I'm finally able to deliver a proper response. I hope the data limit per comment is high enough.
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People then, today, and still tomorrow will seek simple answers to big questions that leave us confused and scared. <..> We as individuals have a hard time tackling big issues and religion offering simple answers, for right or for wrong, for better or for worse, is just one way this very large part of our humanity is expressed.
You're saying "it is as it is", I'm saying "we can do better". I don't see why should we let religion propagate ideas of conformity and false sense of security when human beings, both alone and in groups, have such a massive potential to change the world (hopefully, for the better). Humans believe they want security and comfort the most, when the reality is we want achievement, we want to leave a mark on the world, we want ourselves and others to prosper, not merely be content with shitty occupations and shitty relationships. How often religion propagates honesty and openness of one's feelings? How often does it say "be yourself and give no mind to what strangers think of you unless it resonates with you"?
What I see is pushing for conformity, for simple mind, because such a crowd is easier to control and reign in under a single banner. Simple answers give simple minds, and simple minds abstain from taking a good hard look at reality because it promises, without hesitation or chance of a miss, to break the bubble, and it's painful. Any parent will tell you: egos are hard to break, - but the process is necessary for the child to grow up into a mature, reasonable and emotionally healthy adult. Let me show you just one claim Western religion makes so often it's offensive to humanity.
"Homosexual behavior is to be punished because it's bad". Is that a good answer to "How should we deal with gays?"? No, it isn't, and it will never be. Because sexual orientation isn't a mark of God or of Devil: it's a trait of our mind and our body; we're born with it without a choice, like eye color or tastes for food. Because giving in to fears, especially as far as to be afraid to admit that it's scary because it's alien, not because some abstract man-made ideas oppose it, is not productive or helpful to anyone. Because gathering a crowd to punish homosexuals in whatever capacity - verbally, physically, sexually - is screaming "I'M AFRAID BECAUSE THEY'RE DIFFERENT AND I DON'T UNDERSTAND THEM". In animal fear people run away or run towards what they don't understand because, much like the half-human animals our ancestors were a long time ago, they believe that what they don't understand might kill them, or hurt them, or steal their babies, or something else people are afraid of.
I don't care if it's human behavior that makes us like that. Any institution that promotes punishing the alien for its alienness alone is not a good one. I'll blame people for following the doctrine of destruction towards what is considered "not us", but first of all I'll blame the institution that promotes and encourages such skewed, low, animalistic and crazy ideas. As animalistic as we all are, we have the higher brain functions, and there's no excuse not to use them in day-to-day life unless your day-to-day life is constant running away from sabertooth tigers or venomous snakes - and for most of the world, it isn't true.
We have an innate talent for taking what we read and finding ways where it applies to us as individuals, where it applies to the moments we find ourselves in our lives.
That, and the paragraph as a whole, is a very good point. I may have overestimated Camus' and Sartre's importance for humanity as whole solely because they are important to me.
However, I find that several ideas expressed by existentialists have repercussions for us all, not just those whose ideas align. Think of the concept of meaning of life. Human beings spend their whole lives trying to get what life's about, often dying without getting it. Whole books have been written about it by people so different you'll be astonished to even grasp that such a difference between human beings might exist. Yet, existentialism gives a simple and true answer - and people run away from it.
Of those who don't, oh so many don't take the next step in grasping the subject. Many stop at the idea that life has no inherent meaning, and it stuns them, as if that's the point of the idea. "Oh, life is meaningless. Well, shit. I'm just going to sit on my ass after this great realization, because there's no point anyway" - from someone who continues to moan about life's meaningless for the rest of their staying on Earth.
I don't mean to mock such people: I, too, have gone through this phase of disenchantment and existential depression. I know how it feels to lose ground beneath one's whole worldview. What makes this different is that it's not ground we've lost: after we recover, we discover that it was merely a layer of mirror over the world's true face. World is not what we see around: it's everything, the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, the love and the hatred, the deepest rage and the brightest euphoria. It is our choice to select which parts to observe; therefore, it is our responsibility before ourselves to make the choice according to our beliefs of what's best.
