Tag Archives: Religion

3 and/or 4 Reasons Religion Makes You Happier and Helps You Live Longer

Don’t let anyone call Vridar an anti-religion blog anymore. Having just listened to the podcast Does religion make you happier? on the ABC God Forbid program I have seen the light.

In the program the PERMA model for happiness was discussed. I can understand religious people meeting the PERM of that model:

  • P – Positive Emotion
  • E – Engagement
  • R – Relationships
  • M – Meaning

In addition to those, here are three possibly more immediately practical reasons religion makes people happier and live longer:

1. Religion teaches self-discipline, self-control, self-restraint, giving up the immediate pleasures for a longer term benefit. And people who have higher self-esteem and are more content with life are those who achieve success and success is generally related to one’s self-discipline in life.

2. Religion teaches that there is someone watching you 24/7 and that makes it easier for you to exercise self-control and be good. The aim is not always fear of Big Brother (recall that totalitarian states have less crime) but also the desire to please that Big Eye in the Sky, the loving father, or mother, watching over you for your good. And by pleasing that Big Meaningful Other in your life you feel good. And the self-discipline … see #1 above.

3. Religious affiliation generally provides a person with a far wider network of friends, companions, supports than they might otherwise have. Recall Rodney Stark’s argument in this book on the growth of Christianity that Christians attracted positive attention when they were found to be far more likely to survive the plagues. The Christian networks provided care and soup for the ill so they were more likely to recover than many others.

This is not the first time I’ve said nice things about the religious experience. I’m sure I’ve posted before about the stats indicating the happiest people are those who believe in God and enjoy watching soap operas. But more seriously I’ve also posted a serious list of positives that I took out of my own cult experience. I think it is important to recognize the positive in ones experiences, not just the negatives, to assist with a healthy response and recovery.

So let no one say I try not to be fair.

Now. If only I could bring myself to believe . . . . .

 

Quran, Bible — both are powerless without interpretation

Scott Atran wrote the following four years ago in response to Sam Harris’s insistence that Islam per se, the Quran in particular, were to blame for terrorist violence. I think such views expressed by Harris are seriously misinformed and potentially harmful.

Context-free declarations about whether Islam, or any religion, is inherently compatible or incompatible with extreme political violence – or Democracy or any other contemporary political doctrine for that matter — is senseless. People make religious belief – whether Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and so forth – compatible with violence or non-violence according to how they interpret their religious beliefs.

And how people interpret religious injunctions (e.g., the Ten Commandments), as well as transcendental aspects of political ideologies, almost invariably changes over time.

For example, on the eve of the Second World War, political and Church leaders in Fascist Italy and Spain claimed that Catholicism and Democracy were inherently incompatible, and many Calvinist and Lutheran Protestants believed that God blessed the authoritarian regime. As Martin Luther proclaimed, “if the Emperor calls me, God calls me” – a sentiment that Luther, like many early Christians, believed was sanctified by Jesus’s injunction to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Nevertheless, the principles of modern liberal democracy first took root and grew to full strength in The European Christian and Colonial heartland. As Benjamin Franklin expressed it in his proposal for the motto of the new American Republic: “Rebellion against Tyranny is Obedience to God.”

Or, as the Coordinating Council of Yemeni Revolution for Change put it, an Islam of “basic human rights, equality, justice, freedom of speech, freedom of demonstration, and freedom of dreams!” (National Yemen, “The Facts As They Are,” Youth Revolutionary Council Addresses International Community, April 25, 2011).

That there is a cruel and repugnantly violent contemporary current in Islam, there is no doubt. Factions of the Christian identity movement, the Tamil Tiger interpretation of Hinduism as necessitating suicide attacks against Buddhist enemies*, Imperial Japan’s interpretation of Zen Buddhism as a call to a war of extermination against the Chinese, all have produced cruel and barbarous behavior that has adversely affected millions of people.

(Bolded emphasis is mine)

* Since 2013 we have seen the rise of murderous violence by Hindus and  Buddhists against Muslims in India and Myanmar/Burma.

