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What is religion? A choice, a calling, or something else?

Posted By Leon On 12th January, 2007 @ 1:22 pm In Religion | Comments Disabled

Over at the [1] sjhoward blog he’s asked the [2] big question: What is religion?

Is religion is a choice, in the same way that other beliefs are choices? For example, if I chose to subscribe to the moral belief that removing one’s clothes was wrong, I wouldn’t expect the Chippendales to make any special dispensation for me should I choose to work for them. Similarly, if religion is a choice, I wouldn’t expect any special dispensation for wearing religious icons which do not conform to a company’s uniform policy. I either have to give up my religion of choice, or work somewhere else.

Or is religion is more of a psychological and visceral calling? If, for example, I was blind, I would expect employers to do everything in their power to adapt to me. I could not stop being blind. Is religion more similar to this - You can’t ‘physically’ stop believing?

Or is it the latter, but still fine to discriminate, just I would be discriminated against if I had an unshakable belief that all women were evil?

Or is it something else altogether?

[3] [Via Yahoo Answers]

Good set of questions and an excellent excuse for an end of the week muse/reflection/discussion…


Comments Disabled To "What is religion? A choice, a calling, or something else?"

#1 Comment By Anon+1 On 12th January, 2007 @ 1:38 pm

It provides a simple answer to the unanswerable question “What happens when you die?”
Without religion some people couldnt answer this question and go nuts. It also provides guidance for those that need to be guided.

#2 Comment By Kismet Hardy On 12th January, 2007 @ 1:46 pm

Religion is not a choice to anyone other than those that become converts (and you just need to look at the Scientology’s membership book to get a good indication that most people who convert have had a pretty fucked up life, be that a junkie like Cat Stevens or a disgruntled humanitarian like Malcolm X)

You are born into religion and you believe what your parents say. You tell a kid cheese is bad all his life and even when he’s old enough to know better, he’ll still have trouble with cheese.

Every religion I’ve studied sets out rules. This is The Way. Most of them also add an unhealthy dose of There Can be No Doubt. Which leaves most religious people feeling sinful if they break the rules (something you do through choice) or doubt whether they really will get to heaven if they pray a lot and not go out and live this amazing life he’s been given for what it’s worth.

Religion is the coward’s version of hope

#3 Comment By Chairwoman On 12th January, 2007 @ 1:51 pm

Good Grief! That’s a head spinner if ever I’ve seen one. Well, I don’t know what religion is, all I know is all cultures have one, regardless of what they call it, religion, way of life, philosophy. Every group has a code of practice so to speak.

I do like what Anon+1 says.

That’s the question that vexes us most, even if we push it to the backs of our minds. Most people can remember their first intimation of mortality, and most people have wondered if they are actually not here, but a figment of some greater beings imagination or dream.

Religion, I suppose, suggests answers to the big question, and generally promises rewards for being ‘good’.

#4 Comment By El Cid On 12th January, 2007 @ 1:54 pm

it’s personal

#5 Comment By Kismet Hardy On 12th January, 2007 @ 1:57 pm

But it isn’t personal though is it?

What you believe in is your own personal faith.

Why lump yourself in with those that believed jesus spewed water from his ribs after getting speared?!

Religion is a manifesto. It’s silly that people confuse it with personal faith

#6 Comment By Chairwoman On 12th January, 2007 @ 2:02 pm

And there’s another word for it!

#7 Comment By El Cid On 12th January, 2007 @ 2:06 pm

I would open up on this subject, honestly, but if others are not gonna play ball on education, then I will play the “its personal card” on this one.

#8 Comment By Kismet Hardy On 12th January, 2007 @ 2:14 pm

I’ll play ball on education with you el cid. I spent most of my education at school crumpling up chemistry notes into balls and throwing them at the fat kid until I realised it was a mirror. And again, at university I made speedballs to inject, so you see, I have lots of educational balls as experience. Now stop taking it so personally and open up you sexy hot handsome old goat

#9 Comment By El Cid On 12th January, 2007 @ 2:43 pm

lol.
unfortunately, i have to write something on how pension funds can best reduce risk premiums and enhance their returns in a highly competitive European real estate investment market. so i could be some time

#10 Comment By Robert On 12th January, 2007 @ 2:49 pm

I’m interested by this comparison with other types of choice. When I come to pnder this political position or that one, there is usually one that is, to my mind, more persuasive than another. I don’t feel I am “choosing” a political belief or position, in the same way that I choose whether to eat a banana or an apple. My conscience dicates only one option. The political position “chooses” me, just like the answer to 2 + 2 finds its way to me too.

Of course, politics is much harder, and the answer less obvious, than mathematics. New writing from new sources might weaken and eventually reverse that choice. Part of religion - at least the fundamentalist brand - seems to be the deliberate ignoring of new perspectives.

Either way, if ‘finding’ a political position can happen, I imagine it is even more likely to happen with religion. Although you can change your religion, I would be very surprised at people who say that it was a definite choice, not a calling. Indeed, when we see celebrities such as Madonna changing their religion like it is a diet fad, we criticise them for it!

