Thursday, January 9, 2014

Religion As Purpose

Ask ten different people to define what religion means to them and of course you will get ten different answers. Consulting a dictionary will yield a good sampling of what religion means - actually, and more to my point, it gives popular usage of that word.
People who have been burned by religion will tend to define it weakly, making out of their definition more or less a strawperson argument against it (how did you like that for gender neutrality?).
People who have found strength and solace in religion will define it in a most positive light, and if possible shield it from criticism in defining. Truthfully that can often lead to quite mushy definitions.
I once would have placed myself in the "burned by" category and would not have had very nice things to say in defining it.
Over time I have re-embraced - not religion so much as - spirituality; but then again, that stands or falls in defining what I mean.
Then I recently ran across a definition of religion that struck a chord with me and so I saved it for future reference. (Which is now, I suppose.)
It comes from a book titled The Gospel Of Emerson. by Newton Dillaway. I love Emerson, and all the Transcendentalists, really. Anyway, the quote or definition is:
Religion is the emotion of reverence which the presence of the universal mind ever excites in the individual.
I'm more comfortable talking about a Universal Mind or Logos than I am God (as such). What inspires me to do my best (even when no one else is looking) is that I do feel a sense of purpose about life.
Now maybe that sense of purpose is a conjuring of my own mind. The animal mind just naturally tends to "connect dots" (metaphorically speaking).
I'm reminded here of that old joke about the fellow who was undergoing psychological evaluation under Rorschach testing. The psychologist shows him a seeming mishmash of dots and asks the man what he sees.
"I see two people copulating," the man tells the psychologist.
Another splotch of dots is shown the patient, who then says he sees two horses copulating.
The psychologist shakes his head and brings out one more page of dots.
"What do you see now?" he asks the patient. And when he is told by the patient that it is a picture of a naked woman, the psychiatrist can take no more and exasperatedly tells the man he is a sex maniac.
The patient calmly tells him: "Well, you're the one that keeps showing me those dirty pictures." 
Where was I? Oh, yeah - maybe it's just me seeing what I want to see (although in fairness, the overwhelming majority of us humans have seen meaningful connections of the dots - but not exactly the same picture; more like the same kind of picture.)
I think the central theme of the dots picture most of us see is purpose; that is, that the Cosmos seems to make sense. It is an amazing thing in itself that it is sensible.
But I can only speak for myself. And what I can say is that I do feel a sense of reverence about the organization of matter into all that we see. In fact, that forces on me a sense of reverence and respect for the blobs of highly organized matter that are you and me and all our fellow creatures. 

I suppose there are worse philosophies I could embrace. 

1 comment:

  1. "the Cosmos seems to make sense. It is an amazing thing in itself that it is sensible."

    I fully agree.