Religion

Anil Mitra, © March 2010, © Latest Revision August 13, 2010

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Contents

Religion—I. 1

Religion as an institution. 1

The limits of institutional religion. 3

The future of the idea of spirit or the ideational form.. 3

Religion and spirituality. 4

Religion—II. 6

What is religion? Preliminary thoughts. 7

An institution without a name. 8

Symbolic and literal content 8

The concept of religion. 9

Religion and metaphysics. 9

The sacred. 9

God. 10

Method for religion. 10

Footnotes

 

Religion—I

[From Worlds > Society > Some definitions and explanations]

In this section the emphasis is on the institution of religion. The idea, concept and prospect for Religion is discussed in chapter Method (there will of course be repetition among the two discussions)

Religion as an institution

The ideas of religion and science are important in this narrative. Science is considered elsewhere. Religion will be considered briefly here; religion is related but of course not identical to myth; therefore ‘myth’ will be part of the discussion

It is important to distinguish the practice and institution of religion from the concept… and also from the ideal of religion

The institution of religion has come under criticism and attack for various ideological and other reasons. The ideological include the belief in what has no support in reality or the empirical; practical criticisms include its opiate effect (Marx) and the abuses of various kinds. Therefore there are today many who distinguish spirituality from religion; they may have affinity for some motives to religion—the true nature of the Universe, meaning and so on—but would distance themselves from the institution

That there is abuse does not negate the value of the practice. That there may be impurity is not an intrinsic criticism; all institutions spread their function and this is not impurity; perhaps all institutions have impurity and even though this is a criticism, perhaps the real question is that of net benefit

If the traditional religions falter it is not the fault of Religion as truth but of institutions (the idea of Religion itself is taken up in chapter: Method)

The ‘great religions’ fall into two groups; those originating in the harsh desert of the Middle East—the relatively harsh Abrahamic religions, i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and the religions of the tropics—Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and so on that are perhaps more tolerant, more open to plurality, less the occasion for militancy but still of course not without abuse. It is not thought that the two groups are exhaustive

The religions are generally not unitary structures even though there different elements—metaphysical, historical, moral, practical, and the mystical that is directed at inner-outer union—are bound by common themes and myths

Hunter-gatherer religions are rather different from the religions of the ‘agriculturalists’ (the ‘great religions.’) A characteristic difference is that the religion of the hunter-gatherer, regardless of its literal character, tends to tie the individual and the group to the environment. The images and the norms of the hunter-gatherer mythologies include a language for the elements of their environment and prescriptions that, even if not altogether effective, have an element of efficiency

While the ‘great religions’ have efficiency or adaptedness in their moral side—no claim is made regarding the degree or nature of the effectiveness or the significance of such—the unmooring of the agriculturist from the environment appears to have led to metaphysical systems in these religions that are detached from the immediate environment and that may therefore assume Universal form which in turn opens up the possibility of Universal sense as well as Universal absurdity

Absurdity and militancy are two criticisms of the modern religions today—especially of Christianity and Islam

However, religion—especially fundamentalism—has been rising and is therefore impractical to ignore. If we do not ignore religion we may resist the impulse to institutional purism and, first, open dialog and, second, be open to the positive meanings even in the absurd (it is of course not being said that even the fundamentalist canon is empty of value)

There is a variety of reasons, including the political, that religion and other institutions of culture, e.g. science and philosophy including metaphysics are relatively insular

An aspect of the practical politics of this narrative is conciliation: even when there is sharp practical and ideological disagreement, conciliation meaning understanding, the overture of conciliation, and patience are a first and instrumental value. I believe that conciliation is instrumental in that it is more effective, especially as a first approach, than force. The ideological value of conciliation speaks for itself. Some ideologues regard ideology as absolute. That approach hides the fact that we are supremely ignorant of what value shall ever determine sentiment and behavior (the option does not lie in the meaning of value.) Therefore there are spoken and unspoken limits to ideology, particularly to conciliation. The spoken limit includes perhaps the threat of violence and certainly actual violence. The unspoken limit lies in the behavior of the ideologue when confronted with the threat of what is most precious

Recall though the argument of the present narrative that metaphor is on the way to being literal; this is not an argument against the poetic uses of language but simply an argument that the representational uses will be the ultimate form of metaphor (we are not blind to the thought that the literal / metaphorical distinction is not absolute)

Now consider the following concern. If science and philosophy and religion are all about truth, can they be altogether insular? Now consider the follow concept

Ideal Religion is the relating of individuals and groups to the entire Universe, their means of knowing and being and negotiating, and involves all modes of knowing and being…

