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Customer Discussions > Religion forum

The purposes of religion: cultural identity, social control.


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Showing 1-25 of 178 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 26, 2011 2:28:17 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 26, 2011 2:57:07 PM PDT
Ataraxia says:
It seems that one reason religious people get upset when their religion is questioned is that it is a profound source of cultural identity. To question the validity of their religion is not too different than questioning the validity of their nationality, their family, or their favorite football team (eg, America/France/Germany not valid, the Jones/Smith/Anderson family is not valid, The Dallas Cowboys/NY Giants suck, etc...). It is not about any kind of scientific truth or social issue that is open to new ideas, pragmatic debate, and compromise; it is just offensive to what they profoundly identify themselves with.

So once you have cultural identity, religion and its clergy/leaders give sanction to the most current social mores and socially acceptable behavior of that culture ("we good Christians do/do not treat our women that way", "We good Muslims are tolerant are/are not the religion of peace...", etc... If it is acceptable in your society to dress a certain way, to treat your women or children a certain way, or treat members of other religions a certain way, etc... then these ideas, the best and most acceptable ways that that particular culture and society knows how to do things, is attributed to its god/gods and their scriptures. If slavery is acceptable in that society, the religious will read their scripture to be sanctioning it. If it is not, then they will find all sorts of very clever and creative ways to "interpret" it away ("Oh, those passages are just historical description of ancient tribes, not a guide to how we should really live today", etc...). And, as the culture changes, and possibly learns newer and better ways of doing things, what their God says changes and evolves right along with them (eg, The Catholic Church gives up fighting over whether the earth is the center of the universe, or how women should be treated, how we should behave towards members of other religious faiths, etc....).

So given that religion has served, and is still serving, these important purposes, it is not surprising that it remains such a powerful force in our world today. It also helps explain why it sometimes seems that logic and reason do not seem to be a big player in the rhetoric of many of our religious people. It is not about logic. It is about social and cultural identity.

But our religious worry that without the divine commands, we will become morally lost. But they are confusing the chicken with the egg. They forget that the ideas come first, the "God said..."s get tacked on later to give them social sanction and currency. It does not, and never has, in any society of period of history, worked the other way.

"Intellectually, religious emotions are not creative but conservative. They attach theselves readily to the current view of the world and consecreate it. They steep and dye intellectual fabrics in the seething vat of emotions; they do not form their warp and woof. There is not, as far as I know, any instance of a large idea about the world being independently generated by religion."
-John Dewey

Can these important functions be replaced by other social forces and institutions in the future? Hard to say. Maybe the religious are right, and we will always need to have the "God said..." in front of our latest opinions and social/cultural biases to have a sense of cohesion and identity.

I guess only time will tell. I don't believe there has been ANY period in human history, anywhere in the world, where atheism was a prevalent idea. It is indeed a strange social experiment...

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 26, 2011 4:51:08 PM PDT
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Posted on Apr 26, 2011 5:26:20 PM PDT
DRM says:
You know, atheism too has its own rules, mores, and demands. And EVEN if all the above was true about religion, (which I don't at all think it is) there has been no such social control in the twentieth century as the "control" that atheist communists inflicted on millions of people by controlling their life and death...by killing them.

Posted on Apr 26, 2011 5:37:09 PM PDT
Oh, social control, definitely.

That, and it's a good earner for those holding the reigns.

It appears to me that people have an inherent desire to believe (in something, anything) and there will always be unscrupulous types willing to take advantage of that.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 26, 2011 5:57:02 PM PDT
Ariex says:
Ataraxia says: "It is not about logic. It is about social and cultural identity."

Ariex: Will you PLEASE stop making sense. You are going to get some people upset.

Posted on Apr 27, 2011 6:08:52 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 27, 2011 6:09:04 AM PDT
Brian Curtis says:
Which is easier and likelier to succeed:

1. Presenting your idea and hoping it will be adopted on its own merits, or
2. Presenting your idea and saying "God Wills It, and you will BURN IN HELL if you dare to question"?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 8:47:21 AM PDT
I think you posed the question rhetorically, Brian, with #2 meant to be easier and likelier to succeed. But maybe that's not always the case. An idea accepted for some reason other than its merits may not be enacted in such a way as to capitalize on those merits, and may not be kept with its merits intact as it is adapted into tradition.

On the flipside, consider that the big, fast-growing U.S. religious denominations have *major* lifestyle appeal, and sell themselves as much on their lifestyle benefits as on heaven/hell. Religion in this case seems to be choosing #1, at least to a degree. The LDS Church is a prime example of this.

Posted on Apr 27, 2011 9:07:00 AM PDT
The purpose of religion is to return to God.

Moses 1:39 For behold, this is my work and my glory-to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Cultural identity and self control is a side effect.

