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Man's psychotherapist through the ages


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Allgemeine Religionswissenschaft [science of religion] eliade, kitagawa

The religious enigma

What is religion Karl Menninger said religion has been mankind's psychotherapist through the ages
When Bertrand Russell declared that the roots of religion were in fear and fear alone, it struck many people as oh so profound, oh so clever. But on reflection, others were already musing on other sources for religious symbolism, religious emotions, the social and human context of religion. Karl Marx was on to something in his generalization "Religion is the cry of the oppressed creature. The soul of soulless conditions and the heart of a heartless world. Religion is the opiate of the masses." The American Eric Hoffer included even communists when he said: "Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves." One thing we know, whether illness or health, whether insanity or perhaps the highest sanity, the prevalence of "religion" -- in one form or another -- is virtually universal. Lewis Hopfe declares: Wherever mankind is found there too religion resides. Occasionally religion is hard to find or pin down, but in the great metropolitan capitals and in the most primitive areas of the world, there are physical and cultural temples, pyramids, megaliths, and monuments that societies have raised at tremendous expense as an expression of their religion. Even when one explores the backwaters of time in prehistoric civilizations one finds altars, cave paintings, and special burials that point toward man's religious nature. Indeed there is no other phenomenon so pervasive, so consistent from society to society, as mankind's search for the gods.

Allgemeine Religionswissenschaft Anthropologists and others scientists studying religion have proposed literally innumerable hypotheses regarding the origins of the religious impulse in the human species. A religious leader in our own time, Rabbi Harold Kushner, remarked that "God is like a mirror. The mirror never changes but everybody who looks at it sees something different." How simple yet how true. Somehow it helps to be able to smile at ourselves. Modern man is no less affected T.S. Eliot says

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Man's psychotherapist through the ages

In Memoriam can, I think, justly be called a religious poem, but for another reason than that which made it seem religious to Tennyson's contemporaries. It is not religious because of the quality of its faith, but because of the quality of its doubt. Its faith is a poor thing, but its doubt is a very intense experience. In Memoriam is a poem of despair, but of despair of a religious kind. Hello Darkness my old friend I've come to talk with you again. Humans reach out (or in) to a Something beyond, a Something which they hope will somehow complete their inadequacy, or possess answers which they do not have. But the reaching out is often almost too deep for words, and literally at the borderlines of what we deem rational or logical. Mankind seems to have an unquenched "relational" capacity, and this need results in a thousand forms and manifestations of faith, prayer, worship, and so many other functions of what we loosely categorize as religious. Scholars with no particular theological ax to grind (for example Freud, among others) have zeroed in on the human subconscious, man's hidden realm of dream and myth and fantasy, as a starting point to understanding man's impulses along these lines. Indeed, what better place to begin our search. Freud said our mind is an iceberg, with the bulk of its mass below the surface. Consulting anthropologists, clues abound. Richard Creel writes of the antiquity and prevalence of the religious instinct. The first humans, in their crudest religious urges, found themselves spontaneously religious, whether they wanted to be or not. Creel says that "as far back as we can trace human culture, we find evidences of religious beliefs and practices. The evidence, such as modes of burial and paintings on cave walls, is clear with regard to Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal humans, and is present possibly even earlier. [Creel's commentary is informed by John B. Noss, Religion in Prehistoric and Primitive Culture.] Though such evidence is subject to a wide range of interpretations, it does seem to indicate clearly that humans as much as 100,000 years ago were seeking much more than survival and comfort and were sensitive to more than the pragmatic aspects of their experience. There seems to have been a mystic sense of kinship with nature and animals. There seem to have been rituals whereby values were preserved and the community related to a larger reality. There were paintings and statues rich in symbolic significance. There was belief in spirit powers and quite likely in survival of the dead. Lewis M. Hopfe declares that: Wherever mankind is found, there too religion resides. Occasionally religion is hard to find or pin down, but in the great metropolitan capitals and in the most primitive areas of the world, there are physical and cultural temples, pyramids, megaliths, and monuments that societies have raised at tremendous expense as an expression of their religion. Even when one explores the backwaters of time in prehistoric civilization [I would say 'culture'] one finds altars, cave paintings, and special burials that point toward man's religious nature. Indeed there is no other phenomenon so pervasive, so consistent from society to society, as mankind's search for the gods. Other anthropologists have made efforts: Ruth Benedict The most diverse origins of religion have been proposed: Herbert Spencer regarded the fundamental datum of religion as respect for the elder generations of ones family, and derived all its manifestations from an original ancestor worship. Tylor believed that dreams and visions furnished the experiences from which man organized the concept of his own soul as separate from his body; this concept man then extended to the whole material universe, ariving at animism or the belief in spirits. This belief, in Tylor's formulation, was the inescapable minimum and least common denominator of all religions. Durkheim, on the other hand, believed that religion was the outcome of crowd excitement. Over against the unexciting daily routine which he regarded as typically pursued by the individual in solitude or in small groups, he saw in group ritual, especially that connected with totemism, the original basis on which all religion has been elaborated. Religion, therefore (he says) is ultimately nothing more than society. J.W. Hauer has derived religion from mystic experience, which, he argues, is a permanent endowment of a certain proportion of the individuals of any community, and this experi-ence communicates itself with such overpowering authority that it outranks other experiences and seeks expression through dogma and through rite. Erich Fromm defines religion as "any system of thought and action shared by a group which gives to the individual a frame of orientation and an object of devotion." Connie Barlow Mircea Eliade says we humans are no Homo sapiens, but Homo religiosus. Joseph Campbell, who held that religion was whatever put one "in accord" with the universe, delighted in the mystic metaphors of diverse religious heritages while savaging those who corrupted the metaphor while claiming its material truth. For Huston Smith, religion is that which "gives meaning to the whole." Lawrence Kohlberg judged religion to be that which "affirms life and morality as related to a transcendent or infinite ground or sense of the whole." Theologian James Gustafson puts forth a definition of religion that is as accessible to atheists as to theists and that, moreover, offers possibilities for making peace with the Earth. In Gustafson's view, the religious capacity manifests as "a sense of dependence, of gratitude, obligation, remorse or repentance, and of possibility." Philosopher Loyal Rue defines defines religion simply as "an integrated understanding of how things are (cosmology) and what things matter (morality)." Nicholas Berdyaev explains religion The terror that haunted primitive man, his helplessness and desolation, his longing for help and protection is a mixture of (1) the holy, transcendental terror before the fathomless mystery of being and of (2) animal fear that reigns [in Nature.]