#11 Comment By Kismet Hardy On 12th January, 2007 @ 2:50 pm

Religion makes you live forever, right? :-)

#12 Comment By Anon+1 On 12th January, 2007 @ 3:03 pm

“Religion is the coward’s version of hope”
Well said.
I mean why bother to change things here and now when theres this perfect world waiting for us when we die, ONLY if we follow the rules.
Its an ancient form of control that prays on peoples doubts about the big question. It causes so much death in its name. Its old fashioned and irrelevant.
There should be one “religion” based upon the book of law, books of proven sciences, books of fact and continually change according to new proven evidence.

I saw a programme somewhere that said the only point in life was to dedicate yourself to god. If that is true then what a pathetic, insecure god we all have.
Id like to think that if there is a god, we were created to experience all we can before death takes hold.

As for the whole choice v calling debate its hard to say, if you are born into a religion its a case of the blind leading the blind and diffucult to break out of. Then again if you experience something in your life that can be called a miracle, you can see why god is the first one you turn to.

What pisses me off are the deathbed converts and you can see them all on songs of praise. After their youth has gone they choose flock to religion just so they can “secure” themselves incase its all true.

#13 Comment By Jazz Singh On 12th January, 2007 @ 3:25 pm

“I mean why bother to change things here and now when theres this perfect world waiting for us when we die, ONLY if we follow the rules.”

That is the very viewpoint that has allowed the existence of and encouraged the growth of caste within South Asia over the past few millenia. In fact, the idea of caste has been so strong that it has even been incorporated into religions other than Hinduism that exist in South Asia. Surely that would make it a cultural extension of a class system which has been legitimised by inclusion within a religion structure rather than a concept which exists within religion alone?

However, there are other aspects within religions which have the opposite effect, such as the Protestant Work Ethic (which also exists to some extent within the Sikh and Jewish faiths) and the self-fulfilling prophecy - “I am destined to have a successful life and career, and therefore I will work hard to ensure that I don’t neglect my potential”.

Rather than asking whether religion is a choice, one should perhaps be asking whether religion can be divorced from cultural baggage, and if so, whether the religion loses its meaning. That would include the question of whether such a divorce would constitue a ‘pick and mix’ religion of only the best bits of one or many belief systems, and if it does, then whether that would be deemed a ‘personal religion by choice’.

My own view is that religion is a choice, albeit one which is greatly influenced by one’s upbringing and the religion of one’s parents/guardians. Even then the choice is not really taken until one becomes an adult, when one is able to distinguish between the parts of a religion/religions that one accepts and the parts that one feels should be taken with a pinch of salt.

This concept of religion as choice helps explain why there are so many Buddhist converts amongst Caucasians in the UK and the US - although brought up a Christian (as they almost always are), they prefer the ideals of an Eastern religion as long as it can be practiced in a manner which suits their particular lifestyle choices.

Religion is a personal journey of belief, influenced by others, but ultimately one’s own viewpoint.

#14 Comment By Jazz Singh On 12th January, 2007 @ 3:26 pm

PS - sorry about the length of the message - only just noticed how long it was after I’d posted it. Ooops!

#15 Comment By Arif On 12th January, 2007 @ 3:33 pm

If choice is defined broadly, then I guess religion defined narrowly is a choice. What practices and rituals you do today, whether and where you pray are chosen behaviours.

Then I think there is a grey area where we make religion a part of our identities, which form our outlooks or something identified with our ideals. These can be changed, in the sense that we are all capable of reconstructing ourselves, but in day to day life these ideas about ourselves are more like the criteria we use for choosing (choosing how to behave or judge a situation).

And then further on the scale - where choices and identities are bolstered by customs of indoctrination and cultures of oppression there is the situation of forced religion, where we might not be aware of any choice and it would make no more sense than saying that someone chooses to be Swiss or to be named Jones. At a certain age, in a less repressive environment, we might be comfortable to question and challenge such labels and then sense a possible choice of religion. Or throw out the concept of religion altogether.

The two main reasons I can think of to change would be either that another religion which speaks to a part of our identity more strongly, or out of a scepticism which requires more compelling evidence for any belief. Or perhaps a combination of the two. And do we choose to be sceptical, or is this just as much a matter of nature and nurture? Wouldn’t scepticism be likely to make free-will seem like an equally unsupportable delusion? So depending on the course of our reasoning, we might feel we don’t have any choice, even when to an outsider they claim we are choosing to leave a religion or join one.

#16 Comment By Anas On 12th January, 2007 @ 3:34 pm

Religion is, amongst other things, a way of programming(re-programming if you’re a convert) your head in order to experience reality in a different way, and as such adherence to a fixed set of rules and rituals is essential.

#17 Comment By Chairwoman On 12th January, 2007 @ 3:47 pm

I don’t know whether this is common only to the Abrahamic religions, but I am very much aware that non-practising Jews, Christians and Muslims still look at life with a Jewish, Christian or Islamic view.