Yours in Christ, Brother Niv

lds.org

Posted on Apr 27, 2011 9:13:59 AM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 9:15:35 AM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 12:44:40 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 27, 2011 1:11:01 PM PDT
Ataraxia says:
""I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves."

Well, as I said in the OP, religion seems to arise when peoples and cultures take their most current best ideas, values, ideals, socially acceptable behaviors, for how things ought to be done, and tack on a "God said" at the beginning to sancify them and give them social authority.

But what is considered "correct" is very culture-dependent isn't it? The problem with religion is that it takes what one's particular culture and historical period thinks is correct, and claims for it the status of "eternal, immutable, etc..". That leaves the religious in the awkward position of having to constantly revise God's immutable law as culture and knowledge changes (just look at all the councils, changing edicts, etc... of the Catholic Church through the centuries).

But what their God says seems to change as much as the cultures and the people claiming to know what their God says. So this brings up the sneaking suspicion that we are just taking our most current culture and opinions, and projecting them into the mirror of eternity and God's voice, and thinking they are something different. The mirror image is fooling us into thinking it is something different, when it may just be us. It is like the animal who sees its own image in the drinking well and frightens itself. But I worry that these gods are just made in our own image, not the other way around.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 1:11:56 PM PDT
<<religion comes when peoples and cultures take their most current best ideas, values, ideals, for how things ought to be done, and tack on a "God said" at the beginning to sancify them and give them social authority.>>

<<we are just taking our most current culture and opinions, and projecting them into the mirror of eternity and God's voice, and thinking they are something different. The mirror image is fooling us into thinking it is something different, when it may just be us.>>

You seem to suggest two very different degrees of awareness here, in terms of cynicism vs naivite. Do you think one or the other or both is common?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 1:19:54 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 27, 2011 1:23:00 PM PDT
Ataraxia says:
"You seem to suggest two very different degrees of awareness here, in terms of cynicism vs naivite."

Hmmm. I'm not sure I understand your question here. It seems to me that the two attitudes do not have to be mutually exclusive. Once the naivite goes, a little cynicism sets in.

If that is not what you are saying, please elaborate a little further.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 2:59:29 PM PDT
Suppose you are right that religion offers sanctification, a sort of God-said-it label, which is applied to statements that God didn't really say, with the effect of giving those statements authority. Do you think this misattribution of statements to God is a result of cynical people knowingly applying a false attribution, naive people mistakenly applying a false attribution, or both?

Personally, I think both are common. I also think the "cynical" mode is less common than some conventional wisdom has us believe. Moreover I think that the cynical mode is not usually the first step in any religious movement. (L Ron Hubbard might be a notable exception.) I think the cynical mode is, however, well suited for co-opting niches initially carved out by religious claims made in the naive mode.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2011 5:38:26 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 28, 2011 6:14:35 AM PDT
Ataraxia says:
Oh, I think I understand a little better now what you are saying, and I am inclined to agree with just about everything you said. I agree that the start of religious movements is not likely done in a cynical mode by their founders. There initially seems to be a sincere belief that what they are saying is divinely-inspired. How this happens, especially its psychology and sociology, is actually a very fascinating question and worthy of study. But it seems that most of the time, political power and manipulation are probably not the prime motivators for the founders of the great religions (well, maybe not with Islam- that seems to have been about politics and political power right from the start. But even there, I am convinced Muhammad and his early followers were sincerely convinced they were having mystical experiences. Moses also seems to have had political motivations from teh start of trying to unify his people and get them out of a bad situation. But there too, I do not think he was claiming divine inspiration in a cynical manner. I really do think he was convinced God was speaking to him. I am fairly sure thought that Jesus was not interested in that kind of political power. But certainly the Roman authorities, as well as the Jewish priests who were starting to feel their power being threatened by this new movement, were not oblivious to the political threat he was starting to pose for them. But certainly later, the utility of religion as a very powerful and effective tool for social control and politcal purposes is not lost on subsequent clever and wily politicians and clergymen: Constantine, the popes through the centuries, European kings with their "divine right to rule", the theocratic Ayatollahs of Iran and the Dominionist Evangelicals here in the US, etc, etc...

"I am surrounded by priests who repeat incessantly that their kingdom is not of this world, and yet they lay their hands on everything they can get." - Napoleon Bonaparte

How can you have order in a state without religion? For, when one man is dying of hunger near another who is ill of surfeit, he cannot resign himself to this difference unless there is an authority which declares ´God wills it thus.´ Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet." - Napoleon Bonaparte

Perhaps that is why the founding fathers of this country, in trying to set up a true democracy, found it so critical to establish a separation of church and state. The religious claims were just too powerful a tool of social control to continue to be allowed in a free public sphere:

"History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes. "
-Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813.