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Edward O. Wilson Religious belief is one of the universals of human behavior, taking recognizable form in every society from hunter gatherer bands to socialist republics. Its rudiments go back, at least, to the bone altars and funerary rites of Neanderthal man. (quoted by Matthew Alper) Alfred North Whitehead Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness...... if you are never solitary, you are never religious. Freud, responding to Romain Rolland, pinpointed the true source of religious sentiments in Rolland's description of a sensation of 'eternity,' a feeling of something limitless, unbounded - as it were, 'oceanic' Freud rephrases the sensation as "a feeling of an indissoluble bond, of being one with the external world as a whole." Anthony Storrs writes: Freud compares this feeling with the height of being in love, in which the lover feels totally at one with his beloved. Freud interprets this as an extreme regression to a very early state; that of the infant at the breast before he has learned to distinguish himself from the mother or the external world. Both being in love and the oceanic feeling are therefore illusions. Indeed, Freud referred to the state of being in love as a kind of madness, as 'the normal prototype of psychoses.' Freud partially agrees with Rolland when he admits that the oceanic feeling and the sense of being at one with the universe may become connected with religious sentiments at a later stage. Freud describes it as: a first attempt at a religious consolation, as though it were another way of disclaiming the danger which the ego recognizes as threatening it from the outside world. Granville Stanley Hall writes: The mother's face and voice are the first conscious objects as the infant soul unfolds, and she soon comes to stand in the very place of God to her child. Sounds like what Thackeray said "Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children." [William Makepeace Thackeray] Carl Jung asserts that religious faith is loyalty to one's own personal experience. Abraham Maslow says "The very beginning, the intrinsic core, the essence, the universal nucleus of every known high religion has been the private, lonely, personal illumination, revelation, or ecstasy of some acutely sensitive prophet or seer. The high religions call themselves revealed religions and each of them tends to rest its validity, its function, and its right to exist on the codification and the communication of this original mystic experience of revelation from the lonely prophet to the mass of human beings in general." {Religions, values, peak-experiences)

