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What is Religion? - Thinking Out Loud Podcast Transcript - 09/05/2007


Steve Donaldson, Moderator
Participants: George Garret, Billie Lagerwerff, John Tytus, Mike Grosso, and Steve Stokes

Moderator:
Question, what is religion? Hi, I'm Steve Donaldson, and this is Thinking Out Loud; an ongoing series of philosophical dialogs with everyday people. The question before us today is, "What is religion?" Well let's begin. We'll start as we usually do with introductions and first reactions.

George:
Hi, my name is George. And I don't have a whole lot of preconceived opinions, but I am sure many will come out in the course of the discussion. Interesting topic.

Billie:
I'm Billie and it couldn't be more topical, could it?

Moderator:
O.K. 'K.

John:
I'm John. I think it is a very important, extremely important question just now, at this juncture.

Mike:
Ah, I'm Mike. And yeah, I think this is important. One reason this is important, I'll give two reasons just to start the ball rolling a little. Number one, every since 19 in the 1970's there is clear evidence that religion is growing, not declining even among young people not old. Religion has survived Chinese communism, Russian communism, religion is the rage in both of those traditionally atheist countries. So that's, that's one reason. The second reason is, we have, some of us may have noticed that religion has it's dangerous side. And the recent programs, the program on CNN conducted by Aman.., Christiane Amanpour's about, entitled Religion's Warriors. So I think we need to try to get some kind of comprehensive thinking and understanding of what religion is. It's an important subject as all of us here agree.

Moderator:
O.K. And joining us actually through the wonders of Internet technology of voice over internet is Steve, go ahead Steve.

Steve:
Hi. Um, let's see, I guess I'd start off by commenting that it's my opinion that religion is the antithesis of philosophy. Um they both deal with what I call questions of latency, and religion tries to answer them in one way and philosophy tries to answer them in another, which hopefully I'll get into later on.

Moderator:
O.K. Billie, go ahead.

Billie:
What do you mean by latency, Steve?

Steve
Well, um, there're questions of immediacy which animals have. Like, "What's around that bend?", "Where can I find food?" "Where can I… what should I do next?" These are questions of immediacy. But humans, in addition to questions of immediacy, we have what I would label as questions of latency. Like questions such as, "Why am I here?" "Where did I come from?" "What's my place in the universe?" And these are the questions that are either answered philosophically or answered religiously.

Moderator:
O.K., Mike.

Mike:
Well, just picking up on your last point, Steve. I agree with you that religion and philosophy are different, but I would not say that they are antitheses. As you just indicated, they deal with these latent, I would just call them "big" questions. The big questions about life, metaphysical, ethical, and so on, cosmological. But they do proceed in different methods, science and reason, philosophy obviously employs reason, observation, etc. And religion claims to solve these problems in part by some means of revelation which is different than reason. Oh, I'm not even sure how clearly that distinction works out in the final analysis. But that's just a brief comment on your, I thought interesting opening about the differences between the two, but I wouldn't call them quite an antithesis.

Moderator:
Would have, Mike a, an idea or a thought on the distinguishing characteristic of religion would be that sets it apart from other disciplines that address the big questions?

Mike:
Yeah, I would. I would say… and again it's very difficult to say anything about religion without coming up with some counter example. But I would plum for the idea that religion involves encounters with the supernatural, the extraordinary. I think that if you look at comparative religion you find that's [05:00] a fairly constant feature unlike the philosophic approach which begins with observational and the rational and tries to approach the subject in a more mundane way.

Moderator:
O.K. Let me get John in here.

John:
I think religion is about transcendence too. Breaking…

Mike:
That's another good word too. Yes.

John (continuing):
…through the normal boundaries of your normal experience.

Moderator:
O.K.

John:
Often an experience that can't be put into words.

Moderator:
O.K. Ah, Billie, you've been waiting patiently.

Billie:
Yeah, and also we're talking also not about questions and answers but we're also talking about people throughout human history who've had certain experiences for which we have no other explanation. What Michael was talking about. You can call it supernatural, extraordinary, to just today I read about Mother Theresa who had a vision of Christ saying, "I.. will you go and minister to the poor?" She never had another vision and she often felt bereft of God's love and things later on as we are just now finding out now. But this is what took her to Calcutta.

[unidentified voices]
(murmurs of agreement)That's interesting.. I never…

Billie (continues):
So now she's having an experience. I mean her… Religion often comes out of people who had experiences of what they say is the divine. And then I wonder too if we can talk about Religion. Is there such a thing as "Religion". Michael has often said, "I don't think there is one thing as a Christianity, there's Christianities". And of course there are religions.

[sounds like Mike]
Absolutely.

Billie (continues):
I know we all agree with that, but you know to some extent we can't generalize with so much because they are quite different.

Moderator:
O.K. John.

John:
And not all religions are theistic too. For example of Zen Buddhism doesn't far as I can tell. Zen Buddhism doesn't believe in supernatural beings.

Billie:
Ah, Thich Nhat Hanh does and he's a Zen Buddhist.

John:
Yeah, but not all Zen Buddhists believe as Thich Nhat Hanh does.

Billie:
Well, I'm just saying he is a Zen Buddhist, runs a monastery and...

Moderator:
O.K. I want to paraphrase a little bit about what we've got so far, is that religion has in common with philosophy addressing the big questions and the big mysteries and the unknowns. Ah, but as a distinction that we have so far that religion has, is involved in some way or another with experiences that can be interpreted or are interpreted as being.. I don't know like words supernatural or mystical, mystical is a word we haven't used yet but that is a term that is used. And so there are these unexplained experiences that are interpreted as experience of the divine.

Mike:
Whether or not they are explainable or not. as everyone has.. finds it easy to be given an explanation. The important thing is that they are over powering. They're transformative.

Moderator:
Transformative experience.

Mike (continues):
I just want to add just to what's latent in there so far, what we've been saying. I think it is important that any discussion of religion needs to distinguish, needs to sharply distinguish between experience and interpretation. Now I would add a third element, ritual, but you know that's, you know, part of the story too. But I think you really have to keep that distinction in mind. And I think just to show its importance I'll give one example. If you take an experience, if you contrast, let's say two religions, world's religions, Buddhism and Islam. Islam is clearly built up around the end of the spectrum that involves doctrine, belief, dogma, if you will. Whereas, John mentioned moments ago Zen Buddhism, Buddhism in general I'd say the emphasis in Buddhism is clearly, it builds its reality around empiricism, experiences, things, self observation. Things that are, in a sense, subject to modification whereas the world of dogma, the world of belief you see is more ridged end of the spectrum of religious realities. I think it's important to keep that in mind.

Moderator:
In fact I want to dovetail on this a bit too. To sort of throw out a question that in a way I think you've actually addressed indirectly just now in your comments. But we had said, we had put a lot of emphasis on religion having this connection to [10:00] these experiences, but it occurred to me and I want to raise, throw this out as a question, "Do you have to have these experiences to be religious? Because it seems to me we have a lot of people…

Mike:
No, no I don't…

Mod (continues):
…who are religious who don't necessarily have these experiences. So, so there's got to be more to religion than these experiences.

Mike:
I think, you know, religion can be described as a way of life.

Moderator:
O.K.

Mike:
So, some how all these elements mix into it. But it's some kind of a… involves some kind..

George:
It's a possible way of making sense of life and the world of... Giving meaning to events. And it's very interesting that there are I suspect many parallels between how modern Christians think about religion and how the ancient Greeks, you know polytheistic, a very different religion by the way.

Moderator:
Mmm, hmm.

George (continues):
Because when people talk about intervention of God in every day reality they're not normally referring to miracles so much as unusual coincidences that they interpret as signs, messages. Ah, if you saw the movie Signs, did you see that?

Billie:
Nnnt ah.

John:
What movie is that?

George (continues):
Signs. Mel Gibson. And any way, he is the protagonist of that movie. And I, it's just an example. He believes, he is loosing his faith. He's a minister, who's wife was killed by a drunk driver and has lost his faith in God. But he regains it because he... without... well he… what he thinks is a great defect in his son, his son's inability to breath well, turns out to save his son's life. And he sees that amazing sort of turn of events as meaningful, the sign of the workings of God in our world. And that is very much how the ancient Greeks interpreted unusual coincidences. In fact they didn't even have a belief in coincidence. They just interpreted any meaningful conjunction of events as caused by divinity.

Moderator:
O.K., So, I just want to tie this together, Mike mentioned religion as providing a sort of… a way of life. And on top of that, I like very much the way it just follows what you brought up, a way of providing meaning, or understanding of how to explain what goes on. And so those all go into the mix. Billie, you had your hand up.

Billie:
And an Old Testament quote of what you were saying is, "His ways", meaning God's ways, "...are not our ways." In other words he works in unusual ways. We wouldn't think that a child's physical defect would be something that was in any way positive. But that…  I can't remember what book of the Old Testament that it is in.

Moderator:
Mm um.

Billie:
But it is very much old testament. "His ways are not our ways." In other words God. And I like this one, that a friend of mine has up on her refrigerator, "God like nothing so much as to remain anonymous."

[Laughter]

Moderator:
Now I'm going to throw out here a question.

[indistinguishable comment followed by laughter]

Mod (continues):
We started off drawing attention to religious experiences, mystical experiences, transforming experiences which certainly one can understand that that would be a source of, "Gosh, now I see the world differently." My question is for those that don't have that as their impetus to adopt a religion or to have a certain point of view, where does this come from, where, you know, this must mean this, this must mean that. And start interpreting what George was referring to as perfectly, not miracles, perfectly explainable physically, but unexpected or coincidental events that oh this must have been the hand of God or that must have been the hand of God working or this is my God working as opposed to somebody else's God. So anyway, I am sort of raising the question of not having the mystical experience we still have a lot of religion out there, where's it coming from?
Let me.. I think…who is next?

Billie
Well George was saying too, I think we're talking about a search for meaning. You know, you then find meaning in things that has become… without the divine element do not have meaning.[15:00]

George:
I'll give… Can I give you an example?

Moderator:
Yeah, go ahead and then we'll get Steve in here. But go ahead, George.

