|Religion 21st Century|
Introduction to Religion for 21st Century
by Stephen Gislason.
This book provides a fresh perspective on world religions. I describe some of the more obvious religious traditions on the planet and note similarities and differences. I am writing brief descriptions as if I were a tour guide introducing a stranger to the history, real and imagined, of five of the more obvious religions. My wish is that even people who live in the cognitive box created by one group will take a vacation, fly outside of your container and enjoy an overview of humans – past, present, and future. If you can go beyond beliefs, faith, claims, arguments and the narcissism that afflicts all of us, then you ask: does membership in any religious group bring us closer to living in a peaceful, constructive, sustainable society?
From the Preface
Any discussion of religion invites misunderstanding and conflict. Humans have convened in small groups for thousands of years to celebrate, to appease evil spirits and to encourage good spirits to offer more privileges and benefits. Humans continue to dress up in costumes, beat drums, chant, sing, and dance and make offerings to innumerable gods. These celebrations help to maintain group unity and often induce euphoric feelings in the participants. While there has always been an archetypal form to these group activities, each local group develops its own version of myths, rituals and celebrations.
The belief in spirits is the universal form. The names, number and idiosyncratic expressions of the spirits is the local content. If you consider “religious” expressions around the world and throughout, history, you would notice that there a number of basic themes with thousands of imaginative variations. You also notice that in every tribe, village or city, people believe they have special relationships with gods and spirits not enjoyed elsewhere.
No discussion of religion will make sense until the importance of group identity is understood. Humans may sometimes look like individuals, but the truth is that all humans are members of local groups that determine what they know, how they communicate and how they treat other humans. Each local group develops stories, beliefs and rules. Collections of local groups with special beliefs into larger organizations are often described as “religion.” Members of local groups are described as “religious” if they recite group slogans, attend meetings and celebrations. Religions often claim special privileges for their members so that the term “religious” is used to claim advantages and superior moral authority where none actually exists.
The tendency for selective, even exclusive, group membership is deeply embedded in the human mind and shows up everywhere and at all times. The key elements of group identity are recognizable appearance enhanced by costumes, common language, common beliefs and common behaviors, especially ritualistic behaviors.
I hope to introduce some news in the form of 21st century perspectives on human nature. The 21st century philosopher's task is to update our descriptions of ourselves to accommodate burgeoning scientific knowledge and an increasingly sophisticated understanding of human behavior, the brain and complex systems in general. We have new and revolutionary knowledge about human beings, their languages, arts and culture; about information gathering, storage and retrieval; about computation, communication; about the transformation of energy and materials; about molecular biology, genetics and the evolution of life on earth.
We have to re-examine what we care about and advance new vocabularies that allow us to proceed into new domains of thought and understanding. There seems a critical lag in the assimilation of new knowledge into the culture and a rapidly widening schism separates the few who know how things work and the majority who do not.