Monday, October 2, 2017

What is “religion”?

It would be a fascinating subject to study. Religion now and before. I know people who go to religious schools under different religions. I know too many people who believe whatever they are taught in their different religions, never dig into the past to see what’s happened/happening. So many religions over Earth, and all of them brought to you (or anyone else) by self-taught people – self-taught after their memory is filled with whatever they learned as a child. Who knows which books to read? Who knows what is true and what is simply your own belief? 

60,000+ years ago Aboriginal people lived in Australia. No religion lived in this world then. On the website Working with Indigenous Australians Helen Milroy said:

We are part of the Dreaming. We have been in the Dreaming for a long time before we are born on this earth and we will return to this vast landscape at the end of our days. It provides for us during our time on earth, a place to heal, to restore purpose and hope, and to continue our destiny.

Aboriginals believed in their spiritual ancestors, the Dreaming Ancestors.

Their lives changed when the “Christian” British arrived in 1788. At that time there were many more Aboriginals than English, but it didn’t really take very long for the British to multiply and outgrow the number of Aboriginals. Of course, they murdered them too. Very “Christian”…   

In the Middle East Judaism began around 3,000 years ago as a monotheist Abrahamic religion, using the Torah as their written text. A thousand years later a man split Judaism: those who followed Christ would call themselves Christians. A short religion, yet mostly filled by European people.

According to Pew Forum, two thirds of Christianity lived in Europe a century ago (1910). And according to BBC, two thousand years ago – actually, 1 century AD – Middle East traders arrived in Britain and over the next four hundred years managed to convert the British predominantly with intolerance of “other” gods – which, of course, most people believed in back then. Pagans! Christians used their Bible, which has a long and not particularly decent history, as their text. Of course, there are many sub-texts, re-written by some of the sub-Christian religions. Wikipaedia says there are at least 7 large Christian churches: Catholicism, Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Restorationism and Non-Trinitarianism and Church of the East. There are also a lot of others – look at Mormons (Book of Mormon), Seventh Day Adventists, Quakers, Jehovah Witnesses, Baptists, Methodists, Salvation Army, Lutherans, Presbytarians, Pentecostal…. et al.

Why have they done that? (Asking a question… don’t mean to answer it!)

Islam started in around 610CE – after even Christianity had started. Muslims now look on Jesus, David, Moses, Abraham, Noah and Adam as prophets, and use their Quran as their religious text. It’s the second largest religion, behind Christianity.

Surprisingly, India’s religions date back before Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Hinduism came to India 5,000 years ago and its oldest text is Rigveda, written more than a thousand years BCE. India has a few sub-religions: Hinduism (80% of population), Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. I know very little about any of these. Neolithic pastoralists “buried their dead in a manner suggestive of spiritual practices that incorporated notions of an afterlife” according to Peter Heehs  (Heehs, 2002). Prof Dr Quack is a Principal Investigator of University of Zurich’s Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology and wrote about the “first ethnographic study of the contemporary rationalist (atheist, humanist, or freethinking) movement in India” (Quack, 2011). Baha’i is also an Indian religion. It believes that “divine Educators” are Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and Bahá’u’lláh, sent to them by God. Apparently.

I am atheist. I am 60 years old. I don’t believe in “god(s)” because I don’t believe that any god “created” us. Too many religions to think – or believe in - just what any other religion does. How – why – do so many different religions supply missionaries to a country like this? A Western country? Religions are all different. Sometimes, though, I get very interested in reading or talking about religion – and about atheism. Do you know how many atheists live around the globe? Keysar and Navarro-Rivera wrote this year that there are around 7% of the total world population, half a billion atheists and agnostics globally (Keysar, 2017). China has 200 million atheists – 14% of their population.

I know that I don’t know as much about any religion, but maybe I need to get back into reading. At the beginning of this blog I wrote: Who knows which books to read? I found one, Introducing Anthropology of Religion: Culture to the Ultimate, written by Jack David Eller, which looks at the anthropology of belief, of symbolism, of ritual and ritualization, morality, religious change, “great transformation”, violence, secularism and fundamentalism. If I can afford that, I think I’d buy it.

Maybe I’ll be after you… 

Eller, J. D. 2015. Introducing Anthropology of Religion: Culture to the Ultimate. Routledge, NY.

Heehs, P. 2002. Indian Religions: A Historical Reader of Spiritual Expression and Experience. New York University Press, NY.

Keysar, Ariela; Navarro-Rivera, Juhem, 2017. "A World of Atheism: Global Demographics". In Bullivant, Stephen; Ruse, Michael. The Oxford Handbook of Atheism. Oxford University Press.

Quack, Prof Dr J. 2012. Disenchanting India: Organized Rationalism and Criticism of Religion in India. Oxford University Press, NY.

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