In other words, our life's what we make of it, and every single person in their right mind has means to achieve some sort of improvement in theirs.
Why no religions talk about it? Why are no preaches held to address this very important - critically important, for every heart out there - issue? Why is Pope not talking about choice and its importance in every single person's life? Why is no head of the Islam (if there is such a person - I'm ignorant on the matter) talking about how it's our responsibility to wield awesome power within each of us for benefit of the world, not for blood of the innocents?
This is why philosophy is so much more important for me than any religion will ever be: it addresses issues religious temples omit or outright run away from: it tells us that we're capable, and all the means to change the world - or, more importantly, ourselves - are within us from the very beginning. People capable of taking control of their own lives can't be controlled from the outside; they will no longer pray and idly hope when they can do something; they will no longer kiss Pope's hand or do other, similarly demeaning things in the name of non-existent entity, and that hurts Pope's ego: they're supposed to be an important person on Earth - when suddenly, the ground goes from beneath their worldview. Welcome to the club, asshole. Find your own land to stay upon now.
What I read might not resonate with everybody. That's fine by me. As long as they get the idea, I'll go with it. Just, by all means, don't do it for God or for Pope's blessing or something similarly nonsensical: do it for other people, because it's their well-being that you care for when you wish to help. About time we admit it to ourselves, as well.
As for the last sentence of the paragraph:
We desire to feel connected to the world around us.
There's something that bothers me about this statement existing in context of our discussion of uses of modern religion. Whether I'll be able to conclude what it is down the line, I'd like to discuss the statement in this context further with whomever's interested.
I'll be honest: I don't understand how can one feel connected with the world through religion. I've never experienced in, and I don't believe one can reliably convert feelings of connection through, say, music into those through religion to get an estimation. I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) that you mean to say the following: the same feeling that I get when I understand (see, perceive) the world through the philosophy of existentialism, people of religion get when they understand (see, perceive) the world through their religion, whichever that is.
This really ought to deepen our conversation (at least from my point of view), because I'd love such people to come up and tell me why religion makes sense to them. As much as I stay opposed to religion (or maybe it's "organized religion" - see below), I'm looking forward to understanding religious people, their worldviews and the thought process that led them down that path (as opposed to mine leading me down to the path I'm at).
There's been an issue about escapism that we've touched upon very briefly, and I'd like to elaborate on that. I'm not opposed to escapism and relaxing away from the world from time to time - I'm a writer, after all. I think it's healthy and responsible to get away from the crazy routine and look at one's life as close to its objective reality as one can get in order to do one's best of sorting it out and making it a better life overall. "Well, shit, look at that. And I thought I had it bad...", or "How peculiar. It's something I can learn from", or "I do this because it will make me better in the long run".
That being said, I don't understand religious escapism (if there even is such a thing; if, if there is, it's different from spiritual escapism and spiritual rest as I understand it). That's something I never got to understanding, either, because I was most often blinded by the sheer resonance of misunderstanding and the internal rage, intellectual and emotional, that it caused. I see now how truly blind I am regarding religion and religious experience in general: I was actively seeing it as a thing inheritently bad because I only saw the bad. It's not to say I don't see bad sides of it - there are plenty of those, as I'm going to point out below - but I now understand just how much more there is to it. I must thank you, rd95, for stirring my mind away from the echo chamber it's been in for a long time and making me actually think about things I find peculiar.
You're making some very broad generalizations that really don't have as much to do with religion as you think. They're actually more issues of scientific illiteracy and a poor education in general than religion as a boogy man.
This makes it sound like you're completely displacing religion from where it belongs - from discouraging studying evolution (I'm looking at you, Christianity) and from discouraging tolerance (I'm looking at you, Islam), among other things; I assume good faith and presume that you didn't mean to do anything as extreme. It's not to say that I didn't make generalizations previously: I bloody well did and I will continue to, because this seems to be so damn common to religions that I can't but generalize. It would be fine and, indeed, more appropriate to discuss each religion or sect or other sorts of separate teachings individually, but it will take so long we'd die before even leaving Christianity behind. However, I don't believe it to be necessary as long as there are things so common we can't skip them and turn to individual details.
