Sharp Blue: Questions concerning religion


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The Culture List has been talking about religion again. It hasn’t been a particularly edifying discussion, so I’ve been thinking about questions that might provoke fruitful discussion between people with a range of religious views. If anybody has any interesting thoughts on these issues, I’d love to hear about them. Here is my list of questions:

  • Why did the features of human cognition that support religious thought evolve?
  • How did spirituality or religion originate?
  • When did it first arise?
  • Was there a standard sequence of development of various features of extant religions?
  • If religion first arose after the last diaspora from Africa, did it arise independently multiple times or spread through cultural contacts?
  • Is it possible to reconstruct a deep history of religious ideas that is analogous to the deep histories that reconstruct the roots of current languages or the genetic relatedness of populations?
  • What have been the main effects of various kinds of religious ideas on human societies?
  • Which features of religions have been favoured by memetic competition?
  • What benefits do people gain (or think they gain) from religious ideas?
  • Which of these are most important to them?
  • What are the possible effective substitutes for religion in these areas?

Well, if you haven't read it yet, Pascal Boyer's _Religion Explained_ is a good start on some of those questions, and a fascinating one.

As for possible substitutions, all kinds of things exist; economic systems, -isms (modernism, humanism, atheism).

I think the majority of people join religions for assurance -- which is different from Boyers thesis about what cognitive structures in humans predispose us to certain *kinds* of religious beliefs. I know very few Christians who seek to be good through their religion; but assurance of righteousness is a popular need.

For me, philosophy, personal strength, annoyance and indignation, and poetry work well.

i would like to know the difference in methodist and luthern faiths. are classes required for both?

thnak you Mary

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