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TorgoX (1933)


"Il est beau comme la retractilité des serres des oiseaux rapaces [...] et surtout, comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d'une machine à coudre et d'un parapluie !" -- Lautréamont

Journal of TorgoX (1933)

Thursday January 24, 2002
05:53 PM

Deep thoughts

[ #2394 ]
[This entry is a message I posted to a semi-private list the other day; but the message's contint is something that I think several people here might find interesting.]

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:

  • What sort of things keep happening in the world/nature?
  • How do you know what to expect from the world/nature?
  • How do you know what the world/nature expects of you?

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.

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  • I agree that the distinction "religion" is largely irrelevant; the problems comes in when something is excluded because it is labelled as such. In that case, you have to ask, what about this thing, aside from some arbitrary label, causes it to be excluded? Is it a belief in God, or a supernatural? Well, that's fairly arbitrary too. And showing that these distinctions are arbitrary usually doesn't go over to well; it's usually easier to just show that what you think isn't a religion is, than to show you
    • I find that accomodating specious concepts as if they were objective and valid does not do an effective job at pointing out that they are, in fact, specious. Unless you entertain them only to point out an internal contradiction, say.
      • Yes. However, sometimes the goal is not to point out that fact. Sometimes the goal is to coexist with your fellow man more peacefully.
        • I find peacefulness to be highly overrated when it excludes debate. "Well, let's just all get along!" is not quite "Let's get along -- even though we don't agree about something."

          I never liked peaceful coexistence for the sake of it. Seems pointless.


          You are what you think.
          • I am not merely talking about debate. I am talking about "you think something I believe is evil, and that thought gets in the way while each of us is trying to make the world a better place, and I just want you to see that what I believe is not as evil as you think it is." Maybe that is peaceful coexistence for its own sake, if you consider being happy and social and attempting to improve the world for ourselves and others all as a component of it. In any event, better peaceful coexistence for its own sa
            • Could you give me a (possibly fictive) example of the sort of situation you're thinking of, where one person looks at another and thinks: "you think something I believe is evil, [...] and I just want you to see that what I believe is not as evil as you think it is." ?