People may reject the teachings conciously, but unconciously they are still very much there. I am thinking here particularly of my late husband, who vociferously rejected the teachings of the Catholic Church, but was rampantly Catholic in his outlook.

#18 Comment By Anas On 12th January, 2007 @ 4:15 pm

I think essentially the question being asked is how much free will do I have over whether I believe in X, the answer is probably very little (I do have a say in how I act in my beliefs of course), so that I don’t think it’s possible to voluntarily decide to believe that God exists or doesn’t exist. My beliefs can be shaped or altered by experiences I am subjected to, and of course I can choose to put myself through a process that I am confident will shape my belief system in such a way as to alter the basis on which I make day to day choices.

So for example adhering to a particular religion by which I mean following its precepts and practices religiously, having regular contact with a community of believers, and keeping an “open mind” (i.e., not dimissing things on first sight) will serve to re-program many people’s brains and may well turn a avowed non-believer into far less of one therefore altering the basis on which they make choices. I think that a lot of religion works at a sub-conscious and very subtle level, and part of it maybe that you have to profess beliefs in things you may otherwise find absurd.

Then there’s the difference between being openminded and dogmatic. I can choose to constantly challenge my beliefs through reason and by exposing those beliefs to rigorous testing or I can choose to refrain from exposing my beliefs in such a way.

As to how this plays out in society, I think personally, that actions inspired by religious belief should be treated in the same way as actions inspired by any other kind of moral belief. I can choose to subscribe to whatever belief I like, fine, but if I choose to break the law then it becomes society’s problem.

#19 Comment By Leon On 12th January, 2007 @ 4:19 pm

@ Chairwoman #17

Yep even those of us who were once Catholic but now Atheist (I’m beginning to dislike that term due to the negative characterisations being associated with it these days) still have to challenge those well taught/ingrained religious elements within. Much like giving up smoking there’s also a little part of you that still wants the comfort of addiction…

#20 Comment By Sid Love On 12th January, 2007 @ 4:21 pm

Its easier to define for me what religion is not. My religion is not my identity. And my religion is not the laws and rituals that it dictates to live my life by.

Religious laws are secondary to the spiritual succour it provides. Far more difficult, but more rewarding a question to answer is, what is spirituality?

#21 Comment By Arif On 12th January, 2007 @ 4:47 pm

Spirituality - how we mentally connect to what is around us and inside us?

Religion - blunt rules to develop different forms of spirituality (which seem to work well for some people, but seem to bring out the worst in others)?

Choice - what we do when we are aware or believe that we could also have done something differently?

My attempts at definitions, inspired by Sid Love’s question.

#22 Comment By Anas On 12th January, 2007 @ 5:04 pm

I think one of the essential components of spirituality is the idea of unconditional surrender. For many people the regime that religions offer is the best if not the only way of achieving this.

#23 Comment By Kismet Hardy On 12th January, 2007 @ 5:26 pm

Isn’t spirituality meant to be about the one?

Then why want to be part of millions?

Religion is no different from the spotty kid that wears a Nirvana t-shirt just so you know he’s hip but tortured

#24 Comment By ZinZin On 12th January, 2007 @ 5:28 pm

opium of the masses the sigh of the oppressed creature.

#25 Comment By soru On 12th January, 2007 @ 5:31 pm

Religion, like sexuality, is a constrained choice. Everyone has options, but that doesn’t mean everyone has the same options.

#26 Comment By Anas On 12th January, 2007 @ 5:37 pm

I was listening to a recent interview that Kurt Vonnegut did in which he pointed out that during Marx’s time opium was the only pain-killer that was available, so that his opium for the masses characterisation wasn’t meant to be entirely negative.

#27 Comment By Don On 12th January, 2007 @ 6:00 pm

Leon,

I’m starting to prefer the term non-theist to atheist, which was originally coined as a term of abuse anyway.

Religion, eh? Here goes.

I think religion needs three distict components to qualify:

1. A specific and defined supernatural creator whom it is appropriate to worship. Deists often define ‘God’ so abstractly that it seems to be little more than a nexus of philospophy and physics. Without a belief in a personal connection to a god with defined characteristics and a purpose (revealed or not), then a belief can’t meaningfully be called religious.

2. A shared belief system. You can’t have a religion of one. When does a cult become a religion? Is it just about numbers? Probably not, but without enough people to give a sense of belonging to a viable group I don’t thing the term can be applied. If you personally know everyone who shares your belief, it ain’t a religion - it’s a cult.

3. Rules, rituals, revelations. These seem to be universal in religion and are probably necessary to create the sense of kinship with co-religionists.

Of course, it’s a matter of degree. The Abrahmic faiths seem to be the keenest on defining God - we even get long passages of dialogue from him detailing exactly how he feels about diet, clothing, sexual orientation, social structure, legal and financial systems, foreign policy and the correct way to kill those who deviate. I gather (although I could be wrong) that Sikhism is far less specific about the nature of the creator. I won’t comment on Hinduism as I have never felt I grasped it’s core philosophy. And Buddhism can scarcely be called a religion at all.

Do we choose our religion? For most people, no. Until a couple of hundred years ago the number of people who actually rejected the central tenets of the belief they were raised in was limited to a handful of exceptional (and often short-lived) individuals. However, once exposed to alternative views, and with access to information (in other words, living in a reasonably free and cosmopolitan society), then it is a choice. Clearly so, because some have made that choice.

I’d define spirituality as the belief that there is something which transcends the physical. That sense does not necessarily incude any of the three conditions above, so one could be spiritual without belonging to a religion. (’Belonging to’, now there’s a telling form of words.) Equally, one can be religious without spirituality.

I hope this thread runs and we can avoid being derailed, lot of ground to cover here.

#28 Comment By Kismet Hardy On 12th January, 2007 @ 6:06 pm

Sorry, someone just said opium. Let me let you into a gem no one seems to know (except I’m guessing Bert Preast)

Find poppies growing in the wild in autumn. Old people tend to have them in their front gardens. Take a scalpel and slice them individually. Go back 24 hours later and scrape off the secretion. Voila! You have opium

No more need to kill Afghanis

#29 Comment By Don On 12th January, 2007 @ 6:20 pm

Kismet,

Don’t raise false hopes. Tried that shit in the 70’s, it’s a non-starter.

#30 Comment By Anas On 12th January, 2007 @ 6:22 pm

Don’t raise false hopes. Tried that shit in the 70’s, it’s a non-starter.

What?? Not killing Afghanis?

#31 Comment By Don On 12th January, 2007 @ 6:30 pm

Memory’s a bit vague. Pretty sure I didn’t.

#32 Comment By Kismet Hardy On 12th January, 2007 @ 6:34 pm

You did it wrong Don. I bet you just boiled the poppies. Doesn’t work. You’ve got to let them secrete on their stalks. Not a patch on smack but does the trick. Come old people garden trashing with me next autumn. Or just to a pub. It’d be nice to have someone to go somewhere with

#33 Comment By Don On 12th January, 2007 @ 6:46 pm

Yeah, we did try to boil them. Fell asleep. Burned down the caravan. OK, I’ll give it one more shot. But definitely no more Morning Glory seeds.

#34 Comment By Kismet Hardy On 12th January, 2007 @ 6:46 pm

(in an attempt to tie opium and religion together)

Is Shamanism considered a religion? How about the way people come together in the church of ecstasy to bow down to the prophets of dance? Why isn’t Dance Music considered a religion? Wasn’t Dionysus and the Bacchic way a religion?

Or is it only considered a proper religion if you kill people in its name?

#35 Comment By Chairwoman On 12th January, 2007 @ 6:55 pm

Kismet - you have to have the right strain of papava.

#36 Comment By Don On 12th January, 2007 @ 6:59 pm

I think shamanism is concerned with interacting with or even controlling spirits, which are not eternal creators but beings on a parallel plane. So you might bargain with or placate them, but not actaully worship.

I think prostrating and submitting to a being vastly greater than our miserable selves is a key factor. Shamanists tend to be a bit more controlling of their supernatural associates.

Of course, it could be argued that a Roman catholic priest, who can command his god to be present in wafer and wine, and who can forgive or condemn by proxy is a shaman. But there are probably subtle theological arguments why that is wrong.

#37 Comment By Kismet Hardy On 12th January, 2007 @ 6:59 pm

Ah chairy, I knew you’d be an expert. One day, sit me on your knee and tell me all about the heady psychadelic days please

#38 Comment By Chairwoman On 12th January, 2007 @ 7:03 pm

Indeed

#39 Comment By Leon On 12th January, 2007 @ 7:31 pm

I’m starting to prefer the term non-theist to atheist, which was originally coined as a term of abuse anyway.

Yep, me too…

I hope this thread runs and we can avoid being derailed, lot of ground to cover here.

Again, agree. So far, so good.:)

#40 Comment By Shiraz On 12th January, 2007 @ 8:04 pm

Religion is institutionalized or formalized spirituality, transcendence and/or wonder. At best, it infuses every day events with significance. At worst, it tells people with no imagination how to act. It’s like reading poetry and talking about the meter rather than the aesthetics.

What is “spirituality” (I hate that word, but what are the alternatives…)? It’s that yearning to keep the longest long-distance relationship in history alive. Or something :P It’s an itch you can’t help but scratch. It’s your private itch (he he), no one else’s.

#41 Comment By William On 12th January, 2007 @ 8:04 pm

Dancing is definitely a religion I have a sword by my side and will kill for dancing.

#42 Comment By El Cid On 12th January, 2007 @ 8:05 pm

i never met a vegetarian who can dance

#43 Comment By ZinZin On 12th January, 2007 @ 8:06 pm

“Or is it only considered a proper religion if you kill people in its name?”

Kill the blasphemer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Collects firewood and strikes match)

#44 Comment By Bert Preast On 12th January, 2007 @ 8:08 pm

Kismet wrote “You are born into religion and you believe what your parents say. You tell a kid cheese is bad all his life and even when he’s old enough to know better, he’ll still have trouble with cheese”

Completely disagree with this. I did and enjoyed everything my parents told me not to, and I wasn’t by any stretch unique. Mind, I notice a lot of the clingier religions allow young men some licence for a few years before expecting them back into the fold on marriage.

