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Circa 2020

Religion or Village?

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I write this in response to a spirited (and remarkably civil) discussion I was engaged in late one night on the proposition that organized religion’s primary function is teaching Right from Wrong.

And further, that it is the primary, and arguably single most indispensable, vehicle for that purpose known to the human race.

Felt compelled to try to memorialize some thoughts on the matter.

To me, the role of providing moral and behavioral guidance to each individual should properly--and pragmatically--fall upon parents. Parents, and the village in which each child is raised (no invoking Hillary, please--"village" is not a dirty word).

I's my hope that there were far more compelling reasons behind our species having created entire universal belief systems--complete with what they can expect to be their lot after death--than getting our youngsters to eat their vegetables and remembering that they probably shouldn’t blow up the neighbor's garage.

My own children are being raised Agnostic. They have been exposed to religion and taught to respect other’s beliefs. They are being taught to think outside the box as well ... to process that which they hear, and are presented as Truth, through a respectful yet healthy skepticism.

We talk about life and death, right and wrong and soul and conscience every day, within the context of what life brings before us each and every day, against the context of the lessons of history.

They are headed towards adulthood armed, I hope, with minds open to all possibilities …

1) That there is a phenomenon in our universe which we might all recognize as worthy of the connotations we place on the word "God."

2) That our existence--or our perception of it, anyway--is purely the product of natural processes, that are quite likely to have been repeated or approached countless times around countless other stars throughout the universe.

3) That there are aspects of said universe so far beyond our current capacity to know or comprehend that to speculate--while intellectually stimulating and healthy, at the end of the day is still just speculation and should be recognized as such.

4) That we, as individuals and as a species, may never “know” Answers to the age-old questions about who we are, why we are here and where we might be going.

Despite all the apparent confusion, I am pleased to say my children still generally eat their vegetables (not always happily, mind you, but understanding the "why") and I'm fairly confident our neighbors, and their garages, are not in danger from them in the dead of night.

It did not take scripted religion to achieve this. It took caring.

Understand--I do not presume to criticize any living creature's right to find their own way, pursue their own truth or to seek their own comfort.

I have simply found mine in absolving myself of the need to Know, in the here and now, How It All Works ... and in endeavoring every day to live my life in a manner I could defend with firm voice and a clear conscience before any court; be it a court of Man, or the court of any entity worthy of all the connotations we place behind the word God.

Updated 11-07-08 at 02:00 PM by Om

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  1. Finbarr's Avatar
    Religion can help in teaching right from wrong for sure. Most are full of stories of service, humility and sacrifice.

    But too many of the religions that are popular in the west and middle east today also include at the heart a belief of being the one true creed. This is the warning flag for me. There is an 'othering' of non-believers at their core. This may seem unimportant, but under conditions of extreme stress, the lens of religion too often supports a completely distorted view of right and wrong, in exactly the same way as belief in racial superiority.

    From personal experience growing up in Ireland we saw examples time and time again where apparently decent religious people chose to side with their narrow faith over doing right. Murderers of innocent men, women and children were enabled and protected, not along lines of politics, race, or geography but along lines of faith.

    When religious loyalty is more important than common decency, I hold a less than charitable view on whether religion is good. Morality can be taught in the absence of religion.
    Updated 08-31-08 at 03:51 PM by Finbarr
  2. Neophyte's Avatar
    I grew up religious. So did my wife. To the point that we met at a conservative college affiliated with the particular faith of which we were a part. Over the course of our lives, we have both come to have issues with many of the traditions of our faith and largely stepped away from it's organized bodies.

    However, upon the birth of our daughter we decided that a solid grounding in it had served both of us well and that as long as she was taught to think for herself along side that religion, it would not be a bad thing. So we started visiting local congregations of our faith.

    One of the first we visited really highlighted all that I find wrong with most religion today (especially any of those that have grown out of the original Judeo-Christian tradition). The sermon delivered that morning, while probably considered "normal" for most protestant churches, turned my stomach. I realized about halfway in that if the minister were just to change the nouns in his message that it would be the same as those delivered in many Islamic fundamentalists mosques where America was the cause of all the worlds evils.

    Worse, no one else there other than us realized it.

    At the moment, I prefer the village.
    Updated 09-01-08 at 09:32 PM by Neophyte
  3. SPR's Avatar
    Thank you all for allowing me to partake of this interesting dialogue on this new site with very promising possibilities... Special thanks to my friend, SNF, for pointing me in this direction.

    I think it is interesting that this discussion is happening on a site called "The Noosphere". I believe the word "noosphere" derives from the Greek word for "nous", which doesn't actually mean "mind" to Greeks... You've heard the term "mind's eye"... That doesn't adequately explain it either. The word "nous" when translated to English means more closely "the eye of the soul" and is more centered around the heart than the head. However, in translation from East to West, the term has taken on a slightly different meaning. BTW, "nous" is pronounced like the word "noose", not like "no-uhs"... I'll try to conform though.

    Anyway, back to my original thought... The topic as being discussed shows a clearly "westernized" interpretation of religion. If you study the differences between Western and Eastern religions (including Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity), you will see that this "translation" of the word "nous" plays a large part in how each religious tradition has developed over time. Allow me to supply a brief example: If you walk into a Protestant Church anywhere in the United States, you will see that the Church is designed for worship taking place around a pulpit. This represents the centrality of "the Word" (meaning the gospels and its teaching). If you walk into an Eastern Orthodox Church, you will see the Church is designed for the worship taking place around an altar. This represents the importance of the "sacraments" and "The Word" (Jesus Christ). My elementary explanation (since I'm no expert) is that in the West, the focus is on the mind... In the East, the focus is on the soul. In the West (modern Judaism, Western Christianity and Islam), religions very much take on a character of diving into books, public speaking, following rules, and doing all this in hopes of creating a type of "heaven on earth". In the East (Orthodox Judaism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity predominantly, but there are other Eastern meditation-based religions that share similar views), the focus is on the "sacramental life" and the "ascetic life". In the West, Catholics and Protestants focus on the passion of Christ (his suffering for the sins of others). In the East, Orthodox Christians focus on the resurrection (victory over death). In the West, the goal is to "be saved" (from sin). In the East, the goal is to "become god" or "like god" (or "enlightened" in non-Christian Eastern religions). The West is very focused on "the rules", the East is more focused on "the experience" (or the life). This is not to say there aren't rules in Eastern Orthodoxy. On the contrary, there are many. However, the difference is in the purpose of the rules...

    How is this important to the context of what is being discussed? Maybe it isn't. Maybe I'm just shooting the breeze. I'll just add: The way in which Eastern and Western religious traditions have developed is vastly different.

    Anyway, I'm obviously sympathetic to the Eastern Orthodox... My answer is religion... I can understand why someone would say "village" if they have the same understanding of religion as others have described it here (and as I was raised in a Protestant Evangelical tradition).
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