Forms of Religion

 

     Human beings are essentially religious. There is no human, who is not religious. Some people are more engaged with religion, their consciousness is preoccupied with religious ideas and their actions are associated with religious ideas. Others do not think much about religion in course of everyday life, but their thoughts and actions are shaped by a religion with which they are associated.

     Those, who follow an ideology, which claims that it is not religious, who claim that they are not religious, are in fact followers of some form of a primitive religion.

 

Religion of Rationalism

 

     Rationalism, which tries to explain everything based on reason, rational thinking, is one of more sophisticated forms of primitive religion.

     The article of faith of Rationalism is an unquestionable belief that Reason could explain everything; not necessarily an individual Reason and not necessarily now, but communal Reason, when it makes sufficient effort to arrive to such explanation. This assertion cannot be proved, and rationalists themselves do not follow it in their everyday life, but they accept it as a basis of their thinking and decision-making. Non-rationalist could observe that this faith often leads to decisions detrimental to well-being of rationalists and those who are in touch with them. However, as with any faith, this cannot be conveyed to rationalists.

     Even the best of “non-religions” is a form of a primitive religion. Derivatives of Rationalism, as communism, are obvious forms of primitive religion and often dangerous forms.

 

Primitive Religions

 

     Through millennia, Humanity developed numerous forms of religion.

They emerge and vanish, some because other forms replace them, others because their followers perish. Often, a form of religion, which became rigid and run in conflict with reality, is an important factor in demise of its followers.

Some forms of religion grow in sophistication, retain flexibility and serve well their followers. In the same time, there is a perpetual process of emergence of new primitive forms of religion.

There are two major mechanisms of emergence of new forms of Primitive Religions.

One is primitivization of an existing religious form. Primitivization is collapse of a few concepts into one, removing a few other concepts and especially freezing potential variants of interpretation. In short – making it more defined, one, which could be followed more mechanically.

The other is perversion of natural human desire to extend control of circumstances. There is a natural appreciation of something beyond one’s direct control and there is a desire to create at least indirect control in that difficult area. This could lead to establishment of special ritualized behavior as superstition, magic, “negotiation with deity”, etc. This ritualized behavior becomes a part of the culture and passed through generations.

No wonder, that a combination of these two powerful mechanisms produces a perpetual flood of new forms of Primitive Religions.

 

Safe-guards

 

Successful religious forms have to have ability to withstand this process of erosion. They have built-in safeguards against primitive forms of religion. These safe-guards have to be sophisticated and not formal, because Primitive Religions “mutate” and pretty soon “find” a way around any formal safe-guard. In addition, such religion has to be able to reinvent itself after safe-guards fail.

The story of three religions with roots in the religion of Jews is highly educational in this respect.

 

Judaism

 

Two millennia ago, a form of religion, which served Jews for a long time, ran in conflict with reality. Numerous new forms of religion, which were modifications of existing one, but still new forms, were emerging and competing each with other. After the national disaster of expulsion of Jews from own land, only one form of religion was able to sustain the nation in new difficult circumstances. This form exists till now – Judaism.

No other form of religion came even close to fulfilling this task; hence no wonder that Jews were not seduced by other religions and did not abandon Judaism for two thousand years.

Judaism faced its challenges, when various exciting movements tried to bring a primitive form of it. Judaism repulsed them, recovered after brief flirtation with them or incorporated them with embedding of proper safeguards.

Judaism is remarkable in its ability to sustain the nation in Diaspora. Currently, it is quite clear that it has difficult times adjusting to new circumstances, when Jews have own state in own land. In the same time, it is quite obvious that Jews of Israel need a form of Jewish religion corresponding current circumstances. It should be a modification of Judaism, as Judaism itself emerged from a previous form. Hopefully, it will emerge soon.