#45 Comment By Don On 12th January, 2007 @ 8:32 pm

The question of whether religion is a choice is, of course, particularly significant in these days of resurgent, assertive religiosity.

If one’s religion is inherent, an integral part of who one is, then the religiously inclined can claim certain protections from being ‘offended’ and certain privileges within society. So while one may disparage political, economic, scientific or aesthetic beliefs, to do so to religious beliefs is presented as parallel to disparaging someone’s ethnicity or gender.

If it is a freely chosen viewpoint then they must take their chances in the rough and tumble of discourse. It is my experience that few religious people are comfortable with that. Sooner or later any group which is drawn together by a shared religious belief will start to assert that, by virtue of that belief, they are entitled to special access to the political process, which is not afforded to groups drawn together by a shared interest in, say, steam trains. That exemptions should be made when their beliefs conflict with the law, that certain arguments should be forbidden, that a measure of deference be paid.

It would be arrogant and foolish to demand that every simple, decent fisherman, farmer or forester who sustain a simple faith take a step back and view their beliefs from a rational, skeptical perspective. But if someone steps up, engages in the public sphere and starts citing authority, then the gloves can come off.

Religion is not always a choice, but in the society in which we live, it generally is.

#46 Comment By ZinZin On 12th January, 2007 @ 8:41 pm

Anas
Opium has its medicinal uses but it has always been a narcotic. The British empire sold the drug to China and fought wars to be able to do so. The British Empire historys most powerful drug cartel.

As for religion we all fear death and religion does answer that conundrum, but I have no problem with dying as living forever is a frightening prospect.

#47 Comment By Bert Preast On 12th January, 2007 @ 8:52 pm

Kismet #28

That’s news to me. Sorry to let you down.

But I quite like old people so I’ll stick to the tried and tested killing Afghans if it’s all the same to you. It also seems like a lot less effort.

#48 Comment By Gibs On 12th January, 2007 @ 9:47 pm

Religion SHOULD be a individual’s OWN personal choice - but unfortunately all too often it is something that is “chosen for them” by members of their family or community - often through intimidation.

For example, how many so called followers of Islam are there who aren’t “genuine” believers? (i.e, they would be prepared to sneak down to the pub for a quick pint if they thought they wouldn’t get found out).

I bet there is a fair few such people - who claim to subscribe to a certain religion because “that is what is expected of them” rather than because that is what they genuinely believe.

A most unfortunate state of affairs, I think.

#49 Comment By j0nz On 13th January, 2007 @ 12:15 am

A: A load of bollocks.

#50 Comment By Bert Preast On 13th January, 2007 @ 1:51 am

Now you’re just being unfair. It’s not bollocks, it’s at least on a par with the tooth fairies.

I myself am the proudest and most arrogant pointless talking monkey that the world has ever seen. That’ll do me.

#51 Comment By Desi Italiana On 13th January, 2007 @ 5:51 am

“Religion SHOULD be a individual’s OWN personal choice - but unfortunately all too often it is something that is “chosen for them” by members of their family or community - often through intimidation.”

Religion is often socio-cultural as well. For example, I was raised a Hindu, and I do partake in very social “Hindu” festivals such as Diwali, Navrati, etc. Likewise there are people who were born and raised Muslim and celebrate Ramadan but do not pray 5 times a day, etc.

I think people here are taking the word “religion” as one dimensional. “Religion” can be enacted and play out in multiple ways (”religion” here as distinct from “spirituality” in my mind).

#52 Comment By anti-knee-jerk On 13th January, 2007 @ 9:08 am

Yes religion is (partially) about discrimination and that is a good thing.

#53 Comment By anti-knee-jerk On 13th January, 2007 @ 9:10 am

“Religion SHOULD be a individual’s OWN personal choice - but unfortunately all too often it is something that is “chosen for them” by members of their family or community - often through intimidation.”

Gibbs wrote this marvelous piece of nonsense. It is not about personal choice. It should not be about personal choice. Religion is a force field to which all men are subjected to - it leads to good society - and this is the principle aim and ability of religion.

#54 Comment By William On 13th January, 2007 @ 9:58 am

Even if a child is taught religion from a very early age do they have a choice to accept or reject it. Children do not have the critical faculties of adults and need comparatives to make choices so if they have any choice then it is only a grain of choice. If a child is indoctrinated harshly or even gently then that the narrow band of that choice constricts. If a child is bought up in a country where there are no other religions then they don’t have a chance to choose between alternatives so no choice of alternatives.

Adults can more easily choose. Even that can be difficult however. A couple of years ago I encountered on the internet an Iraqi who wanted to become a Buddhist. He was in fear of his life if he did. His choice if it can be called a choice is very difficult. In our country are choices are easier even if contrained by our own personal psychologies. It seems the easiest choices in all this would be when there is not some authority above us putting pressure on us. That is religious political authorities or parents. It seems the easist choices would be for those people to let other people choose. But will they choose to let other people choose.