 

 

 

 

Rise of Religion Worldwide and Belief in God in Australia, Europe

God belief in Australia

The 2009 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes conducted by the Australian National University found that 67 percent of Australian adults believed either in God (47 percent) or in something they preferred to call a ‘higher power’ (a further 20 percent). A less nuanced Nielsen/Fairfax poll in the same year reported simply that 68 percent believed in God. (To put his in a historical context: in a 1949 Gallup poll, 95 percent of Australians declared their belief in God.) The figures for Australia almost exactly match those for New Zealand and the European Union. (Hugh Mackay 2016, Beyond Belief, Kindle loc 2280)

Unfortunately in the Introduction to the same book we read:

According to John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge in God is Back (2009), ‘the proportion of people attached to the world’s four biggest religions — Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism — rose from 67 percent in 1900 to 73 percent in 2003 and may reach 80 percent by 2050’. (Kindle loc 66)

We’ve had predictions of the demise of religious belief before: around the turn of the last century, I think, and then in the 1960/70s, yes?

 

Atheism and Fundamentalism: Why atheists don’t understand religion and why believers don’t like atheist criticisms

I recently lamented in a comment that some atheists appear incapable of understanding any argument about religion that is neither attacking nor defending it. Atheism, fundamentalism, liberal Christianity, religion generally — they do not all seem to be equally well understood as many heated arguments testify. Are ex-fundamentalist atheists still very often fundamentalists at heart as some believers claim? Are liberal Christians (and by extension many Muslims) hypocrites or at least just kidding themselves for not following the harshest precepts of their Scriptures as some atheists declare? Is the only good atheist necessarily a militant anti-theist?

fieldIn the context of the above questions I was alerted to a post by Samantha Field, THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON FUNDAMENTALISM, and because I felt it was being misinterpreted by one liberal Christian who sometimes comes across as a little frightened of certain atheists, and partly because I agreed with much of what Samantha wrote but had a different perspective on other aspects, I began to write up my own response. It turned into something of a dialogue and I had to cut it short for sanity’s sake.

I’ve written many other posts on fundamentalism going back to 2007 — they (and some of Tim’s) are all archived here — so this one will be added to that pile. I’ve learned much more about religion and cults since 2007 but my basic position may not have changed all that much.

Samantha is protesting against those atheists who appear to be recycling what in her view are fundamentalist approaches to religion. Her post begins:

I grew up in Christian fundamentalism, and now I’m a progressive Christian. Surprisingly, at least to me, that particular path is an unusual one, although probably not rare. Speaking from personal observation, it seems like the more usual route out of Christian fundamentalism isn’t liberal Christianity, but atheism.

I grew up in a liberal Christian household (that branch of Methodists that allowed card-playing and dancing and belief in evolution). After a period of teen turmoil I ended up in the Worldwide Church of God (that outfit that was led by Herbert Armstrong and published The Plain Truth magazine). My exit from that cult was gradual. I continued to attend as a regular member for quite some time before I took actions that led to my departure, as I have explained elsewhere. At first I sought for replacements in some of the denominations that were relatively close to my previous beliefs such as seventh day observance (but not the SDAs) and adult baptism. Ongoing questioning of my own beliefs opened my mind to wider horizons and I eventually found myself quite comfortable regularly attending a liberal Baptist (and later for a short spell a Roman Catholic) church. I was exploring. And questioning. Anything that smacked of the old cult-like approach to faith and practice I shunned. Then I heard a radio interview with a psychologist who herself had been a devout fundamentalist (Marlene Winell) discussing not only the fundamentalist experience but even why people believe in God. That startled and worried me. I had never stopped before to think there might be any other reason why I believed in God apart from the “irrefutable proofs of creation” with all the “wonder and awe” of the universe, “fulfilled prophecy”, “answered prayer” and “spiritual conversion” that all supposedly testified to his existence.

Why had I never questioned God before? Up until that time whenever I explored a question I found myself arriving at a new wall that I felt would never be breached. Though I had questioned the teachings and ways of my church I never thought I would question the Bible. That was bedrock. I “knew” that was the sure word of God. When I first came across critical studies of the Bible I had a very hard time accepting their perspective. That was another gradual process. But I still had God and Jesus firmly entrenched in my belief systems and would never lose them . . . . until, again, a catalyst from somewhere would daringly suggest it really was possible to question if anything lay behind that new wall. Questioning the very existence of God was the final barrier between my old life and the unknown (even frightening) world of atheism. The experience was traumatic as I have discussed elsewhere.

So my path out of fundamentalism was via progressive Christianity and only gradually on into atheism. Back to Samantha:

Unfortunately, it seems like there’s a lot of atheists out there who gave up on their religion, but didn’t give up fundamentalism. A little while ago I remarked on Twitter that it seems like atheists have more in common with Christian fundamentalists in their views on the Bible than they do with me. A few people were surprised by this. In short, it can be summed up by a saying in survivor communities: you can take the person out of a fundamentalism, but you can’t always take fundamentalism out of the person.

What I’m not saying is that this is inevitable– many of my close friends are atheists/agnostics who went through a time of being progressive Christians first. Their ultimate problem wasn’t fundamentalism, really, it was lack of belief. I think that’s true of most (if not all) atheists, even the ones who haven’t let go of a fundamentalist understanding of religion; they may not like their understanding of Christianity, but that’s not why they’re atheists.

Here’s where things get a bit messy. Some atheists are at some fault here, but so are some of the religious believers, I think. I’ll pick on the liberal Christian first. read more »

Religious Credence is Not Factual Belief: 2

Continuing from Religious Credence is Not Factual Belief: 1

From http://www.armageddonbooks.com/map.html
From http://www.armageddonbooks.com/map.html

In the previous post we saw the three core features of factual beliefs as understood by Neil Van Leeuwen; we also saw that religious “beliefs” or credence do not share any of these characteristics of factual beliefs.

Van Leeuwen distinguishes factual belief from what he terms secondary cognitive attitudes — that is, factual belief has different characteristics from fictional imagining, hypothesis, assuming for sake of an argument, and so forth. Among these secondary cognitive attitudes he places religious credence. But religious credence is different again from these other secondary attitudes because of three characteristics. In this post we identify those three distinguishing properties.

But before continuing, however, I’ll jump to Van Leeuwen’s conclusion where he explains how religious credence and factual belief relate to one another in the mind of the religious person:

An agent’s religious credences comprise a map she uses for short- and long-term orientation in life. The map is colored with features that are taken to have normative force in virtue of their being part of the map at all; the colors represent sacred, sinful, eternal, righteous, holy, and the like. The map, in more or less detail, is determined by the dictates of individuals who are taken as special authorities in the community of the agent. But the agent herself also freely elaborates on the credence map in ways she finds useful for normative orientation. The map colors the authorities as holy. Other individuals in the community are painted as faithful. This map doesn’t just represent normative properties, however; it also represents objects, people, places, events, and supernatural beings that make the normative properties memorable or salient.

But the agent is always using another map: factual belief. This map comes to be in a different way from the religious credence map. It is generated chiefly by perception and rational expansion thereon. It helps us avoid falling in ditches and eating poisonous berries. The religious credence map lies on top of the factual map like a colored transparency, so that the objects, events, people, and places in the factual map can also appear religiously colored. Thus, only by careful scrutiny do we see the two maps are distinct. (My bolding)

So that’s how Van Leeuwen sees the two types of cognitive attitudes co-existing. Now to those points that make religious credence a stand-alone. read more »

Smile: It’s Only a Bible and Religion Discussion

For a refreshing perspective read Tom Dykstra’s post on his reflections after reviewing books by Thomas Brodie and Bart Ehrman: Humor in Biblical Studies.

the very best biblical scholars are those that maintain a sense of humor toward their subject matter and toward those who disagree with them

Dykstra’s post begins. . . . .

Almost a year ago I finished expanding my posts on Brodie’s Jesus-didn’t-exist book and Ehrman’s yes-he-did book into an article for an academic peer-reviewed journal, to be published later this year.  As I did more research on this controversy, one aspect of it struck me forcefully: many or most people on both sides of the fence were remarkably intolerant and contemptuous of the other side.

In what you might think of as an “academic” debate why should people get so incensed at and abusive toward those who disagree? . . .

