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Nature of religion Nature of religion
by Jan Sand
2021-07-31 08:51:52
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Although religion has always had the capability to raise dissention, there are times, such as the present, when the situation seems more exacerbated than usual.

fai0001_400_01The range of emotion in three major religions covers a wide spectrum. Orthodox believers in the Christian, the Jewish and the Muslim religions tend toward radical reaction to criticism and the presentation of doubts by secular questioners. The reason for this strong reaction seems to betray something of insecurity in the foundations for faith and in the possibility that there is enough reasonable logic in these negative viewpoints to shake the power of these traditional beliefs. Fanatics within religious fundamentalist groups have factions which extend no bars to their expression of their hatred of criticism and the intensity of this reaction has become a threat to civilized society.

The survival of any organism depends upon the determination, mostly by trial and error, by that creature of those threats which may destroy it and the evolution of reactions which will preserve that organism. Over time these reactions become a basic set of rules that solidify into confirmed social laws and are not considered subject to critical analysis which may threaten the existence of the organism. But the universe is not static. Over time those threats which could be confronted by standard solutions mutate and evolve. And new threats appear which lay outside the capability of the standard social toolbox. If the original mechanisms which protected society by acknowledging a new threat and devising a protective solution has decayed so that new rules cannot be formulated to replace those that no longer apply, then the organism becomes vulnerable if it persists in applying the old rules and is in danger of destruction.

Early human social groups required two social mechanisms to survive. The first was a compilation of the nature of the environment and its dangers and opportunities and the second was a system to apply this knowledge to the benefit of the group. In all probability the first social groups were families with either a male or a female leader or perhaps a division of power between the two. Before agriculture the group survived by hunting and gathering and gradually domestication of animals and plants proved more fruitful. The proponent of the first mechanism evolved into a wise person or a priest and the second mechanism produced a leader or king who was probably a successful hunter and warrior.

Both religion and science were intimately intertwined in the priest function and one complemented the other. Both religion and science originally were highly creative enterprises. The survival of the group depended upon correct appraisal of an event and the formulation of how to confront it. Good priests invented what they thought lay behind an event and devised ways of dealing with it. When they failed everybody suffered and if they succeeded everybody prospered. But, as in every social situation, particular individuals became dominant within their function and prevented necessary revisions of the rules which were necessary changes for the survival and progress of society. With the advent of the written word the ideas which had been successful in the past became petrified into unshakeable regulations with frequently absurd constrictions.

Although rational thought has always been present in humanity it came to prominence within very capable individuals in several ancient societies, the Greeks being one of the most obvious. The lines of thought from there to the present lead through several civilizations to the development of precise rational disciplines in modern science. Almost all of the original creativity embodied in the original priest scientist has burgeoned in science and withered in religion leading to an unfortunate modern conflict between the two. There are many problems that may become accessible to science in the future that deal with consciousness in the universe and the concept that there may be some direction to the way the universe has developed. In many of these concepts science has wisely declined to offer definite solutions although speculation is open.

Religion, on the other hand, has tended to proffer definite concepts which it does not accept as open to criticism. Some of them are so widely at variance with accepted scientific reality as to appear totally irrational. They make me, at minimum, exceedingly uncomfortable and reflect on the capabilities of the people making the claims.

Oscar Wilde once noted: It is because humanity has never known where it was going that it has been able to find its way.

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