I've just begun to read with great interest Peter Harrison's _The Territories of Science and Religion_. In his introduction, he illuminates the changing meanings of the term "religion" over the centuries. I am curious how our membership might interpret the word "religion." When you hear or use the word, do you think of creeds to which people subscribe? Or do you think of spiritual practices? And if you see religion as a practice, is it the practice of rituals or of a transformed lifestyle? Is it going to church or going to a prison to minister to inmates? I'm not looking for theory here or what you think you SHOULD say. I'm looking for the immediate thoughts when the word is used--to get a sense of where we fall in the historical arc of changing meanings.

You can look for the Harrison book review in a future issue of Searchlight or our Journal.

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Good question. Thanks for the distraction.

From my WordWeb app, Religion: "A strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny."

For me, the controlling concepts are belief, supernatural power and control. Organized religion can provide solace, but usually at the price of self-determination. Still, I understand why people are involved in religion. Sometimes it is just what they know to do.

As a Spiritualist, I accept the Principle of Personal Responsibility. However, if it were not for the science and philosophy part of "Spiritualism is the Science, Philosophy and Religion of continuous life, based upon the demonstrated fact of communication, by means of mediumship, with those who live in the Spirit World." (nsac.org) I would not have become one.

Personal responsibility means being responsible for what I think, accept as true and how I act. It is possible to be devoutly religious (as belief) and also be a good citizen. The problem I have is that belief too easily translates into justification to violate other peoples self-determination.

Supernatural power is equivalent to superstition which is also giving away our personal responsibility.

The concept of control is the most insidious. The above definition rightly asserts that religion means belief that it is okay for others to impose their will on us. It does not matter that the personality doing the controlling is not physical. Self-determination is not limited to just this lifetime.

Obviously I am not a fan of religion as a system of belief. I am a fan of religion as understanding of natural principles that leads to respect for others and our Source, whatever that may be. So I suppose my response is really to say that religion as worship is death to free will but religion as respect and understanding is really just a measure of good citizenship.

The world according to Tom :-) 

Very interesting, Tom. The definition you pulled from WordWeb attaches no concept of church or creed or practice to the definition. It is purely about belief--and assumes that the belief is in a controlling power. I question whether this definition has captured what we all think when we hear the word religion. In all honesty, I picture church and creed, if someone says, "She's religious." I'm also recalling, though, my formative years in the Southern Baptist church, when it became fashionable to respond to someone suggesting you had a religion with the statement: "It's not a religion, it's a relationship." And now a growing number of people describe ourselves as "spiritual but not religious," a designation that has churches growing nervous about what must feel like competition from the fastest-growing denomination (SBNR) since Constantine made Christianity the state religion.

So, has the term "religion" taken on negative baggage that people two centuries ago would be baffled by? Is it a label no one wants to wear?

I associate religion with worship and formal ceremonies. On the other hand, spirituality involves personal attitudes and practices intended to link the individual with a higher level of consciousness or God, however God is conceived.

Certainly there is a good deal of crossover between religion and spirituality. Most people who follow a religion by going to church or attending a group function would say they do so to connect personally with God -- but they follow a time-sanctified ritual or set of beliefs that helps them make that connection. A few denominations believe they are primarily an inlet for direct transcendent experience; the Society of Friends sit in silence until someone believes that the Spirit moves him or her to speak, and Zen Buddhism (if you call it a religion) is as anti-doctrinal as you can get.

By the same token, even those who call themselves spiritual rather than religious can have regular group get-togethers to enhance their meditation, and some people find occasional inspiration in church services whose theology they reject.

We who accept that there are higher or deeper levels to life than ordinary sense reality or materialism have many doors we can open. It may take a long time to find which is right for us.

These days when I hear the word “religion” my first response is to think of all the harm being perpetrated around the globe by fundamentalist's who believe they are “abiding to the teachings of God or Allah.”  I would answer yes to both your questions Donna, “Religion" has definitely taken on negative baggage that people two centuries ago would be baffled by for many reasons; and, it is becoming a label that fewer people are willing to wear.  It isn’t “fashionable” to be religious in a growing sector of our country now, especially among the younger generation. Thus our culture appears to be moving towards a more secular belief system.  Yet, at the same time, there is a new spiritual attitude developing that has been fostered, in my opinion, by numerous reports of NDE’s coming from “reputable” people.  It appears to be reaching a wider audience, drawing them into investigation of the spiritualist movement which ostensibly began here, in 1948 with the Fox sisters. 

I was raised and baptized into the Southern Baptist church — full submersion.  As a child I relished going to  “Sunday school” to learn about Jesus who “loved all the children of the world”.  Upon graduation into the full-blown church services, I was dismayed by the cruelty of God and his punishing ways.  At the age of 15 I moved away from the church and its creeds — taking Jesus and his teachings along with me.  He has seen me through many upheavals and trials and tribulations, as the saying goes. 

