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What is Religion & Morality

What is Religion & Morality

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11/20/2012

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Chqpter
I
Whot
ls
Religion?
Before
describing
the
relationship
of
religion
and
morality,
the
nature
of
religion
and
morality
must
be discussed.
What
is
religion?What
is
morality?
Despite
theirconmon
use,
these
words
are
frustratingly
diffi-
cult
to
satisfactorilydefine.
So
letme
try
to
describe
these
words.
In contrast
to
morality,
the
origin
of the
word
relrglor
is
etymologicallyde-
batable.The
root
word
could
be
the
Latin
word
relrgro
(meaningobligation
or
bond)or
the
Latin
word
religare(rrrrearing
to tieor bind).
Religion
scholarsseem to
prefer
relrgare,
Eq.mological
uncertainty
aboutthis
word
contributesto
the
abundanceof
definitions
ofreligion.
Within
these
definitions
common
elements
are
found, but it
is
obviousthat
no
one
definition
of
religionprevails.
An
Elusive
Subject
There
are
several
reasons
why
the
wordreligion
is
difficult
todescribe.One reason
is
that
peopleusually
perceive
thingsfrom theirown
perspec-
tive.
The stance
of
the observerand
participant
applies
to the
way peopleregard
religion,
as
well
as
morality,
politics,
and art.
No two
people
see
an
activity
exactlytlte
same
way.As unique
selves,
people
look
at
thints
ac-
cording
to
personality,temperament,
and
background.
Eastemand
West-
em peoples
see
the
world
differently.
V\rhat
we
see
dependsonwhere
westandor
sit. Thestance
of
theobserver is
crucial.It
is
possible
to
see
the
activity
of
religion
from various
vantage
points:
fromwithin
only,
from
half-within,from
halr,-without,
from
fully
de-
tachod,and
from
detached
within.Actuallp
fully
detachedmay
be
im-
possible,
for
it
is
doubtfulthat
observers
or
participantscan
remove
themselves
from
the
place wherethey siand.
The
highly prized
value
of
complete
objectivity
may
be
unachievable.
In
describing
religion
it
is
very
easy
to
be
one-sided.
Wetend
to
high-
Iight what
is
most appealing,attractive,
and
important*to
us!
Religion
as
 
2
Religion
and
Morality
an
activity
has
many
sides:
institutional,devotional,doctrinal,
mystical,
statjc,ecstatic,
substantive,functional,
exoteric,
andesoteric.l
The
strong
feelingspeoplehaveabout
religion
as
a
human
activity
also
come
into
play.
Some
humans
are
very
fond
ofieligion
and
whatitinvolvesi
others
passionately
dislikewhat
it
represe'ts.
Stiil
others
,,"ithu,
lik"
r,o,
dislike,
but
are
merely
indifferent.Our
age
has
-it
rurs"a
st
onsper"or,ut
antipathies
to
religionfrom
severalquarteis.
Social
scientists
like"F;ud
and
Marx
a
ttacked
religion
vehemently.
philosopherslikeMetzsch"
a.d
Fe.rer_
1:l::*ll*t:omments
agairstit.
An
A'merican
novutirt,
*ui
",
r"r"p
deci.rres
tlrc
wordreligion
to
be
moribr.rnd,
smellingofdust
andwax.
And
arecent
theologian,
Karl
Barth,has
thundered
thai
,,Gocl
hates
religiory,,viewingreligion
as
somethinghumans
createto
makeGod
confom
to
their3w1de31e1,.!thers
have
pointedout
that
the
word
religion
is
not
found
in
the
JcwishBibleand
onlyfour
times
in
the
Christian
Bibie.
Many
of
thepeo_
ple,l
meet
preferthewordspirituality
to the
wordreligion.
ffrnl"
of.,"
*no
still
use
the
word
religion
often
find
ourselveson
the
iefensive.
.
ContemporaryWestern
thinkers
sympathetic
to
religion
tencl
to
favor
the
nrystical,/devotional
sideof
religion
to
the
exclusioriot
tr,"otn",
,raur.
Sincc
the
EuropeanEnlightenment,Westernintellectuals
t
u.,r"
"""r,
,"fi
grr,rn.r.
Prinrarily.r
prjvate,
inclivilrr,rl
aflair.Tlrey
r"gorJr"linior,,r,
u
Whik'headian
way,
as
what
,,one
does
with
hi,"ofitu.ii""".,;
Col.,i"^po-
:ll].1':-':'y
.:l]:'l',,"
8":9
numberor"cultured
despisers.,
of
religion.wrlr)
D|come
cspecially
critical
when
religion
shows
its
pubJic
and
social
dlmlnsiol.gnd
takes
positionson
issueslike
-ur,
ubortio,l-thJ
"i_,,riro
-
il:1,:iij^,,5::""Ty..As.rrrese
critics
see
it,
rerigon
snouia
t"u-iort
or
rnc
p(rrncal
arena
andstayin
the
private
redlm.
L
Another
factor
contribuiing
to
tle
conrplexity
of
describhg
religion
c.:nbe
trncedto
theacademicsitua
tion.Religion
is
stucliecl
.u."ilfiv'Ul,'
,.f,of_:l::.rr,)m
dilelse
lcademic
disciptines
r_r1..r-i"rr,,*ayir,"
rl]r'1o#o,
."r,
Ji'hn.,I'sy.r){)t(,Ajsts.
lh(,
psy(h(,1(r8y
,rnrl
pht,nomenology
of
ieligion.
,x
i,'r,r)t,sts.,rrll
.rrtlrr()pol(,).ii:.ts
slu,ly
rcligion
*itn
tle
,,iJtnoas
ot
tt"i,
lr*rl,tj,rr.
l,hjl(,(,)phcrsdelve
inkrthe
rra"if
yi"g
"rr"rnpii"",
"i",g,"^
"1,"1';',,""',r.lr),1',,117,,.y,r,ir,",,,1111,,ry;,1,rr.r,.1ri1r,,n,.-l,,,,kinRrr,rthe
l,
'r1.,'
r1ri.
,,,r,j,ltll,,r,trr.s,l
rr.lr
1.,
.r.
,,r,"r
,t,,,,.,,.,',i,i
i,r',',',','"',j,".:.",.:''"',n.\"turolr..
rElrsrL,nr..rl,
,
i.,r,.i.,
.r
*
j|r,,r
,t,..i,it,i,.',,,,,,,:,',:,",:,i.,:'.'.:?.tn
urfIl
rtnr
drsc.plrne<,
a
..r-
....,t).r
r
,
t
.
,
,
t
t
t
.,
.,
,,
,
1
,
,
,
.
,
",,1.r,,,,,,
)
'.t,tIt:'rtt'ttn,tr*,,y,htr,,,,...,
,t,r,tt,u,{.rrJ,ir...(rrJ,
ir.,.r',""t"t'lt;'.vt','t"t.r,,,r,.,4,,f
ac,,rn-
r1.
l,j{ltt(
n,)t (,irsily
dc.crib"j
wris<,f
..deing.,orp."J;;;#":3,:1rsr
()firs
rariety
and
dilersity.
The
onething;il
isa
ma;y-;iJ;;t;;:5'"t
-ay
be
uncounrabh
Religion
is
nor
jusr
hcs.rrcmanif
ordan
j";.;;,";ii};"1.,"Jffffi
,#,x,fil'Jil,ilTfr
What
ls
Religion?
3
wellby focusing
on
the
six
dimensions
of
religion:
experientiaf
mythical,
doc_
irinal,
ethical,ritual
,
and
social.
Expeiezrr.al
rifers
to
lelgio,r,
u*J"]iurr."
U*
ing
confrontedby
the
numinous{the
holy,
,""."4
tu;.';;;;i".
"n"r"rg
rnystical
state
oI
union
with
ujtimatereality.
The
mythical
Jimf,nsion
per_
tains
to
stories
of
grea
t
syrnbolicdepth
thut
t
"tp
_r_"/tt
l
Jri_"i"
qu"roo*
of
life
arrd
death.
Thrc
doctrinald.mrension
is
Lhe
formal,
syrte#Uea
t"ucn_
1q
3t
"
Si"gr
reUgious
hadition
(e.g.,
the
Triniryin
Chriiir
rr,
rrr*"r_
,,,,
Buddhism).
The
ethical
dimension
dei,
*i*,
n#
p"ople
_rrhiri"
o".O.rl*
reLigion
should
behave,
or
how
an
idealhuman
dein!
"rr.JJL"l.
rr,".u_
mersion
of
r#arl
relatesto
waysin
which
^ytt
";
aocti.r"",
arririoiuf
lrul,r",
:j::::1
:^::,:i_":
rhroughsacrificial
and/or
initiatory
rites
Ge;p_y",,,
o,
]::-q,
*:r:T""1,
rites
of
passage).
Thesocial
dirnension
has
io
do
wirh
the
w.
ays
]n
wtuchreligions
organizeandsituatethemselves
in
the
larger
soci_
ety-the
institutional
side.z
No
matter
how
well
chosen
they
_ufl",
un
u._
tivity
including
these
dimensions
carurot
be
described
in
a
f#;il".