These thoughts are continue in the next two sections The limits of institutional religion and The future of the idea of spirit…

The limits of institutional religion

An obvious limit of religion concerns the archaic cosmologies

However, the functions include the meaning and the non-meaning. Meaning includes the non-literal as in ‘rising from the dead’ pointing to our limited understanding of death. The non-meaning include social bonding which may be enhanced by literal meaning

The liberal religions continue to struggle with meaning and inherited limits even of metaphorical and symbolic limitation

As an institution whose function is symbolic andor instrumental, traditional religions have clear limitation (limitation of religion as religion does not imply a limitation of political or economic power of the institution)

The future of the idea of spirit or the ideational form

A subtitle for the section might be—The role of reason, politics and economics in the acceptance of ideational form

An ideational form is a system of ideas that represent the world or part of it; or they assist perhaps even metaphorically in negotiating the world

The general role of faith is discussed in chapter Method

The mesh of modern economics and ideational forms, e.g. secular humanism, is such that a return to a religious paradigm of the past is difficult to imagine. This difficulty—but not impossibility—is compounded in view of the immense improvement of the political and economic status of the common individual

The future of the ‘ideational form’ may be difficult to anticipate but Universal metaphysics emphasizes the practical necessity of its future evolution… of course the Universal metaphysics requires further realizations of ideational form that may be remote from contemporary thought but whose best expression may be realized in perception

This evolution will be likely though flexibly tied to the evolution of political-economics; truth requires reason but its spread is interwoven with political-economics—the understandings of immediate and ultimate truth may impinge upon one another

The world is not divided into two ‘spheres,’ the sacred and the ideal or ideational and the mundane that includes the political and the economic

A past form is religion. A major present form may be called secular humanism which is some amalgam of science, especially, scientific method and approach, an emphasis on modern economic values that is balanced by an emphasis on human values; elements of religion—taken metaphorically rather than literally; and perhaps some elements of ‘spirituality’

Although the future form may be labeled ‘Religion’ or ‘Ideal form,’ it is not clear or known what the extension of these ideas will be or what the future names will be. It is not clear to what extent the ideas will be pure and to what extent in interaction with action and transformation

This form which has no necessary limits may be called ‘Religion,’ ‘Science,’ ‘secular humanism,’ … or may be so far unnamed

It is commonly thought that the primary source of the ‘demise’ of religion is the ascent of science and reason. Of course, science and reason are not absolute and as we now know in the early years of the twenty first century, religion is not at all dead. Yet there is a fundamental change in attitudes toward religion and in the place of religion in day-to-day life. In Western Europe, the place of religion is at its lowest ebb. On the other hand, there is a new fundamentalism in many places in the world and in a significant portion of these it is a militant fundamentalism. However, even the ascent of the new fundamentalism, religion is not so much woven into daily life as it is an instrument—a refuge, a political instrument…

The reason for the demise of religion as interwoven into daily life is not only or perhaps even primarily the ascent of reason. It lies, instead in economics and politics. In the new economics and politics, i.e. roughly since the middle ages, the freedom of information and reason has become instrumental. Older economies and politics were bound by tradition and authority. In the newer, the instruments of economics and politics are significantly free and distributed; of course such change is never absolute but even the politically and economically powerful gain by the new arrangements. The new arrangements make traditional belief far less relevant to daily life and this is perhaps the immediate cause of the demise of tradition that includes religion. Of course, the new arrangements require reason and information to be immanent in society and are significantly dependent on reason for the transformation. However, it is not the case, as is commonly thought, that the demise of traditional belief is primarily the result of the explicit assault of reason on tradition

Religion and spirituality

The concept of institutional purity is, as discussed earlier, a modern illusion—the function of an institution is defined as ‘x;’ therefore it is wrong for the institutional activity to be anything other than ‘x.’ One of the motives to institutional purity is prevention of abuse and this of course remains a priority. There are, however, potentially severe problems with this concept and these include (1) The specification ‘x’ may be based in limited andor unrealistic understanding—in particular our notions of separation of institution of function may be based in poor understanding, (2) The range of institutions may not meet or anticipate all social needs—general and contingent—so needs not met by the range of ‘x’ fall to some institution

Traditional religions may serve or have served a number of functions. These include what may be called the spiritual function, a moral function, and the function of social bonding. Accordingly, a religion may have a metaphysics, an ethics, and a common scripture-place of gathering, e.g. for worship and ritual. Although we do not think of religion as essentially political, a number of religions have stood against social and metaphysical repression (metaphysical repression is the forcing of some standard belief or metaphysical picture.) While we may think of the literal content of some claims as absurd, there may have been a point in history when the fact of the claims may have reasonably pointed to the fact of a higher or spiritual truth

