On Religion and stuff

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On Religion and stuff

Post by Torco » Mon 01 Oct 2012, 17:40

Aw, maan, the Micamo Religion thread got locked a bit before I realized it existed and figured 'hey, this looks interesting'. Still, I think religion and conreligion are interesting topics, and I have given a load of thought to them lately, so yeah. A few of my thoughts on the issue. [and yeah, I know I'm late to the party... let's start another party! :D]

firstly, it is commonly said that, since its hard to define religion, its better not to, and just talk about belief systems in general... this is, IMO, kinda silly; sure, religions are belief systems, but so are many things that are not religion, and that have little to do with it: technical manuals and the technical skills they encompass being one of them [if I push this button and pull this level, the car will go forward], or colour theories, or fashion principles, or literary deconstructionism; It is not helpful to think about religion conflating it with every other system of beliefs, especially since most of what minds contain are beliefs. Better it is to define religion according to its subject matter; religious beliefs are a certain kind of beliefs. Which kind? there's been a few reasonable answers:

For example, Durkheim would tell us that religious beliefs are beliefs about the sacred: the sacred is constituted as a realm of subjective experience distinct from the profane. Durkheim's reply to 'okay, but what is the profane' is a bit problematic though. Otto's reply, though, that of the Numinous, is a bit more solid: for Otto, the religious is characterized by the experience of the numious, and is something like a buch of beliefs, practices, rituals and other social facts [Otto doesn't call them that, I do] that revolve around the knowing, experiencing, communing, appeasing or otherwise connecting with the numinous. The numinous for Otto is, in turn, characterized by three main features: without going into much latin and detail and stuffamajig, its basically the misterious, that which is unkown or half-known, that which, like all good mistery, suggests the world is more than it seems, that there are half-visible things, and promises the excellent feeling of discovering those things, the awe-inspiring, that which is huge and beyond comprehension for regular people, transcendentally majestic, that which, by its very nature and scope, humbles the human mind and makes you feel like nothing in comparison to its paroxistically superlative hugeness. And then you have the fascinating; that which attracts in spite of terror, or perhaps because of terror. That which one feels naturally compelled to understand or look upon, something that can profoundly transform your life exclusively by its contemplation: so religions are, by this concept, belief systems that are structured around the numinous, that is, around things that are fascinating, misterious and awe-inspiring, which is what I personally get the feeling of when people say transcendent. ways to achieve that experience, to connect it with regular non-numinous life, and stuff.

Sure, this isn't a perfect model, but it functions just as well... A good addition to it might be that religiosity is social: if you have a religion only you follow, most people would call that your spirituality or something. Finally, religions are not only belief; they're much more than doctrine, they encompass ritual saliently, but also personal practice, ethics, and stuff... they're pretty much total institutions, that is, most religions prescribe themselves as the center [or at least a central bit of] the life of the adherent: if you're a christian and christ is not a HUGELY important piece of your life, if you're a muslim and god, the prophet, the sharia, and all that good stuff is not a HUGELY piece of your life, you're doing it wrong: this last bit is more problematic, as not all religions are total necesarily, but they're at least pretty near total: they want to be pretty central to your life. Finally, religions have a pretention of truth: this is why, for example, the Lovecraftian Mythos are not a religion; they may be a mythology that is highly numinous in nature, but it doesn't prescribe that you should believe it, it hasn't pretentions of truth, it knows its fiction. So does literature or music, for example, which can also be articulated around touching the transcendent [some fiction and/or music anyway] buuut it isn't manifestly 'true' in the sense that 'god loves you' or 'i am typing in a computer' is true [or untrue]; you cannot say that La Boheme is either true or false, it just is. Also, let's throw in that religions tend to refer to metaphysics: the stuff that is 'behind' the material world, the immaterial, the spiritual, that stuff.

Sooo you have something approaching a definition of religion: a social fact, characterized by a generally metaphysical, non-materialist doctrine (myhology, ethics, etc...) that aspires to recognition as truth, a set of rituals, biographical prescriptions that prescribe their own centrality to a person's subjective experience of the world and a community, articulated around the numinous experience. Suuure, its not perfect, I know, but it manages to bite from Christianity to Bhuddism while leaving away stuff that is manifestly non-religious, like prescriptivist grammar, paper making, C++, and watching movies on saturday night.

It does chew, for example, some politics, especially marxist-leninist, fascist, and a huge chunk of ecologist ideologies... but I don't have a problem with that :P. Anyway, there, that's IMO a decent definiton of religion.

That being said, I never know -since I have never been religious- if religious truth works the same way as profane truth. Penn Jilette has a great rant on this idea. But the point is, do people really think that religious doctrine is true in the same sense as regular, profane doctrines are true? like, if I go 'this table is made of wood', I think about that phrase as true... do religious people think that, say, the bible, or the sura, or the myth of Amaterasu and whatnot are true, do they mean the same thing by true?. Probably yes and no, but that's a complicated question. On one hand, I just get the feeling that people who claim to believe/believe in angels would be pretty surprised if they saw an angel, and yet, they believe in angels! if I saw a platypus, I'd be anywhere from 'meh' to 'oh, that's pretty cool man!'... but I would not be surprised at the platipus! [and I assure you, I strongly believe there exist such a thing as a platypus, even though I've never seen one, only pictures in books and on the internet]. So surely religious people, by 'belief', mean something entirely different from what I mean when I say I believe the drug store should be open at this hour.

