religion a cultural mechanism for society?

Reply Sun 29 Mar, 2009 02:39 pm
Would you agree or disagree that religion, regardless of actual beliefs or the truth of those beliefs, is a universal cultural mechanism to create successful adaptations to the natural and social environment of a society?
Does the kind of religion it is affect your answer? i.e. does whether its an organic religion or a religion with a specific founder and a stricter set of beliefs matter?

Tell me why you take your position too. Smile
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Reply Sat 11 Apr, 2009 08:47 pm
Well seeing as no-one has answered this post, I will have a go.

Short answer - no, I don't agree. This type of theory is commonly found in various University departments and schools, for example, cultural anthropology, socio-biology, sociology, and so on. It generally attempts to describe all human traits as 'adaptions' so that they can be explained with reference to Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Certainly, theories such as this are very popular with materialists and atheists of various persuasions. Daniel Dennett, for example, wrote a book about it. I am currently reading 'Evolution as Religion' by Mary Midgley which dissects this pretty thoroughly.

I hold a non-reductionist view of religion - meaning I believe that it is rooted in the Divine. In other words, I think the term 'Divine' has a real referent, it means something real, it is not simply a matter of social convention or something made up by deluded people or ancients. (If that makes me a 'believer' so be it, but I am not a church-goer). Certainly there is such thing as religious delusion, and certainly not all religious beliefs are valid, but behind the panorama of religious belief, there are dimensions of reality and experience which are not reducible to science or explicable in any terms other than their own.

I accept the general outlook of philosopher of religion John Hick whose works I recommend.

References:An Interpretation of Religion, Human Responses to the Transcendent, John Hick

Evolution as a Religion, Mary Midgely
Reply Sun 12 Apr, 2009 01:43 am
At first thought, I'd have to say yes if I'm reading you correctly. You reminded me of a point made by Herbert Butterfield in The Origins of History. The way the peoples in the Nile valley and the Mesopotamian valley perceived the world is traced to the behavior of the rivers surrounding them. The Nile floods at predictable seasonal cycles. The Egyptians successfully irrigated it, and the pride from the achievement produced optimistic religious beliefs. The Mesopotamians, however, were cursed with rivers which flooded without warning and with varying levels of severity. Unable to control this natural force, their conceptions of deities were more fearful with man occupying a lower cowering station.
Reply Sun 12 Apr, 2009 02:57 am
I do not think the question was worded too clearly, I am not entirely sure what you mean by "successful adaptations to the natural and social environment of a society".

Certainly, religion has a anthropological/sociological aspect, take for example cultures where a religious belief is not only presupposed, but pretty much required (e.g. the joke about [Northern] Island, "I'm atheist" "Yes but are you a Catholic or Protestant atheist?")

Fromm suggested/implied that adherence to (organised) religious doctrine is a result of a "fear of freedom" (individuals feeling that they have no 'purpose' in society) and that thus people will symbiotically attach themselves to institutions such as religion, to give themselves meaning.

I certainly think there is some truth to that...
Why phil
Reply Sat 18 Apr, 2009 11:06 am
I think religion can not really be defined simply as a cultural mechanism.

Religion to me seems an inevitable consequence in a certain stage of intelligence. With intelligence comes the questioning. When we continue to question we see an incongruity, there seems to be no limit as to how far we can entertain the question of why? or how? Even if we were to explain all workings of this universe, they'd only be limited to just this universe alone, for all we know there could be a whole system of a trillion trillion big bangs and countless universes like ours, different, and more proficient for intelligent life. There may be even systems beyond this. We begin to realize the absurdity of existence and it gives us discomfort. To combat this discomfort we look to our inner feelings, or limited feelings of "specialness" and "this must be meaningful" and thus conclude there must be a divine being up there.

We live in a small, small, small world of structure. Things just seem to make sense. With how we have evolved it is no wonder the we seem to think there must be sense in ALL things. This is seen in our thousands of attempts to explain happenings on earth by assigning divine power. One such example would be the Greek Gods that explained love or thunder. Of course now we know there is a natural, explainable mechanism for those phenomena and we no longer believe in those Gods. But we were left with the thought that everything as a whole must have some controller so we
advanced to monotheism rather than the previous polytheism. I wonder if the final, perhaps unreachable final conclusion would be that existence is atheistic.

So in a way religion is a cultural mechanism since it allows us to go about our daily lives feeling that it is all worth something and meaningful. It allows the continuance of an intelligent society.

But let us imagine if there were such a divine being. Even with his existence you could ask the same question of "why" and he could question his motives for creating and the whole thing would be absurd.

We must conclude that existence, viewed from our perspectives, will always be absurd because we revolve around meaning, cause and effect, and other such concepts. So if not take the view of atheism, because there is the possibility of gods existing and me not knowing it, take the view that there is no "final truth" or meaning to all of this. Taking everything in to account we must conclude with anti-theism, that there may be another being's reasons for our existence but that the existence of that being can also be questioned to a never ending extent.

I feel religion an important issue to be debated on on all aspects so I shall create a new thread with a very similar post
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 09:58 am
@Why phil,
This question is misleading in some ways. Of course religions are shaped by nature, politics and the needs and demands of the world. But this is becuase the divine and the supernatural permeate everything- to seperate out the natural flooding of the nile and the myths of Isis is impossible- Isis represents somthing inherent and wonderful about how nature is also supernature- and religion is a reflection of a real spiritual reality.
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