The intent of this discussion is to address the spiritual and metaphysical element. This is often taken to be the ‘pure’ function of religion. The presentation is often that of an entire metaphysics that includes ‘spiritual’ elements. These metaphysics, taken literally, may appear absurd today. Even though they may appear more absurd today in light of modern knowledge it is not clear that the absurdity should not have been originally apparent (at least to persons with an education or to reflective individuals.) However, the original systems of belief (it is not clear that a distinction of belief versus knowledge always held as clearly as it does today) may have been adopted literally because of the extra-spiritual functions of religion and as a symbolic—allegorical, metaphorical, suggestive, archetypal and so on—map of a spiritual universe (recall that the literal interpretation is a spiritual pointer even if it stretches the imagination)

The interpretations of the religious spiritual-worldly metaphysics, i.e. in the aspect of going beyond the immediate, are (1) Literal truth, (2) Symbolic truth in pointing to mystic insight of a more complete—higher—world than is immediately apparent (and it is manifestly clear, even or especially from science, that we have not arrived at the end of knowledge,) and (3) Symbolic truth that provides a map of the range of psyche—i.e. of inner spirit, meaning, and significance. In so far as there is literal truth—and in terms of pointing beyond the immediate there is literal truth even in the apparently absurd, there is a mesh of the second and third items. And the elements that lack clear empirical truth may have significance under the third interpretation

What is the significance of the Universal metaphysics and cosmology for the systems of religious metaphysics and for spirit? Subject to Logic, all local metaphysics are true in some cosmological system. This however, does not minimize absurdity where absurdity obtains for it merely replaces impossibility with immense improbability. However, it does show that there is a truth in which the three interpretations of the previous paragraph coalesce. We may not be in possession of the truth but there is this truth and, as we have seen, it is unending in its variety

The Journey in being, the journey without end in the realization of the Universe, is simultaneously a journey of place and of spirit in interaction—spirit and world are not distinct spheres

There is one world, one Universe (we may of course use the terms ‘world’ and ‘Universe’ with other connotations but, in the sense of Universe as all being there is precisely one Universe)

It cannot be the case that there is a world of spirit that is the realm of religion and another world of the tangible that is the realm of secular science. We may cut off these ‘worlds’ for political reasons. We have seen that contrary to that secular view in which modern science defines the Universe, what it truly implies is that the Universe lies in the range from Cosmos to Logos. Therefore, as a result of our institutional definitions or perhaps as a result of certain contingent limitations, we may find different modes of study appropriate to different ‘realms.’ However, the Universal metaphysics reveals that there is a root level of knowing in which there are no finally distinct realms that are divided according to kind even though there are most emphatically infinitely many ‘worlds’ awaiting realization and discovery

The Journey is guided by our knowledge which includes the Universal metaphysics and the local disciplines but it is also actual and experimental

Those religions that insist on a limited view of being, abort the journey. Those that eschew metaphysics are limited by their suggestion that metaphysics is impossible andor irrelevant even to immediate purposes (even though the suggestion that excessive emphasis on speculation distracts us away from what is immediate and immediately important)

What is religion? What is the meaning of the question? Shall we take ‘religion’ to be what we may abstract from the traditional practices? If the traditional practices (defined positively by the religions and negatively by other institutions, e.g. science, that it is commonly presumed may be antitheses of religion) are limited then the resulting conception of religion may also be limited. The foregoing thoughts point to the following conception of religion that is perhaps the only conception so far—other conceptions being empirical generalizations: Religion is the use of all dimensions of being in engaging with Being (‘Religion’ is capitalized to indicate that it is a concept and the capitalized form ‘Being’ simply abbreviates ‘all being.) In this form there is no particular need to explicitly assert the side of religion that addresses spirit even though a practical separation of sacred and mundane may obtain. Stated simply

Religion is the engagement of being with the Universe

Religion is the engagement of being with all being

Religion is the engagement of being with its complete self

These assertions are further justified in chapter Method

Religion—II

[From Method > Implications for the tradition]

Religion and method could be discussed under Transformation of being, below but it might tax the aim of simplicity for that section. A second reason to separate the discussions is the problematic status of the term ‘religion.’ A static religion may have some value but I regard any religion that is neither truthful nor exploratory a debasement. The Universal metaphysics has shown that there is an immense room for an activity that we might call religion because of its affinity to the traditional use of the term. In its conceptual side this activity merges with science, humor, and metaphysics. In action, which I consider essential to religion, there is merging with practical group decision and action. Because there is an action side to religion as I conceive it, religion does not fall under knowledge. Because there is a strong historical association of art and religion I place the two topics under a single heading

What may it mean to talk about a method for religion? I will introduce a conception of religion that will make such talk meaningful and will derive conclusions for such a method. It will be useful to first ask ‘What is religion?’ Readers who have been following the narrative will appreciate the value in also asking ‘What are we doing when we ask such questions? The ‘meta-question’ is similar to the question What kind of an Object is religion?’