So why is any of this relevant for conreligion making? well, for one, it connects you to the fact that religions are not just copies of the bastard son of christianity, shinto and greek politheism that is generally presented in fiction: catholic-style churches with shinto-style rituals and lots of god-of-thing figures. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it tells you where you should focus on your conreligion-creating efforts:
a social fact, characterized by a generally metaphysical, non-materialist doctrine (myhology, ethics, etc...) that aspires to recognition as truth, a set of rituals, biographical prescriptions that prescribe their own centrality to a person's subjective experience of the world and a community, articulated around the numinous experience.
If one accepts this definition, it becomes blatantly obvious that you should not, as is often done, focus primarily on doctrine during religion-making; religion is not doctrine, its much more than doctrine. Look at it from the Christian perspective, who the fuck cares, really, other than theologians, if christ had one or two natures, or if there were 12 or 11 apostles, or if, from the muslim view, you get or don't get 77 virgins in paradise? its at least just as important as defining doctrine to construct:

- rituals
- biographical prescriptions [how people should live according to this faith]
- the biographical relevance of the religion to the persons who live it.
- how central the religion wants to be in your life, so to speak
- how does this religion generate the numinous?
this last point is pretty interesting; Sagan's Cosmos, for example, was really numinous for me when I was a kid. It's not now because I have seen it too much, but yeah; how can religions cause the numinous? let's go back to Otto.
- Mysterium: christianity has a lot of misteries, and the quran is huge on saying 'you don't understand this, just follow', and yet giving you the feeling like you sorta could understand god a bit, his 99 names and stuff like that. Many mythos refer to stuff that is alien, misterious, and yet oddly familiar; maybe you could exploit the uncanny valley effect to cause numinous experience?
- Tremendum: some religions like to entice you with huge people; gods, angels, characters with absurdly long lifespans and histories, or with amazing powers, a la DBZ, others just tell you to sit down and think about how huge the universe is, like bhuddism, which is a powerful experience in itself, if you care to do it. Others present you with a larger-than-life history of time, with huge cycles and reincarnation through millenia [this sort of grandiose language and play with orders of magnitude is common in religious language; Brahma is sleeping and he breates once every billion billion years, the universe is a billion billion billion kilometers wide, god has ALL the power and answers ALL the billion billion billion prayers, allah has created each of the billion billion souls individually, you have gone thru billions of billions of lives... you get the idea]. However it goes, religion and the stuff it talks about always is HUGE. it broadens the world, and makes you feel small. [maybe like a child? I don't know, this idea plays too well to my freudomarxist antitheist bias, so I reserve judgement on it]
- Fascinans: the fascinating is harder to achieve, but Campbell and Jung have it a bit figured out. Some of it is intuitive, though, scary half-sexualized beings are fascinating, archetypes are fascinating, impossible animals are fascinating, lost worlds are fascinating, conspiracies are fascinating, danger is fascinating; basically, the fascinans is using known exploits in the brain's operating system to catch its attention firmly. Impending doom is pretty fascinanting, for example, as is eternal torture, I mean, its like saying to someone 'I don't think your food has shit on it'... you instantly make him start smelling the food before putting it into his mouth, even though he has no reason to think there's shit on it... why? because you captured his attention to the fact that food and shit don't go together well, my michelle.

there you have it! Torco's tiny guide to conreligion. :P
flame away
Last edited by Torco on Tue 02 Oct 2012, 01:36, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Religionis Conreligionesque - On Religion and stuff

Post by Lambuzhao » Mon 01 Oct 2012, 22:20

the closest thing to a flame I have is about the thread title.

Do you mean something like...

De Religione Conreligionibusque (inter alia) ...?
:wat:

So why is any of this relevant for conreligion making? well, for one, it connects you to the fact that religions are not just copies of the bastard son of christianity, shinto and greek politheism that is generally presented in fiction: catholic-style churches with shinto-style rituals and lots of god-of-thing figures.
Oh sh*t. Back to the drawing-board [:x] [;)]
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Torco » Tue 02 Oct 2012, 01:37

what latin in the title, ah? where? where? :roll:
Oh sh*t. Back to the drawing-board
xD
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by cybrxkhan » Tue 02 Oct 2012, 02:19

Okay, so the random Latin (pseudo-Latin?) was a little annoying, as was style of the writing (occasionally), but whatever.

Good and succinct article. (I guess we'll call it an article?) I sort of realized some of this early on when I was starting to develop my conreligions, but I've never actually worked much on my conreligions, oddly enough, even though they should be more important than I realize... so quite some things to think about it. As someone who is religious, at least nominally, making conreligions has been a slightly amusing experience, to say the least.

Anyhow, do you think the word "identity" is perhaps appropriate to use here, particularly when you're talking about how "religiosity is social"? For instance, in my case, I'm Buddhist, but I only believe in a few essentials, like reincarnation and karma. Now, let's say, for argument's sake, that we could also say that I might as well be Hindu - because they believe in reincarnation and karma too, and probably there's people who identify as Hindu but don't necessarily believe all of what we call Hinduism but they might still believe in reincarnation and karma. However, despite this, I still identify myself as Buddhist for various reasons, including the fact that I was raised one, most of my family is Buddhist, I closer to it as an East Asian, etc (and, yes, while there is technically a doctrinal a difference between Buddhist and Hindu conceptions of karma/reincarnation, let's just assume they are the same for argument's sake). So my question here is, would you consider "identity" useful in also understanding how religion works?


And probably assorted thoughts I forgot, but I'll post them later.
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Lambuzhao » Tue 02 Oct 2012, 03:00

cybrxkhan wrote:Okay, so the random Latin (pseudo-Latin?) was a little annoying, as was style of the writing (occasionally), but whatever.
Not too bad. And the title has more of a maccaronic latin bouquet to it.

Good and succinct article. (I guess we'll call it an article?)
An essay or one-off, almost-monograph; too long to be a grook.
I sort of realized some of this early on when I was starting to develop my conreligions, but I've never actually worked much on my conreligions, oddly enough, even though they should be more important than I realize... so quite some things to think about it. As someone who is religious, at least nominally, making conreligions has been a slightly amusing experience, to say the least.
Amusing? Holy F*ck, Back to the drawing board, againe.


Anyhow, do you think the word "identity" is perhaps appropriate to use here, particularly when you're talking about how "religiosity is social"? For instance, in my case, I'm Buddhist, but I only believe in a few essentials, like reincarnation and karma. Now, let's say, for argument's sake, that we could also say that I might as well be Hindu - because they believe in reincarnation and karma too, and probably there's people who identify as Hindu but don't necessarily believe all of what we call Hinduism but they might still believe in reincarnation and karma.
Under that rubric, could one possibly be a Jain, too? I'm not finger-pointing.
I'm just supposing.
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Torco » Tue 02 Oct 2012, 03:40

I'll try to iron out the redaction on the 'article'... after all I wrote it this afternoon at the office [I'm quite productive, as you can see].

Of course, identity is a big part of religiosity [which is explicitly the actual thing that really happens in the cultural, personal, social etc level, as opposed to religion, which is, as a word, VERY susceptible to no true scotsmans, confusing mythology and the people who believe in it, whether you think its true not, and stuff.], anyway, identity is a big part of religiosity, that's the part where community comes in: Buddhism in this context doesn't only mean doctrine; in your example, doctrine being equal you still consider yourself a Buddhist, because you identify with the community of believers in Buddhism. This is tied in, some of the time, with ethnicity and nationality and all that stuff, but yeah. Community, or social identity, is a big player with regards to religions con and nat, and one should consider it when making conreligions.

A good question in this regard is what kind of community is articulated around your conreligion; is it a national community, like it happens on Shinto? or maybe its international, like Christianity and other universalist religions. Maybe its ethnic, like it happens with contemporary Zoroastrianism, or Judaism.
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Micamo » Tue 02 Oct 2012, 12:18

Torco wrote:Aw, maan, the Micamo Religion thread got locked a bit before I realized it existed and figured 'hey, this looks interesting'. Still, I think religion and conreligion are interesting topics, and I have given a load of thought to them lately, so yeah. A few of my thoughts on the issue. [and yeah, I know I'm late to the party... let's start another party! :D]
Alright, I haven't slept in 48 hours and I'm not particularly in the mood for an argument. I didn't quite process all your post but I'll respond to what I can.

First thing I have to say is... at first I had my doubts when you said you were a sociologist, but this post confirms it: Dear God, your writing style is all but unreadable. You say a lot while managing to communicate very little, and trying to find your point in your gigantic walls of words is picking through the dumpster to find your wallet that you accidentally threw out that morning.
firstly, it is commonly said that, since its hard to define religion, its better not to, and just talk about belief systems in general... this is, IMO, kinda silly; sure, religions are belief systems, but so are many things that are not religion, and that have little to do with it: technical manuals and the technical skills they encompass being one of them [if I push this button and pull this level, the car will go forward], or colour theories, or fashion principles, or literary deconstructionism; It is not helpful to think about religion conflating it with every other system of beliefs, especially since most of what minds contain are beliefs. Better it is to define religion according to its subject matter; religious beliefs are a certain kind of beliefs. Which kind? there's been a few reasonable answers:
I can't help but feel like this is meant as a direct assault on my own thread; If it is, you misunderstand the point of what I was trying to accomplish. Then again, so did everyone else who read it, so I can't really blame you. I was aiming for something quite a bit more general, and "conreligion" was the wrong word as it's really a broad umbrella that actual conreligion rests beneath. I called it conreligion partially because I didn't know what else to call it, and partially as a demonstration of the Copernican Principle of conworlding, as it were: The important thing is, while religious beliefs are different from beliefs about fashion principles or literary deconstructionism in terms of their content, I argue they all operate with the same fundamental cognitive structures. AFAIK, there's no Jesus Cortex in the brain that specifically deals with religious thoughts. By understanding how human thought works in general, you can understand aspects of religious thought in particular.
For example, Durkheim would tell us that religious beliefs are beliefs about the sacred: the sacred is constituted as a realm of subjective experience distinct from the profane. Durkheim's reply to 'okay, but what is the profane' is a bit problematic though. Otto's reply, though, that of the Numinous, is a bit more solid: for Otto, the religious is characterized by the experience of the numious, and is something like a buch of beliefs, practices, rituals and other social facts [Otto doesn't call them that, I do] that revolve around the knowing, experiencing, communing, appeasing or otherwise connecting with the numinous. The numinous for Otto is, in turn, characterized by three main features: without going into much latin and detail and stuffamajig, its basically the misterious, that which is unkown or half-known, that which, like all good mistery, suggests the world is more than it seems, that there are half-visible things, and promises the excellent feeling of discovering those things, the awe-inspiring, that which is huge and beyond comprehension for regular people, transcendentally majestic, that which, by its very nature and scope, humbles the human mind and makes you feel like nothing in comparison to its paroxistically superlative hugeness. And then you have the fascinating; that which attracts in spite of terror, or perhaps because of terror. That which one feels naturally compelled to understand or look upon, something that can profoundly transform your life exclusively by its contemplation: so religions are, by this concept, belief systems that are structured around the numinous, that is, around things that are fascinating, misterious and awe-inspiring, which is what I personally get the feeling of when people say transcendent. ways to achieve that experience, to connect it with regular non-numinous life, and stuff.
Okay, I'll admit, I only have a very foggy idea of what you're ranting on about here. You really could use a good editor.

If you mean what I think you mean, and there's a very good chance that you don't, what you're saying is religious thought deals with things that give you a sense of wonder and amazement.

This... I dunno about that definition. Is playing Morrowind religion?
Sure, this isn't a perfect model, but it functions just as well... A good addition to it might be that religiosity is social: if you have a religion only you follow, most people would call that your spirituality or something. Finally, religions are not only belief; they're much more than doctrine, they encompass ritual saliently, but also personal practice, ethics, and stuff... they're pretty much total institutions, that is, most religions prescribe themselves as the center [or at least a central bit of] the life of the adherent: if you're a christian and christ is not a HUGELY important piece of your life, if you're a muslim and god, the prophet, the sharia, and all that good stuff is not a HUGELY piece of your life, you're doing it wrong: this last bit is more problematic, as not all religions are total necesarily, but they're at least pretty near total: they want to be pretty central to your life.
This does not work. There are loads of people who call themselves Christian who have never been to church and have never read the bible. I don't think these people can be dismissed as just "doing it wrong" if we're trying to do anything serious here.
Finally, religions have a pretention of truth: this is why, for example, the Lovecraftian Mythos are not a religion; they may be a mythology that is highly numinous in nature, but it doesn't prescribe that you should believe it, it hasn't pretentions of truth, it knows its fiction. So does literature or music, for example, which can also be articulated around touching the transcendent [some fiction and/or music anyway] buuut it isn't manifestly 'true' in the sense that 'god loves you' or 'i am typing in a computer' is true [or untrue]; you cannot say that La Boheme is either true or false, it just is. Also, let's throw in that religions tend to refer to metaphysics: the stuff that is 'behind' the material world, the immaterial, the spiritual, that stuff.
Alright, now you've completely lost me.
That being said, I never know -since I have never been religious- if religious truth works the same way as profane truth. Penn Jilette has a great rant on this idea. But the point is, do people really think that religious doctrine is true in the same sense as regular, profane doctrines are true? like, if I go 'this table is made of wood', I think about that phrase as true... do religious people think that, say, the bible, or the sura, or the myth of Amaterasu and whatnot are true, do they mean the same thing by true?. Probably yes and no, but that's a complicated question. On one hand, I just get the feeling that people who claim to believe/believe in angels would be pretty surprised if they saw an angel, and yet, they believe in angels! if I saw a platypus, I'd be anywhere from 'meh' to 'oh, that's pretty cool man!'... but I would not be surprised at the platipus! [and I assure you, I strongly believe there exist such a thing as a platypus, even though I've never seen one, only pictures in books and on the internet]. So surely religious people, by 'belief', mean something entirely different from what I mean when I say I believe the drug store should be open at this hour.
Two things I have to say here.

- Normally, no. The separation between the religious and the profane is a peculiar feature of our own society, and should be considered the exception rather than the norm. In most societies, including our own just a few centuries ago, did not have this feature. The belief in the separation of the sphere of the holy (the domain of the church) and the sphere of the mundane (the domain of the state) exists in our society due to complicated historical reasons. Historical reasons that, really, are unlikely to occur independently. Most societies did not go through this (at least not until they were touched by and became absorbed into western culture) and almost all concultures certainly should not.

- I think you're confusing yourself here. Let's say you woke up tomorrow morning to find a Platypus in your bed with you. You wouldn't be surprised that Platypus exist, but you would be surprised that it appeared, without warning, in a place you know it is not supposed to be. A Christian might be surprised if they saw an Angel suddenly appear in front of them, because Angels aren't supposed to do that. Angels are supposed to be ephemeral presences in our realm, only able to take physical manifestation in heaven. A believing Christian wouldn't be surprised at all if they appeared at the pearly gates after they die and see some angels there.


The rest... I don't really have anything to say. Maybe I will after I've gotten some sleep.
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Torco » Tue 02 Oct 2012, 23:33

I can't help but feel like this is meant as a direct assault on my own thread
xD really? assault? like beating it with a club or something?
but yeah, if you meant conthought or conbeliefsystems, then you weren't adressing what I'm talking about specifically, and then your methodology, which I question [what you call assault xD], I really don't question since you were pursuing a different problem entirely.
If you mean what I think you mean, and there's a very good chance that you don't, what you're saying is religious thought deals with things that give you a sense of wonder and amazement.

This... I dunno about that definition. Is playing Morrowind religion?
it plays to some of the same cognitive structures, as you say, as religions does, absolutely. it isn't the same thing as it, as I try to clarify when I say that not all stuff that give you a sense of wonder and amazement is religion; it has to have other stuff, perhaps more relevantly epistemic pretension; if there were a bunch of dudes who took Morrowind seriously enough that they made a community of believers that held doctrinarily that, say, there is a Nerevarine coming to this world, and that Morrowind is the place you go to when you die or something, and had rituals that they followed and all that good stuff, then yeah, sure, it would be pretty much a religion, wouldn't it ?
This does not work. There are loads of people who call themselves Christian who have never been to church and have never read the bible. I don't think these people can be dismissed as just "doing it wrong" if we're trying to do anything serious here.
if someone just says he's a Christian and yet he doesn't believe any of the doctrine, identify with the community, participate in any rituals, and has no personal sacred or spiritual experience that revolves around any christian ideas, then... is he a Christian in any meaningful way? But this isn't so relevant; pretension of centrality to the adherent's subjective experience is relative to whether or not something is a religion, not whether or not someone is religious. Christianity, as a doctrine and a social institution, does prescribe that your life be articulated around jesus to a quite significant degree, whether or not christians sort of accept that injunction.
Alright, now you've completely lost me.
lemme rewrite that [I do like the word 'stuff' a lot, don't I:
a defining characteristic of religion, I think, is that it is doctrine, that is, it is a set of beliefs. Morrowind, on the other hand, isn't, I mean, its a conworld, but the artifacts through which we access Morrowind [like the wiki, or the game, or the manuals, if there are any] don't say that there actually *is* a place called morrowind in the real world, it is explicitly fictional: Heaven, or Shiva, or the Goddess of Water or the Spirits of the Ancestors, on the other hand, aren't explicitly fiction; a central feature of religion is that people engaged in it believe the doctrine to be true. A distinct feature of Morrowind, on the other hand, is that players and devs alike, if asked 'how can I into morrowind' will giggle and reply 'there's no such place in real life'.

