Re: Religion: definition of

Gerold Firl (
21 Apr 1995 13:05:12 -0700

In article <> (Gil Hardwick) writes:

>In article <>, Gerold Firl ( writes:

>>Plus, this example serves as an excellent illustration of my main
>>point regarding the question "what is religion": religion is a system for
>>*organizing* society, for imposing a pattern of internal behavior on the
>>constituent members of the culture so-as to regulate their interactions in a
>>way which will be beneficial for the survival of the society.

>No, religion is whatever binds communities.

There are non-religious factors which "bind" communities; kinship, sex, and
friendship come to mind. All are found in non-human societies, and by no
stretch of the definition can they be called "religious".

I place quotes around your term "bind", because it is a rather nebulous and
ill-defined means of describing the mechanism of social cohesion. Besides,
religion becomes necessary precisely under those conditions where cultures
begin to outgrow the community level. Communities are small and intimate,
with a high degree of personal interaction between members. A member of a
community will know a reasonably high percentage of the other members of
the community. This is the kind of social unit which our primate instincts
are best able to operate in. We evolved under these conditions, and fall
into place within them naturally.

To reiterate, my contention is that a religion is needed to regulate
interpersonal behavior within the culture, and on another level, relations
with individuals from other cultures, only when the size of the society has
outgrown the community level.

>Religious discourse is pursued consistently as a systematic critique
>of the materialist, survivalist ideology which takes into account only
>the most base forms of biological behaviour.

That may be true at present, when religion has been superceded by systems
based on rationality, but that has not been the case throughout most of
history. As an obvious example, consider the case of disease. Disease has
been a major factor in the invention and propagation of religion. Micro-
organisms were invisible. There was no way of establishing their existance,
and human imagination apparently did not extend to the level of the
bacterium; they were not even suspected until the microscope was invented.
A "reasonable" supposition was that evil spirits caused disease. Here we
see a direct link between biological ignorance and religious belief.

>We have discussed these matters here before, Mr Firl, and it is a
>tragedy that you yet refuse to study even the most basic fresher
>texts in order to familiarise yourself with the material at hand
>before sprouting your unrelenting drivel.

I'd like to make a proposal to you, Gil. What do you say we each pretend
that the other is a reasonable, rational individual, with whom it is
possible to have a polite discussion. I hope I'm not asking you to
compromise your principles or anything, and who knows; sometimes, if expect
the best of a person, they actually live-up to it.

>Nothing of the sort. State administration which appropriates unto
>itself the means of violence is what provides the "guidelines" as
>well as the practical regulation of mass society. Religion is a
>critique of such administration, and always has been.

What about the ten commandments? Surely you can recognize them as a means
of organizing the behavior of individual members of society? If you look at
the new testament, we see "do unto others as you would have them do unto
you", and "love thy neighbor as thyself". Again, these are prescriptions
for interpersonal relations. The difference between these prescriptions and
civil codes such as the code of hammurubi is that appeal is made to
supernatural arbiters rather than secular authority. I suppose this should
be incorporated into the definition of religion: religion is a means of
organizing social relations which relies on the supernatural.

And as I mentioned earlier, this definition applies when we examine
religion from the broad perspective of cultural systems. Religion is
something quite different from the perspective of the individual. It is
important to keep this dual-level functionality in mind; religion must work
on both. It must satisfy the individual needs of practicioners, while
simultaneously operating at the cultural level to produce a viable society
which can survive within the physical environment, and in relation to
neighboring cultures, *and* preserve sufficient harmony of cooperative
internal relations to acheive survival.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf