intensely aware of the tragedy and perplexity of our existence, and in art, as in some forms of religious expression, we find a means of letting go and encouraging the softer, limbic emotions to dominate. The frescoes and engravings in the labyrinth of Lascaux in the Dordogne, the earliest of which are seventeen thousand years old, still evoke awe in visitors. In their numinous depictions of animals, the artists have captured the hunters' essential ambivalence. Intent as they were to acquire food, their ferocity was tempered by respectful sympathy for the beasts they were obliged to kill, whose blood and fat they mixed with their paints. Ritual and art helped hunters express their empathy with reverence (religio) for their fellow creatures ... and helped them live with their need to kill them.


    In the moment, it really is worth mentioning how striking are the carvings from Europe of the Upper Paleolithic. Bison Licking Insect Bite (15 kya) is even interpreted as adaptive art, made to fit its explicit medium; Swimming Reindeer (13 kya), is a work of genuine care and passion. Armstrong observes Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, on the latter artist's skills as both hunter and butcher (9), and:

    Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, has also reflected on the "huge and imaginative generosity" of these Paleolithic artists: "In the art of this period, you see human beings trying to enter fully into the flow of life, so that they become part of the whole process of animal life that's going on all around them ... and this is actually a very religious impulse." From the first, then, one of the major preoccupations of both religion and art (the two being inseparable) was to cultivate a sense of community—with nature, the animal world, and our fellow humans.

    If we start, from there, working our way forward through time, what is the transition we're looking for?

    It is easy enough to note propositions of social control, and suggest the threshold is the rise of what we might describe as politics. There is a grand sacredness, such as bringing the whole of life into the ambit of the sacred, but then there is also a more mundane idea of the sacred, a genuine and nonsarcastic holier than thou, as such: This something is more important than you°°.


    ° The lamentations, to the other, really are familiar to our humanity; Armstrong (23) explains, of Mesopotamian laborers:

    They left fragmentary records of their distress. "The poor man is better dead than alive," one peasant lamented. "I am a thoroughbred steed," complained another, "but I am hitched to a mule and must draw a cart and carry weeds and stubble."

    °° See Cline↱: "Mircea Eliade defined religion in reference to a focus on 'the sacred'" and that is a good replacement for 'supernatural beings' because not every religion revolves around the supernatural."​

  15. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member


    The ellipses in the long Armstrong excerpt (pp. 7-8) mark a discussion of Mencius; perhaps I should not have omitted it. After all, plenty attest to a higher cause, and, really, what is that empathy, that reflexive action and risk of self the Chinese philosopher of the fourth and third centuries BCE describes, in order to save another? Some who have behaved heroically suggest you just don't think, because it's the right and only thing to do. The underlying implication, that it's just that important, that you don't not, as such, describes a rudimentary context of religio.

    Do we, then, seek the evolution of the sacred? The transition we're looking for marks an important difference between writhing and wailing in living empathy for a dying animal, the time and security and downright will of making art from blood and bone, the rise of cooperative organization among larger groups of hunter-gatherers to build early temples, on through to the monopoly on violence as the ambit of the sacred at Sialk.

    By the time we get around to Sumer and "the system of structural violence that would prevail in every single agrarian state until the modern world" (Armstrong, 23), we are also looking at an innovation at the heart of many modern critiques against "religion", or, as such, modern critiques against an idiosyncratic and eccentric, albeit historically influential, assertion of religion.

    We can spend any number of posts identifying the connections 'twixt the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of Armstrong's consideration of religion in the West, and the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries described by scholar Mark Noll:

    Western Protestantism in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was moving from establishment forms of religion, embedded in traditional, organic, premodern political economies, to individualized and affectional forms adapted to modernizing, rational, and market-oriented societies. Theological manifestations of these changes can be described in several ways. They first reoriented specific beliefs: God was perceived less often as transcendent and self-contained, more often as immanent and relational. Divine revelation was equated more simply with the Bible alone than Scripture embedded in a self-conscious ecclesiastical tradition. The physical world created by God was more likely to be regarded as understandable, progressing, and malleable, than as mysterious, inimical, and fixed. Theological method came to rely less on instinctive deference to inherited confessions and more on self-evident propositions organized by scientific method.