Also, there is truth to what you say; premodern societies tend to have this deep integration of sacred and profane, but they do distinguish, for example, sacred and profane spaces, sacred and profane practices, even, like the egyptians, sacred and profane writings. For example the Jewish writings, but also the Muslim ones, make repeated mention to people who take not so seriously the Faith, which suggests that there was a Faith-NonFaith distinction in place. Similarly, some places are more sacred than others in many neolithic cultures, and some practices are explicitly spiritual whereas others are not. I don't know if this is a universal feature, but it does certainly be pretty widespread.

And yeah, I'm probably being uncharitable in thinking that Christians would be surprised at angels.
The rest... I don't really have anything to say. Maybe I will after I've gotten some sleep.
may you rest well
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Micamo » Wed 03 Oct 2012, 01:11

Torco wrote:if someone just says he's a Christian and yet he doesn't believe any of the doctrine, identify with the community, participate in any rituals, and has no personal sacred or spiritual experience that revolves around any christian ideas, then... is he a Christian in any meaningful way? But this isn't so relevant; pretension of centrality to the adherent's subjective experience is relative to whether or not something is a religion, not whether or not someone is religious. Christianity, as a doctrine and a social institution, does prescribe that your life be articulated around jesus to a quite significant degree, whether or not christians sort of accept that injunction.
Describing Doctrine is important but for the purposes of conworlding at least I think religion as it's actually practiced is far more so. You can dismiss these sorts of folks as "Doing it wrong" but I don't think they can be so safely ignored.
it plays to some of the same cognitive structures, as you say, as religions does, absolutely. it isn't the same thing as it, as I try to clarify when I say that not all stuff that give you a sense of wonder and amazement is religion; it has to have other stuff, perhaps more relevantly epistemic pretension; if there were a bunch of dudes who took Morrowind seriously enough that they made a community of believers that held doctrinarily that, say, there is a Nerevarine coming to this world, and that Morrowind is the place you go to when you die or something, and had rituals that they followed and all that good stuff, then yeah, sure, it would be pretty much a religion, wouldn't it ?

lemme rewrite that [I do like the word 'stuff' a lot, don't I:
a defining characteristic of religion, I think, is that it is doctrine, that is, it is a set of beliefs. Morrowind, on the other hand, isn't, I mean, its a conworld, but the artifacts through which we access Morrowind [like the wiki, or the game, or the manuals, if there are any] don't say that there actually *is* a place called morrowind in the real world, it is explicitly fictional: Heaven, or Shiva, or the Goddess of Water or the Spirits of the Ancestors, on the other hand, aren't explicitly fiction; a central feature of religion is that people engaged in it believe the doctrine to be true. A distinct feature of Morrowind, on the other hand, is that players and devs alike, if asked 'how can I into morrowind' will giggle and reply 'there's no such place in real life'.
I think I see what you're saying now, but I still dispute it: Some new-age stuff (it's really hard to pin down anything about them as they're hardly homogenous) holds that the rituals, incenses, and meditation techniques are not a method of connecting with the divine, but a method of inducing deep reflective experiences that can cause an internal awakening, of a sort.

You could say that these aren't religions at all and they're more like philosophies or self-help programs or whatever, but the movements certainly consider themselves religions.
Also, there is truth to what you say; premodern societies tend to have this deep integration of sacred and profane, but they do distinguish, for example, sacred and profane spaces, sacred and profane practices, even, like the egyptians, sacred and profane writings. For example the Jewish writings, but also the Muslim ones, make repeated mention to people who take not so seriously the Faith, which suggests that there was a Faith-NonFaith distinction in place. Similarly, some places are more sacred than others in many neolithic cultures, and some practices are explicitly spiritual whereas others are not. I don't know if this is a universal feature, but it does certainly be pretty widespread.
Eh... this is not particularly what I meant.

Let's use the example of, say, geology. Nowadays in western society even believing christians would say that geology has nothing to do with God or the divine, but this was not always so: A Medieval scientist (or at least what would have passed for what we now call a "scientist" in those days) would say that God created the earth, and therefore to study the earth is to study God indirectly through his creation. Discovering the divine through the studying the earth and heavens is what Alchemy and Astrology were largely about.

That the divine and the mundane are fundamentally separate on a metaphysical level is a very much modern, western notion; Premodern thought holds them to be the same. This is what I was talking about, rather than institutions themselves.
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Torco » Wed 03 Oct 2012, 01:49

Describing Doctrine is important but for the purposes of conworlding at least I think religion as it's actually practiced is far more so. You can dismiss these sorts of folks as "Doing it wrong" but I don't think they can be so safely ignored.
I don't dismiss them as doing it wrong, doctrine does. almost all religious doctrine has both orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Furthermore, of course its more interesting, or at least as interesting, how religion is practiced [religiosity] than just Describing Doctrine, which is why thinking about ritual and that pretention of centrality is fertile.
I think I see what you're saying now, but I still dispute it: Some new-age stuff (it's really hard to pin down anything about them as they're hardly homogenous) holds that the rituals, incenses, and meditation techniques are not a method of connecting with the divine, but a method of inducing deep reflective experiences that can cause an internal awakening, of a sort.

You could say that these aren't religions at all and they're more like philosophies or self-help programs or whatever, but the movements certainly consider themselves religions.
Aren't those dudes mostly against being called religious, preferring rather to be called spiritual, or is that a nineties thing? [and they sorta fit the construct too, I mean, that internal awakening is an awakening into something, something spiritual and qualitatively different [profane-sacred distinction] that is numinous as well; they may not believe in gods, but hell, loads of Buddhists don't either]. Though they, they may be somewhat like a religion and somewhat like a nonreligion, just like a tomato is sort of like a fruit and sort of like a vegetable; categories don't need hard edges.
That the divine and the mundane are fundamentally separate on a metaphysical level is a very much modern, western notion; Premodern thought holds them to be the same. This is what I was talking about, rather than institutions themselves.
You're quite right! however, they don't need to be fundamentally different on a metaphysical level to be distinct. I never said religions are things that draw total metaphysical distinctions between the sacred and the profane, but that they do draw those distinctions on the social, spatial, institutional and simbolic level; its quite right, though, that they do so in different ways. Commenting on the 'nowadays in western society' bit though, I figure about half of America, the creationist half, does think god made geology like directly.

perhaps as an addendum, its therefore interesting to think about how conreligions *draw* that sacred-profane distinction.
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by CrazyEttin » Wed 03 Oct 2012, 07:34

Micamo wrote:First thing I have to say is... at first I had my doubts when you said you were a sociologist, but this post confirms it: Dear God, your writing style is all but unreadable. You say a lot while managing to communicate very little, and trying to find your point in your gigantic walls of words is picking through the dumpster to find your wallet that you accidentally threw out that morning.
I've seen scientists write with a lot worse style when they're on the internet.
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Ossicone » Wed 03 Oct 2012, 15:29

Modicone: Religion can be a touchy enough subject already without throwing around insults. Don't do it.

Also, let's keep personal politics aside. I don't see this thread as an 'assault' to anyone. It is simply a continuation of the discussion of religion in the context of conworlding. The old thread stopped being a productive discussion and was locked to prevent further rule-breaking.

It is important to note that posters are well within their rights to question other people. How else would you have a discussion?

Finally, I am moving this out of the Teach & Share section. It seems less like a lesson and more like musings on the idea of religion.
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Torco » Wed 03 Oct 2012, 20:59

Modicone: Religion can be a touchy enough subject already without throwing around insults. Don't do it.
who ever insulted anyone? I mean, i like the 'we're mild over here' vibe as much as anyone, but... insults?
but whatevs... musings on religion it is, its certainly not a proper teaching object.
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Torco » Wed 03 Oct 2012, 21:09

CrazyEttin wrote:
Micamo wrote:First thing I have to say is... at first I had my doubts when you said you were a sociologist, but this post confirms it: Dear God, your writing style is all but unreadable. You say a lot while managing to communicate very little, and trying to find your point in your gigantic walls of words is picking through the dumpster to find your wallet that you accidentally threw out that morning.
I've seen scientists write with a lot worse style when they're on the internet.
in my further defense, inglish is not mai firs tong :P
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Thakowsaizmu » Wed 03 Oct 2012, 23:45

Then perhaps try to make your posts more concise?
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Micamo » Thu 04 Oct 2012, 02:54

CrazyEttin wrote:
Micamo wrote:First thing I have to say is... at first I had my doubts when you said you were a sociologist, but this post confirms it: Dear God, your writing style is all but unreadable. You say a lot while managing to communicate very little, and trying to find your point in your gigantic walls of words is picking through the dumpster to find your wallet that you accidentally threw out that morning.
I've seen scientists write with a lot worse style when they're on the internet.
I was making a rather tasteless sociologist joke.
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by CrazyEttin » Thu 04 Oct 2012, 08:09

Torco wrote:
CrazyEttin wrote:
Micamo wrote:First thing I have to say is... at first I had my doubts when you said you were a sociologist, but this post confirms it: Dear God, your writing style is all but unreadable. You say a lot while managing to communicate very little, and trying to find your point in your gigantic walls of words is picking through the dumpster to find your wallet that you accidentally threw out that morning.
I've seen scientists write with a lot worse style when they're on the internet.
in my further defense, inglish is not mai firs tong :P
Haha. [:D]
(I'm sorry if i offended, that most certainly was not my purpose. It's just that i've seen some scientist write in completely AWFUL style in internet, nothing on this board gets even close to that.)
Micamo wrote:
CrazyEttin wrote:
Micamo wrote:First thing I have to say is... at first I had my doubts when you said you were a sociologist, but this post confirms it: Dear God, your writing style is all but unreadable. You say a lot while managing to communicate very little, and trying to find your point in your gigantic walls of words is picking through the dumpster to find your wallet that you accidentally threw out that morning.
I've seen scientists write with a lot worse style when they're on the internet.
I was making a rather tasteless sociologist joke.
And this proves my theory that i suck at recognising jokes.
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Torco » Thu 04 Oct 2012, 13:35

yes, we're all beaming with mirth
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Salmoneus » Fri 05 Oct 2012, 16:47

I can't really respond in detail to the OP, since, as has been pointed out, it's not exactly user-friendly, and I don't understand it - or rather, I don't understand the point, can't really get a sense of its coherence and direction. Heavy on name-dropping and jargon, low on concision and structure.


However, since I've spent quite a lot of time inventing religions in the past, I thought I would contribute my own advice.


Most importantly: forget about religion. If you set out to create a religion, you're doing it wrong. Because, in the vast majority of societies, there is no religion - that is, nothing about which the natives could smile and point and say 'and over here, this is our religion'. And to the extent that there is... well, you'll find different societies pointing at very different things.

So if there is no religion, what is there? In my opinion, your subject matter should be society, and the way society is ordered and structured. Remember, in many languages, the concept of 'religion' is difficult or impossible to disentangle from the concept of 'law'.

But of course, taken at face value, that means that all conculturing is ultimately about religion. Well, arguably it is; but it's probably more helpful to see 'religion' as the remainder, as what is left when other topics of study have been abstracted. Throughout history, as independent power structures have arisen, those power structures have taken domains of enquiry with them, out of the domain of religion. The mediaeval separation of powers, between the religious authority of the Pope in Rome and the secular authority of the local King, Emperor, or Prince forced a separation between the concept of law and the concept of religion (which, to be fair, had been extant in latent form in the later classical era). Likewise, the rise of universities as a power structure independent from that of the church lead to the delineation of new, non-religious territories like 'philosophy' and later 'science' - and, later still, the idea of non-religious study of morality.

Not every society has to follow this course, but I think it's a good way for the writer to approach the topic. Society is held together with glue - and religion is the particularly sticky, unfractioned, part of that glue.

So don't ask "what is religion?", ask "is THIS religion?". And to answer that, ask first "is this important to holding society together and structuring it in a particular way, or at least is it something that's intimately connected to something that IS important?", and, then, "is there a better way to address this topic, through its own field?", which will often be closely related to the subject of whether there is an indepedent awareness of the topic within the culture you're describing. For instance, thoughts about the nature and value of currency would best be described through your culture's economic theory - if they have the concept of economics, and if they have economists. Otherwise, it may well be part of the 'religion' of that culture - if it's the sort of thing that that culture addresses through priests, theologians and religious institutions.

To make that point a little clearer: the best description doesn't impose our institutions, but traces the outlines of the institutions present within the society.

¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬

That said, what sort of things are often relegate to religious institutions? Here are some suggestions:

- opinions about the nature of the universe. The further something is from direct observation (far away, long ago or in the future, or metaphysically unobservable) the more likely it is to remain under the control of 'religion', while the immediately present is more likely to be colonised by, for example, geographers, alchemists, engineers, and so on. Often there will be a constructive dialogue between religion and these other disciplines.

- opinions on ethics, morality, law, and politics. These can be seen as a progression, each being based on the last. Ethics is the question of how to live the good life - it combines value judgements about what is worth pursuing with 'life-wisdom' judgements about how best to pursue those things. Morality is about how individuals must act if they are to dwell together in society, and the obligations incumbent on each citizen. Law is about how institutions and authorities can and should enforce moral obligations on citizens. Politics is about how those institutions and authorities should themselves be constituted. Any of these topics can be religious, and any can be non-religious; it's also possible for splits to occur within a topic between religious and non-religious topics. In particular, when these things have been evolved, the parts of a society's ethics, morality, law and politics that can easily be explained and justified are likely to be hived off, away from religion, while leaving 'religion' the parts that seem more confusing or inexplicable. For instance, 'thou shalt not steal' is a very easy one to take from religion, because you can explain this commandment to people very easily by appealing to self-interest and 'wha would happen if' extrapolations; 'though shalt not have sex with parallel cousins, only cross-cousins' or 'though shalt not eat shellfish if pregnant', are good sensible rules that many societies have evolved, but they are not so immediately explicable to the common man, so they are likely to remain 'religious' rules for longer.

- opinions on the nature of human experience. This is of course connected to the first point. This is mostly what would today be considered 'philosophy' (particularly epistemology) and 'psychology'. A particularly important part is some sort of account of alternative states of consciousness, and experiences that we might call 'semi-alternative' - experiences that give us heightened and abnormal feelings, of love, fear, certainty, disconcertment, happiness, and so forth. These have traditionally been very difficult to persuasively explain through accounts of the observable universe or simple generalisations about patterns of thought and behaviour.




I'd like to go into a little more detail on the second point. Why, exactly, do religions tell you to do X and not to do Y? Of course, there's no single answer. But if you look at religious codes, you're likely to find certain features:
- rules to enforce norms that benefit society but do not directly benefit the individual
- rules to enforce norms that benefit the individual for reasons that are hard to explain to the individual (for instance, most dietary laws make some sort of sense from the point of view of modern germ theory, but would have seemed arbitrary to most people who obeyed them)
- rules that enforce norms that benefit the individual, but have to overcome instinctive or emotional responses that reason would struggle against (for instance, rules against gluttony may make people happier in the long term, by helping to overcome short-term impulses to eat; prayer and meditation may also serve this function, encouraging people to, basically, calm down, which can lead to greater happiness in the long term)
- rules that enforce norms that are themselves arbitrary, but that benefit society by encouraging commonality of spirit, purpose and identity
- rules that act to distinguish desirable from non-desirable maters. For instance, rules that say it's good to give to charity promote those who a) either instinctively generous or else intelligent, and b) have a lot of money to begin with; those who are greedy, selfish, and too stupid to see what's in their own interest will give less to charity, as will the poor, so 'does he show his piety by giving extensively to charity?' is actually a pretty good test (in certain societies) of whether you should have sex with someone.

In considering these things, it's worth bearing two things in mind. First, institutions are a battle between the people at the top and the people at the bottom. The people at the top will try to rig the rules to benefit themselves; but they do not have infinite power, and can only rig the rules so long as even the rigged rules continue to benefit the community as a whole (in the long term - all sorts of things can happen in the short term). Secondly, many social norms are a harmony between instinct and evolution on the one hand, and reason on the other - so when a society has evolved a helpful rule, people are likely to extrapolate it to other areas where it may not actually be helpful. To take dietary laws again - while there is a very sensible medical core to them, the details often look like the sort of things an obsessive-compulsive would come up with, because obsessive-compulsives have the same extrapolations from instinct. [For instance, hand-washing. Normal person thinks, 'it's good to wash my hands a little'. OCD person may think 'if washing them a little helps, maybe washing them more would help more'. It's not a coincidence that both obsessives and many religions often attempt to define 'clean' and 'unclean' with strict rules]
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Re: On Religion and stuff

Post by Torco » Mon 08 Oct 2012, 16:55

Sooo... everything is religion? this is kind of posmodern; I get this same feeling everytime someone says that everything is this or that. Like when people, mostly economists and marxists, say that 'everything is economics' or when hippies and liberal idealists say that 'everything is politics' or that 'everything is political'. This is an unhelpful way at seeing things. For one thing, this
there is no religion - that is, nothing about which the natives could smile and point and say 'and over here, this is our religion'.
Natives [of a society, not necesarily wearing feathers and loincloths] don't smile, point and say 'over here, this is our economy' either, nor 'there, that is our kinship system or 'there, that is our system of positional deixis'. this is because of the simple reason that the concept of 'system of positional deixis', just like system of proferative and contrastive deixis and 'religion', is a concept that belongs to the person doing the observing [or, in the case of conworlding, the describing] and not to the people that are being observed; it is etic and not emic. This distinction, between concepts that are native to the culture being described and those that the observer imposes on the observed in order to describe it, is significant here: when you write about, for example, "the concept of Bushido in Japanese Culture" you're being emic, you're using the native's concept: when you write about "Chivalry and the social imaginaries associated with war in Japanese Culture", on the other hand, youre being etic, you're using your own concepts to think the thing in itself.

Religion in an etic concept, this is apparent, but we *do* mean something when we say 'religion'. It isn't a concept that is extraordinarily clear-cut and nitid, granted, and there's a lot of grey stuff, like is Bhuddhism, or Daoism, religion or not? there's arguments either way. However, what is clear to me is that it is silly t0 dismiss the utiliy of a concept in describing cultures just because it is not a concept that universally exists in all cultures, or even because it is a particularity of the culture of the one doing the describing. After all, if we reasoned along those lines we'd end up able to say very little about cultures that aren't our own, especially those we aren't members of; a given culture may have no concept similar to the death penalty, but if they kill people as punishment for some crimes, they have the death penalty, or at least what they do can be understood as death penalty: sure, Fēngjiàn isn't quite the same as feudalism, but we can still say it is kind of like feudalism. Similarly, some culture may not be able to point and say 'hey, this is our religion', but they might [and probably will] have a practice that, upon inspection, will reveal to be pretty similar to what we call religion. Deciding that 'everything is religion' is rather defeatist and, in my opinion, overly concerned with not being etic; you're gonna think along your own conceptual lines, you're not gonna get away form that fact.
For instance, thoughts about the nature and value of currency would best be described through your culture's economic theory - if they have the concept of economics, and if they have economists. Otherwise, it may well be part of the 'religion' of that culture - if it's the sort of thing that that culture addresses through priests, theologians and religious institutions.
Case and point of the imposibility of just sticking to emic descriptions, those that 'trace the outines of the institutions present within the society', as it were, is this: it sounds useful, until you realize that 'priests', 'theologians' and 'religious institutions' are as much *our* concepts [not theirs] as 'economy' is our concept: but if you substitute those terms by the native names of those professions you end up with no answer to the question 'what is this', you just have to describe the regular practices and institutions present in the culture on their own terms, but this leads to prose that is hard to crack, of the following kind
absurdly emic ethnologist wrote:"the Babalo"
the babalo is an institution of a bobolan[1] character in which the members of the biluba culture routinely participate. Its main kitoba [a word which can roughly be translated to 'ritual' but that isn't equivalent to it, since it also means 'piece of oak wood'] is the bakako balabo[2]
[1] bobolan is a biluban term that is impossible to translate to English; for an in-depth explanation thereof, refer to Trevize et. a., 2007.
[2] a crude translation of this would be dance of the sun, and indeed many natives so translate it, but its depth of meaning and nuances of metaphoric content make it so that it can be translated as 'impossible night' and 'bowl of soup' as well.
And even then, you're using a lot of your own concepts: namely institution, culture and participation. This exercise is quite apparently useless. The ethnologue [and the conethnologue as well] are bound by their own categories, and even more so is whoever reads his descriptions in any format: we communicate not in this way, but going from the etic to the emic, from what the listener knows to what he doesn't: We explain, for example, what is Taekwondo to a karate practitioer, saying something like "you know karate? mkay, right, its like karate, but its mostly kicks, and its kicks are a lot more fluid and less... solid than karate kicks, sort of like mawashi geri, with a lot of jumps and stuff" and he wants to know more, you slowly introduce the Taekwondo concepts; "well, they stand differently, because you see, taekwondo is mostly about feet: they use this and that kick, and they don't use the exact same move as the mawashi geri, they do it with more spring, and...".

Similarly, while any ethnologue must keep in mind the insufficiency and potential irrelevancy of his own categories, he can't help but to think along the lines defined by them: as the description becomes more in-depth and his own comprenension of the described thing, and that of his readers, as it were, become deeper he can slowly abandon them in favour of the native ones.
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