Don

“It would be arrogant and foolish to demand that every simple, decent fisherman, farmer or forester who sustain a simple faith take a step back and view their beliefs from a rational, skeptical perspective. But if someone steps up, engages in the public sphere and starts citing authority, then the gloves can come off.

Religion is not always a choice, but in the society in which we live, it generally is.”

I agree

#55 Comment By William On 13th January, 2007 @ 10:10 am

Speaking of religion this afternoon I am going on a visit with an interfaith group to a new Hindu temple in Tividale. It supposed to be the biggest in Europe or the UK or something. It could be interesting. It has been built on an old industrial site by a canal so possibly is has had a role in transforming the area. In the UK we have lots of religions so choice is wider than loads of places. Also there are now lots of inter faith groups over the country.

[4] http://www.venkateswara.org.uk/

#56 Comment By Barbara Meinhoff On 14th January, 2007 @ 2:44 pm

So anyway, did racist cunt no-mark Jack Tweedy call Shilpa Shetty a ‘P*ki Bitch’ or not?

[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJ5NbUBavB4

#57 Comment By El Cid On 14th January, 2007 @ 10:55 pm

I hate long posts, but I have been guilty of a couple lately and this could be another one. Apols in advance but I promised Don. It probably won’t be entirely in keeping with the stated aim of this thread but then when it looks like a Trojan Horse and smells like a Trojan Horse, it probably is a Trojan Horse. Not many people know that The Illiad is also called the Ire of Achilles, and since I’ve been targetting the Achilles Heel of others, maybe it’s only fair if I address my own. Who knows, it might make for a more honest debate on education — and selection — and tempt others to do likewise. I’m a bit too old to be naive, but hey.. life is too short to waste on stale and disingenuous posturing. Apols also in advance to Kismet if it gets a little personal; there is method to my madness.

Are you still reading? Ok, here goes:
I’m a catholic, a bad one, but a catholic nonetheless.
I was baptised a catholic, went to Sunday school, did my communion, but was educated in non-denominational schools. My sister went to a catholic school but my mum failed to get me into St Thomas Moore’s in Wood Green — Samantha Fox’s school and currently the 50-somethingth worst school in London. She didn’t because she worked on Sundays as a hotel waitress and I went a bit off the rails after my English dad — a hotel head waiter — died when I was 8. The priest didn’t like us — partly why they generally give me the creeps (that, and that time that married CoE vicar asked me to show him my willy as a forfeit when I lost a game of Mastermind in his office after Boys Brigade. I ran away in time and, unfortunately, kept quiet out of embarrasment, but he was convicted of child buggery 2 years later.)

I also support the use of condoms to prevent the spread of disease, the theory of evolution (although who’s to say that 7 god days is the same as 7 human days), and generally I don’t believe in heaven and hell (even though I still find it comforting to think my dad is looking over me. I also, perhaps quaintly, cling onto the notion that I have a soul).

I was married in church, all my kids are baptised, I always light a candle in church for my dead relatives, cross my self when in church, and will probably have my funeral in a church. That said, I rarely go to church. I also think that it is ridiculous that the Church insists that the host and wine sacrements do not represent the body and blood of christ but ARE the body and blood of christ.

But don’t tell my priest because I have still managed to get my kids into a catholic primary. 8)
So what does religion mean to me? Basically, it’s an inherited thing with all the cultural trimmings and, yes, and an attached value-system that occasionally reveals itself. It’s my tribe, reinforced by the fact that I have no native family aside from my wife (my dad’s brother and wife, reluctant to be burdened with immigrant scum no doubt, abandoned us as soon as my dad died. I never heard of them again).

It sometimes guides me when I’m in introspective. It encourages me to forgive and feeds my empathy with people less fortunate than me. It also helps me appreciate that there are moslems, hindus, sikhs, jews, etc, who are probably just as relaxed about religion as me. It also delivers a better education under exacting social circumstances which emphasises that all people — regardless of how they may look — are equal. It also influences me re abortion: I’m not against it, full stop, but abortion as a lifestyle choice doesn’t do it for me.

I could say more, but it’s personal, and really none of your business (or the priest’s :0 ). I guess I’m my own catholic sect (a bit like Chairwoman’s old man).

Religion isn’t the problem; dogmatic attitudes are, whether they are religious or not. After all, if the opposite was true, Old Pickler might after all be right.

In the words of Charlton Heston: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. (That last bit is a feeble joke).

#58 Comment By bananabrain On 15th January, 2007 @ 1:15 pm

It provides a simple answer to the unanswerable question “What happens when you die?”

i was at least 25 before i bothered to find out what judaism said about this - we don’t think it’s nearly as important as what you get up to when you’re alive. there are statements, of course, like “the life is like a corridor to the world to come - prepare yourself in the corridor before you go into the inner chamber”; but on the whole judaism (and many other religions) is concerned not with what happens afterwards but the question:

“how shall we live?”

