Religion, as it's generally encountered, is a bunch of silly make-believe.  Its practitioners often seem aware of this, but they worry that if they quit their game, life will become unbearable.  But was it always intentionally deceptive, or could honest philosophy have once been involved?  I wonder this because I was pondering how existence might have begun a few years ago, and I came up with the idea that what initially must have existed could have only two properties: identity and lack of cause.  I felt pleased with this idea.

Identity can be thought of as a recursive logical structure.  Something is what it is what it is, etc.  This idea has a couple things in common with a very basic observation.  Our universe is several orders more large and complex than it needs to be in order to make one's head spin, but is nonetheless (really or virtually) contained within a quite tiny three dimensions.  Well, if it "emerged from nothing" by virtue of a technically simple self-referential fact, then it makes sense for it to be unimaginably expansive and repetitive at the same time.

A while later, I drove some billboard that I don't remember any more while continuing to ponder this, and it suddenly occurred to me that the trip sequence part of Exodus contains a couple parallels with the ideas that I came up with.  I hadn't (and still haven't) read it in probably more than a decade, but I remembered how the bush claimed to be god, and said that he is who he is, and has no name.  If you remove all of the cheese, and there's a lot of it there, you end up with the same idea that I thought was pretty clever when I thought of it- that the universe derives from a thing that is what it is and has no cause.  I was very upset about this at first, wondering if my Catholic upbringing had imperceptibly tainted me forever, but then I came up with this idea.

Could religions as we now know them have once hosted attempts to legitimately understand things, and then ended up devolving into nonsensical yet somewhat practical (or just addictive) social rituals like those practiced by ancestral tribal cultures, while also being corrupted by charlatans and greed?  General stupidity and disinterest, as well pressure from outside, would certainly have made it very difficult for ancient societies to pass along any sort of abstract concept for several generations.  The components of the idea would dissolve into childish symbols for the sake of easy transmission, but would then take on lives of their own, with the fractured meanings not approaching the original's in terms of depth or attempted validity.

Successful religions always exhibit mechanisms that deter people from leaving, as well as mechanisms that lead to their own spread.  But they also tend to have some blatantly abstract, sometimes horrible bits that have no clear meaning and that do nothing but frighten and/or confuse people without providing any clear benefit to any society, modern or ancient.  Could a few of these parts be the remnants of complicated speculations that have been subsequently splintered and rotted?

Views: 1395

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Fear of, and explanations for, the unknown, first brought religion into the world,....

Imagine yourself a hunter-gatherer and lightning strikes nearby.

You're terrified, until a tribal elder tells you it's a message from a being in the sky telling you to give the elder something of value.

The philosophy came later, when a few who'd been providing for their tribal elders started asking questions and the elders had to distract those questioners so they would continue providing.

Yeah, I doubt the claims of both religious and political founding fathers.

You're terrified, until a tribal elder tells you it's a message from a being in the sky telling you to give the elder something of value.

You may not really believe it, but then Pascal's Wager kicks in - what if --?

arch, if you will look at all FOUR choices in Pascal's Wager, not just the usual TWO choices, the wager won't kick in.

I don't know whether to forgive Pascal for his silly wager or compliment him for its subtlety.

The RC Church was still burning people and he didn't want to join them at the stake. This I can forgive.

He might have been willing to risk that the churchmen would tire before they looked at all four of his choices. For this I can compliment him.

Just read an article that examines a sort of new "religion" that arose among the homeless children of Miami..  Like all religious mythologies, it's convoluted and borrows heavily from existing ideas and superstitions.

Religion ends where philosophy begins. Christianity, for example, took the golden rule from Confucius (500 BC). I think religion is philosophy with the emotional fear tactics added on. 

I believe I can take it a little farther back than that, Log:

Golden Rule Chronology

1,000,000 BC   The fictional Fred Flintstone helps a stranger who was robbed and left to die. He says "I'd want him to help me." Golden rule thinking is born! (That may not have actually happened --)

c. 1,000,000 BC to 10,000 BC   Humans find that cooperative hunting works better. Small, genetically similar clans who use the golden rule to promote cooperation and sharing have a better chance to survive.

c. 1800 BC   Egypt's "Eloquent peasant" story has been said to have the earliest known golden-rule saying: "Do to the doer to cause that he do." But the translation is disputed and it takes much stretching to see this as the golden rule.

c. 1450 BC to 450 BC   The Jewish Bible has golden-rule like passages, including: "Don't oppress a foreigner, for you well know how it feels to be a foreigner, since you were foreigners yourselves in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 23:9) and "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).

c. 700 BC   In Homer's Odyssey, goddess Calypso tells Odysseus: "I'll be as careful for you as I'd be for myself in like need. I know what is fair and right."

c. 624-546 BC   First philosopher Thales, when asked how to live virtuously, reportedly replies (according to the unreliable Diogenes Laertius c. 225 AD): "By never doing ourselves what we blame in others." A similar saying is attributed to Thales's contemporary, Pittacus of Mytilene.

c. 563-483 BC   Buddha in India teaches compassion and shunning unhealthy desires. His golden rule says: "There is nothing dearer to man than himself; therefore, as it is the same thing that is dear to you and to others, hurt not others with what pains yourself" (Dhammapada, Northern Canon, 5:18).

c. 551-479 BC   Confucius sums up his teaching as: "Don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you." (Analects 15:23)

c. 522 BC   Maeandrius of Samos (in Greece), taking over from an evil tyrant, says (according to the historian Herodotus c. 440 BC, in his Histories 3.142): "What I condemn in another I will, if I may, avoid myself." Xerxes of Persia c. 485 BC said something similar (Histories 7.136).

c. 500 BC   Jainism, a religion of India that promotes non-violence, compassion, and the sacredness of life, teaches the golden rule: "A monk should treat all beings as he himself would be treated." (Jaina Sutras, Sutrakritanga, bk. 1, 10:1-3)

c. 500 BC   Taoist Laozi says: "To those who are good to me, I am good; and to those who are not good to me, I am also good; and thus all get to receive good." (Tao Te Ching 49) A later work says: "Regard your neighbor's gain as your gain and your neighbor's loss as your loss." (T'ai-Shang Kan-Ying P'ien)

c. 500 BC   Zoroaster in Persia teaches the golden rule: "That character is best that doesn't do to another what isn't good for itself" and "Don't do to others what isn't good for you."

c. 479-438 BC   Mo Tzu in China teaches the golden rule: "Universal love is to regard another's state as one's own. A person of universal love will take care of his friend as he does of himself, and take care of his friend's parents as his own. So when he finds his friend hungry he will feed him, and when he finds him cold he will clothe him." (Book of Mozi, ch. 4)

c. 440 BC   Socrates (c. 470-399 BC) and later Plato (c. 428-347 BC) begin the classical era of Greek philosophy. The golden rule, while not prominent in their thinking, sometimes leaves a trace. As Socrates considers whether to escape from jail, he imagines himself in the place of the state, who would be harmed (Crito). And Plato says: "I'd have no one touch my property, if I can help it, or disturb it without consent on my part; if I'm a man of reason, I must treat the property of others the same way" (Laws).

c. 436-338 BC   Isocrates in Greece teaches the golden rule as promoting self-interest (you do unto others so that they'll do unto you). He says: "Don't do to others what angers you when you experience it from others." The golden rule then becomes common, in positive and negative forms, in Greco-Roman culture, in Sextus, Demosthenes, Xenophon, Cassius Dio, Diogenes Laertius, Ovid, and others. The golden rule has less impact on Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and early Stoics.

c. 400 BC   Hinduism has positive and negative golden rules: "One who regards all creatures as his own self, and behaves towards them as towards his own self attains happiness. One should never do to another what one regards as hurtful to one's own self. This, in brief, is the rule of righteousness. In happiness and misery, in the agreeable and the disagreeable, one should judge effects as if they came to one's own self." (Mahabharata bk. 13: Anusasana Parva, §113)

384-322 BC   Aristotle says: "As the virtuous man is to himself, he is to his friend also, for his friend is another self" (Nicomachean Ethics 9:9). Diogenes Laertius (c. 225 AD) reports Aristotle as saying that we should behave to our friends as we wish our friends to behave to us.

c. 372-289 BC   Mencius, Confucius's follower, says (Works bk. 7, A:4): "Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence."

c. 300 BC   Sextus the Pythagorean in his Sentences expresses the golden rule positively and negatively: "As you wish your neighbors to treat you, so treat them. What you censure, do not do."

c. 150 BC   Various Jewish sources have golden-rule sayings. Tobit 4:16 says "See that you never do to another what you'd hate to have done to yourself." Sirach 31:15 says "Judge the needs of your guest by your own." And the Letter of Aristeas says "Insofar as you [the king] do not wish evils to come to you, but to partake of every blessing, [it would be wise] if you did this with your subjects."

c. 30 BC to 10 AD   Rabbi Hillel, asked to explain the Torah while a Gentile stood on one foot, uses the golden rule: "What is hateful to yourself, don't do to another. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and learn." (Sanhedrin of the Babylonian Talmud 56a)

c. 20 BC to 50 AD   Jewish thinker Philo of Alexandria, in speaking of unwritten customs and ordinances, mentions first "Don't do to another what you'd be unwilling to have done to you." (Hypothetica 7:6)

c. 4 BC to 27 AD   Jesus proclaims love (of God and neighbor) and the golden rule to be the basis of how to live. Luke 6:31 gives the golden rule in the context of loving your enemies, later illustrated by the Good Samaritan parable. Matthew 7:12 says: "Treat others as you want to be treated, for this sums up the Law and the prophets."

c. 4 BC to 65 AD   Roman Stoic Seneca teaches the golden rule: "Let us put ourselves in the place of the man with whom we are angry; we are often unwilling to bear what we would have been willing to inflict," "Let us give in the way we would like to receive - willingly, quickly, and without hesitation," and "Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters." The golden rule fits well the ethics of the Stoics, who propose a natural moral law, accessible to everyone's reason, that directs us to be just and considerate toward everyone.

c. 56 AD   Paul's letter to the Romans 2:1-3 expresses a golden-rule like idea: "We condemn ourselves when we condemn another for doing what we do."

c. 65 AD   The western text of the Acts of the Apostles 15:20 & 29 has a negative golden rule: "What you don't want done to yourself, don't do to others."

c. 70 AD   "The Two Ways," a Dead Sea Scroll discovered in the 1940s, says: "The way of life is this: First, you shall love the Lord your maker, and secondly, your neighbor as yourself. And whatever you don't want to be done to you, don't do to anyone else."

c. 80 AD   The Didache, summarizing early Christian teachings, begins: "There are two paths, one of life and one of death, and a great difference between them. The way of life is this. First, you shall love the God who made you. Second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. And whatever you wouldn't have done to you, don't do to another."

c. 90 AD   The ex-slave Stoic Epictetus writes: "What you shun enduring yourself, don't impose on others. You shun slavery - beware of enslaving others!"

c. 90 AD   The apocryphal gospel of Thomas attributes a negative golden rule to Jesus (verse 6): "Don't do what you hate."

c. 120 AD   Rabbi Akiba says: "This is the fundamental principle of the Law: Don't treat your neighbor how you hate to be treated yourself." His students support the golden rule: Rabbi Eleazar ("Let another's honor be as dear to you as your own") and Rabbi Jose ("Let another's property be as dear to you as your own").

c. 130 AD   Aristides defends his fellow Christians, who "never do to others what they would not wish to happen to themselves," against persecution.

c. 150 AD   The Ethiopian version of the apocryphal Book of Thekla ascribes a negative golden rule to Paul: "What you will not that men should do to you, you also shall not do to another."

c. 150-1600   Many Christians, seeing the golden rule's wide acceptance across religions and cultures, view the golden rule as the core of the natural moral law that Paul saw as written on everyone's heart (Romans 2:14f). The golden rule is proclaimed as the central norm of the natural moral law by Justin Martyr, Origen, Basil, Augustine, Gratian, Anselm of Canterbury, William of Champeaux, Peter Lombard, Hugh of St. Victor, John of Salisbury, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, Luther, Calvin, and Erasmus.

222-235   Roman Emperor Alexander Severus adopts the golden rule as his motto, displays it on public buildings, and promotes peace among religions. Some say the golden rule is called golden because Severus wrote it on his wall in gold.

(and many, many more --)

Very interesting arch !

I think religion is philosophy with the emotional fear tactics added on.

Exactly. Kill and die as God X's soldier (as preached to the group of worshipers you choose or are forced to belong to), and you will be eternally rewarded; or die in hell.

I don't know where the whole fear tactics trope comes from, but I would agree that religion and philosophy are closely linked. 

In my religion, priests need to have the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in philosophy before they can be admitted to the graduate program in theology that leads to eligibility for priesthood.

I don't know where the whole fear tactics trope comes from

Are you serious?

Someone probably already mentioned it, but Rand and Hitchens used to say that religion was the most primitive form of philosophy. Hitchens called it our very first attempt, hence the worst. And Rand's opinion was that religion as a philosophy was perfect for primitive minds, because unlike actual philosophies, religion is the obeyed - not the understood, so it's easier to follow.

Hmmm.  "Primitive minds?"  Perhaps you can explain what major evolutionary event happened in the last few millenia that makes your brain and mine so much less "primitive" ?

Its certainly not god....


© 2018   Created by Rebel.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service