In reading and thinking about this issue I reached a conclusion that may sound counter-intuitive:  the very best biblical scholars are those that maintain a sense of humor toward their subject matter and toward those who disagree with them. . . . The issue is this:  I see contemptuous and abusive language as evidence that the perpetrator likely has some kind of vested interest in a particular belief about the subject. . . . (my bolding)

He then discusses another one of my favourite scholars, Michael Goulder. Read the thing in full and forward it to anyone you think gets a bit too cranky: Humor in Biblical Studies — and maybe not just to biblical scholars. I’m thinking of course of my recent slap down by a certain evolutionist for my question asking him why he shunned the scholarly approach of his peers towards Islamic terrorism.

Speaking of humour and the “which belief is right” debate, this has just appeared on John Loftus’s Debunking Christianity site:

 

 

 

 

 

What Religion Does for Believers

H/t Otagosh — See the Triangulations blog for nine functions the author believes religion accomplishes for believers: Religion as Moral Signalling. This follows from my previous post that views religion (Islam, Christianity — any of them) as social creations with social functions. The doctrines and practices are not the end but the means to the ends. A graphic highlights nine needs met by religion — listed here from Otagosh’s summary:

  1. Morality signal
  2. Behaviour control
  3. Identity support
  4. Community resources
  5. Entertainment
  6. Family/Tribal bonding
  7. Happiness, peace, comfort
  8. Magical hope (healing, money, safety)
  9. Fear alleviator

 

 

Fighting Words: How Religion Causes Violence

FightingWordsI have just completed reading Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence by Hector Avalos. The argument is not quite what I expected but it was certainly clear and logical and has given me a new perspective on the way religion and religious conflicts function in our communities and the world at large.

Now I have been one of those atheists who does not see religion in and of itself as evil; I quite understand and to an extent sympathize with people’s attachments to their faith. There was a brief time in my past when I had an essentialist view of religion and saw its irrational and exclusivist belief systems as an evil blight on our society but I have long since tempered my outlook. Too soon, I think I can hear Hector Avalos objecting. Not that religion necessarily causes violence. Clearly it doesn’t always and there are times when religion is used for the benefit of others. But “as a mode of life and thought” Avalos argues that religion is “fundamentally prone to violence”.

Avalos begins with the axiom that it is scarcity of resources that so often lead to violence. Even the fear of imminent scarcity or the mere perception of an imagined scarcity can be enough to provoke war. Land can be a scarce resource. (We might add “oil” as another and let myself be sidetracked for a moment by referring to a recent Guardian article that has appeared on the web, Tony Blair’s Islamist obsession is a smokescreen to defend ‘blood for oil’, by Nafeez Ahmed.) Resources do not have to be tangible. A sense of security, for example, can be a scarce resource.

Hector Avalos argues that many scholars have misunderstood the nature and function of religion in conflicts by thinking of it as “essentially good” while violence associated with it is considered a perversion of its true values. Rather, Avalos argues, we need to understand that religion itself has the ability to create scarcity of resources — imaginary ones, or at least those that are unverifiable by normal methods — and it is this function that can be the trigger to violence.

The difference between scarcity caused by religious beliefs and other types of scarcities is that the former are unverifiable while the latter are clearly real to all. This is what makes religious violence morally worse than other forms of violence: religious violence is about imaginary or unverifiable resources (e.g. an offended deity) while other types of violence are seeking to exchange blood for something real (e.g. self-preservation).

Religion, as a mode of lie and thought that is premised on relationships with supernatural forces and/or beings, is fundamentally prone to violence. . . . Since there are no objective means to adjudicate unverifiable claims, conflict and violence ensue when counterclaims are made. As such, the potential for violence is part of every religious tradition. . . . (Loc. 5119)

The solution, Avalos, argues, must begin with

making believers aware of how religion can create scarce resources. (Loc. 4834)

Let’s explain. It was a new concept for me, too.

read more »

Science CAN say something about the supernatural

Physicist Victor Stenger argues in HuffPo that

Scientists and science organizations are being disingenuous when they say science can say nothing about the supernatural. They know better. Their policy of appeasing religion for presumably political reasons only empowers those who are muddling education and polluting public policy with anti-scientific magical thinking.

