Thursday, February 20, 2014

What Is Religion?

What is religion? And is it a good thing or a bad thing? Now the word "religion" in most contexts lacks any useful substantive definition. It confuses rather than helps any real analysis, because it lumps together things that do not belong together. It also is frequently seen simplistically, as a sealed box completely independent from secular beliefs. But how should it be looked at?

Christianity claims that God became a man at an identifiable point in history, died as a sacrifice for our sins, and validated this by rising from the dead. Then there is Judaism, which Christianity originated from and which I am convinced Christianity is the logical fulfillment of. There is also Islam, which I am convinced is a simplification of Christianity. But this is a dispute over varieties of the same thing, The basic point of this Judeo-Christian belief system is that there is one God, perfect in character and unlimited in power, who made us and has revealed Himself to us and to whom we are ultimately responsible.

One alternative to this view is traditional paganism. This holds to a multiplicity of gods, more limited and more capricious. But often there is some memory of an older, more supreme God, who they have somehow lost touch with. Christians would contend this is because God revealed Himself to all mankind in the beginning. Between the Judeo-Christian and pagan positions lies Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism holds there is a good God and an evil God, and they are continually at war with each other. But if there are two equal Gods, what basis do we have for calling one good and the other bad? I have often wondered if Zoroastrianism may have been the result of the influence of the Israelites who went into captivity.  Others have speculated that Judaism originated from Zoroastrianism. A lot depends here on how you date the books of the Old Testament.

Another option is humanistic philosophy. This holds that human beings can understand their world and solve their problems with no or little help from any kind of deity. They may believe in what I call (with apologies to C. S. Lewis) a tame God. A minimalist God who may start things going or lay down basic moral standards, but then leaves us to work things out on our own. This fits the Greek philosophers and the traditional Chinese philosophies. Paganism can deify important peoples, so it not surprising the Chinese deified their philosophers. That leaves Hinduism and its derivatives. Buddhism is an attempt to simplify Hinduism, and there are other related options. I have wondered if Hinduism originated from mixing a philosophical theory, that the world is an illusion we need to escape, with the prevailing paganism

We are therefore left with three to five basic positions. But these are hardly independent boxes. These beliefs mix together in various ways. Now you can divide these views up into two separate camps, but there is more than one way to do so, and there is no reason to hold one is the correct way. And none of these really correspond to the standard division between religion and non-religion. A division that puts humanistic philosophy on one side and the other views on the other comes closest. But it does not entirely fit and ignores the considerable mixture between the views. It is simpler to find some other system of classification. And it leads to less confusion.    

No comments:

Post a Comment