George:
I'll give you a short one, and then later on another one. But one time I was walking down the street, when I was in Chapel Hill. A guy came up and asked me for money. And a lot of times I just say, "No, I don't want to, or…" But at this point I was what the heck, I don't care. I mean.. I just gave, grabbed a bunch of change out of my pocket and handed it to him. And then I started to feel a little sheepish like you know a lot of times these guys don't really, you know use it properly or need it…I mean sometimes, on occasion... so I felt a little sheepish about it, a little bad about it, because I felt like maybe I'd maybe been misled, a little. So anyway a few minutes later I see a newspaper box, and I want to get a newspaper out of it. And I put in the change, what little change I had left, and I, and it didn't come out for some reason, and so I push the change return button and suddenly I get a lot more change back…

Moderator:
You hit the jackpot.

[Laughter]

George (continues)
… like, like eight quarters I get eight quarters and thought you know, the first thing I thought was, "this is a sign from God telling me I did the right thing giving the guy the money." Now that's, that's… now what made me think that, the reason I reflect on it is because I at the very same time this all happened I was writing my dissertation on Homeric religion. So I had a lot of thought about this. It was the coincidence that made me feel this just can't be a coincidence, there's got to be meaning, and my cultural upbringing then led me to think of God and messages, sending messages through coincidental events rather than putting up, you know, speaking in my ear.

Moderator:
Ahh, so an instinctive reaction that you have. Steve's been waiting, so I am going to let Steve get in here.

Steve:
Um, well gosh so much as gone by. Well it looks as if we're using religion and theology interchangeably. And, um, we seem to be talking about God and the nature of God and so maybe we want to pull back a little bit tighter in our definition, I don't know.

Um, but I wanted to get back to the difference between philosophy and religion just a little bit more. And Mike touched on it when he mentioned that religion comes, represents revealed knowledge and philosophy in my view represents discovered knowledge. And I think that is what makes these two things antithesis of each other. Because in religion there is always the clergy, which is telling the populous what is. They're telling the populous what is revealed to them so that they can pass it on to people it's not directly revealed to. I mean without bibles and churches and synagogues where we can go and get instruction, no religion, that I know of, could exist. I mean there is no religion of followers that all got the same message from some mystic source. They all got the message from some clergy, of some kind, that told them what the revealed wisdom or revealed knowledge was.

Moderator:
So, Um, I'm going to throw another word out into the mix here seems to apply here, would you… or describing things to me is the concept of an institution. And religion as an institution. That is something that maybe we need to sort of put into the mix as far as what is religion. Billie has her hand up.

Billie:
Well I am still on George's, you know, Signs. And I can't help saying, can't help quoting Einstein, "Subtle is the lord but he is not capricious."

Moderator:
O.K. And John, you had your hand up.

John:
Well Buddhism is very much against that kind of authoritarianism. Buddhism insists that each parishioner has to find...has to check things out by his own experience.

Steve:
How could something non-authoritarian insist on anything?

Moderator:
Interesting paradox there.

[Unidentified voice]
Down to one-hand clapping. [20:00]

Moderator:
I think, what seems to be offered in Buddhism is instruction but the discovery is individual. So, you actually do have a little bit of both there. Seems to me going on. Mike you have your hand up.

Mike:
I just want to throw a question to our invisible Steve. We have visible Steve and invisible Steve.

Moderator:
Now there's a concept.

[Unidentified voice]
Much of a supernatural after all.

Billie:
Well we believe you are there, Steve.

Steve:
That's o.k. I believe in you, Billie.

{Laughter]

Moderator:
Mike, go ahead.

Mike:
Now, I lost my question. I thought I was amused by my own joke and I´ve forgotten my point.

Moderator:
You were going to respond about something Steve said.

Mike:
Yes, yes about something he said.

Moderator:
We were talking about the institution of religion as opposed to individual religious experience.

Mike:
It will come back come back, carry on.

Billie:
We were talking about Buddhism…

Mike:
Yeah, no, no, no.

Moderator:
I´m going to throw out another word that we may want to use in separating some of these concepts and that is spirituality.

Mike:
Oh, I know…

Mod (continue):
…and thinking as what relates to an individual as opposed to what relates to a community or institution or a gathering or a group of likeminded. It seems to me that religion does have that connotation of a group as opposed to a, you know, a maverick individual.

Mike:
But there are individuals in religion that are original. And now I remember the point.

Moderator:
O.K. Go ahead, Mike .

Mike:
A question or just a comment on what Steve. I think, I tend to agree with you Steve about your last point about the intermed… the omnipresence of a mediating agency in the religious world. And ideally philosophers or people who have philosophical temperaments think for themselves independently. But I think that contrast can be drawn too sharply. That is to say many philosophers tend to be emanative and institutionalized and mediated in their thinking, they´re not terribly original, they tend to repeat the clichés of the mainstream culture just as many religious people, and I have known many of them, are quite individual and original in their perceptions and carry on in their own independent fashion. But on balance I would say that Steve´s distinction was a vali… useful one, I don´t want to get into valid.

Moderator:
O.K. Billie, you had your hand up, well you just put it down..

Billie:
Now see, I´m thinking about something else. You've got me off my train of thought.

Moderator:
Well, we have another institution…

Billie:
I´ve thought of it…

Moderator:
Let me just throw this out and then we´ll get back to you, Billie. ‘Cause then we can have it out there if someone wants to pick it up later. A third institution that ought to be in this mix of big questions is science and distinct from religion and distinct from philosophy. So anyway, Billie.