His article is Science and Religion. I was alerted to it through Jerry Coyne’s post on Why Evolution Is True.

Stenger opens with

I find it surprising that most scientists, believers and nonbelievers alike, refuse to apply their critical thinking skills to matters of religion. . . . . Scientists prefer to follow Stephen Jay Gould’s dictum that science and religion occupy two “non-overlapping magisteria.”

That, of course, means individuals are required to leave moral and ethical questions to “scholars who interpret ancient texts.” Provocative Stenger opines that such a situation sounds to him like “Sharia law”. Moral behaviour certainly is observable and a matter of scientific understanding. (It was my own realization that all social animals have “moral codes”, including punishments meted out to those who break them, that helped me on my own journey towards atheism.)

Stenger addresses two (of several) types of scientific experiments that have been conducted to test what should be the observable effects of the supernatural on the natural world: the phenomena of answered — or unanswered — prayer and near-death experiences.

Check the article for the details.

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Why being an atheist is better than being seriously religious

Thaipusam – DSCF2949(lr)
Image by williamcho via Flickr

I must be bored. Here is a repeat of a few truisms.

Bishop John Spong has said that, as a matter of general observation, atheists are more relaxed than religious believers. The latter, by contrast, tend to have an up-tightness about them. Pastor Jim West says atheists are angry and forever attempting to deny what they “really know” — that torments of hell await them. But Spong is something of a liberal theologian, and West is, at least by my standards and definitions, a fundamentalist. Neither likes the thought of anyone becoming an atheist, but I can imagine their different religious stances explains their different observations of atheists.

When religious believers impugn some sort of intellectual dishonesty to atheists, accusing them of “knowing better deep down in their hearts” — a false accusation also found in the Bible, both in Psalms and the writings of Paul — they apparently fail to realize that they are declaring themselves to being ethically immature.

All the ethics taught in the Bible are meant to keep people at the level of children. One can even suggest, as Nietzsche did, that the ethical teachings of the Bible function to instill a mentality of subservience. But slaves are not part of our society and most of us can relate more easily to the immaturity of children.

I see nothing noble in the teachings of Jesus. They are all predicated on the threat of damnation if you don’t obey, and nice happy big fat rewards if you do. What sort of ethic is that? But even if we reflect on the noblest principles of Jesus quite apart from their reward-punishment matrix, they don’t ring an unambiguous clarion call for the ethical progress of humanity.

His most famous “love one another” passages in the Gospel of John are all about the importance of loving those in your own circle of like-minded subservients to the exclusion of others. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Love one another.

It seems that the Gospel of John is an attack on the sentiments put into the mouth of Jesus by the Gospel of Matthew. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

But Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” is justified on some quite inhuman precepts. Jesus is appealing to his followers here to prove themselves to be “more righteous” than others in their community. His command is presented as a challenge, or more accurately a threat, to win the contest of showing themselves to be superior ethically to Pharisees and such. And to do this, they must set their minds to become as impersonal and perfect as an impersonal and perfect agent that sends rain and sunshine on the just and unjust alike.

Now all of this sort of rationale for a particular behaviour sounds very primitive, very immature, and very inhuman to me. I am reminded of Vardis Fisher’s novel, Peace Like A River, where one meets ascetics rivaling one another to show off badges of greater ‘godliness’. Or more close to home (at least here in Singapore), I am reminded of the devotees parading through the streets showing off their glorious feats of suffering and endurance at their Thaipusam festival.

Would not humanity be better off — more relaxed and “naturally” good for goodness’ sake — if it ever can eventually leave behind the immaturity of the extrinsic reward and punishment ethics that religion generally spawns?

Actually I do think that many people do tend to be “good for goodness sake”, even many of the ostensibly religious. But the religious rationale does still keep intruding itself far too often, and the result is not always the greater happiness for the greater number.

The poverty of religiosity is also apparent when devotees cannot conceive of any reason to live if there is no reward for them in an afterlife. If only they could be reminded of Jesus’ injunction  that to enter the kingdom one must be like a child. Now that can be too often a pernicious little saying in the hands of the religious in that it serves to keep people in a constant state of immaturity and failure to accept personal responsibility for their own lives. But turn it around and see how it can look without God. Children don’t need “a reason” to live. Life fills them with all that is meaningful without thoughts for tomorrow. Reasons and causes follow. They are not the engine.

Why Believe in a God?
Image by TerranceDC via Flickr
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It’s not necessarily bad to be against religion

This afternoon I was feeling a punch-gut of illness after reading blogs by classical humanist intelligentsia openly referring to “dumbshit masses”, “mob morality”, “village atheists”, “education for character” and the like, and was in dire need of some reassuring contact with the everyday people who make up those supposedly benighted masses. One of the hardest parts of those elitist writings to swallow was a cameo remark of the need to comprehend and embrace the fact of human frailty. Specifically, it was in this area that “new atheists” are said to have failed.

What depressed me so much was reading how such scholars are so free and easy with the way they label others and the pursuits of the less well educated, but so very self-conscious and finicky before suggesting any appellation that might be applied to themselves.

So to cut to the chase here. Sure, I call myself an “atheist”. But that’s in order to communicate the general idea of my position on the idea of god or gods. If pressed, I will not align myself with every nuance that the etymology and derivation of the word may suggest. It is simply a convenient way of letting others know, by means of very broad brush strokes, where I stand on something they are curious to know.

Similarly for the term “humanist”, or specifically “secular humanist”. Or for describing myself as a “naturalist”. Or a “rationalist”. I could go on.

None of this means squat, though, for anyone who is more interested in discussing and sharing the finer details of what we think and feel about issues.

People are not their religion, or philosophy, on life, much less any label that one might tie on them personally or collectively.

I am opposed to much of what strikes me as latent intolerance in the writings of Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens in their attacks on religion. I think Harris, in particular, is very under-informed about the deeper historical roots of tensions that have expressed themselves through religious ideas.

But labeling such authors as ‘new atheists’ and relegating them all to some back room crate for waste combustibles, and wishing to replace them with a more sophisticated open acceptance of religious values, is misguided.

Sam Harris and Chris Hitchens, despite the many areas where I find myself at odds with them, do at the same time have some very valid reasons for fearing the dark potential of any irrational belief system. It is healthy to bring these fears out into the open where they can be publicly addressed.

One can be opposed to religion without being rabid about it, and not all people labeled ‘new atheists’ are fanatical as they have been accused. I can be opposed to smoking without making myself a total jerk with all of my smoker friends. I can even love and enjoy the company of my smoker friends.

Last week saw Vesak celebrations among Buddhist Chinese communities. One can’t escape the religiosity of the occasion. But there’s also something peaceful and tolerant about it all, a certain happiness and goodness comes through many people gathering at shrines and statues and to hear speakers etc. There was a poster in English explaining a particular gathering, and the focus was on removing hatred from one’s thoughts. The non-judgmental nature of the whole occasion was demonstrated by prostitutes taking time out to offer their prayers alongside everyone else.

How can I oppose a religion like that? Well, it’s easy to accept it because I’m a newcomer and know very little about it. I only see the goodness of it as an outsider.

But I’ve also seen the goodness of some very active Christians working to better the lot of the down and outs in very practical ways.

It’s the prescriptive religions — and philosophies and ‘isms’ — that are easy to oppose. Those that prescribe what people should do, how they should live, according to principles supposedly external to and above oneself.

People don’t need to be “taught” morals as if there are certain good ways of behaviour they would never otherwise think of applying in their own lives. We are, by nature, moral animals. And being social animals, our moral tendencies work in favour of the well-being of all in our various circles of self-identity. We don’t need to learn to build “character”, as some religions insist. We only need to accept ourselves and others, and the rest follows. Generally speaking, that is. Religion does have a tendency to toss up a lot of extraneous thoughts that get in the way of this simplicity.

There are the exceptions always to the generalities. Knowing how to handle and respond to these, especially when they are doing outright harm to others. And very often the harm can be related to a tolerance and support for irrational beliefs, including religious beliefs. Now that is where I think “character” comes into the picture. But it’s not something that one has to be a saint to acquire. It is simply a matter of being honest and true to oneself and the greater good. And if one finds that some atavistic religious or other irrational belief is getting in the way of that, then one has a responsibility to speak out against that. Like a cancer warning on a packet of cigarettes. Sometimes more than speaking out is necessary.

