There cannot be a rational interpretation of religion...

Discussion in 'Agnosticism and Atheism' started by Ukr-Cdn, Feb 14, 2009.

  1. jumbuli55

    jumbuli55 Member

    There are two subjects here.

    1. The quoted author is not saying "don't try and disprove god", rather have awareness of what emotions ("religious sentiment") the believers' faith have come from before you speak of it.
    Which is a valid point.


    2. As to the separate subject of trying to prove or disprove existence of something, it does take an evidence to prove or disprove anything.
    In lack of evidence there could only be inferences or theories, some are better reasoned than the others, but still only theories.

    For instance, in physics, during the experiments in the laboratoty, scientists sometimes stumble upon certain phenomena, of which they can only say "this IS SO", while incapable of explaining it .
    Subsequently they can't tell us precisely WHY, or WHENCE FROM or HOW this is so.

    They then try to come up with some kind of theory (inference) to make sense of the phenomena or what might be behind it.

    The process of inference in such cases depends upon scientists' own preconditioned thought patterns, scope of knowledge, life experiences, individual reasonings and even desires, emotions , needs, views , past or current beliefs and etc.

    Now, someone might look at such phenomena and say that since there is no provable or clear explanation of it, then there must be a God behind it.

    But the concept of God, whether it be anthropomorphic God or not, is also an inference, a theory.

    What you could say for certain in such instances is that there are UNKNOWN causes for some phenomena or UNKOWN rationale behind a given phenomena, but since you nor anyone out there know anything about it then anything you or anyone could possibly say about it is an inference and nothing more.

    You know ,Einstein was one of the most rigid rationalists who refused to accept even empirical data if it run against his firm belief in rationality of everything in Universe. If there was no rational explanation he could come up with he would say that there most certainly is reducible to mechanical laws of physics explanation but we just don't know it yet.
    He had nothing to prove his theory about absolute rationality of Universe, he just had very strong belief in it.
    He was in essence going as far as invalidating the empirical data in favor of his beliefs (like many religious people are said to be doing).
    He even got into lengthy, heated debates with other physicists over it.
    (Albert Einstein: "God does not play dice!", Neils Bohr (in responce): "Stop telling God what to do!").

    But in the end, if you give it a deep thought , it all comes back to square one: that there are things that are UNKNOWN and any interpretation of UNKNOWN, no matter from what angle you attempt to do it, are only inferences, theories and projections of our own thought patterns, emotions, desires and etc.
  2. Ukr-Cdn

    Ukr-Cdn Striving towards holiness

    Yeah, you do have a point.
  3. pineapple08

    pineapple08 Members

    Sounds like special pleading to me. I can still talk about suicide without being suicidal, well at least not all the time. I am probably wrong. Who could fault the founder of modern sociology.
  4. Carcharinidae

    Carcharinidae Member

    How about this?

    Religion is a survival mechanism. The belief in God or gods is and has always been a method for one civilization to get a leg up on other ones. The ones with the "best" code of morals had the highest survivorship.

    For example-- The Hebrews (Jews "pre-Jesus") laid down a law that states no one is allowed to eat pig lest they be killed. Why?

    Well, pigs use up a lot of space and water, for one thing. Both of those aren't exactly common in a desert, especially if the space you need (which you do, for pigs) is pretty viable soil. In addition, pigs tend to root up, trample and eat other crops. This was something that would have damaged the Hebrews, so they outlawed it.

    "Thou shalt not kill" is the same thing, for obvious reasons. Same as "Thou shalt not kill thyself. (By the way, the way I see it, if people were so sure there's an afterlife that's so much better than the one here, they'd just kill themselves. Those two mandates are the only things preventing that).

    Religious aversion to homosexuality is also like that-- if men or women entered into monogamous relationships with someone of the same sex, they couldn't produce offspring. In a community of only several thousand individuals, that makes a lot of sense. You need all the kids you can get.

    I'm not just pegging the Middle Eastern religions here, either. The Maya used ritual human sacrifice as a way to quell human aversion to boredom.