Billie:
O.K., What you were saying about community, John and I were talking about this afternoon. Christianity was started with community. Jesus went out with his buddies, his disciples. When he first sent people out to heal and preach, he sent them out, just like Noah, two by two. They did not go out alone. Paul had his friend. All the early Christians went out with someone else. And John pointed out that the Mormons do that today. And anyway the scripture is, “when two or three are gathered in my name I shall be present’. It didn´t say by yourself.

Mike:
On the other hand there is this phenomena of monasticism. The monks, the ascetics that go off by themselves.

Billie:
Well I´m, yeah, but I´m just saying, I´m saying that´s a kind… But, you know what Flannery O´Connor said about St. Anthony, said “If he hadn´t gone out in the dessert he wouldn´t have been attacked by all those devils.’

[Laughter]

Mike:
Well that´s true.

Billie:
I mean basically, she was saying, “that´s what you get.’

Mike:
And likewise Jesus if he didn´t spend 40 days and 40 nights by himself would not have had his debut into prophecy.

Billie:
Yeah that´s true. That´s, that´s true. I mean there is a time, you know, to go away and to come back. But when you reach out it seems that you reach out together.

Moderator:
Let me, let me, talking about timing and sort of history and origins –  raise a question that may be a distinction between religion on the one hand and both science and philosophy, as different as they are from each other, but may have something that unites them in being different from religion and that is the question of changeability of the [25:00] story or the answers. In other words as this is the source of answers to the big questions, I, uh...it seems that in religion the answers seem to have been formulated either by a mystic or prophet or some, you know…

[unknown voice]:
a shaman.

Mike (continues):
…shaman. And then that´s it. Whereas science certainly is self adjusting, constantly, and would think philosophy probably too making changes, adjusting.
Lot´s of hands now. So let me get, Mike.

Mike:
Very important moment you raised. Ah, very important . And it was also a source of misunderstand between the religious, scientific and the philosophical sensibilities. People don't want … uuh I mean let… um.. delete I think part of .. one of the functions of religion is to provide a stable point of view, a stable world view. Not everyone has the stomach for a Socratic or even a Jesus-like originality. Most people need a stable point of view to guide them on a day-to-day basis. And that is exactly the thing that many critically minded, scientifically minded sorts in our modern world don´t understand. Why don´t you just be ready to modify your point of view in the light of science? Of course from the point of view of science that makes sense, but from the point of view from the religious passion and the religious need, stability is the key factor. That´s just an observation, not a value.

Moderator:
O.K. I´ll just work around, John.

John:
Well one of the differences between religion and science is that the conclusion or understanding of science can all be express in specifically in words, in writing,

Moderator:
Ah, O.K.

John (still talking):
…but the understanding of religion, spiritual understanding, so forth sometimes cannot be expressed in words

Moderator:
O.K.

John (still talking):
…they are individual, incommunicable.

Moderator:
O.K., O.K., um, Billie.

Billie:
Yeah, there´s the conservative side of religion, which a lot of people need, right? And then there´s the creative.. ah.. side. They´re often called the heretics: St. Joan, Jesus, right? But Jesus also said, “I have a lot more to tell you, but you´re not ready for it.’

Moderator:
Ah, o.k., o.k.

Mike:
And he was right, they were not. They were not ready for him.

Billie:
Yes.

Moderator:
Steve. Steve´s got something to say. Go ahead.

Steve:
Well, speaking of the origins. I mean, I envision you´ve got proto-man coming into being man, and having, you know, capacities to think about the universe in a way that no other animal has. And he is faced with these things that he can't understand right away. I mean, thunder lightening it´s a good place to start. Um, it's happening, he´s seeing it, and he´s able to ask the question, “Where´s that coming from?’ And I think that this is where religion got started, is, is you know, the filling in the answer to that question. Um, sometimes there is rains and there´s plentiful crops and sometimes there´s not and the question is, “Well, why is that?’ and “Is there something I can do?’ and so the shaman, the, the, you know, comes up with this answer, you know, that “there is this invisible being and if we sacrifice to it we´ll have good rains.’ And you´re off and running with a religion. Um, and then the shaman thinks, “it would be nice if people didn´t kill each other. Oh I know what, I´ll say that the invisible being doesn´t want us killing each other". And then everything from that point on is just variations on a theme.

Moderator:
Alright.

Unknown Voice:
Good point.

Moderator:
It raises for me the question though then, first of all several, how does the shaman come into being? In other words, how is it that one person is listened to? Is it that…

Mike:
Charisma

Moderator:
Ah,  o.k. Mike, Mike´s. That´s not a trivial thing. I mean, yeah, charisma which involves a lot of things. Rhetoric is one of the things you and I talk a lot about. But ah, people skills. John you had your hand up.

John:
Imagination.

Moderator:
Imagination. O.K.

John:
Human beings are very deeply social beings, and we spend all, much of our lives, much effort, trying to understand where we fit into our social society and to understand our society. And so apparently we try to extend this to, [30:00] so we map maybe master the tribe we grow up in, but when we encounter phenomena like thunder and lightening we try to imagine same thing at larger scale…

Moderator:
Ah, ha.

John (continues):
…with a beings, beings of a different nature than the people who we see everyday, and who are responsible for phenomena such as…

Moderator:
So in other words we take our everyday experience and in our everyday experience some people are more powerful than others and the powerful people can do things the not so powerful people can do. All of a sudden there´s something really big happens, you say that must be a really powerful person up some place, doing that. So extrapolating from our…

George:
In fact, ah…

Moderator:
Go ahead, George.

