Religion, again

September 29, 2011

Now where was I?

There was a fine piece on Richard Dawkins in the NY Times last week.

I really do agree with the man on more issues than not. Where I part company is with his reduction of religion to a mere set of indefensible fact claims – in effect taking the word of the fundamentalists for what religion is, and not looking further. I oppose the dogmatic, traditionalist, authoritarian side of religion as much as anyone, but I know far too many people for whom membership in a faith community has been a source of companionship, emotional comfort, advice and assistance in the everyday business of life, encouragement to be the best person they can be, a metaphoric language with which to express parts of themselves otherwise unexpressible, any of a number of things which do not at all require an insistence on the supposed objective truth of any doctrine. One might say we can get these things perfectly well without supernatural beliefs; but where in fact do we get them? I applaud those humanists who are trying to join forces to do good works in the world and build a real sense of community among themselves; maybe they’ll succeed in becoming a real presence on the world scene, but they haven’t yet. Historically the churches are where people have gone for these things.

I myself am a hyperactive member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation; UU tries to be all the good things a church can be while at the same time not imposing any sort of creed. Many of us call UU a “religion,” a “faith community,” but others of us think we have gone beyond anything that those terms imply.  Personally I do not consider myself religious or spiritual, but I do like church a lot; not just my own UU but the various Christian churches I go from time to time and which friends of mine belong to. And I’ve enjoyed the study of other religious traditions as well, and occasional attendance at their ceremonies; Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism in particular. I feel my world would be a poorer place without these things. Each one in its own way reveals some unique facet of the human spirit.

The other day ISKCON put on a nice festival on Boston Common; there were people chanting on a stage,  displays illustrating various topics of their faith, free prasād (food previously offered to Lord Krishna) and more secular snacks for a dollar or two. Sure the basic repeated chant of just three of the thousands of possible Divine Names can get tiresome to an outsider, but there’s more too it than that, lots of bits of India’s cultural history are conveyed along with the chanting.  I love this sort of thing and I’m glad they’re in town.

I see religion as a sort of art form. An art we make in community, with our own lives as the raw material. As with any art form there are many possible styles and genres, from the rigidly conservative and formalistic to the flamboyantly original and eclectic.

Enough for now.

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