April 12th, 2013  |  Published in commentary

Back when I worked in a bookstore, I would frequently hear the following sort of exchange between my co-workers. One of them had been asked where the bibles are kept, and told the other that they had been tempted to tell the person that they should look in fiction. Both of them would have a good laugh. Even though I’m not a Christian (not even close), I always got a bit offended (but, to my shame, never said anything). Now, I’ll be the first person to say that if you can’t poke fun at your religion (or handle others doing so), you might want to consider changing it. But the fact is that for anyone who spends much time thinking about it, coming to terms with your own mortality is one of the most important and difficult things that you will do in your lifetime. Belittling someone else’s choice on this matter is not a sign of enlightenment, but rather of insecurity and immaturity.

Of course, reading the above paragraph puts me in mind of the stereotypical retiree waving his cane at a group of teenagers and telling them, “Get off my lawn!”. Then again, if that is the price of tolerance, so be it.

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An Industrial Religion

November 17th, 2011  |  Published in commentary

Yesterday on Diaspora, I wrote:

I’ve been (slowly) working my way through “A Year In the Life of a Shinto Shrine” by John K. Nelson, and every couple of chapters something completely unexpected comes up like: “From an anthropological perspective that compares cultures worldwide, belief is one of the least important characteristics of religious activity.” Or a quote from the subject shrine’s head priest: “We hear a lot of talk about how Japan is regarded as one of the world’s advanced societies–and that may be true materially–but culture is something which can’t be classified as high or low.” he then goes on to talk about how culture can’t be quantified and that Africa has a richness of spirit that was once mirrored in Japan but is rapidly fading.

The second quote reminds me of what James Prosek said in his book “Eels” (which was fantastic) about how the eel plays a huge role in many early religions, but those religions only made sense for a society still in contact with nature and have not transitioned to modern life very well.

I picked up the book for an insight into an animistic worldview (after Voltaire’s Bastards made me consider it), but the read has been far more rewarding than anticipated.

After writing this, I started to think about classifying religions by their contexts. I would probably classify animistic religions as being natural religions, in that they deal in large part with humankind’s relationship to nature. Then there are the social religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism to name a few, which mostly concern themselves with humankind’s relationship to societies. What, then, comes next?

I would argue that we are seeing a religious attitude form around our relationships with technology, rationality, and causality (note that I do not include science, as science knows what its limitations are and a faith-based view of it would be better classified as faith in rationality or causality), an Industrial or Technological religion. What would be an example of this Industrial religion? Determinism is the first thing that comes to mind, even though it has some big problems.

I have some other thoughts on the consequences of this line of thinking, mainly about the utility of faith in dealing with things that are too complex to be properly grasped by the individual until some sort of mental toolkit is developed, but those are topics for another essay. Finally, it may seem that I am trying to smear logical thought. I am not. I do not view faith as intrinsically bad, as many do (I’m more worried about absolute certainty, myself), but simply an aspect of human nature, so please consider that before complaining.

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