Because of my early exposure to the realities of poltergeist activity — and more dramatically — spontaneous out-of-body experiences.  I had an instant conversion into spiritualism.  Then quantum physics came into the mix introducing broader concepts that caused me to embrace the concept of God as a level of consciousness.  This was reinforced by the channelled material of Stainton Moses, first President of the London Spiritualist Alliance, in his 1883 book, Spirit Identity. (Published under the pen name, M.A. Oxon)   

Now I fall back on the famous quote by Sir James Jeans, “The stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter... we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter,” The Mysterious Universe.

We are so engulfed in a fusion of changing and endlessly shifting beliefs that we might well declare the words of a well-known skeptic: "nothing is absolutely true — and even that is not quite true."

All this to say, that I see religion as a study in consciousness.  We moderns are faced with the necessity of rediscovering the meaning of Spirit behind the Religious doctrines and creeds.  

I'm particularly struck by your statement:

We are so engulfed in a fusion of changing and endlessly shifting beliefs that we might well declare the words of a well-known skeptic: "nothing is absolutely true — and even that is not quite true."

You remind me of the time when I was, as I called it, "losing my religion." I remember that I was very scared of what became a gray area, where I had once had a creed. The comfortable thing about creeds is that you can put responsibility for your faith on those who developed and now teach the creed. If the creed is wrong, you hope God will blame them and not you. (This is also in response to Tom's discussion of personal responsibility.) I didn't step out of that comfort zone until it started to feel like a too-tight skin imprisoning me. In essence, my childhood creed wasn't comfortable any more, and my only option was to suffocate in an established creed or to step out into the unknown at the risk of my soul.

The hardest thing I had to do, in letting go of that creed, was to get comfortable and safe negotiating the gray area on the way to new beliefs (which are still in formation). To have the courage to step out of creed, I had to decide if I believed God loved me unconditionally and would stay with me through my questioning. It finally occurred to me that, if he loved me less than my own earthly Dad (who did not reject me when I left the church, though he worried about it), then God's love was questionable--as were all religions who professed that God is love. I chose to believe God loved me unconditionally and began my quest. (Not surprisingly, the first thing I did was study other creeds, looking for the true church, the one that fit me, before I finally gave up, deciding the truth must be bigger than them all.)

The hardest thing to learn in the years since is that most people who have remained in church and creed are not a threat to me. Most are loving, good people who want to please God. They're learning spiritual things in the environment in which they're comfortable. Only when it ceases to be a comfort will they have any reason to step out. And they'll be needing the unconditional love of those of us who stepped out ahead of them to ease the fear.

So back to the historian who wants to see the historical arc in all this... I wonder, is religion on its way to dying out, or is it just, person-by-person, shedding its too-tight skin of creed and on its way to a form of individual spiritual practice or belief. Are those of us who have abandoned creed simply on the cusp of what people 200 years from now will call "religion"? Sharon, your concluding sentence seems to lead to that belief. We are creating the religion of the future. And perhaps the word will be restored in its respectability.

I think religion has been practiced about the same all along. We know now that people tend to believe what they are taught in youth, so that escape from the neighborhood religion requires the kind of assertiveness that is usually only possessed by a minority. Since, I think, as early as the 1600 the Hermetic teachings have been explored by a very few. Spiritualism has come and ... moderated. There have always been alternatives based on new understanding, but always, the state religions controlled. Too often the alternative views have been forced underground.

Rick is right in that there has always been a certain amount of cross-over between alternative religions and mainstream ones. That is how mainstream tries to evolve to remain meaningful. It is jarring to see hands-on, healing intention practiced in an orthodox church setting. 

Donna, I think you and Sharon are right that we seem to be in the midst of evolving a new religion. I like to think it is more a way of practical living, but yes, it will probably develop religious overtones. We humans like our deity.

Consider mindful living. That is a point of view based on personal responsibility and a good deal of psychology. We are learning a lot about how we think,* the relationship between our human avatar and our etheric personality, the mechanisms of psi functioning and transcommunication. I can see how these might help us evolve an objective way of gaining spiritual maturity.

The alternative is more of the same old revelation approach to understanding. From my studies, the wayshowers Jesus and Hermes taught essentially the same lessons about spirituality (perhaps read Comments on reference essays on John 14 and the Emerald Tablet). Much of what Jesus taught was corrupted into such crippling dogmas as vicarious atonement.

Of course there is some 2000 years between Hermes and Jesus, so I expect state religions developed around his work as well, but at least in the 1700 up to today, the Hermetic wisdom has been taught in esoteric schools that are all about human potential. The Great Work is an individual's path of transmutation from lead of blind belief to the gold of self-realized personality.

Those teachings are both the foundation of religion and mindfulness. It is in how they are taught and why that seems to determine their usefulness for human potential or social engineering. The entirety of the paranormalist culture would be outlawed if the skeptics have their way (and they continue to try for the good of society). Because of this, our freedom to study these things is not guaranteed, so there is a possibility that our new religion will also be an underground movement.

