17 November 2005

Religion….it really is a load of old tosh…

We live we die…

That’s it….

… says CBQ on his blog. The first is a bit of a blanket statement that needs to be substantiated in more detail than either of us would like to go into, the second an undisputable fact, the third a disputable fact.

This attitude can arise from seeing religion as a set of beliefs, unprovable and scientifically unverifiable, set down centuries ago and upheld by social and political groupings for a mixture of motives, some altruistic, some political and self-aggrandising.  And that is indeed one aspect of religion – but it’s not the only one. I’d describe myself as a religious person but I don’t believe in much of it. Rather than a set of beliefs I see religion as a set of practices, things you do, which have predictable and beneficial effects on aspects of the individual’s psychology, generating emotional warmth, mindfulness, equanimity and a reduction in ego-preoccupation. In short, maturity. These practices coexist with and are shaped by  belief systems but I think the belief systems are actually secondary to the recognition, repeated in every generation, that these kinds of practice are of value. The practices come first, the beliefs and the organisations second. ‘Centuries of spiritual technologies’ as  Leonard Cohen once put it.  Beliefs and fanatical adherence to them creates mayhem in the world, agreed, but that’s the bathwater, not the baby.

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3 thoughts on “17 November 2005

  1. Hi Norman – thanks for the comment and I’m glad I’ve drawn a reaction from you.
    I would counter as follows
    You say
    “This attitude can arise from seeing religion as a set of beliefs, unprovable and scientifically unverifiable, set down centuries ago and upheld by social and political groupings for a mixture of motives, some altruistic, some political and self-aggrandising.”
    Yes that’s exactly it Norman – nail on the head time
    You say
    “And that is indeed one aspect of religion – but it’s not the only one.”
    It’s the aspect that makes it a “religion”.
    You say
    “I’d describe myself as a religious person but I don’t believe in much of it. Rather than a set of beliefs I see religion as a set of practices, things you do, which have predictable and beneficial effects on aspects of the individual’s psychology, generating emotional warmth, mindfulness, equanimity and a reduction in ego-preoccupation. In short, maturity.”
    That’s fine but if you don’t believe the beliefs of the religion, it’s hardly being religious – it’s just being what might be termed a good and mature human being. We could all do with a few more of those around without dragging in all the religious baggage
    You say
    “These practices coexist with and are shaped by belief systems but I think the belief systems are actually secondary to the recognition, repeated in every generation, that these kinds of practice are of value.”
    The practices of being a good and mature person are of value. The question is whether or not the religious belief systems are necessary for people to carry out such practices.
    You say
    “The practices come first, the beliefs and the organisations second.”
    I don’t know if that’s indeed the case but I would hope so – that way people can be “good and mature” without dragging in all the religious baggage
    You sya
    “‘Centuries of spiritual technologies’ as Leonard Cohen once put it. Beliefs and fanatical adherence to them creates mayhem in the world, agreed, but that’s the bathwater, not the baby.”
    No – it’s the other way round – and the bathwater can taste like fine wine or stale piss depending on whether it’s been contaminated by the baby.

  2. Hi David. This seems to sting you. Why? What’s your belief system? Agnosicism, atheism, democracy, even science itself – all belief systems.
    If becoming a mature human being were easy, natural or inevitable we would have no need to deliberately cultivate it. But it is none of these things, in fact it’s rare. And our economy and political structure rely on the mass of people not coming near it. There is so much influence on us to be animals (automatic responders) that any technology which offers the opposite is a bonus in my book.

  3. Im answering the hypothetical question, is religion valuable?
    I would tend to agree with norman that it provides tools for self improvement, im guessing CBQ would say that psycho-analysis and related scientific techniques provide this without the dogma, (this is probably true).
    Religion however provides a philosophic argument that says, ‘it is not enough just to do no harm, a mature soul should seek to provide positive benefit to humanity.’ One could argue that hitler thought he was benefiting humanity, and religious wars featured similarly.
    My own view is that there is a ‘religious truth’. Humans have an instinctive understanding of ‘right and wrong’. We have the ability to transcend our ‘natural behaviour’. The concept of god has largely arisen from our need to rationalise the destructive power of nature. Religion doesnt need god. Our modern society has lost the coherence of world view that usually exhists in non industrial societies, and without a purpose we can see the results of societal entropy, particularly here and in the USA, where a ‘lord of the flies’ mentality seems to be emerging. I would argue that christianity has become a spent force morally and ethically. Religious belief can sustain the individual spiritually and seems to be the only coherent argument apart from military might.
    The right to believe what you want, is a benchmark of civilisation. Religions arent warlike, people are.

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