You are born into religion and you believe what your parents say. You tell a kid cheese is bad all his life and even when he’s old enough to know better, he’ll still have trouble with cheese.

this is true for both good and bad reasons. i’ve seen it happen with just about everyone - jews who are otherwise completely irreligious/atheistic who won’t touch pork, ex-catholics who are obsessed with sex (take madonna for example) and so on and so forth. on the other hand, social engineering is very much one of the purposes of religion, whether you consider it to be a way for the Divine to improve human society or not. the question is whether the social engineering in question is actually beneficial or harmful and it’s rarely cut-and-dried in either case. as we all know, atheist societies are also great believers in social engineering of the unpleasant sort, despite religion’s less than perfect track record in this department.

Religion is the coward’s version of hope

yeah, well, sneering at religion is the coward’s version of religious discrimination, as is tarring everyone with the same brush. judge people by what they say and do, not by what it is convenient for you to believe they say and do.

The political position “chooses” me, just like the answer to 2 + 2 finds its way to me too.

even if you’re not converting this can still be the case; one’s relationship to the Divine, personal observance and institutions are three interconnected and dynamic factors. this is actually an issue that is at the heart of much of this talk about “i’m not religious, i’m spiritual” and religion as somehow private and something that goes on behind closed doors.

Of course, politics is much harder, and the answer less obvious, than mathematics. New writing from new sources might weaken and eventually reverse that choice. Part of religion - at least the fundamentalist brand - seems to be the deliberate ignoring of new perspectives.

it’s actually about who you choose to trust and who is worthy of that trust. everyone starts off trusting their parents and to a lesser extent people in authority, like teachers and the clergy. this gets challenged more and more as it goes along and sometimes the trust proves to be robust and worthy and sometimes it does not.

Part of religion - at least the fundamentalist brand - seems to be the deliberate ignoring of new perspectives.

what is unfortunate is what happens in fundamentalism, when this trust is not constantly challenged, tested and strengthened because certain questions are “not allowed to be asked”. and when trust is broken or found wanting, one is forced to decide who one trusts instead - not just on a philosophical/spiritual level, but on a day-to-day, best-available-basis level; moreover, it is also necessary to find some way of reconciling things that appear at first sight to be mutually exclusive. all belief systems worth having seem to have what is to my mind a healthy relationship with paradox.

There should be one “religion” based upon the book of law, books of proven sciences, books of fact and continually change according to new proven evidence.
yeah, of course, because that way nobody could possibly make a mistake. every universalist religion claims “new proven evidence” that overturns the old and brings a new dispensation. everyone is selective in what evidence they choose to disregard. so who do you trust? and, more importantly, why do you trust them? take me for example; for me the fact that there are some deeply cynical, awkward, people-oriented, rationalist and highly scientifically-knowledgeable people who nevertheless consider orthodox judaism to offer a perfectly reasonable set of beliefs and practices is something i have to rely on. if my rabbi or some of the religious guys i know with physics PhDs were to have crises of faith, i think i would as well. i don’t necessarily have to trust the Text, because i can *see* the Text. i *do* necessarily have to trust the interpreters, both their motives, their practices and their personal example.

I saw a programme somewhere that said the only point in life was to dedicate yourself to god. If that is true then what a pathetic, insecure god we all have.
Id like to think that if there is a god, we were created to experience all we can before death takes hold.

i agree with all of these statements - they are not mutually exclusive. dedicating yourself to G!D in no way requires renouncing the world, the body or the here-and-now - at least not from my perspective. it just means they don’t get the only votes.

What pisses me off are the deathbed converts and you can see them all on songs of praise. After their youth has gone they choose flock to religion just so they can “secure” themselves incase its all true.

about such people, the sages said something along the lines of (and i’m paraphrasing) “well, if you’ve got a week to make a pot, it’s all very well to wait until the last minute to start turning the clay, glazing and baking it, but it’s not terribly reasonable to expect that you’d get the same result.” i am aware that this is not the same perception that, for example, certain christians have - jesus being the “get into heaven” backstage pass, as it were - whereas everyone else has to wait behind the velvet rope to see if they get past the bouncer. that’s not the way it works for us though.

Rather than asking whether religion is a choice, one should perhaps be asking whether religion can be divorced from cultural baggage, and if so, whether the religion loses its meaning.

i think it depends whether the religion is universalist or not. if it is a “tribal”, “ethnic” (or “parochial”) religion, the answer is probably yes, it would lose its meaning. if it is a universalist one such as christianity or islam, i suspect it wouldn’t - hence the call for “civic” christianity or islam. sikhism is an interesting one - it would be very weird for people with no ethnic connection to punjabi language, culture or whatever, to become sikhs if you ask me, a bit like judaism. on the other hand people can become jews but the conversion process whatever form it takes is one of socialisation so the person can fit in and doesn’t feel different. but then again there are ethnic christianities - like, does it make sense to be a copt if you’ve got nothing to do with egypt, for example? so maybe i’m talking bollocks.

Even then the choice is not really taken until one becomes an adult

i suppose so, even if my religion in particular has taken great care that you feel “in” from the get-go. i mean, circumcision isn’t something that can easily be reversed. and, even so, it is still considered that the only way people leave judaism is feet-first.