"They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion. "
-Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Sept. 23, 1800

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2011 11:20:43 AM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2011 11:23:03 AM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2011 11:55:07 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 28, 2011 12:29:17 PM PDT
Ataraxia says:
MMX,

I would agree with you in that in a secular society, no ideals would be "sacred", or "off limits" to further questioning or research. All issues would be open to further research, new information, and new and better ideas.

But I am not sure what kind of research you could do in those areas. For example, what potential information would let you allow racial or gender INtolerance? All current biological information shows that racial and gender differences among humans are rather superficial differences. But even assuming that in the future research comes out that the level of intelligence is somehow correlated with skin color, or height, or gender, or some other trait: Does that mean that you discriminate against people based on their skin color now? If you are going to discriminate against people because of that, why not make the discrimination more direct, like have them take an IQ test (hopefully more reliable and accurate than the ones we have now), brand that score on their forehead, and then treat them the rest of their lives according to that number? It would bypass going by more misleading correlated characteristics, wouldn't it?
----------------------
On thinking about this some more, I also realized that there ARE some values which are sort of "sacred", and not a matter of knowing more. For example, in our contemporary society we don't think walking out in public without your underwear is a good idea. That is OUR value. Many societies, like in the Pacific Islands, the Amazon natives, or remote African tribes may not necessarily agree. But it is something we feel strongly about. I am not sure there is ANY research that would make us change our minds on that.

There are just some things where you just shrug and say say "this is just the value of this society". If there is nothing dysfunctional about it, it's OK. Even in small societies, you have such "sacred cows". for example, as small a group as a family may have such little "sacred cows" (Friday night is always movie night, we always say grace before dinner, etc...). You can acknowledge its contingency, but still hold it strongly. That way, you might be able to bypass any appeals to deities to prove your position.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2011 12:40:19 PM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2011 1:53:03 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 28, 2011 2:01:20 PM PDT
Ataraxia says:
MMX,

I am not sure what you are getting at: that reasonable policies can sometimes lead to things that seem unfair?

I am not sure if you are familiar with John Rawls. He talks of this idea of the "veil of ignorance". In summary, when trying to institute social policies, he suggests lawmakers should assume that once a law is passed, society can be reshuffled. Your identity gets on a carousel, and you could end up as someone with a different skin color, socioeconomic status, intelligence and education level, age, sex, etc, etc.... So you could be born randomly into a very different body and as a very different person. Given that, what policies would you like to see instituted?

It's a neat thought experiment. It's sort of a variation of the golden rule: how would you treat others if you were in their shoes? It's a good yardstick by which to guage whether a certain policy might be fair or not. It's sort of a personal "sacred cow" of mine. I am sure there are those who could care less how they treat others, and feel that the strong should rule the weak, that society should very little obligation towards its individual members when they get into financial/medical trouble, that those who fall off the saddle occasionally should just be allowed to get crushed under the wheels of life and society should feel no obligation to help them, etc...

I really would have nothing to say to such people, except to tell them that I disagree, and to oppose them in any way that I could. I don't think though, ultimately, that I would be able to convince them to adapt such Rawlsian attitudes and criteria for social policies by logic or reason alone. It's either a value that you share, or you don't. At some point, there are limits to logic, and you are just left with values of what you feel is right. But those things you feel in your gut, not your head. Unfortunately, there is nothing illogical or unreasonable about being cruel and heartless to advance your own personal interests. It's one of those things where you just shrug and say "those are just my values, and I hold them strongly".

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2011 2:07:14 PM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2011 2:31:02 PM PDT
Ataraxia says:
I would have no problems with research. But it would bother me is such "research" ended up creating things that seemed unfair in society; things such as not giving equal opportunities, denying certain rights or resources, etc...

Let me ask you this: let's say you had a son with a learning disability. Would you not defend him if you found someone was taking advantage of him or using him? What if you found they were denying him certain rights because of his disability?

Now those people may just say "But come on, we did our research and found out he is just a retard. So why waste resources on him, when we can use those resources on my smarter kid?"

There is nothing unreasonable about their question. But it would offend and hurt you. I would take that sentiment to other fellow humans in society who may be disadvanged in similar ways- either mentally, physically, or socioeconomically, etc...

So I guess I would want to know more about the kind of research you would be interested in doing, and exactly how you would plan to be using its results.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2011 2:33:39 PM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2011 2:44:21 PM PDT
>>But many people don't want to conduct any research that may challenge the notion that racial and gender equality are universally good and universally applicable.<<

You can count me in as one of those many people.

I can not imagine any circumstance where racial and gender equality wouldn't be universally good and universally applicable, so I fail to see the use of such research.

Perhaps you might supply a scenario where these things would/ should not be accepted even if proven to be unfounded theories.

I would much rather believe these things as immutable truths than any religious belief that I can think of.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2011 2:57:56 PM PDT
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Initial post:  Apr 26, 2011
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