    Theological changes of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries also involved a shift in meaning for key concepts that operated in both religious and political life, for example, “freedom”, “justice”, “virtue”, and “vice”. For theology, the process at work was the same as Gordon Wood once described for intellectual developments more generally: “Although words and concepts may remain outwardly the same for centuries, their particular functions and meanings do not and could not remain static—not as long as individuals attempt to use them to explain new social circumstances and make meaningful new social behavior.” In America as much was happening in theology from new meanings given to old words as from the introduction of new vocabularies.


    Understanding the transitions of the seventeenth that fomented the dynamism Noll describes of the eighteenth and nineteenth is important in comprehending both the modern critiques against an idiosyncratic and eccentric conception of religion, and the errors thereof. But if the Church of England, arising in the sixteenth century, is an epitome of a critique against religion having to do with social control, then for the Christian experience that became the early Church, the politics did not so much rise as they were the crucible in which the hierarchy formed. Later schisms and reformations do not seem to have learned the lesson, and if the naked interests of Henry VIII weren't bad enough, remember that the nineteenth century included a charismatic new iteration of Christianity quite literally pulled out of a hat, and the whole thing was always political.

    Once upon a time—the archaeological and early historical records—tells us why religio exists. The historical record tells us all about why, as the question has it, these religions exist. It ought not be especially difficult to observe why we need these religious inclinations. Whether we still need them, though, depends on what part of religion we mean.

    A practical context of need might be perceived vis à vis American capitalism. Do we really need large, institutional churches? While it is tempting to say no, part of what makes church organizations important is their attendance of particular duties that otherwise are not attended. Alphabet and Facebook and a bunch of vouchers for Frito-Lay products just aren't going to replace what American Christendom does. To the other, getting rid of American Christendom won't erase the injustice it participates in. After all, Facebook and Alphabet can just keep screwing with people like they do.

    Oscar Wilde↱, for instance, circa 1891:

    The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man’s intelligence; and, as I pointed out some time ago in an article on the function of criticism, it is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought. Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease.

    They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor.

    But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.

    If, by religion, we mean the churches and major religious organizations, we will still need them until we figure out how to not need certain functions they perform, in the abstract ambit of the sacred, that we as a society simply don't not do. To wit, eliminate imposed scarcity, and challenge poverty within the human endeavor, sure, but until then we do not necessarily have other plans to address the problem.

    To the other, if we consider basic obligations, that religio moving the Paleolithic hunter would not be so useless these days. The extraordinary, industrialized mass destruction of excess hogs and chickens for the sake of capitalism describes poorly our empathy toward our fellow creatures, both the animals we pretend to require for food, and that portion of humanity we require beg for sustenance.

    What does it take to "reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible"? That is an example of what it would take to so utterly transform, or even not need the churches of our industrial-era idiosyncracy. But neither religio nor the, daresay, fascination Armstrong describes as aspiring to participate in a "richer and more permanent existence", or, as Williams expressed, "human beings trying to enter fully into the flow of life, so that they become part of the whole process of animal life that's going on all around them", will go away.

    And if Clive Barker tells us, "Nothing ever begins", explains, "each age will want the tale told as if it were of its own making", we might also suggest it true that, "hidden among [the stories] is a filigree that will, with time, become a world" (19). That is to say, should we ever so utterly transform the idiosyncratic and eccentric theologies of our time, people will reinvent the sacred. If fascination seemed like the wrong word because it describes something that feels too capricious, it is also true the why of seeking meaning remains its own puzzle.

    But something about our abstract obligation to something transcending ourselves suggests our religious inclinations are an evolutionary result. To the other, it's hard to imagine what we would be like without them. Historically, we wouldn't have made it this far. The results of outgrowing or evolving past such sentimentalism and frailty will depend on the reason why that adaptation comes about. Outgrowing our empathy, though, or our need for meaning, is outgrowing our humanity.


    Armstrong, Karen. Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

    Barker, Clive. Weaveworld. New York: Poseidon, 1987.