    All this shows is that successful religions seem to have two major things in common-- one, that religions are survival techniques for humans, and two, that religions show the same unconscious understanding of humans that we all have but don't say it.

    For example, we're all afraid of dying. We're all afraid of chaos, and to stave it off, we implement order. We're very easily manipulated. We get bored easily, and so create drama (like ritual sacrifice and war).

    I hope this successfully answers your question-- religion is explained successfully as a survival mechanism.
  5. famewalk

    famewalk Banned

    But to approach atheism is constantly baraged for the self-centered repproach, is to see that rational explanations justify the solution adequately for the planet without God involved in the explanation.

    So take it that for instance the present economy is solved by rational reduction for fitting all the numbers in the financial marketing quiz and presto it can and must be solved. Similarly, if God breaks down and it is after-all a human morality issue which needs to be understood, then we have to with God's aid turn to irrational solutions. It can't be a religious quest to live without stock market, to live without a gold standard, with restrictions on commodities because people can demand their culture be protected for the most outlandish reasons. The Religious quest is irrational for the betterment of confidence in how we work out our differences and factual state of reality in trusting or distrusting (is that religon? it was in Derkheim's day) each other at work.

    A rational interpretation of religion is incomplete to the circumstances of survival. If it was complete, surely I would see anyway with the author that it was irrational.:)
  6. Okiefreak

    Okiefreak Senior Member

    Among other things. Religion is multi-functional, performing important functions for both individuals and societies. In Breaking the Spell, Dennett catalogues and documents these at great length. So does this mean that's all religion is? I don't think so. In Varieties of Religious Experience, William James provides a sympathetic account of the many different encounters people have with the great mystery of existence. The Dawkinses and Dennetts think religion is "nothing but..." By James' definition, religion is a belief in "something more"--more than the everyday world of physical reality. James thought that in order to make sense of our experience, it's ok to indulge in "over beliefs" in things which can't be proven but which help us lead lives we consider richer and more meaningful. He argued:"Assuredly, the real world is of a different temperament -- more intricately built than physical science allows. So
    my objective and my subjective conscience both hold me to the over-belief which I express. "
    Good pragmatist that he was, he thought the best religion was one that "worked" in providing positive consequences for the believer. And it could be true (in a non-pragmatic sense).
  7. Ukr-Cdn

    Ukr-Cdn Striving towards holiness

    Quite reductionist of you. Whilst I am loving Durkheim in basic principle, I am still at heart a phenomenologist.

    Your statement about getting a leg up has some flaws. What about totemism, Durkheim's most primitive religion. Whilst I want to assume that there was some tribal warfare in Austrailian Totemic society, they all believed in one set of totemic divisions and subdivisions and belonged to opposing sides. It was, according to Durkheim's sources, a method of dividing the world into us-es and thems.

    BTW- Thou shalt not kill is more properly rendered "Thou shalt not kill unjustly" because of the commantment "if man shed's mans blood by man shall his blood be shed" (or something to that effect from Genesis 9). It is stoping retribution is what it is (Going into Girard's scapegoat theory of violence). The dietary laws are a whole other issue that shouldn't be taken so lightly. Long have people (on the internet) claimed that pork and shellfish were taboo for health reasons, but I've recently heard it proposed that it is because they do not do waht an animal is supposed to do (shell fish don't "swim" like "all the swimming things of the sea"). I am not sure what pigs do not do, but it could be they don't chew cud like "real" creeping animals. Who knows what the anceint Hebrews thought. Certainly not us.

    We can study supposed and hypothetical pragmatic reasons for religion (Malinowski I think theorozed that religion and magic were made manifest at "life crisis") but an entire school of thought rests upon the feeling and experience that religion can evoke in people. Whilst I am a believer in a religion which is irrelevent for this conversation, I can admit that it is quite possible my faith is a crutch (cf. )
  8. famewalk

    famewalk Banned

    Just the same for Derkheim progress was not a religious value; it was a political economic one. On the other hand, the scientific community progressed for him (he was in about the twenties wasn't he) against religion, or at best proporting the ignorance of the masses towards It.
  9. the millions of Jews supposedly wander around in the desert for 40 years...