You know the pantheon…

Billie:
Yes.

George (continues):
… the Greek pantheon is very much a projections of Greek views of human behavior and such.

Billie:
Yes, there is feuding and fighting, just like (laughs). Right?

Moderator:
Yeah.

Billie (continue):
And of course the other is the human capacity, which no other animals appear to have, to, one, see patterns and tell stories.

Moderator:
Now…

Billie:
We´re fascinated with stories.

Mod (continues):
…that's a word I´ve been waiting for: story or narrative or myth. There seems to be something very, very powerful in having a, well let me rephrase that. Some stories are more powerful than others, and some are very, very powerful. And so, coming up with a powerful story is,  seems to be a skill or something or a profound event in a culture´s history that ah. Oh, Billie.

Billie:
Now I am thinking of ER Dodds´ book, Greeks and the Irrational. Ah, where the shamanistic, the healer, the insightful one is also the poet. Not separated, at that point. And when we get into stories we´re talking about creativity, aren´t we?

Moderator:
Yes, yes

Billie (continues):
Later separated. George, George is frowning at that one.

Moderator:
I´m reminded of the feud, or what ever you want to call it, the antagonism between… well I guess it was Plato who was, was so critical of Homer for, or pointing out the dangers of story tellers who can turn heads and you know move hearts without necessarily being grounded in reason but just from passion and good story telling.

Steve:
I don't think he should have been so upset with the storytellers so much as the story listeners.

Billie:
O.K.

Steve (continues): How easily swayed they were by these storytellers. He focused his rage on the wrong side of the equation I think.

Moderator:
Perhaps. Mike had his hand up.

Mike:
Ah. Let me see now, what a, there were several things and something about what Steve just said. Well all right, I just want to make a footnote just to reinforce this idea about the role of natural phenomena being crucial in the origins of religion. Epicures who's famous for his critique of religion which he considered the source of great human suffering and therefore chose a naturalistic theory of atoms and the void to explain everything. One of the three major works that survives of his, along with many fragments, is a book, actually it was a letter, consisting of a summary of his theory of meteorology. And the whole point of this book, describing all the phenomena of nature, especially the awesome ones, the frightening ones, was to show they had natural explanations and did not represent the wrath of the gods and they were not in any way, these natural phenomena, amenable to human prayer because that would, you know, lead to sacrifice. He gives as an example, or I think it was actually Lauraceous, gives the example of the story of Euthanagia who is sacrifice in order to get clear winds so her father, Agamemnon I believe it was, could sail his ships into war. You see.

Moderator:
So he saw the same danger of the storyteller...

Mike:
Absolutely, absolutely and ah, although he wasn't an atheist, he did have a view of the gods. But his main point was and it´s really part of a dia… what should be a kind of a dialog between pagan religion and the Abrahamic tradition. His main point was gods or the divine element in nature did not intervene in the course of human history.

Moderator:
O.K.

Mike:
And that´s were all the [35:00] problems start. When you start mixing up history and, religion and politics.

Billie:
So how does the religion of Abraham fit into that?

Mike:
Well all the Abrahamic religions claim that ah…God.

Moderator:
It´s an interventionist god.

Mike:
It´s involved, intervenes in the course of history.

Billie:
Oh, yeah. Yahweh means, I am with you. That´s the newest interpretation of Yahweh.

Unknown voice:
Oh, is it really?

Billie (continues):
…I am always with you.

Mike:
And I am telling you what to do, and if you don´t do it you see. So, yeah, exactly right.

Billie:
Oh no, I just wasn´t sure what you meant by that.

Moderator:
Steve has something he wants to add too. Go ahead, Steve.

Billie:
Yeah, yeah.

Steve:
Well I was just going to say that it was interesting when we were mentioning Homer, you know, like the story of Troy is very much, as it turns out, an intermingling of true history and mythology. I mean, you´ve got this dynamics up in Mt. Olympus where, you know, they are wanting to know who the most beautiful, you know, Goddess is and they call this mortal, Paris to come and judge a beauty contest and he goes well it´s Helen [Ed note: actually it was Aphrodite and Helen was Paris´s prize]. And then the next thing you know all hell has broken loose. Except I guess it would have been all Hades.

(laughter)

Moderator:
Ah, John.

John:
There is a lot of that in Herodotus too. Prophecies and dreams and the way they work themselves out.

Moderator:
Yeah.

Billie:
Well the Greeks were pretty fatalistic… culture.

Moderator:
So, let me… is this a contest of stories then, for hearts and minds of, of  people who need stability? Which we should say is most people who need stability in their world view? And in that case is science and philosophy not paying enough attention to story telling? Perhaps in presenting, or relying too much on just reason and not presenting reason in a narrative? I don´t know…

Billie:
Very good point.

Mod (continues):
…question there.

Billie (continues):
Maybe they, maybe both would be more popular if they got more into good story telling.

Mike:
Well there are some writers now, physicists. There´s a fellow by the name of Brian Swimme, he´s a kind of Catholic cosmologist. And he tries to, ah I read some of his stuff, very interesting actually, he tries to make out of the theory of evolution and of the cosmo-genesis of the universe a new mythology.

Moderator:
O.K.

