Matt (pizzuti) wrote,

On Religion

I have been, and am, somewhat critical of organized religion from time to time. However, a lot of people will note, and have noted, that I am a lot less critical of religion than a lot of other liberals, and I don't rant against it or argue that it is all nonsense. I am also quite critical of those who condemn religion or refer to all believers as idiots or selfish miscreants. My thinking is very different from that of Bill Maher or other famous iconoclasts.

I'll note that I grew up Catholic and do not "hate" my religion of birth (though I am extremely critical of Church politics at times), I spent two years of my life leading a youth program in a Unitarian Universalist church, I minored in Religions Studies in college, and I have and continue to support groups that use the word "ministry" or "stewardship" as part of their mission statement. Those who read my theological views know I differ greatly from many on the concept of "god," the "soul," and "afterlife." Still, I find myself siding with certain kinds of "believers" or religions adherents quite often.

Religion is complicated, and people in the West living in the shadow of European-originated Christianity critique along the same paradigmatic lines that Christian conservatives/conservative Christians support it. This seems complicated; hopefully this will make sense as I explain.

Different religions (and different believers) use religion to answer different "questions."

For example, most Americans think religion asks/answers:

1) what happens to me when I die?
2) who does God love/favor and who does he not love/favor?
3) how do I get to heaven/how am I saved from hell?
4) what is the origin of the universe and what is historically/factually true and untrue?

Even atheists and agnostics may accept a "Christian" definition of religion, so they oppose it for what they see to be rational reasons. I agree that religion is BAD at answering most of these questions; people who pursue these kinds of faith tend to favor their group and hate others, have unrealistic certainty about the nature of life, and decide that mythological stories are factually true. In most of these cases, science and philosophy are better at answering them, and in some of them nobody knows the answer and its foolish for a devout person to claim certainty or even any kind of evidence for belief.

However, for some people, religion addresses:

1) what is the ultimate purpose of my life?
2) how can I get out of my individual experience and care for others/community?
3) what is the value of deep reflection and how is it enhanced when we pursue it as a community?

These questions are asked by "humanistic" religions such as Unitarian Universalism, Progressive Christianity, Reform Judaism and others. Other religions will ask:

1) what is the nature of the individual/mind/consciousness?
2) how do I liberate the individual/mind/consciousness?

These are questions asked by Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as other lesser-known religions around the world. Still other religions ask:

1) how do I define my people and what are our shared values?
2) what defines membership in my community?
3) what are our most valued/sacred traditions and histories?
4) what defines my community's struggle and what are the lessons we learn from it? How does it tie to other kinds of knowledge such as scriptural/spiritual knowledge?

These questions are asked by ethnic religions such as Judaism and a lot of Indigenous religions in the world. It might also refer to "non-practicing" Muslims, who encompass a surprising percentage of the world's adherents of Islam; in some cases even the majority of people in Muslim-dominated countries are not particularly religions and see "Muslim" as being primarily an ethnic identity. These questions are also, to an extent, addressed by Black churches and other religions groups that are associated with a community. Finally:

1) where did we come from?
2) how do I explain my connection to the objects/creatures/living things around me?
3) what is the value and being of me and of these objects? How are they like me and not like me?

This encompasses the rest of the indigenous religions in the world.

In most cases and for most believers, a particular religion or spiritual worldview will leak over into other categories; there are plenty of Humanist Christians, mystic Muslims, radical Buddhists and followers of indigenous religions who shun other groups or "prophesize." There are plenty of American New Agers who fancy themselves Buddhist or Hindu but still have Christian-esque concepts of the soul, prophesy, and the afterlife, even with a more liberal moral system and an embracing of alternate mind states or reincarnation. These are general categories, addressing the fact that not all believers are concerned with the same things, and there are certainly many of them who distance themselves from our most recognized concepts of the "supernatural," from the afterlife, and from heaven vs. hell.

Religion is mutli-faceted and complicated. One person's religion is another person's "philosophy" and another person's "culture." You cannot affirm or condemn religion in broad strokes. When you step outside of a Euro-centric, American-centric and Anglo-centric look at the world, it becomes harder to pigeonhole.

Most people who condemn religion do so because they see it as conservative. Ironically, they are taking a rather conservative position in regards to religion.
Tags: culture, religion
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