According to Living Religions, “The word is probably derived from the Latin, meaning ‘to tie back,’ ‘to tie again.’ All of religion shares the goal of tying people back to something behind the surface of life — a greater reality, which lies beyond, or invisibly infuses, the world that we can perceive with our five senses.” (Living Religions, 2) A more complete definition is provided in the “Key terms” section at the end of the chapter:|
II. Why Are There Religions?
Perspectives on the Origin of Religion
“Cultural anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, psychologists, and even biologists have peered at religion through their own particular lenses, trying to explain what religion is, [as well as] its function and purpose ... . [The following are three] of the major theories that have evolved. They are not mutually exclusive.” (Living Religions, 5)(i) The Faith Perspective
Religion is a Human Response to an Ultimate Reality
“From the point of view of religious faith, there truly is an underlying reality that cannot readily be perceived. ... The human mind does not function in the rational mode alone; there are other modes of consciousness. In his classic study The Varieties of Religious Experience, the philosopher William James (1842-1910) concluded:
There is no Ultimate Reality ~ Humans Invented Religion
“During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, scientific materialism gained considerable prominence as a theory to explain the fact that religion can be found in some form in every culture around the world. The materialistic point of view is that the supernatural is invented by humans; only the material world exists.” (Living Religions, 5)
(iii) The Functional Perspective
Humans Create Religions Because They Are Useful
“Another line of reasoning has emerged in the search for a theory explaining the universal existence of religions: They are found everywhere because they are useful, both for society and for individuals. Religions ‘do things’ for us, such as helping us to define ourselves and making the world and life comprehensible to us.” (Living Religions, 6) In short, religions provide insightful answers to fundamental human questions such as:
III. Why Should We Study Religion?
“Traditional cultures and religions naturally assumed their own points of view to be absolute. They did not understand their standpoints to be versions of the world alongside others. One’s own religious beliefs seemed so widely accepted and self-evidently true that they were taken not as one of several descriptions of reality, but simply as the description of reality itself.” (William E. Paden in Anthology of Living Religions (1st Edition), 2)
“As a descriptive enterprise, the comparative study of religion tries to proceed without the interpretive bias of any particular religious or antireligious position. Rather than looking at religion as something right or wrong, it looks at it as a type of experience, behavior, and symbol system. Religion is therefore seen as a phenomenon. ... The comparative attitude therefore calls for a dispassionate capacity to comprehend and explain other people’s experience of their worlds without interjecting one’s own preferences. One must ‘bracket off’ one’s own concepts of how the world ought to be organized in order to listen to how others configure it, and temporarily set aside what the world means to oneself in order to gain access to what the world means to others.” (William E. Paden in Anthology of Living Religions (1st Edition), 5)
In the seventeenth century, knowledge of nature became more secularized (that is, divorced from the sacred) as scientists developed models of the universe as a giant machine. Its ways could be discovered by human reason, by studying its component parts and mathematically quantifying its characteristics. However, even in discovering such features, many scientists regarded them as the work of a divine Creator or Ruler. ... The old unitary concepts of science and religion received another serious challenge in 1859, when the naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published The Origin of Species, a work that propounded the theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin demonstrated that certain genetic mutations give an organism a competitive advantage over others of its species. ... According to evolutionary biology theory, over great lengths of time such gradual changes have brought the development of all forms of life. The theory of natural selection directly contradicted a literal understanding of the biblical Book of Genesis, in which God is said to have created all life in only six days. By the end of the nineteenth century, all such beliefs of the Judeo-Christian tradition were being questioned. (Living Religions, 19-20)
I. A Not-So-Random Universe…The fine-tuning of seemingly heterogeneous values and ratios necessary to get from the big bang to life as we know it involves intricate coordination over vast differences in scale — from the galactic level down to the subatomic one — and across multi-billion-year tracts of time. Hoyle, who coined the term “big bang,” has questioned the very legitimacy of the metaphor of an initial “explosion.” “An explosion in a junkyard does not lead to sundry bits of metal being assembled into a useful working machine,” he writes. The more physicists have learned about the universe, the more it looks like a put-up job.
The great modern era…is at an end. It is truly justifiable to speak of our current period as the “postmodern age.” And there is every reason to suppose that this postmodern age will also be postsecular, since the original philosophical assumptions underpinning the modern secular worldview have been shattered — ironically enough, by science itself….
The barrier that modern science appeared to erect to faith has fallen. Of course, the anthropic principle tells us nothing about the Person of God or the existence of an afterlife; it has nothing to say about such issues as right or wrong or the “problem of evil.” But it does offer as strong an indication as reason and science alone could be expected to provide that God exists. (Anthology of Living Religions, 19)
Anthology of Living Religions, 15)
Anthology of Living Religions, 16)
IV. God as Dominating OtherIt is not simply male metaphors that need to be broken ... but also the larger picture of who God is. ... The God of Jewish liturgy is a king robed in majesty, a merciful but probing father, and master of the world. His sovereign Otherness is elaborated extensively: his dominion over creation, his control of history past and future, his revenge against his enemies, his power over the human soul. ...
The notion of God as dominating Other finds quintessential expression in the image of the holy warrior who punishes the wicked with destruction and death. The God who hears the groaning of his people in Egypt is a fighter more powerful than all the armies of Pharaoh, a God whose army can destroy the Egyptians, drowning them in the seas (Exodus 15). When Israel enters the promised land, God is present in his ark at the head of its marching armies, giving military victory over city after city (Joshua). Hardening the hearts of the local people, God ensures that they “should receive no mercy” but be “utterly destroyed” (Joshua 11:20). ...
Metaphors of sovereignty, lordship, kingship, and judicial and military power evoke images of arbitrary and autocratic rule that have been rejected in the human political sphere at the same time they live on in religious language. If the image of God as male provides religious support for male dominance in society, the image of God as supreme Other would seem to legitimate dominance of any kind. God as ruler and king of the universe is the pinnacle of a vast hierarchy that extends from God “himself” to angels/men/women/children/animals and finally the earth. As hierarchical ruler, God is a model for the many schemes of dominance that human beings create for themselves. (Anthology of Living Religions, 30-1)
Final QuestionWhat are the implications of these four passages with regard to the pluralistic world of religion in which we live? Do they open up possibilities for interfaith dialogue and if so, how?