Religion is a complex human activity, one that is created by humans, one that has a history and an evolution. It is not a simple Object such as a brick. Religion has a future that we cannot predict. Therefore, history may be informative but not determinative. I.e., while we discuss the idea of religion we may also be contributing to what it ‘is’

This is why a pronouncement such as “A religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a supernatural agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs[1],” is absurd. It also why highly regarded works such as that of Weston La Barre[2] on religion are limited

What is religion? Preliminary thoughts

Today science and religion are distinguished. The distinction has not always been maintained. There was likely a time when humans thought about their environment without labels such as science or religion and without explicit thought of method. There was a time when such thought was perhaps without reflexive consciousness

It is not clear whether early thought should be labeled belief, or faith, or attempts to know, or ideas by which to live. Systems were posited; reason emerged, and received belief stood in contrast to science and reason. An opposition between science and religion was set up

I hold that it is unreasonable to deny that the natural sciences permit excellent description and prediction in certain aspects—matter and life—of the Universe. However, the Universal metaphysics shows that this science is very local. There are infinitely many cosmological systems beyond the pale

This metaphysics also reveals that the individual (is and) will experience the entire Universe of infinite variety in which, subject to the most minimal requirement[3], every thought or concept is realized. However, the metaphysics may suggest but does not show how realization will occur. The suggestion, enhanced by reflection, includes that efficiency of realization will be immensely accelerated by intelligent attempts and that such attempts shall begin in our locale, be guided by what we know of the local universe and the human psyche (deriving from the traditions as well as the sciences) and will be illuminated and instructed by the metaphysics as developed and applied in Intuition through Journey

An institution without a name

Because we have not hitherto been informed by the novel Universal metaphysics, there is no name for the activity described in the previous paragraph. The activity is not merely that of science. It is not the activity of traditional religion. However, it has affinities with both of those activities as well as with Logic, Imagination, Literature, Art, and the deliberations and longings of mind and heart… I propose to call this activity, which still remains to be de-fined (below,) Religion. It is worth noting that since the origin of what we call civilization in agriculture, specialization of social and cultural roles and institutions has proliferated and religion has come to be about, e.g., belief. Although I debate their faith with the fundamentalists such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I am attracted to their everyday involvement with their faith. Anthropological study has shown that hunter-gatherer systems of thought may lack literal truth but really connect individual, group, and behavior, to survival as well as perhaps to meaning-as-significance in the local environment

Hunter-gatherer religions are rather different from the religions of the ‘agriculturalists’ (the ‘great religions.’) A characteristic difference is that the religion of the hunter-gatherer, regardless of its literal character, tends to tie the individual and the group to the environment. The images and the norms of the hunter-gatherer mythologies include a language for the elements of their environment and prescriptions that, even if not altogether effective, have an element of efficiency

Symbolic and literal content

Many of the religions of the world have a metaphysics and a cosmology that may seem absurd in light of reason and modern science. I use the phrase ‘may seem’ because I want to emphasize many people do think the religious metaphysics to be absurd; there are many others who do not. A religious metaphysics may have literal and symbolic content. A significant number of individuals continue to derive symbolic significance from religious texts even while rejecting the literal content. If it were possible it would be desirable to have true literal content as an account of being and supportive of significant symbolic content. The concept of religion to be introduced has the following features. (1) It has literal content that far exceeds the picture revealed by modern science. (2) The truth of this literal content is demonstrated. (3) It derives symbolic content in showing the actuality and suggesting the desirability of transformative realization of identity of individual and all being. The concept of religion will reveal religion to be about action rather than free standing faith. (4) It opens up a way for further development of literal and symbolic content in immediate and remote worlds

The concept of religion

In this narrative, the concept of religion is not intended to capture the present or historical essence of the religions of the world. The reason for this is that the Universal metaphysics has shown that the essence of religion so far falls far short of the potential. In line with the demonstrated potential, I conceive religion to be the deployment of the entire being of the individual and group in negotiating the entire Universe

This conception does not distinguish the immediate environment from the entire Universe, the spiritual from the worldly; it does not distinguish the practice of religion as distinct from the mundane—these contrasts are endemic to both secular and faith based ideologies and suggest even though they do not imply an absolute split so that traditional religion is conceptually imposed or rejected rather than viewed for the sake of truth. The definition recognizes that the distinction and any thoughts regarding division of resources among the local and the universal are local concerns; what the conception suggests is that there is value to the ultimate concern; an it recognizes what has been suggested above: the path to the ultimate is in and through the immediate. This conception of religion remains to be worked out; it may derive from traditional religion—especially for moral and aesthetic inspiration; and it may appeal to a variety of endeavors, especially art, music, and literature; however, it will emphasize action and transformation toward realization of the ultimate via individual identity

Religion and metaphysics

The Universal metaphysics shows that there are infinitely many cosmological systems in which the Biblical account of the world plays out. Similarly, there is an infinity of places that exemplify the Quran. However, reason in light of the Universal metaphysics also suggests that the infinities just mentioned are infinitesimal among the variety of being of Being. The abstract conception of the Vedanta—the identity of individual and universal being, since it is so less particular than the Bible and the Quran, is infinitely more likely to obtain. It is a vehicle of faithfulness by abstraction. These thoughts are of course consistent with the method of abstraction that is at the root of the development of the Universal metaphysics and is not an endorsement of the Vedanta. A metaphysics, a Theory of Objects, and a Cosmology have already been worked out in the chapters Intuition through Worlds. At least in terms of abstract variety and depth of metaphysical understanding, these chapters develop a picture of the Universe that is infinitely richer than the pictures from the Bible, the Quran or the Vedanta. World literature, including these texts, may of course be sources of moral, aesthetic, and psychic material. However, these materials will not be imported but interpretations in light of the Universal metaphysics may be woven into the fabric of the picture developed in this narrative

Some elements of practice are discussed in chapter Journey under the heading Method

The sacred

If the spiritual is focus on truth as a whole; the sacred is that which conduces to the spiritual

God

God is perhaps the most important metaphysical concept in the world religions. It is therefore pertinent to ask what may be concluded regarding God from the Universal metaphysics. Some preliminary meta-reflections will be useful. What is God? Humans often talk as though ‘God’ names something definite even though there is no agreement on what constitutes God. Conception of the nature of God at the outset of investigation—before experience, especially in concrete terms, violates one of the principles of method in metaphysics. The principle is that the fundamental entities and kinds of metaphysics should be the result rather than the precondition of study. The common notions of the conception of God from the Bible, the Quran and similar texts is so particular while the possibilities regarding that conception are so vast that the particular distorts thinking on the topic. The view of science-as-we-know-it as describing the entire Universe is similarly distorting—science describes a local cosmology that is an infinitesimal fraction of being. There is however, legitimacy to providing some general conception, and following a path of discovery in its light provided that we acknowledge that we may revise even the general conception

A second preliminary observation is that regardless of whether God refers to an actual entity or being, it is relevant to ask what role God may play in the human psyche. What is the idea of God that the human psyche seeks? There is of course no single answer to that question. It may, however, be said that at a superficial level, the space in which psyche operates is so limited by received notions that many common answers are likewise limited. The significance of the idea of God is complicated by the use of the idea to confer authority upon one set of people, e.g. the priests, over another

Although we might examine the variety of psychic roles[4], there is a broad conception that is dually responsive to psyche and the real. In the light of the Universal metaphysics, a transformed concept of God or Allah or Brahman is the ultimate Being to which the being of human being aspires and may attain

Method for religion

The approach to religious action will emphasize the approaches suggested in Journey which include synthesis of traditional and experimental approaches to inspiration, vision, and transformation in light of the Universal metaphysics and dynamics of being

[1] From the Wikipedia article on Religion, 4/30/2010—I add a date because Wikipedia articles may be revised at any time. The primary absurdities of the ‘definition’ are its particularity, its definiteness, and the thought that the concept of religion should be presented via definition rather than as an Object of study. The definition is also inadequate in its implication that Religion, the concept, is identical to religion as the received Object. That the given concept is self-contradictory in thinking that the supernatural agencies are not part of the Universe of being limits Religion and possibilities for understanding religion by setting it apart from the secular world and is a further criticism of this ‘scholarly definition.’

[2] Weston La Barre, The Ghost Dance: Origins of Religion, 1970, is perhaps the most respected modern work on the nature of religion

[3] The requirement of Logic

[4] God as personified physical power and moral authority versus God as the field of transformation…