    Cline, Austin. "What Is Religion?" Learn Religions. 25 June 2019. LearnReligions.com. 18 June 2020. http://bit.ly/2D76E1s

    Curry, Andrew. "Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?" Smithsonian Magazine. November, 2008. SmithsonianMag.com. 18 June 2020. https://bit.ly/30XdTWM

    Noll, Mark. America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    Wilde, Oscar. "The Soul of Man under Socialism". 1891. Marxists.org. 19 June 2020. http://bit.ly/1JdDOaw

  16. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


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  17. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    This "order of the cosmos" was first really noticed by us humans when we left the forests and migrated. Some humans migrated to southern Africa and are still there. Humans who lived anywhere there was a clear view of the night sky such as near a coastline as for the Khoisan, or of sunrises and sunsets, would have started mapping the heavens, most likely because it helps with navigation at night.

    I conjecture that humans developed larger brains not just because they became more efficient hunters and ate more meat, but because they eventually developed the capacity to read the stars, the planets, and the sun and moon, in a way that was as everyday as we read newspapers now. They didn't need to record anything on cave walls, their innate abilities to navigate by the stars, or by shadows cast by the sun or moon, was enough.

    Further, with the end of the ice ages and the decline of large game animals, the emergence of agriculture lead to a certain loss of brain capacity, i.e. our brains are a bit smaller now because we don't have the need to read the stars like we once did. We also eat less meat, possibly, than Paleolithic hunters did.

    Which is to say, the advent of technology means we think less, or perhaps, navigate less through the world than we used to, We are "less connected" because of all the machinery we build . . .
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2020
  18. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    The transition from a hunter-gatherer existence to an agricultural one, seems to be the source of institutional violence, including wars to invade and capture resources (grain stores, slaves, the spoils of war). Before this, I guess humans didn't see the need, there was plenty to go around; I think it's unlikely that hunting parties were ambushed by Paleolithic bandits or robbers.
  19. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    So the thesis here is that temple building and religions, and hierarchical societies, began when humans developed agriculture and left their nomadic existence behind.

    The why, is probably quite complicated, but, it must have been because we believed it was necessary. It must have had something to do with that loss of connection we had with the world during the Paleolithic, and perhaps religions and temple building were some kind of . . . apology for this.

    I think it's reasonable to assume too, that temples were a kind of artificial cave. The caverns and caves we occupied had a cultural significance we couldn't leave behind, although the caves themselves were.

    The couple or so thousand years it took for humans to adopt a mostly agricultural existence (presumably there were failures), was a time of relatively rapid change, for societies who had maintained a stable culture for tens of thousands of years with only gradual improvements in technology (because we didn't need more than that at the time).

    And as a footnote, there were some catastrophic changes apart from ice sheets advancing and retreating; the Younger Dryas had a big effect, but all we have is archaeology, the stories told then are lost to us. So we have to imagine what people were really like.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2020
  20. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member

    The timescale is one of the things that stands out to me.

    Actually, there was more to say, but then I went looking for particular dates, got caught up in a detail I'd read before, about the backfill, followed that to a sentence I'm sure I saw but just didn't register, and now I'm catching up on Schmidt, 2010↱, and Gresky, Haelm, and Clare, 2017↱, having overlooked the presence of the innovative skull cult. I've been staring at the pillars, not thinking about what might have been hanging from the ceiling.

    I had actually started this post intending to say something about artificial caves, the idea of storage, evolution of art, and probably speculate after the luxury of time and resource to carve such finery as Swimming Reindeer, or sculpt animals on architectural utility.

    But it's true, I've been looking at the architecture itself, because there are common attributes about a number of nearby sites, while apparently staring right past the skull cult for over a month↗.


    Gresky, Julia, Juliane Haelm, and Lee Clare. "Modified human crania from Göbekli Tepe provide evidence for a new form of Neolithic skull cult"/ Science Advances. 28 June 2017. Advances.ScienceMag.org. 21 June 2020. https://bit.ly/2Z9QuPF

    Schmidt, Klaus. "Göbekli Tepe — the Stone Age Sanctuaries. New results of ongoing excavations with a special focus on sculptures and high reliefs". Documenta Praehistorica. 2010. Web.Archive.org. 21 June 2020. https://bit.ly/3fJbWRZ

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