Thursday, June 13, 2013

Religion True or False

Frans de Waal:
The question is not so much whether religion is true or false, but how it shapes our lives, and what might possibly take its place if we were to get rid of it the way an Aztec priest rips the beating heart out of a virgin.
Which brings me again back to the point where all of this religion-not-belief talk fails me. How can de Waal sit in church and be moved by the experience of communal worship if he doesn't believe what people are saying?

Here is Sam Harris, writing about the power of Islam:
I think everything about the call to prayer is glorious—apart from the fact that, judging by the contents of the Koran, the God we are being asked to supplicate is evil and almost surely fictional. Nevertheless, if this same mode of worship were directed at the beauty of the cosmos and the mystery of consciousness, few things would please me more than a minaret at dawn.
Like Harris, I can't imagine worshiping a god I don't believe in and don't want to believe in, but I don't like his suggestions for alternative rituals, either. Prayers directed toward the beauty of the cosmos strike me as silly. I don't really know why. Perhaps such prayers (invocations? songs?) lack the patina of age and tradition. But they feel false to me. Made up. Too much like a let's pretend exercise; religion is nice, so let's try to think of something that will give us the same good feelings without compromising our intellectual integrity.

But religion has, or seems to have, another purpose: the worship of god and the seeking of his blessing. It makes demands on its followers, including intellectual demands; that is part of the point. It asks you to see the world differently. You can't -- or I can't, anyway -- just invent a religion that suits all your needs but makes no inconvenient demands and then take it seriously.


pootrsox said...

I think perhaps it is not a call to "prayer" but a call to meditation, or appreciation, or just a moment taken to marvel silently at the magnificent beauty that is our universe.

And I do understand how a non-believer can find beauty and even solace in a shared worship experience. As a member of the Unitarian Society of New Haven, I experienced it regularly. From the music (we had some top-notch musicians in our choir and occasional instrumental groups) both performed and shared (especially the Unitarian revisions of traditional hymn melodies) to the grokking together during the sermons, the communality of the services was central to the beauty and fufillment of the experience.

In other words, I like to "worship" (meaning praise the wonder to be found in) in both solitary and communal ways.

This is *not* religion! But it can be possible and indeed worthwhileto "sit in church and be moved by the experience of communal worship" even if the actual text of the prayers and hymns does not resonate with our own personal views of life, the universe, and everything.

Have you not attended weddings or funerals and found yourself moved by the experience? Was not that emotional response in part due to the communal nature of the service?

John said...

When I sit in church I am usually uncomfortable because I think someone is going to leap up and shout, "Get thee gone, unbeliever!" Or, worse yet, ask me what I think. I have enjoyed church services, but only three or four times in my life.

The weddings and funerals that have moved me have all been held outside church.

Unknown said...

I would speak of for those who are entirely unmoved by communal worship. I find sitting in a synagogue and uttering rote phrases tedious and bland. This is true whether I'm sitting in a conservative, traditional service or a reform service--and I've sat in on some VERY reform services that include mostly modern prayers for peace and in praise of the beauty of the cosmos. Let me stress that my reaction has nothing to do with the content of the message or fear that I will be "found out" as an unbeliever.

I do find some religious music--the call to prayer, Gregorian chant, etc.--beautiful, but I wonder if I would feel the same if it were not in liturgical, only half-understood language.

I am, however, puzzled that one of your commentators would find the God of the Qur'an especially evil. You can find evil God stuff in the Old and New Testaments, and you can cherry pick any of these scriptures to prove almost any message you like.

John said...

Sam Harris does think all religions are evil. He just happened to be writing about Islam in that post.