Now. I don't mean to say that religions in general are utterly flawed or solely harmful: just as with being completely flawless or singularly helpful, extremes exist in the mind. Yet, whenever I hear about a Christian nutcase making children study only divine origin of the human kind (as seems to be the case in the US) or making children study religion and related matters at school as if it's a proper secular subject (as is the case in Russia - thankfully, I graduated just in time to miss it, but I do feel sorry for the young folks out there struggling through it), I want to smash something. It's ridiculous how much some of the religious heads assume of themselves and how much they believe others ought to follow their sole true path in life or risk being damned and sent to Hell (and/or subjected the other kinds of divine torture). Such issues cloud the minds of people like myself, but they do exist and do cause trouble for generations for some one asshole's benefit. Naturally, I'm not saying that religion alone is guilty of it (Godwin's law be damned, look at Hitler's actions), but for some reason, acting in the name of a non-existent being while making someone suffer makes me madly angry.
I haven't encountered a single religious teaching that actively encourages people to strive for knowledge and/or discourages them from ignorance. You speak of Baha'i, and your pointing out of their pursuit for knowledge made me curious of them, but I haven't seen the results of their work yet. Besides: there's Baha'i, that's one; how many more such teachings there are?
Moreover, you keep referencing past events and cause-effect relationships while starting off the discussion on modern religion. Indeed, various religions happened to house or support various steps of human progress, be it cultural or scientific (or both - see theory of color, which, in and of itself is fantastic). How does it matter now, in today's world (let's assume that I'm already grateful for whatever advances religion brought and am willing to leave it behind for the sake of this discussion)? Do they make what's today any different?
I sincerely wish to hop off the topic of how helpful religion have been, but there's a nitpick I can't resist, so logically-appalling to my mind it is. Did Muslim scholars you mentioned advance sciences because they were Muslim, or because they were scholars? Was Islam in any way more science-encouraging than European Christianity? Moreover, did they advance science, or did the Christian Europe hold back a long while due to the Dark Age encouraged by the Church? Given just how many scientific breakthroughs were made in Europe afterwards, I think it's safe to assume that, given no oppression of knowledge, European scientists would have made no worse a job in that department.
We are our own hindrance through neglect and carelessness.
As we always were: fears and complacency make us give away achievements for feelings of comfort and security. It doesn't mean religion doesn't encourage this complacency. I've been talking about it in length before in this post, so - see above.
At least areligious communities (which include, but aren't limited to, atheists, agnostics, humanists and others of similar views) encourages rational understanding of the world around us. They often forego spiritual development that religion accents on, but they don't hinder it either, do they?
Progress on the scale that you're hoping for isn't attainable in the span of a few generations, let alone overnight.
Not a reason not to start or not to discourage others from stepping in the way. Like I said plenty of times during this discussion: my main problem with religion is encouragement of closed-mindedness. Believing in invisible entities of magnificent power over reality is silly, but it's not what makes me angry; I may laugh at it from time to time, but I won't hold the believer accountable for it as if it's a crime, since personal beliefs aren't. I'm not saying "Let's change the world overnight": I recognize how silly this sounds. I am, however, saying: "Let's start teaching people things that are critically important to their personal development, and let's get those who oppose personal development because it threatens their worldview out of the way".
People who are susceptible and vulnerable to being manipulated and taken advantage of are at the mercy of the entire world around them. They can be taken advantage of from everything from religious extremists and cults to gangs to abusive spouses to their own government.
Once again, you're saying "That's how it is", I'm saying "Let's do better". This time, however, it sounds like you're saying "There's not much we can do about it beyond what we already do", which I don't agree with. I realize that destructive manipulation is a world-spanning issue. I didn't realize that there are measures against it when I wrote what you quoted, though it makes sense now that you talk about it; those measures, however, are reactive, which is good, but we can do better.
