At 11:18 AM 2002-01-23 -0500, [person] wrote:
Many Years ago I took a course on comparitive religion. The professor, who was a Mahayana Buddist (if that matters), said that a religion must answer three questions to be a true religion (as opposed to a philosophy or a belief).
1. Why Be (or bother to be, i.e. why are we here on earth)?
2. What happens after death?
3. How does it solve existential estrangement (the feeling of being alone in a crowd)?
I'm not at all clear on how a traditional [Native American of a certain group] would answer these. Especially the last one. Can anyone explain these to me?
How's this for a Theravada-style obviation of the those questions?: The distinction between a mere philosophy/belief/worldview and a "religion" is arbitrary, and while not exclusively Western, is certainly Western-style. In short, they're questions you only start seeing as central once you're not living close enough to nature. In fact, here's an errant though: The need to dwell on what happens after death is usually a gambit for scaring people into obeying the power of priests. After all, they know the secrets of such things, and to get on their bad side is to risk excommunication, damnation, expulsion from the Happytime Pure Land Heaven, and a bad credit rating!
However, if you don't have a distinct/distant priest-class that feels the need to go selling itself to the "unwashed masses" that you get in high population density cultures (whether we're talking Europe, China, India, or whatever), then you don't need to dwell inordinately on those three points.
As an outsider, it's my impression that Native religions focus more on questions like:
That approach strikes me as sort of like Confucianism, except you're more concerned with having good, mindful, considerate relationships with (depending on your locale and traditions) the corn plants and False Faces and buffalo and deer and rain spirits and tornado ghosts -- instead of worring over whether the chamberlain, your elder third cousin once removed, has more filial obligations to you, or whether you have more filial obligations to him.
And then the question of whether that's a worldview/philosophy/belief or a religion, becomes an irrelevent lexicographic question, just like with whether False-Face-carving is an "art" or a "craft".
Just a few odd thoughts.