Said Simon

Inchoate thoughts on my stuff

Religion doesn’t need the supernatural

I present to you these two fascinating cases, from research conducting through rigorous thought-experimentation:

Case 1: ‘Catism’

It seems there is a community of people who have organised themselves around the notion that cats (Felis Catus) represent the ideal form of behaviour and manner. This community regularly gathers to hear sermons on how resting most of the day, grooming oneself with one’s tongue, and playing with string is not only great fun, but is the very purpose for which we have evolved. They sing hymns praising cats for their poise and beauty, grace, and awareness of the world’s ‘true’ nature. When they marry, they do so within the presence of a cat, and no marriage is complete without the household accepting a new kitten to raise. Funerals also require the presence of several cats, and they bring not only comfort to the bereaved but wisdom, by their very presence, according to this community. This community firmly believes that when humanity begins to recognise cats as being such perfect creatures, we will reach a state of peace and harmony.

Case 2: Indifferencism

It seems there is a community of people who believe in a god, Murf. Murf is thought to have created the universe, and sent down a book containing commandments on how we should live our lives, However, this community considers this book to be about as binding or interesting as any other, if not less so. They’d rather follow the advice of Dan Savage, in most cases. While they would like to study how Murf made the univerise, and what sort of things Murf put in it, they think the idea of getting together and singing songs about Murf to be utterly absurd.

So which one is the religion? Or to put it another way, take [existing religion]. Remove belief in god, but leave traditions and rituals intact. Now start over, but instead remove the traditions and rituals leaving only belief. Which result more closely resembles what we usually call ‘religion’?

Advertisements

6 responses to “Religion doesn’t need the supernatural

  1. Alice March 8, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Religion fundamentally requires faith in the supernatural as well as an associated code of conduct. Your Catists are practising a lifestyle and in that sense are more similar to hippies than, say, Wiccans. Murfists, on the other hand, would qualify as a religious sect as their beliefs inherently concern a belief system designed to explain the order of the natural world. Presumably the Murfists would then tailor their beliefs and behaviour to be consistent with their mythology, even if they do not actively participate in systemised ritual. Having said all that I think in practice you’d be very hard pressed to find any sort of unified community (religious or not) which does not follow a certain code of conduct. These codes exist everywhere, from churches to online forums.

    • Said Simon March 8, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      ‘Religion fundamentally requires faith in the supernatural as well as an associated code of conduct’. This is an assertion. It may be a good one, such as if you can present a grounded tradition in making supernatural belief an essential part of any definition of religion amongst social scientists, or if you can offer a reason why including supernatural belief as an essential trait will improve our ability to explain, study, or otherwise understand religious communities and behaviour. Since according to most current social science definitions, Catists are religious and Murfists are not, the onus is upon you to show why these definitions are inappropriate.

      ‘I think in practice you’d be very hard pressed to find any sort of unified community (religious or not) which does not follow a certain code of conduct’. It is not the fact that a code of conduct exists that makes a community religious according to the definition I’m using here. It is the presence of core, ‘sacred’ values about how to act and what the world should be, serving as a focus for the construction of a group and present in rituals which are accorded a protected, revered status.

      • Alice March 8, 2012 at 5:04 pm

        I think your question has more to do with the semantics of syntax than anything else. Effectively the issue is “how do we define religion” and that definition is culturally accepted to have elements of faith or belief. The argument therefore becomes linguistic and should be addressed by democratic survey: what do most people agree to be religion?

        If you extract the elements of faith or belief in absence of evidence, you are left with only the code of conduct, which can be applicable to any other social context (like my forum example). If you do this, the term “religion” becomes inextricably linked to any kind of scripted behaviour and therefore loses all meaning and necessity.

      • Said Simon March 8, 2012 at 5:16 pm

        Among which cultures is it accepted that religion must have elements of faith in beliefs about the order of the natural world? It doesn’t seem to be the culturally accepted definition amongst those social scientists studying religions. And depending on how you use the term faith, you’d find a very credible tradition amongst philosophers of science for using it to describe the acceptance of some of the basic conventions and axioms upon which our current modes of enquiry and systems of belief are based. Again, while these scientists and philosophers might be using definitions that are contradictory or inappropriate for describing their subjects of study, I suggest that the onus is on you to show why this is.

        Incidentally, the Hebrew slur ‘ein lo elohim’ (‘he has no god’) is typically used to imply a lack of moral awareness, rather than a particular metaphysical or physical claim. Consider also ‘godless Commies!’ This suggests that ‘religion’ is understood by many people in at least two cultures as being ‘about’ morality and good or bad forms of social order.

        It would require an extremely broad and understanding of ‘code of conduct’ to view Catism as solely comprising one, given that most codes of conduct are not the subject of hymns or other forms of collective worship. I don’t think I’m willing to accept that understanding, since it would deprive me of the ability to differentiate between codes of conduct as a set of principles for behaviour and sacred values as a set of principles embedded within a community via some special set of social processes and mechanisms.

    • Said Simon March 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      One further question. You claim that ‘Murfists, on the other hand, would qualify as a religious sect as their beliefs inherently concern a belief system designed to explain the order of the natural world’. Doesn’t that make the scientific a community a religious sect, since it possesses a belief system designed to explain the order of the natural world?

      • Alice March 8, 2012 at 5:00 pm

        No; science is not based on belief – or at least not on belief in the sense of faith. However, the scientific community has always followed a specific code of conduct – which actually makes it more similar to the Catists, who I argue are not in fact religious.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: