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I hesitate to fish in this pool because of my lack of background in the whole subject, but will chuck in my line anyway!

I am more interested in the values that underpin religion than in religion itself. In particular, in religion as "code for living" and the extent to which the code that was relevant in first century Palestine or seventh century Arabia is still relevant today.

For instance, is it any surprise that most "fundamentalists" of Abrahamic traditions proscribe contraception because at the time the "code" was written life expectancy was so short, and large families a necessary response? Or that covering the body in a savagely hot and sunny climate is a good idea? Or that eating pig meat in a hot climate was not a good idea?

More generally, and more importantly, there is the shared tradition of mandatory sharing of risk and reward eg the proscription of "usury" and the concept of the "Jubilee" freeing lenders from debt, the prescription of charity such as zakat.

Then there is the concept of "Commons". Were the Prophet alive today, would he not go beyond the "Commons" of Pasture, Fire and Water to include knowledge? The very idea that anyone could lay claim to "ownership" of knowledge had probably never been conceived of in the seventh century (correct me if I am wrong!).

The values underpinning religion as legal code survive in our body of secular law of course, and the secular and the religious mix in different countries in different ways.

I have been extremely interested to see how the risk and revenue sharing traditions of mutuality, equality and cooperation - also land as a "Commons" - live on in the Scandinavian countries, and Scotland in particular. This is, I think, as with seventh century desert Islam, a necessary response to a pretty unforgiving environment.

I think it is easy to lose sight of why religion is the way it is, and why it may become irrelevant if it does not evolve with the circumstances which gave rise to it.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 03:35:24 AM EST
Thanks for this thoughtful and interesting response,  My interest is also in the sociology of religion which asks the "why" it takes certain forms and the functions it fulfills.

ChrisCook:

For instance, is it any surprise that most "fundamentalists" of Abrahamic traditions proscribe contraception because at the time the "code" was written life expectancy was so short, and large families a necessary response?

I do however think it wrong to  project opposition to contraception back so far.  I doubt there was any concept of conception much less contraception two millenia ago.  A far more likely explanation (in my view) is the competition for membership power and influence between religious groupings today.  

In practice very very few people actual choose their religion - i.e. convert from one to another as adults.  Almost all adherents to religions do so because they were raised in that tradition and some traditions have very severe penalties towards apostates.

Key to the survival and growth of a religion is therefore a high fertility rate amongst its members.  Thus the opposition to abortion and contraception, thus the opposition to womens rights and focus on their role as mothers, thus the emphasis on the family as the primary means of passing on the religious adherence to the next generation.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 08:53:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Have you seen my other reply to the same comment ?

(discussion thread might get quite hard to follow...)

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 09:00:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, thanks, I hadn't seen it - there are so many religion threads at the moment!  Your point about the arbitrariness of many religious rules was interesting. Does that mean they have no function other than forcing submission/compliance?  I would prefer to hypothesize that for a rule to survive it has to have had some function at some time, even if it has long outlived its usefulness. The problem for religious "absolutes" is that they may be necessary to enforce compliance at one time, but then how do you change them when they are no longer functional or even counterproductive?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 09:26:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the failures of the modern, western human mind is its teleological bent. Things must have a purpose and a cause, and an easily identifiable one at that.

Not so true.

I'm drawing an analogy with languages ; it is well known that word choice, i.e. the link between a word and the concept it represents, is mostly arbitrary. I posit that this is also true is many other societal behaviours... After all, like language, religion is a way of exchanging symbols and rituals of communication.

Rules can survive for a very long time in language even if they have outlived their usefulness ; see English orthography... The same is true of religions, and especially of written, hierarchical religions whose tools of rituals conservation are enhanced.

Most religious rules had an use at a time, but those uses may as often reside in the symbolic or ritual realms rather than the rational and practical, or even the community maintenance, realms.

For example, I believe the "sacred male sperm" aspect of christianity is the real cause of the modern forbidding of contraception, although the 18th and 19th century worries about Sodomy and Masturbation (it is at those times that those taboos started to be really enforced ; the Church didn't necessarily care much about them before that time) may have a link to the demographic worries of the simultaneously developing early social scientists (the physiologists). I am not sure such worries really existed, as means of perceiving societies and religious communities, around 1 BC.

Indeed, witness the spontaneous development of a limitation in birth rate, through the postponement of marriage and early contraception, in 17th century France, when the local population limit (the same as the one reached at the end of the prosperous Middle Ages, around 1300) was reached and the Malthusian population limit was attained. An ever increasing population is not always the best national strategy for success...


Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 09:05:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Giving up 'why' is not the same as transcending 'why'. The cognitive mode (thought) is dualistic, linear, makes linear chains of cause-effect which are infinite. The answer to 'why' forever receding as thought approaches it. This is an inherent limit of the cognitive mode of knowledge.

There is also a non-dual mode of knowledge, where necessarily there are no infinite regressions. This is the goal of Yoga. This is what is meant by transcending 'why'.

by sandalwood on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 01:02:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Doesn't science also properly transcend "why" since it is generally agreed that it focuses only on the "how"?

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 01:06:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Science makes infinite chains of cause-effect so cannot approach 'why', so it leaves 'why' alone... this is not a transcending.

As to the 'how'... a positivist bent which equates predictive power with 'how' may believe that science/thought actually is capable of answering 'how', but positivism itself is not a universally held view.

I don't think science/thought can approach either 'how' or 'why' so that mind would be satisfied. Only Samadhi offers that. Many useful things come from the approach of science/thought of course, but it cannot ultimately end agitation/suffering.

by sandalwood on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 01:18:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You can pass to the limit just like the infinite chain of the natural numbers can be given a limiting point. But though it seems like this solves the problem of infinite regression, it doesn't really.

Are you familiar with the theory of ordinals?

Associate "0" with the empty set. Associate the "successor" operation with taking a set and adding a copy of itself as an element. You get

1 = {0}
2 = {0, 1}
3 = {0, 1, 2}
...

and so on

You have an infinite sequence of ordinal sets each containing all the previous ones. Then the actual set of counting numbers happens to be the "smallest infinite ordinal",

ω = {0, 1, 2, ...}

The interesting thing about ω is that it doesn't have a "predecessor". ω - 1 doesn't exist. The analogy with the chain of causation would be that the limiting point causes all the others but there isn't a first thing that it causes.

Another interesting thing is that, in fact, nothing prevents one from constructing

ω + 1 = {ω, 0, 1, 2, ...}

So continuing the metaphor, the chain of "causation" doesn't end there. There is always room for more "agitation".

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 01:30:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Functional analysis is a respected tool in sociology - viz Structural-Functionalism which explains "why" certain norms or institutions emerge in terms of "what" functions it performs in a given system.  So "why" do we have schools?  To socialise the young etc.  Is this to trivialise the debate or do you regard sociology as not being truly "scientific"?


Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 01:32:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why, indeed do we have schools? Depending on the narrative (or on the discipline) you get a different answer. And "why" can refer to the reason we got schools in the first place, the reason we keep them, the actual function they perform (regardless of why we got them or keep them) or the historical process (the "how") by which we actually got them.

Since these are all narratives, all they have to be is consistent with the known facts and with other narratives, but by their nature you can have two mutually incompatible narratives that are both compatible with the known facts and even with the same narrative context and no way to decide between them.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 01:39:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Does that mean they have no function other than forcing submission/compliance?

Perhaps you are underestimating the importance of submission and compliance.

How quickly things have changed since multiculturalism has become widely accepted in some areas. And a good thing too.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 10:31:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Key to the survival and growth of a religion is therefore a high fertility rate amongst its members.

Your (and linca's) point re contraception is of course the case, but my point is that I think that the "purpose" of exhortation etc to large families was principally a rational response to high mortality rates at the time. ie the survival of its members is the first requirement of any religion...

It's use as a competitive strategy to "out-breed" other religions is IMHO ancillary to the main purpose.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 10:07:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The need for high birthrates to ensure survival in societies with high death rates is universal and not  specifically a religious issue.  However its religious exhortation in pluralistic societies which no longer have high death rates is linked to religious competition (imho).

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 10:32:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have mostly responded in another comment, but I also want to point out that high mortality and a need for group survival need not imply high birth rate. One could point out some South American Indians studied by Levi Strauss, who tended to have  low birth rate (a child every 3 years per woman) despite high mortality rates, as the cost of early childhood is too high in a nomadic environment.

Or the example of 17th century France, where the birth rate was spontaneously lowered as to avoid social instability caused by overpopulation, land overdivision, etc...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 09:21:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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