    in a area the size of Vermont......

    and you look to them for directions,muslims xian.. .

    still lost in the fucking desert
  10. Okiefreak

    Okiefreak Senior Member

    Naturalistic explanations of religion, like this one, strike me as "just so" stories--plausible, but unverifiable. In the broad sense, religion is functional, but its hard to explain the particulars without considering the multiple functions that beliefs play for societies, institutions, and individuals. What about Leviticus, with its obsessive preoccupation about bodily secretions, selection of sacrificial animals, and keeping things separate, like wool and linen threads? Was that functional in some way for Hebrew society, or did it reflect the interests and concerns of the author, whom many scholars believe to have been a priest?

    Your explanation of Mayan use of human sacrifice to relieve boredom may be oversimplified. What was so boring about Pre-Coumbian Meso-American life to account for the practice of human sacrifice on such a collosal scale? To the believers, it was done in gratitude, out of recognition for what the gods had given them and what the gods needed from them in order to perform their roles in the cosmic order. These beliefs were derived from observation of heavenly events and changing seasons, and an effort to make sense of them. In Aztec-Toltec-Chichmec theology, from which much of the Mayan sacrificial ritual portrayed in the Mel Gibson movie Apocalypto derived, there was a reciprocal relationship between humans and the gods. Quetzalcoatl (the Mayan god, Kukulcan) for example, revived the human race by shedding his precious blood; and people repaid him by shedding theirs from thier tongues or penises in daily bloodletting exercises. The Aztec god Xipe Totec, the flayed Lord, sustained humanity by giving his skin, and every spring the priests put on the flayed skins of the sacrificial victims and wore them until they burst, symbolizing renewal. The Aztec sun god, Hutilopochtli, fought a daily battle with the forces of night and darkness, so he was renourished by the hearts of sacrificed warriors. Tlaloc, the god of rain and fertility, was vital to agriculture, so he was "re-watered" with tears collected from sacrificed children. All of these dieties, the believers thought, needed tonali (energy) to sustain them, and this was provided by human sacrificial victims. So tens of thousands of humans a year lost their lives to mistaken ideas about how the universe works and gratitude gone awry. One can focus on the folly of it all, or alternatively, try to understand the phenomenon as an effort of fellow humans to find patterns and meaning in the mystery of their existence--aided by specialists (priest-theologians) in working out the details. The Aztec and Mayan priest-theologians had a strong vested interest in the theology of sacrifice, as did the warrior clans like the Eagles and Jaguars, who brought them their sacrifical victims.
  11. Carcharinidae

    Carcharinidae Member

    First of all, I'd like to comment to the poster--

    Why would you answer your own question? What's the point? Did I strike a nerve? Don't ask questions if you know the answer or are just going to dump all over other people's answers. It's bad manners.

    Also, to Okiefreak--

    Yes, I do think that the book of Leviticus is functional. I may not have an explanation for all of it (that'd take extensive research, because it's such a long work) but I do think that there's an explanation for all of it.

    And I really don't understand why you went on such a long tangent about Central American theology-- these people were still being controlled by an idea, so it doesn't really matter what they were feeling about it, does it? Sure, it matters to the individuals, but I gathered we weren't looking on the scale of the individual. As a society, the Mayans were possibly one of the most successful empires in history. Unfortunately, something most people don't realize is that prosperity and peace are extremely dull things for people. Why do you think our news stations have such an enormous fetish for violence, or, barring that, celebrity gossip? We're going to have to deal with celebrity gossip until someone starts a new religion that actually works for today's world.

    It's the same thing. Humans need to keep themselves entertained. Religious rituals were pure entertainment. It gave the societies a goal to strive for-- in this case, showing gratitude to the gods and all that.

    At its most fundamental, religion is a survival mechanism. It can, however, be easily manipulated (almost laughably so). Ever heard of cults? Priests are people, and people are imperfect, therefore priests are imperfect. Obviously some religious laws can be chalked up to some priest's imperfections or corruptions or sadism or what-have-you.