* Perhaps read: First SightHypothesis of Formative Causation and mindfulness

Great insights, Tom, and you've added so much to my essential reading list! And Rick, so sorry I didn't notice your response until this morning.

It is an interesting path from underground, esoteric thinking to organized religion. Christianity took that path. I've seen it in many a Christian denomination, as well. New branches usually start when an existing strain has ceased to satisfy or is perceived to have departed from the perceived original truth. A handful break off, filled with a zeal the mainstream has lost and wholly devoted to finding the Truth. Their zeal and freshness begin to draw others and they grow (or they die). As they get big, they start to institutionalize--needing buildings, denominational headquarters, trained pastors, and of course a creed that separates them from those outside the Truth, as they've determined it. By the third generation, children tend to be memorizing a creed, rather than opening to a Truth. And a handful break off to start it all over.  The need to build an institution around beliefs can be a straitjacket.

And Tom, your references to the appeal of a deity raises another question about the changing meanings of words. I have chosen to continue to use the word God, but my word doesn't mean at all what my mother's word means. An anthropomorphic judge and controller--and loving father if you do things his way--is my mother's God. God is Source to me--the pervading intelligent loving energy of all things--and still a father, in the sense of being the substance from which I came. We both see God as love, with different perspectives on how he manifests it. (And yes, "he" is a problematic pronoun, but "it is simply too diminished in our language.) Ancient civilizations saw the gods as a society of competitive beings--not equated with love at all.

More reasons why we have to read any treatise on religion, spirituality, or God filled with questions about just what the author meant by those words.

Thank you Tom - First Sight - at first glance, is proving to be a valuable resource for many things.  It is good to realize that studies in Parapsychology are advancing and this site looks to be a great place to get caught up on recent research.  Also, very much enjoyed my brief visit to your website.  I look forward to perusing it further. Your concise Relation of John 14 in the Bible to Metaphysical Concepts - perfect. Jesus was and is a Great Teacher, a way-shower.  He remains a Living Presence for many.  For me.  As you expressed, “We humans like our deity.”  Jesus and Hermes no doubt taught the same lessons. Also,  Gerald Massey’s comparisons of Jesus and Horus have held a fascination for me since my visits to Egypt in 1995 and 2003.

Your statement, “The Great Work is an individual's path of transmutation from lead of blind belief to the gold of self-realized personality.”  Is an interesting summation of the task that lies ahead for us seekers of the new faith, which I am hopeful will be a Church Universal as described by Keshab Chandra Sen (1838 - 1884).  “We believe in the Church Universal, which is the respiratory of all ancient wisdom and the receptacle of all modern science, which recognize in all prophets and saints a harmony, in all scriptures a unity and though all dispensations a continuity, which abjures all that separates and divides and always magnifies unity and peace, which harmonizes reason, faith and Bhakti, asceticism and social duty in their highest forms and which shall make of all nations and sects one kingdom and one family in the fullness of time." Amen. : )

That's beautiful, Sharon. It resonates with what many of us desire, I think--to discover what is universal, transcending all the walls we tend to build to distinguish our beliefs from their beliefs.

Sharon, I like the basic idea of a Church Universal.

I am an engineer. Typically, a fundamental difference between an engineer and a doctorate (scientist) is that scientists mostly deal with theory and have the luxury of ignoring possibly many aspects of a phenomenon in order to study a specific aspect, while an engineer can lose his or her job by ignoring any aspect if it is later shown to have an influence on the system.

The same sort of difference seems to be present between an engineer and a theologian. An engineer needs to think in terms of actionable designs while a theologian is comfortable speaking in terms of concepts/philosophy for life that seems right or was right centuries ago.

All three use what amounts to a cosmology. The difference is that an engineer must base models on empirical/experimental data while a theologian and a scientists is safe with models based on theory.

The difference between belief (religion/science) and understanding (engineering/sometimes science) is similar. In belief, it is expected for a person to accept what the teacher says based on the authority of the system of belief. In understanding, it is expected for the person to test what the teacher says with the potential of integration into a way of living.

From my point of view, the new religion must be based on understanding-oriented cosmologies. Otherwise, it is too easily corrupted into priest telling congregation what to believe.

So in a way, I see some (but certainly only a few) of our modern-day parapsychologists and citizen scientists as accidental priests of a new system of understanding. Our task is to learn how to translate their work into actionable understanding. 

Excellent. It's really what ASCS is all about, isn't it? Bringing these forms of thought into cooperative growth? Surely an engineer or practitioner must begin with a theory or hypothesis. And a theorist must be ready to revise theory when the practitioner demonstrates a theory has merit or does not. I would love to see us get to the point where we need neither. The place where the Truth has become known beyond doubt.

Religion is merely the theories and philosophies of the anatomy & physiology of the human soul/spirit and how it interacts with its environment.

When you raise your consciousness to a higher level and the anatomy & physiology of the human soul/spirit becomes physically perceivable, religion is no longer needed as the experience moves the body of knowledge from theory & philosophy to science. 

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