I have a plan for a set of lectures to deliver the importance of the critically important self-development skills I've mentioned, as well as at least give the fertile ground for starting or continuing self-growth for the listeners. The lectures are meant for school children, for they're most susceptible and most in need of such knowledge if they have no other source (if my generation is any indication, there are no other sources: mentors are afew, parents are always busy trying to sustain the family and grandparents are former Soviet citizens with very rigid and unforgiving mentality). I'm struggling with the name for it, though: "social studies" is already taken, and "human-being" might very well confuse the whole lot of those who'd rather hear it.
The plan, in short, is to deliver information of what mental qualities constitute a human being, what are good practices to control our destructive urges (and how to manage constructive ones) and how to achieve a higher level of understanding of the world, oneself and others as well as develop skills to act on one's agenda in the complex and, at times, seemingly random world. It means, for example, to tell children about confidence: what it is, what it isn't (arrogance isn't a certain kind of confidence, but not the confidence we speak of), how to develop it (act despite the fear, which assumes previous lessons covered fears already) and what to look out for (arrogant remarks are not marks of spiritual or mental strength). So on for various other important points of living: issues of fear, control, knowledge and whatever stems from those.
I think it's possible to deliver, at least at one point at the time. I think it's important, given how lost I was - along with many of my peers - in a world on my own given the opportunity out of the emotional cage I was held in by my possessive parents. There are heaps, tons of useful knowledge on how to act and to live that's been around for millenia, sometimes (Marcus Aurelius' Meditiations and Greek philisophers' teachings are just two Western-world examples), that's going to waste simply because people who carry it die without transferring most of it. I believe personal development to be of more importance to one and to humanity in general than feeding one's craving for satisfaction and comfort, especially in the light of the fact that people who went through emotional traumas enjoy what's ordinary for us much more.
Given all that, I oppose everything that opposes personal development; if that includes religion in general or a particular religion, so be it. If it doesn't, however, I'm not just ready but eager to listen to what they have to say, both on the matter and in general.
On Philipians 4:8 and the following:
Does that sound like scaremongering or does that sound like encouragement? What would you say if I could find similar passages or concepts from almost any major religion?
You quote a line in a book that most of those behind the religion have never read, fully or at all. The cynic inside me even screams for me to point out that you may have went out of your way to find it, but I won't yield to the screams and remain in good faith of your actions and arguments. That's one.
Another is that, while one passage in one of the religious books in Christianity might be supportive and encouraging (which I always extol), their view of sin as I understand it (from my own little experience with Christianity and Christopher Hitchens' arguments) is scaremongering at its plainest. "You're all sinners from birth because your supposed progenitors became sinners (we'll omit how they were capable of it in the first place, being perfect humans and all) [sorry, couldn't resist - TFG], and therefore you shall repent for the sins you haven't committed because you surely will".
Really? Punishing yourself for non-existent crimes? Hell: punishing yourself, period? Nothing good ever comes from it; like therapies go, "Accept what happened and move on", implying that one's best course of action is to also remember what went wrong and never go down that path again. And that's not even diving into Christianity's hipocrisy, when Pope, the highest figure of the religion on Earth, proclaims aloud Crusades - that is, killing infidels - in the name of God (right, you asshole, in his name, sure), right after citing "Thou shalt not kill"...
But, like I said, historical evidence means nothing. What matters is the course of action religions take nowadays. From what I'm seeing, Christianity speaks up against scientific education and no Christian speaks up against it (or are we not hearing them?), Muslim bombing human gathering in order to sew chaos and fear and no Muslim speaks up against it (or are we not hearing them?), fucking Buddhists, of all religions, killing ethnic minorities in the Tibet region (do we even hear about the atrocities at all?)... Is it just that the assholes pick up the mic when the rest are talking constructively and quietly with those who're willing to listen? I hope so - but is it what's happening?
This conversation, I must admit, brings the cynic in me back again, which is not something I enjoy but also not something I can easily reign in. I enjoy the reasonable conversation on the matter we're having, but I hope to include an open-minded deeply-religious person in for me to gain proper perspective on the matter: otherwise, we're merely moving the air around.