This is all truism and I’ve only spilled out the obvious.

All I mean to say is that one can be a “humane humanist”, one who acknowledges and respects the frailty of being human, and who embraces the fullness of human experience, including the healthy irrational, and still rightly oppose and believe in working towards ending, if possible, the role of god-centred religion in human existence.

God, the Army, and PTSD : Is religion an obstacle to treatment?

Tara McKelvey’s article discusses the impact of war on the faith of soldiers and how “religious ideology has played a central role in denying veterans access to treatment.”

Tara’s article is published in the Boston Review

Also accessible at Information Clearing House

Good Friday and Thaipusam, and the common DNA of religions

What does it say about the nature of religion when we observe that, just as human culture and language are at the same time the same thing yet richly diverse, so the world’s diverse religions share so many of the same themes, metaphors and motifs? This post looks at rituals from two religions by way of convenient illustration.

(Caveat etc: Scholarship has rightly moved on beyond Sir James Frazer, but Jonathan Z. Smith has missed the forest while studying the trees.)

A month or so ago I stumbled across the Hindu Thaipusam procession. Last night I went to see the famous Good Friday procession at St Joseph’s cathedral in Singapore. The sameness of its motifs with the Christian and other religions reinforced my view that religions all share a common mindset, a common consciousness, a common set of motifs. They are all part of a singular cross-cultural psychological family in the same way. The concepts they share, and which vary only in their ritual and mythological details, are like the biological similarities that point to a common genetic base that unites the animal kingdom.

Both the Hindu and Christian processions dramatize

  • suffering,
  • symbolic or momentary ego or literal death,
  • and glory and victory of spirit through both suffering and death,
  • including sharing the glory of the divinity — some form of identity with the deity.
  • a special place of the mourners, especially the women and family, of those who follow or otherwise accompany their loved one through his burdens or ‘suffering-passion’.

Common motifs of that suffering include

  • Physical torment, piercing of the flesh,
  • Emphasis on the role of blood — whether the value of it being shed or the value of it not being shed,
  • Fasting, a denial of food for relief in the midst of suffering, special foods and drinks.
  • And of course, not forgetting a solemn attention to the forsaking of sin and the embrace of righteousness through this suffering.

Devotees in the Thaipusam festival bear the pain themselves for their god:

Pierced penitent bearing cross-shaped kavadi and the glory of the god, followed by family women
Pierced penitent bearing cross-shaped kavadi and the glory of the god, followed by family women

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Christian devotees prefer to vicariously suffer through their god:

The body of Jesus, followed by Mary, after being taken down from the cross.
The body of Jesus, followed by Mary, after being taken down from the cross.

Good Friday procession at St Joseph’s cathedral, Singapore, 2009.
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It is all about suffering, death, and overcoming these in body, spirit or both. And I wonder if it all has common roots in the evolution of religion and human consciousness, and if the same motifs can be found in our earliest art still found in “cave-cathedrals” — See Mind in the Cave for earlier discussion.

Inside St Joseph's Singapore, Good Friday 2009
Inside St Joseph's Singapore, Good Friday 2009

The image of a tortured body, no less gruesome than the Hindu  flagellents, likewise glorified by devotees. This same effigy was lowered from the cross and placed in the bier captured in the photo above that also shows Mary following.

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A Christian does not need much imagination to understand the essential meaning underlying one of the rituals caught on this video

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Our languages differ, but they are all the one thing, language. Maybe it’s the same with our religions. Yes?

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Religion in Public Life — 2 bad arguments by Professor Roger Trigg

Professor Trigg
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick, Roger Trigg, was interviewed on ABC Radio National’s Religion Report this week (see the transcript — and the podcast if you’re quick enough — here) and 2 of his arguments in favour of keeping religious debate in the public political arena struck me as very bad.

Bad argument #1:

Addressing the controversy Prime Minister Tony Blair raised when he publicly declared that God would judge him on his decision to invade Iraq, Professor Trigg said that he thought people would like the idea that their leaders felt they were accountable to someone above them as opposed to thinking they themselves had the last say.

Why bad read more »