For mercy has a human heart Pity a human face And Love, the human form divine, And Peace, the human dress. Then every man, of every clime, That prays in his distress, Prays to the human form divine -Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace. William Blake. "The Divine Image"

Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

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The greatest bequest anyone could leave her children would be the bequest of faith. (paraphrase) Oliver Wendell Holmes The real religion of the world comes from women much more than from men - from mothers most of all, who carry the key of our souls in their bosoms. Edward O. Wilson The predisposition to religious belief is the most complex and powerful force in the human mind and in all probability an ineradicable part of human nature. (On human nature) Ivar Lissner All the civilizations of mankind that have existed have been rooted in religion and a quest for God. (Man, God and Magic) Herbert Benson There is not a civilization known to us that did not have faith in God or Gods. (quoted by Matthew Alper) Which may be part of the message of those who validate the religious impulse, even for the non-institutional seekers. I see a book by an author named Jacques Berlingblau. The title catches my eye. The secular Bible: why non-believers must take religion seriously. Perhaps of interest in this vein are the writings of Gerald Schroeder, a scientist who has not lost his awe of [what should it be called - the beyond, the great if, or "God"?]. Albert Einstein The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand, rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his mind and his eyes are closed. The insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has given rise to religion. To know that what is the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive form -- this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. Goethe wrote Superstition is the poetry of life. Both invent imaginary beings. Both sense the strangest connections between real, tangible elements an interplay of sympathies and antipathies. Poetry, having put on these shackles of its free accord, strips them off readily enough, time and again. Superstition, on the other hand, can be compared to magic fetters that draw tighter and tighter the more one struggles. Even the most enlightened epoch is not proof against superstition. But when it asserts itself in dark ages man's clouded mind at once reaches out for the impossible; it tries to exert power on the realm of spirits, across the distance, and upon the course of future events. Thus a wonderfully rich world takes shape, surrounded by an aura of fog. . . . Superstition does no harm to the poet, because he can turn his half-delusions to advantage in a variety of ways. [DerAberglaube ist die Poesie des Lebens.] To think about: the Mystic Heart of Religion Europe's mystics and saints believed that true spirituality is relational, a connection with a Person, and it imparts to the seeker fulfillment, assurance, and ultimately -- joy. Catherine of Sienna desrcibed this state of grace as "pazzo d'amore" and "ebro d'amore" -- crazed with love, drunk with love. When asked which person left the most permanent impression on history, H.G. Wells replied that (judging a persons greatness by historical standards): By this test, Jesus stands first. I am a historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history. Christ is the most unique person of history. No man can write a history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to the penniless teacher of Nazareth. What science can teach us: Some day, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire. [Pierre Teilhard de Chardin] As Carl Sagan said, "Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality." An irony observed by Tolstoy: The Christian churches are arrogance, violence, usurpation, rigidity, death. The true Christianity is the very opposite of the churches. The true Christianity of Jesus is humility, penitence, submissiveness, progress, life. In the same vein Barbara Ehrenreich (noted atheist) writes:

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As a social activist I have come to know and respect many religious traditions and many religious people. I like the fierce old prophets of the Old Testament, railing against the rich and the mighty. I admire the transcendent philosophy of Buddhism, which, I sould point out, is completely nontheistic. And I'm a great fan of that inveterate troublemaker, permanent vagrant, and socialist revolutionary, Jesus Christ. In fact, sometimes I think it would be great if the United States were a "Christian nation," assuming anyone could remember what Christianity originally meant. Originally, it was not a program for persecuting gays, poor people, abortionists, and teachers of evolution. It was a program for the abolition of militarism and for the radical redistribution of wealth. Or, as Hugh Blumenfeld's folk song goes, Jesus Christ was no apologist for conservatism, but was in fact "a long-haired radical socialist Jew." Woody Guthrie, of course, said some very similar things in his own music -repeatedly.

Christians should not fear atheism

Simone Weil [on why it is ok to turn aside from Christ in this instance]: One can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from Christ to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.

Faith and Doubt are actually compatible with each other

Paul Tillich

Faith and doubt do not essentially contradict each other. Faith is the continuous tension between itself and the doubt within itself. This tension does not always reach the strength of a struggle; but, latently, it is always present.

On ne voit bien qu'avec le cur, l'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. ~ Antoine de Saint Exupry ~
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