Mike (continues):
… as wonderful and as magnificent as the old biblical mythology which he still respects as a Christian, but has reinterpreted in the light of contemporary. So yes, attempts have been made. And your question is a very interesting one, Steve. About ah, is religion a contest about competing stories? And I, I, well yes and no. I mean part of the context consists of how is the story, the dominant story of a religion, impressed upon people? Some religions are more forceful, others have a looser relationship to their dominant mythos. But it´s a very interesting question and part of the big picture.

Moderator:
Billie:

Billie:
Mark Lilla Had a piece in the New York Times Magazine a couple weeks ago; there´s going to be a book out called The Still Born God, that he wrote, that he´s written in October.  And one of his points is, hey look we had better get use to the fact that people like religion. And one of the things that he says, you know, there´s a big world out there, it is chaos, blah, blah, blah, but religion say that your small life, most religions, is meaningful, and what you do is meaningful. And that is a very meaningful statement to most people.

(sounds of agreement from one or two)

Billie (continues):
… in terms of stories. That is very compelling… to say “I count.’

Mike:
The trouble is that most people, many people, at least in the Western world, find it harder and harder in the light of science to accept the traditional story that gives their lives meanings and that why … the crises you see.

Moderator:
But you use an important qualifier there, which is the traditional story that is among what´s available that some have a hard time going along with that. Um, there is another thought that I had throw out which is, somewhat related and that is how, well you mentioned it earlier, how religion is… introduced to us or how we are introduced to religion. The wide range of, you know, [40:00] and let me just say and the question of the abuse of religion. Let´s put it that way. Where if it were up to a certain point one can say actually that´s no longer teaching religion, that´s indoctrination. You know. And you, of course there the spectrum and uh, I didn´t want to throw that into the mix as an issue to deal with, especially in this day and age. So I would call it abuse of… Billie, you have your hand up.

Billie:
Well what is the difference between true religion and cult.

Moderator:
Cult, well o.k. Well and that could also be a matter of who is looking.

Billie:
For sure, for sure.

Steve:
Congregation size.

(laughter)

Moderator:
Otherwise there all just…

George:
Cult just means practice of religion.

Billie:
It´s true. I´m just…

George:
Cult.. yeah, yeah.

Billie:
I was just using it like Jim Jones.

George:
Right, yeah. Yeah, well we know that something is a true religion ____ we call it a cult like scientology.

Billie:
And it may have come from occult.

George:
A cult, occult, the occult.

Billie:
It may have, I don't know.

Mike:
No, actually no.

Billie:
Oh, o.k. I'm just playing around.

Mike:
Two different words.

Moderator:
It does remind me of an observation…

(unknown voice):
Thank-you.

Mod (continues):
It reminds me of an observation that um, I don't remember where I picked it up, the landmark forum which is a whole 'nother phenomena, but there's some bits of wisdom that they throw out every now and then, that stuck with me one of them is that, these are little paradoxes and the one that I remember, and I'm reminded of is, has to do with superstition, and it went something like this, it went, "if you're superstitious, it's not superstition, it's only superstition if you're not superstitious." And if you follow the logic of that it means that if you believe it then you aren't going to think of it as superstition you're going to think of it as the truth. But, you know, one person's truth is another person's superstition. So we have that phenomena going. But, but what about this ability, well it get's into psychology, and it get's into education, it get's into child abuse, is what I would say, it's when you have at your disposal, for whatever reason that you have this authority, you know, to very early on influence, what you can do that is rightly limiting a person as opposed to liberating a person.

Mike:
Ah, I mean one way to approach that is to let say see the spectrum of religion along the notion of a theocracy at one end of the spectrum where we honestly and passionately believe that every aspect of every moment of your life should be controlled by, from birth too death, by some religious activities, beliefs, or rituals to a more liberal tradition of religion which we have here in the western world, in which religion is a more private affair. Holiday time sensitive individual interior and nothing to do with the state imposing itself upon you. I mean, so there are a lot of differences and historically

Moderator:
O.K.

Mike (continues):
… you know, in that range of that spectrum . That's one way of looking…

Moderator:
O.K.

Mike (continues):
…addressing your question.

Moderator:
O.K., Billie.

Billie:
And of course one reason that it is the way it is because religious wars were fought in England, between the Protestants and the Catholics, and they were bloody enough and horrible enough that we in this country decided wait a minute, we are both goin' live together and the state's not going to have anything to do with it. Ah, which is an anomaly, that was one of Lilla's point in this article, in the rest of the world. Most of the world does combine state. The Church of England is still the church of England. Not to mention the Middle East. That these things are… to many people they see the argument between Thomas of Becket and Henry II as Thomas of Becket won. Because you put God, who's got it all straight, over the state.

Moderator:
Ah, Steve, go ahead, jump in.

Steve:
I was amazed that I think it was Michael's claim that government doesn't get tainted by religion, but I…

Mike:
I didn't say that…

Steve (continues):
…but we still can't buy beer or whine on Sundays. Um…

Billie:
O.K.,

Moderator:
The so-called blue laws you're referring to. Yes.

Billie:
You mean the ABC stores. Only.

Steve:
Yeah, ABC stores. Well yeah, and George Bush (Sr.) [45:00], or one of the Bushes, wondering if atheists were even citizens.

(laughter)

Billie:
But that's George Bush

(more laughter)

Mike:
There is a  spectrum, I mean, of course. You're absolutely right, there are elements of that.

Billie:
Our, our… the separation of church and state is certainly in danger by this administration.

Mike:
Right.

Billie:
Seriously in danger.

Steve:
My real comment that I wanted to throw in as we move along, was I sort of feel sorry for religion because it has the unenviable position of starting way back when ignorance was great, and making so many claims about everything. I mean, it, it purported to tell the whole story and then it had no way of knowing that as time went on human knowledge would expand and expand and expand and we would learn, you know, great things. Well we would eventually learn that the world wasn't flat. That it revolved around the Sun. And there was no way for religion to anticipate the discoveries of human knowledge that were going to come forward. And so they wrote themselves, they painted themselves into terrible corners. Um, you know, like the flood myths that are all around the world. Well they're real nice, and maybe one day, you know, the Mediterranean Sea filled up and lots of people were killed, but the total surface the of the planet has never been covered by the ocean. And religion that claims that it happened that way has backed itself into a corner that is got to be very embarrassing for it.

Moderator:
That raises an interesting question in my mind of whether… whether it is time for a new religion. Because historically we've had religions pop up… and with a particular story, but it was not necessarily the final story, I mean for instance Christianity came after Judaism was long established and Islam came about later. And… maybe Hindu line or the Buddhist line, that a something new will pop up. And cults or smaller… religions with less, fewer followers I guess have popped up. The question is, what does it take, or who says we are in a privileged time in history were no more new religions are going to appear.

Mike:
We're not. All over in China and Russia, for that matter during the 1960's here in America the new age movement, right on up until fairly recently, all kinds of new religions. The question is, do these new religions, small groups, cults, or what, do they attain a status of,

Moderator:
Yeah.

Mike (continues):
you know.. of world… will they displace the older religions? But, they are happening, they are happening all the time.

Moderator:
It's almost like evolution at work…

Mike:
That's right.

Mod (continues):
… survival of the fittest stories…

Billie:
Well, in terms of evolution, I think that the very synchrotistic tendency now and cultures come in contact with each other, you know.

(unknown voices)
Yeah.

Billie (continues):
You know, I am thinking of Rumi who, you know, though Jesus was his friend. Right? And I certainly see and feel at home with a lot of that… or Thich Nhat Hanh thinks of himself as a Buddhist and a Christian.

Moderator:
Mmm, hum.

Billie (Continues):
Because of the two cultures he understands both, and he sees, you know, he sees points of convergence.

Moderator:
Ah huh.

Mike:
I actually agree. I mean I think the synchronic element is not only operating now but has throughout history. I mean Islam has its roots in Judaism and Christianity. Judaism was influenced by the Zoroastrians you see, and in fact I think it´s a sign of health when cultures, religions, points of views mingle. And incidentally, I would say to Steve, invisible Steve…

(laughter)

Mike (continues):
… there are moments in history, continuously, I mean they crop up, when philosophy and religion do come together…

Moderator:
Um hum:

Mike (continues):
… and they enrich each other. Ah, so um, you know,  I was just supporting you, what you just said a minute ago.

Moderator:
I'm just sort of tickled a little bit about the concept of religion evolving, in light of the more normal way of representing religion and evolution as being… you know greats debate and.. but the fact that religion itself being subject to evolution is [50:00] something that I find…

Steve:
Well,...

Moderator:
Go ahead.

Steve:
On the subject of religion evolving I mean would we look at the Catholic church as having evolved from where fish was the only thing that could be eaten on Fridays, but that is no longer the rule, so it's evolved? I mean,

Moderator:
Well, ah…

Steve (continues):
It seems silly, the Catholic Church, you know, persecuted Galileo for saying, you know,  Copernicus was correct. But it recently, what was it last year, said that was a mistake, so it made a step forward? I don't know.

Moderator:
Well, what I am referring to is actually, there are two kinds of evolution, evolution is kind of recognized there's the gradual continuous and then there's the quantum, the sort of the burst… and it's kind of like the tectonic plate, that cause earthquakes and so forth that were in cases where they don't move gradually is then when at some later date you have a sudden shift, and this is the kind of thing that I am talking about, not necessarily that an established religion is changing but in fact because it isn't changing that there can be ah sort of a burst of a new religion or a new, a something new on the scene. Which is itself, you know, ah…

Billie:
Renewing?

Moderator:
Not only renewing but sort of taking the best but leaving the worst, or you know so, the benefit of having had some history, and making a fresh start. So evolution in that sense not in the sense that a particular established religion necessarily is, is changing its doctrine, because, you know, we really don't see that happening.

I have lots of hands up. Let me, Billie.

Billie:
O.K. well this is just a point in terms of history of a lovely little book by Charles Taylor reexamining William James. And he said, "Look there's the conservative body of Christianity", but he would credit Luther who comes up with his religion by saying, against the Catholic Church, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling and call no man rabbi". Now, who said, Call no man, rabbi?" Jesus. He said, "don't call anybody teacher." Um, and Taylor says particularly now as American religion evolved it evolved in this personal kind of way. We have a tradition of it now, and we feel comfortable with it. But we refer back to the scriptures, so to speak, they're there as you mention, Steve, as a kind of library, and suppository of knowledge.

Moderator:
Mmm, hum. Mmm, hum.

Billie (continuing):
Ah, but we have own special individual, oh here's a dream. A friend of mine, who's a mystic had.

Moderator:
(laughs)

Billie:
O.K. She dreamed she was in a house. And the first floor was furniture. And the second floor there wasn't much furniture at all. And the third floor there was no furniture and there were holes, I wouldn't say holes, but there were places in the wall that you could walk through.

Moderator:
Mmm.

Billie:
And you had to find the one that looked just like you. You couldn't go through any other ones.

Moderator:
Oh that…

Billie (continues):
… that was the dream she had.

Moderator:
That, that I just have to comment on, because there's a metaphor that I have in my own mind, that I've used a lot, a kind of a Jigsaw puzzle…

Billie:
Yes.

Mod (continues):
And there is a shape, and to get from this side to that side you have to assume a shape, and that's the shape that you happen to be

Billie:
Mmm, hum. That's right.

Mod (continues):
… to get through. But while you're in this jigsaw puzzle you're part of this bigger network. And you're an individual to begin with, and your individual on the other side, but you have to pass through this thing when you're a part of greater picture, the big picture.

Billie:
That's nice. Very nice.

Mike:
I can't resist this part. My two bits of interpretation. Absolutely wonderful dream of your friend. I don't know your friend, but um. If you assumed, let's say take a Jungian take on this, that a house is the self. Now as you ascend the self, the higher levels you have to empty out, that's a very mystical thing…

Various:
Yeah, yeah.

Mike (continues):
…but the interesting part about the very top… it, at… the peak of our development we still are individuals…

Billie:
Yeah

Mike (continues):
… we have to find our own shape and form. That's a beautiful dream.

Billie:
Yes it is very Jungian, it's individuation. It the word he creative. Yeah.

Mike:
Does she take Jung?

Billie:
She does.

Mike:
Alright, she is interested in Jungian psychology?

Billie:
Yes.

Mike:
O.K. it's true that Jungian…

Billie:
No, no, this was. The dream was before she knew much about Jung at all

Mike:
Well, no, I don't say that's not a bad thing to have a dream inspired by a point of view.

Billie:
But, no, it was before [55:00] she knew anything about Jung, she had that dream.

Moderator:
Let me get Steve back in here. Steve's ready. Go ahead, Steve.

Steve:
Um, I forgot what I was going to say.

(laughter)

Billie:
It's your turn.

(more laughter)

Billie:
We were waiting for that.

Mike:
We'll give you five seconds.

Steve:
Again see and now I think we've gone the other direction and we've left connecting religion to theology once we start talking about, you know, people finding their own, you know, you can't… the ship has sailed as far as introducing a new theology to mankind because everybody is going to go, "oh, wait its been two thousand years since Christ was here what was your deity doing, you know, why was he sitting his thumbs all this time waiting to reveal himself now, to you?" Um, it's um, so we're abandoning a theistic type of religion for a new non-theistic religion where everybody picks and chooses what explains life to them personally, which is philosophy and no longer religion.

Moderator:
Well, um, what, is that really the case? If you have, I mean right now we have many different religions in the world. It is far from being unanimous what The world religion is, so is it because you have multiple instances does that make it not religious, Steve?

Steve:
Well, I definitely point to multiple instances as invalidating each other.

Moderator:
Ah, well, O.K.

Steve (continues):
Everybody seems to be atheistic towards everybody else's religion, except there own. And that sort of in the wash says they're all, you know…

Moderator:
Well we are getting close the end here, um, but ah it's going to be a tough one to resolve. But it does, your last comment, I think, does tie back to what we were saying earlier about religions coming more and more in contact with each other and cultures coming in contact with… and also the institutions of science and philosophy coming head on with religions. There is... they can't ignore each other any more and there will be some synthesis, some reaction, I say synthesis in the Hegelian, you know,

Billie:
Yes, absolutely.

Mod (continues):
Thesis, anti-thesis something has to come out of all that. Um, but I'm going to ask for, if somebody wants to have the last word, you can do that Mike if you like…

Mike:
Well actually the, the… one concluding thought which is always the beginning thought, but the way I see the future of religion, idealistically viewed, is that religion be assimilated or balanced with philosophy, but also with poetry.

Moderator:
Ah.

Billie:
Yes.

Mike (continues):
In other words, we don't have a problem with someone saying I prefer Dante to Shakespeare, or Homer gives me more of a sense of truth than the lyric poetry of Yates, or something. Ah, but we would all agree that these are poets who shed some light on the total reality, the total human adventure. And that is how I would like see religion evolve toward a pluralistic fusion of all the human disciplines without any one of them dominating…

Moderator:
O.K…

Mike (continues):
… and dehumanizing…

Billie:
Mmm hum, that's nice.

Mike (continues):
… the individual.

Moderator:
O.K. Real quick, Billie you can have a last word.

Billie:
Oh well just a quote from Paul. "We see through a glass darkly, but one day face to face."

Moderator:
Face to face. O.K. That's where we're headed.

Billie:
But we see now! through a glass darkly.

Moderator:
O.K. Well on that I'll have say that's all the time we have for today. Thank you very much participants for sharing your thoughts, thank you listeners for tuning in. For more information about this show and how you the listener can participate on the show, visit our website at www.citizenphilosopher.com

Until next time, this is Steve Donaldson, wishing you all the joys of philosophic reflection. And remember, thinking is a good thing. Everyone has the right to enjoy it.


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