Related to our discussion on religion, I found this series of posts from Bret Devereaux on Practical Polytheism pretty interesting. It matches descriptions I've read from writers like Bart Ehrman, on how ancient polytheism worked. In summary, at the center of polytheism was ritual, ritual to appease the gods so that the harvest would come … Continue reading How polytheism worked
This is an ongoing series of posts on topics that catch my interest as I read Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Religion is one of those concepts, like life, beauty, or consciousness, that are difficult to define. I used to think it was just worship of God, or gods. But many … Continue reading The superhuman order definition of religion
Some years ago I reviewed a book by Ara Norenzayan called Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict. Norenzayan's thesis was that it was a belief in big gods, specifically cosmic gods that cared about human morality, that enabled the creation of large scale human societies. In small societies, reputation serves as an effective … Continue reading Big societies came before big gods
I recently read the late Robert Bellah's 'Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age.' Although the title of the book seems to narrow it to just religion, in ancient societies, religion was just about everything, so the book ended up being about the development of cultures, which isn't too surprising given … Continue reading Religion, the Axial Age, and theoretic culture
I've noted before that defining religion is difficult. Simple definitions (such as belief in gods) tend to either exclude some religions (such as Buddhism), or include things that most people don't consider to be a religion (such as constitutional law or science). Definitions that get the scope about right tend to be hopelessly vague or unwieldy. … Continue reading Confucianism and the definition of religion
Huffington Post UK has published the results of a survey showing that half of Britain thinks religion does more harm than good, and that you don't need it to be a good person. This seems to be a trend in Europe that was started in the Scandinavian countries. It's in contrast to the United States, … Continue reading The decline of religion in western societies
I'm not religious. I don't think morality comes from God, gods, or any religious precept. But often, when I see debates on whether or not morality can only come from God or religion, an atheist philosopher will mention the Euthyphro dilemma, state or imply that the question was conclusively handled over 2300 years by this Plato … Continue reading Does the Euthyphro dilemma actually prove anything?
In a Skeptical Inquirer article that I'm a bit surprised hasn't received more attention, Scott O. Lilienfeld and Rachel Ammirati take a look at this question: Would the World Be Better Off Without Religion? A Skeptic’s Guide to the Debate - CSI. In this article, we address the overarching question of whether high levels of certitude … Continue reading Would the World Be Better Off Without Religion?
Bart Ehrman has a post up featuring an interview on his agnosticism. (If you're short on time, the most relevant part is at the 2:12 point.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeFdhyuVyzI As someone who myself isn't a religious believer, but who also strives to be honest on what the limitations of knowledge are in this area, I find a lot … Continue reading On atheism and agnosticism
Pascal Boyer in his book 'The Fracture of an Illusion' asserts that religion does not exist. Boyer points out that "religion" doesn't exist as a concept in most societies. When Boyer, an anthropological expert in religion, says that it doesn't exist, he's making a statement that might seem silly on its face. After all, if religion … Continue reading What is religion?