    And yeah, there probably isn't any evidence, or there won't be unless geneticists or behaviorists find some "religious gene." Until then, it's mostly just a philosophical but plausible theory of religion.
  12. Ukr-Cdn

    Ukr-Cdn Striving towards holiness

    I'd, again, argue that religion at its fundameltal level is a survival mechanism.

    Whilst we cannot go back and find the "most primitive" religion as Durkheim tries to do, we can find ones that have less amounts of mythical and legendary accretions added to it. For example, I return again to totemism. In some societies before a hunt occurs a group ritually enacts a "perfect" hunt where they "attack" a stand-in for the real target in the correct manner. Therefore when they cannot do this in practicality on the real hunt, its cosmic repurcusions are not felt because it was already done. Why why why why why is this a survival mechanism. It seems to me to be almost anti-survival in that it takes time and energy to do this ritual that has not explicit natural function, only a supernatural function.

    On your concession that there won't ever be any evidence for your thesis, why then hold so tightly onto it unless you are suffering from some sort of mysterium trememdum. Again, I will admit that it is quite possible for my religion to be a crutch, but i am willing to admit that.

    Are you willing to admit that you could be wrong?
  13. Carcharinidae

    Carcharinidae Member

    I never said there'd never be evidence. I said that there'd have to be very specific evidence.

    I didn't even say that to you. I told you to stop being rude.
  14. famewalk

    famewalk Banned

  15. Okiefreak

    Okiefreak Senior Member

    Sounds like sympathetic magic. The survival function might be the value that the ritual has in giving the participants a sense of supernatural control over the outcome of the hunt, thereby psyching themselves up so that they actually do better hunting. The Maji Maji rebellion against German rule in Tanganyika was carried out by tribesmen who believed that magic water made them impervious to bullets. Ultimately, the belief had low survival value, since the rebels were wiped out, but in the short run it helped them fight like hell. Prayer may serve similar functions, like a placebo. Placebos do work.
  16. relaxxx

    relaxxx Senior Member

    Sounds like practice, which is a very important survival function.
  17. Okiefreak

    Okiefreak Senior Member

    An even simpler explanation. Occam would be proud.
  18. Ukr-Cdn

    Ukr-Cdn Striving towards holiness

    Yeah, sympathetic magic. I forgot that term...

    You do make a good point.

    Carcharinidae, I didn't mean to be rude. If that is how I came off I apologize. Keepin inmind though this is a public forum and I was simply responding to the thread and to your post even though your post may have been direcetd at one specific person.
  19. Okiefreak

    Okiefreak Senior Member

    First of all, I'd just like to say I enjoy your posts and think there's a lot to your idea about religion being functional. You've stimulated a lot of thought, so please don't take it personally when I argue with you. I argue with myself, and this particular godawfully long post is mainly intended to get out some ideas that have been rattling around in my head to see what they look like from the outside and get some reactions.

    I don't think anyone would argue that people are fascinated by violence, but it doesn't lead most of us to engage in ritual human sacrifice. In order to establish that the Maya tradition of sacrifice resulted from a need to alleviate boredom, I'd think you'd have to explain why the Maya were more bored than other people, or why it took that particular form among the Maya. You can say for the Maya it was human sacrifice, for us it's celebrity gossip and bombing the Taliban (I know, I said the last one), but to be scientific about it, you'd have to be able to explain how you arrived at that conclusion on some basis other than your own subjective hunch. The Maya would say, No, we did it to sustain the gods; G.W. Bush would say, No, we did it to protect the world from terrorism, and it had nothing to do with religion. Why should we prefer your version over theirs?
    I thought we were trying to explain religion, and talking about whether or not there can be a rational interpretation of it. This led to a discussion of the adequacy of various secular theories of religion, and your effort to reduce the phenomenon to just societal survival. My point was that it's more than that. I admit I got carried away with the Central American theology (and will get worse in this post), but I was trying to illustrate the point that to understand the phenomenon, individual meanings, mediated by sub-group influences, matter a lot. Religion can be understood at two levels: (1) as an historical-cultural phenomenon, focusing on its impact on societies and the world; and (2) as a set of myths, symbols, metaphors, ideas, and values pointing toward a deeper meaning that we can relate to on its own terms.