Furthermore,members
of
one
particularreligion
often
pru.ii."
it
.,r"ry
differently.
Eachreligious
traditio;has
tno"u
*n"o
"t
orrgtf
["ir"*,f_,ur,fr"
originating
experiences,stories,and
doctrinesshould
bJ
i"pi
fii"ruffy
"^a
ompletely-the
orthodox,
conservatives,
or
fundamentalsL
of
a
reUgion.Each
religion
also
hasthose
who
are
willing
todeviate,
a"p-i
u.a
a"_
velop,,or
engage
in what
popeJohn
XXlU
c;led
,ggior;"r;to'brrng^g
up
to
date)-theliberals,progressives,
and
moderniis.
Ur,to.turrut"fy,
ao
scriptivewords
becomelabels
and
evensrnear
wordg
and
in
theprocesslose
their
usefulness.
Anotherindication
of
the
diversityof religionis
reflected
in
the
fluid
ways
in
which
groups
or persons
refer
to themselves,or
are
referred
to,
as
religious.
The
AmericanHumanist
Association,forexampte,
a"
".onsi"tent
ffitic
of
haditional
religion,
referstohr.unanism
in
its
Ha
manist
Maniresn
I
&
IIas
the
highest
expressionof
religiousfaith.
Si^llarty,
"ociotjisis
urrj
theologians
allude
to
Marxism/Communism
asa
religioi
o. q'tru"i:."Ugior,.
A
word
that
is
used
to
refer
to
activitiesor
ideas
often"se"r,
a"
ioth r"ligiol,s
and
antireligiousinnature
is
ratherslippery.Attempts
to
fina
ott
".
,"ora"
are
understandable.
A
particularlydramatic
wayin
whichreligionsvary
greatly
is
in
the
waysthey
view
God
or
ultimatereality.
Thi
three
g.elt
We'stern
reti
,q:"r-fu
|"bT,
9tuistianj
ty,
and.
Islam_view
God
as"a
p"rror,ut
i"t,g,o
be
revered
and
obeyed.The
God
of
these
religionsis
described
as
om_
nipotent,*omniscient,and
omnipresent_the
thelstic
point
of
view.
.
In
the
Eastern
religions
of
Hinduism,
Buddhism,
andTaoism,
however,ultimatereality
is
usually
seen
in
a
nonpersonal
way.
Buddhists
assert
that
theydonotbelieve
in
a
personal
God.
'ihi"
m"un"
ti.rat
by
"o*"
t
uaitio.rul
definitions
of
religion
(e.g.,
belief
in
God
o,
u
"rlpr"-"6"irrgii"d;hi"",,
 
4
Religion
and
MoralitY
Taoism,and
possibJ.y
Hinduism
would
not
qualify
as
reliSions'.The
very
different
ways
in
which
religions
view
ultimaterealityexplains
the
prefer-
ence
of
many
scholars
for broader,moreinclusivedescriptionsof
religion'
As
a
humanactivity,religion
is
dynamic
ratherthan
static
Religionsex-ist
within
culturesthai
grow
andchange'
FritjofCapra,
a
scientist'
and
the-
ologian
David
Steindl-"Rast
talk
about
"new
paradigms"
in
science
andthe5logy.
Anyactivity
thatdevelops
andevolves
is
hard
to
pin down'
de-fine,
or
adequatelYdescribe.Lastly,
reiigionisdifficult
to
describebecause
estimationsofits strengthsarld
-"uknesJrrary
greatly.
Some
arguethat
religions
aredeclin.ing;
sociolo-
gists
of
reLigioncont"end
thatsecularization
is
winning,
especiallyin
affluentiations.
Cit"ed
as
evidence
of
decline
is
thefact
thatin
the
United
States
mem-bership
andattendance
inmainline
churchesandslmagogues
has
fallen
A
majornewsmagazine
(Newsweek,Dec.7,1992)
has
declaredthat
the
so-called
luieo-Christiai
tradition
no longeredsts
in modem
pluraList
Arnerica'However,
the
evidence
is
mixed:
the
Christianreligion
may
be
declin-
ing
in
Europeand
North
America,
but
it
is
expanding
in
some
areas
of
Aflica
and Asia.
Furthermore,
the
religions
of
Hinduism,
Buddhism,
Tao-ism,
Confucianism,
and
Shintoismexhibit
continuing
viiality
in their
8eo-
graphical
areas.