I think one of the essential components of spirituality is the idea of unconditional surrender. For many people the regime that religions offer is the best if not the only way of achieving this.

i agree with this and, whether you call it an act of “islam”, or “yirat haShem”, or being “born again”, it is difficult to articulate this in a post-enlightenment modern context that shows what the intrinsic value of this actually is. it is funny that the people who dump on it for being old-fashioned and stupid are very often the same people who think we all need to make big sacrifices in our personal behaviour to save the world and of *course*, that’s not the same thing at all, is it?

Isn’t spirituality meant to be about the one?
Then why want to be part of millions?

you’re confusing the ability to feel that what you’re doing is right with the insecurity that requires lots of other people to be doing it in order to confirm it. judaism is used to being the “awkward squad”. plus, of course, needing to convert everyone is the ultimate form of exporting your insecurity.

The Abrahamic faiths seem to be the keenest on defining G!D - we even get long passages of dialogue from him detailing exactly how [he] feels about diet, clothing, sexual orientation, social structure, legal and financial systems, foreign policy and the correct way to kill those who deviate.

hehehe - except of course judaism doesn’t ever define G!D by what G!D Is in any clear fashion, but by what G!D Does. i can’t speak for christianity or islam on that, but judaism tends to go for the “via negativa” - it is a lot easier to say what G!D Isn’t than the contrary. and don’t forget that those passages i presume you are citing are not universalist for the most part. the rules in the so-called “old testament” are rules for jews, not rules for everyone, so if we’re not supposed to evangelise then G!D doesn’t prescribe nearly such an exhaustive regime for the rest of humanity; in fact this comes down to just 7 laws which any normal person keeps by default. that ought to put a different spin on what being the “chosen people” actually means in practice. not “chosen” for anything particularly easy or completely fun, that’s for sure.

Is Shamanism considered a religion? How about the way people come together in the church of ecstasy to bow down to the prophets of dance? Why isn’t Dance Music considered a religion? Wasn’t Dionysus and the Bacchic way a religion?

maybe. the question is does following any of these ways ensure justice and the common good? arguably, drunken maenads tearing passers-by to pieces is not a sensible basis for a civic society, whereas shamanism seems to have a fairly sustainable set of cultures built around it.

b’shalom

bananabrain

#59 Comment By Kismet Hardy On 15th January, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

“judge people by what they say and do, not by what it is convenient for you to believe they say and do.”

People say they are religious and spout magical happennings to validate their beliefs. Religious people think their god is better than mine and that I’ll go to hell for it. So I judge ‘em for it

#60 Comment By bananabrain On 15th January, 2007 @ 2:44 pm

People say they are religious and spout magical happenings to validate their beliefs.

“magical” only according to what you believe happened. i have engaged extensively with what i believe on the evidence i have encountered to be a Divine Text. fair enough, i did not literally experience these “magical happenings” personally, although the half of my genetic material that came through my matrilineal line presumably did - but that’s not even the point. the evidence that these “magical happenings” occurred is, for me, borne out by the internal evidence provided by my studies of the Text that the “magical happenings” resulted in. that is my private experience and, in the nicest possible way, kismet, you are not qualified to comment on it. i am not asking you to believe it, but i am asking you to concede that i am intelligent enough to make up my own mind and do so as part of a critical process. i have not turned round to you and defined your beliefs.

Religious people think their god is better than mine and that I’ll go to hell for it.

whatever others may have led you to believe, i have said nothing of the sort. if there’s something of mine that has led you to think otherwise, please feel free to point it out. judaism doesn’t believe people who aren’t jewish go to hell. in fact the sort of hell you’re talking about is an invention of the mediaeval church.

b’shalom

bananabrain

#61 Pingback By sjhoward.co.uk » So what IS religion? The results are in… On 16th January, 2007 @ 1:05 am

[…] Well, I asked, and you answered. In your droves. In fact, not only did you answer in your droves on the Yahoo site, when the post was picked up by Pickled Politics (an excellent blog, by the way) you answered there, too. And even though I closed the comments on the original post, you even went to the trouble of emailing me directly with your answers. I’ve read over 80 comments on the subject in less than a week - and I thank everyone for contributing. […]


Article printed from Pickled Politics: http://www.pickledpolitics.com

URL to article: http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/957

URLs in this post:
[1] sjhoward blog: http://sjhoward.co.uk/
[2] big question: http://sjhoward.co.uk/archive/2007/01/11/what-is-religion-a-choice-a-calling-or-something-else
[3] [Via Yahoo Answers]: http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070110173930AAmo6Bw&pa=FYd1D2bwHTHwIrJiE.M.RjO
v70szfxOq42S.O.wNTG1m3ajYxTBlZ5IA34d69yESZvfMkSCd1vPaPQ--&paid=asked&msgr_status=

[4] http://www.venkateswara.org.uk/: http://www.venkateswara.org.uk/
[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJ5NbUBavB4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJ5NbUBavB4