Analogy of Religion

“Religion” is a hard thing to define. Here’s Dictionary.com’s take:

A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

From my perspective today, the key part of this definition that makes it called “religion” is after the word “usually.” The phrase before that is what I would call a “faith-based worldview”, but combined with what comes after, it becomes what I would call “religion.” Religion is a combination of a faith-based worldview + a human owned and operated institution. The bad part is the human owned and operated institution.

I’ll try to use an analogy. When a body of people claims to have a corner on a faith-based worldview, it’s like a Lion’s Club chapter claiming to have a corner on charity. Everyone in the whole world has to follow their example on what it means to live out charity in their lives, or else, well, you aren’t charitable. Of course, no one really cares what the local Lion’s Club chapter thinks, unless, of course, the Lion’s Club was fabulously wealthy and owned tons of land and had powerful world-wide political connections. If this were the case, and depending on whatever way the wind blows on human rights in society at the time, people who didn’t like the Lion’s Club’s way of being charitable might just get officially labeled as “uncharitable” or at worst, thrown in prison for trying to do something nice to someone without the approval of the proper “authorities.”

Sadly, this is inevitably how ALL people will treat faith-based worldviews and spiritual truths. Some elite group of people rises to power and eventually gets to tell everyone else in their society how to take these things and apply it to their lives. And another little recipe is this: humans + power = corruption.

So there we have it. Even though the effort was initially a good one, and it may have worked for some folks quite well, it had long ago grown into an unwieldy monster: blind, unthinking, and ruthless to all who get in its way. I’m assuming this is the picture of “religion” that Harris hates so much, and I agree with him. But there is the other thing… this spiritual truth thing… it’s a thing separate from religion and doesn’t live in the sanctuaries of churches or in the minds of the spiritual elite. Religions come and go and change over time because they are human-based, but real spiritual truth never changes – it simply IS. I don’t know if Harris thought about JUST this thing. Well, I know he didn’t. He does have a spiritual world view – it was already a presupposition before he started his argument. I guess its best summed up as atheism.

I decided to reprint this on my on site for posterity. I originally posted this as a way-to-long comment over at MindonFire.com.

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