And
althoughthe
mainline
branches
of
Judaism
and
-hiistianity
are
struggling
to remain
vital
in
the
United
States,some
of
thelnoro
conslrvativewings of
these
religious
groups
are
thriving
Also,
in
the
United
States,
the emergence
of
"NewAge"religion
or
sPiritualityin-
dicntesthat
religion
in its
diversedimensions
is
not yetdead or
dying.The
flcl
that
conflict
between
religions
has
intensified
in
some
areas
of
the
world
points
to
vitality;
dead
people
don't fight!
Mark
Juergensmeyer
ac-
tually
says
that
religious conflictis
the
new Cold
War.The
situation
de-scribedhere helpsus
understand
whyreligion
is
not easilydescribed'
A
Whole Greaterthan lts
Parts
l)cspite
the
problemsindescribing
religion,
thequestionposed
forthis
(
lr.rl)lcr rcmirins:
Wha
t
is
rcligion?Definitions
ancl
dcscriptiotrs
may
be
un-
satisfactory,
but
several
words
andideas keep
appearingwhen
religion
is
clisctrssed.
I
wish
to
highlight
seven
of
these
ideasand
point
to
them
as
in-
tegral
p,1/'ts
of the
remarkable
ru,hole
we
are
callingreligion.
Iwtu
Attitudes
Religion
is
connected
with
inner
attitlrdes
involving
such human
acts
as
believing,
trusting, depending,
and
faithing
(to
verbalize
a
nounthat
is really an
action).
It
alsopertains
to
attitudesrelated
to
confi-
dence,
courage, and hope,
very
close to
what
Carl
Jung
once
declaredthe
rNhat
ls
Religion?
5
greatest need
ofhispatients
for
them to
fully
recover,
namely,
a
"reli-
gious
outlook."
Among
the
written
Ccscriptions of
religion
that
fit
this
particular
aspect
are
the following:
beliefs about
what is
ultimately
important,
a
rational
t
rst in reality, "immortal longings,"
living
byconvictions that make
lifeultimatelyworthliving,
what
we
trust
as
giving
meaning
and
value
to
our
lives,
an
attitude
toward what
is
considered
a
determiner
of
destiny,
a
de-pendence
onpowers believed
tocontrol
and
direct
the
course
of
nature
and
life,
a
feeling
of
ultimate
dependence
on
the
Ultimate,
a
feeling of
something
"unlimited
and
unbounded,"
a
belief
in
the
ultimate
meaning
of
the
universe, convictions about
the
context and purpose of human
life
as
such,"a
divine
light
in
the
life
of
the
soul,"
a
surrender
to
ihe
will
ofGodin all
things, beliefs that
help
to give
hope, courage,
and
confidence,
and
the
binding
stance
one takes
toward
the
mystery
of
life
and
death.3
Seeking
Answers and
Meaning
Religion
is also
connected
with
the
compelling human
tendency to
find
answers
for
ultimate
questions, to
discover
the
meaning
of
life and
death.
A
Jewish
Holocaust
survivor, Dr.
Viktor
Frankl,
in
a
popular
book
titled
Man's
Search
forMeanin& contends thatpeople
can
endure
suffering
if
they
find
meaning
in it.
Makingreligion
a search
for
meaningis general and
broad,
but
searching
for
answers and
meaning
is one
part
of the
total phe-nomenon called
religion.
Descriptions
that
illustrate
this
part
of
religion
are:
exploration
of
the
ul-
timate meaning
of
life,
involvement
in
the
meaning
of existenceand
find-
ing our relation
to
the
significant
events
oflife,
holistic
interpretations
oflife
that
enable us
to
make
sense
of
emotions,
desires,
and attitudes, and
thinking
onthe
ultimate
questions
of
life,
deatlr,and
reality.a
Three
significant
ultimate
questions humans
ask
as
they
seekthe
mean-
ing
of
life
are those
of
origin,destiny,
and meaning:Where
did
I
come
from?
Where
will
I end(my
final
destiny)?
What
is the
purpose of
the
life
I
now
live? When persons sincerely
ask these
questions theyparticiPate
in
one
of
the salient
partsof religion.
Encounter
with
Ultinate
Reality
Religion
also has
much
to do
with
the
human
desireforcontact
with
ul-timatereality,
which
is
also called
the
Transcendent,
the
Sacred,
theSupremeBeing, the
Powers/Forces
of the
Universe,
orGod. One's
picture
or
r.nderstanding
of
reality
conveyed
in
these
words
constitutes
a
"world-view."
The
fact that humans adopt
worldviews
has
been
emphasized
re-
cently.Walter
Wink
succinctly
characterizes
five
basic
worldviews:

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