 

Christianity

 

Roots of Christianity are in the Jewish religion. Current forms of Christianity took shape, when this religion spread across Roman Empire and eventually was accepted as a dominant form of religion in the Roman Empire. Unlike the Jewish religion, which was explicitly associated with one nation and one culture, this religion evolved to be global, cross-nation and cross-cultural. Christianity replaced numerous glamorous forms of religion, most likely because it was more sophisticated as religion, even when it was less sophisticated in some other social functions, and hence it better fulfilled religious needs of inhabitants of the Roman Empire.

Association with political power and wealth helped its expansion and eroded it in the same time. To be useful as a tool of governance, it had to make itself more rigid and hence more susceptible to perversion and primitivization. It became a tool of social organization, which often provided social continuity through difficult times, and this brought even more rigidity needed to survive through periods of social instability.

Eventually, Christianity as religion eroded to a degree that Christian community revolted and produced numerous competing forms of Christianity, some of which acquired large number of followers and stability. Currently, existence of numerous competing forms of Christianity makes Christianity as a religion a stable one, because when one form of religion reaches a detached from reality state, its followers switch to another form.

 

Islam

 

Islam emerged later than Christianity. In comparison, it is a young form of religion. It is customary to point out that introduction of Islam among Arabs stopped their perpetual infighting, a detail is omitted though – they immediately embarked on a conquest. It is customary to point out that Islam teaches Muslims to treasure life of other Muslims, but no one kills Muslims in such large numbers as other Muslims. Not often it is mentioned that unreasonable interpretation of religious limitations on money lending greatly limits possibility of modern economic development in Muslim countries.

One does disservice to Muslims not pointing at problems of current forms of Islam.

Current forms of Islam do not have sufficient safe-guards against its misuse.

Many of current forms of Islam are self-destructive. They encourage actions, which lead to massive death of Muslims, they encourage actions, which are destructive for Humanity as a whole, and they encourage individual self-destructive behavior. All this is a sign of a deep problem in the religion itself, not only in its interpretations.

Current close association of Islam with political power is extremely dangerous for the religion. While it is convenient for a political power, which could use religious authority to achieve political goals, it makes religion rigid and eventually detached from reality.

Only Muslims know how to modify their religious forms. There is plenty of experience to learn from.

 

Boundaries

 

     There is a common misconception that differences between religions or differences between forms of the same religion lead to conflict and strife.

     Usually, boundaries between religious forms only delineate existing boundaries between stable cultures or even between national groups. To see this, it is sufficient to analyze history of change from one form of religion to another. Usually, when a new form of religion is chosen, it is different from one used by a neighbor of a different culture or from a neighbor of a different national group. Such choice only reinforces an existing boundary; often this is done consciously.

 

Dangers of Vacuum

 

     When there is no sufficiently sophisticated flexible religion, Primitive Religions emerge. When there is nothing that could satisfy one’s need for a religion, which fits ones circumstances, one tries to grab at least something.

     Such vacuum happens, when dominant forms of religion grew detached from reality or when political system enforcing a particular form of Primitive Religion fell.

     Twentieth century brought imbalance between, from one side, quickly developing technology and science and growing population and, from the other side, slowly developing and unresponsive dominant forms of religion.

     It allowed emergence of stable forms of Primitive Religion as communism, Nazism and radical Islamism.

     Persisting of this vacuum should not be allowed. Human society needs new forms of sophisticated religion, forms which do not try to provide political, social or scientific solutions, forms, which support development of religious side of a human being.

 

Monotheism

 

In religious circles it is customary to fret about lack of religious enthusiasm. The real problem is religious enthusiasm directed toward some Primitive Religion.

What is needed is religion, which prevents such enthusiasm. Different forms of religion could do this trick to different people. Thus, one arrives to appreciation of variety of forms of religion, as long they help maintaining sanity of their followers.

This is a starting point of understanding of what arrival of monotheism with Jewish religion brought to the Humanity. It brought a safe-guard from Primitive Religions. This safe-guard is customized for each person separately – it is called “interpretation”.

No religion could claim to be monotheistic, if it does not carry such safe-guard.

 

[ Alexander Liss 2006-03-07 ]