    Even as a historical-cultural phenomenon, I think religion is more complex than just societal survival. Dawkins argues that the relevant unit from an evolutionary standpoint is neither the society nor the individual, but the meme, a unit of culture (in this case human sacrifice) which he likens to a virus. From the standpoint of the meme, individuals and societies are hosts, which are useful only to the extent they aid in enabling the meme to survive and reproduce. The meme of human sacrifice was able to survive and reproduce itself in Meso-America because of its multifunctional properties in serving the needs of individuals for an emotionally satisfying explanation of natural phenomena; the needs of societies for resources; and the needs of the warrior, priestly,and ruling classes for social status. In its "heart sacrifice" form, it seems to have been invented by the Toltecs (if they existed; we know of them mainly through Aztec sources) and spread to other Nahua-speaking (Aztec, Mixtec, Zapotec) peoples, and eventually infected the Maya. It provided the main basis for legitimacy of the religious, political, military, and economic institutions of the "infected" peoples, so from that standpoint it did serve the purpose of societal survival, but the functions were broader than that. The societies that bought into it came and went, but the meme persisted and spread. The Toltecs, who may have been the original inventers, disappeared as a civilization, as did some of the succeeding societies, but the meme survived.

    Christianity is a better example. Beginning as the faith of a sect of poor Jewish peasants in a backwater Roman province, it became the official religion of the Roman empire. Did it contribute to the survival of the empire? Gibbons argued that it contributed to its ultimate decline and fall. Be that as it may, the empire is long gone and Christianity is still alive and kicking in symbiotic co-existence with captitalist democracies. In the process, it has undergone dramatic mutations and transformations--evloution in action!

    As a Christian, I'd argue that these changes, while interesting and to some extent regrettable, don't capture the essence of my religion. Nor do I think that historical-cultural accounts do justice to the richness of Toltec spirituality. The Toltecs (real or legendary) saw the universe in dualistic terms, divided between the tonal (the apparent world of the senses, the material world) and the nagual (spiritual reality). The god Quetzalcoatl (lord of self-sacrifice and rebirth, called Kulkucan by the Mayas) , came from the spiritual realm to resurrect the human race from previous extinction by shedding his own blood and sprinkling it on their remains. He is represented as a feathered serpent, mediating between the material world (the serpent that crawls) and the spiritual realm (the eagle that soars). But he has an adversary, Tezcatlipoco (Smoky Mirror), lord of darkness and night, the tempter and deceiver. His symbol is a mirror of polished black obsidian stone. The world of appearance that we call reality is distorted by the smoky mirror. As Saint Paul put it "we see now through a glass darkly..." (1 Cor. 13:12).

    The Quetzalcoatl myth became intertwined with the career of a priest-king Quetzalcoatl Topiltzin who is said to have ruled in Tula as the incarnation of Quetzalcoatl during the Toltec golden age. Topiltzin taught that human sacrifice was abhorrent and that the gods could be satisfied with blood from the prick of a thorn. This did not go over well with the priests and warrior clans that had a vested interest in human sacrifice. They engineered a coup d'etat and drove Quetzalcoatl Topilzin from Tula. (There's an interesting legend portraying his temptation by Tezcatlipoco that reminds me of similar accounts of the temptation of Horus by Seth, the Buddha by Maya, and Jesus by Satan.) But prophecy said that he would return to defeat his adversaries and rule again. Historians tell us that this prophecy helped Cortez conquer the Aztecs, since Quezalcoatl Topiltzin is said to have been bearded and fair skinned, and Montezuma assumed Cortez was the god returning.

    So I think the sociological accounts of religion are interesting and valid descriptions of an aspect of reality, that of the tonal. But to gain a richer understanding of the nagual, we need to avoid reductionism and look beyond the distortions of the smoky mirror.
  20. jumbuli55

    jumbuli55 Member

    Of course it is.

    That's where natural selection ,as a matter of fact , comes into play.
    Those who have better survival mechanisms outlast those who don't.

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