The Evolution of Religion

Religion is constantly evolving. By “Religion,” I am including all those forms of Christianity that proudly declare, “Christianity is not a religion; it is a person.” Despite claims made, their practices still closely resemble what is currently understood to be “Religion.”

In his new book, Religion in Human Evolution, Robert N. Bellah traces the roots of modern religion from ancient ritual, through tribal “religion” and classical Greek worship practices to the forms we more widely recognise today.

In the most recent The Atlantic web posting, Bellah speaks about his book and how he traces the path of religion from primeval days to the present. He makes some interesting and insightful observations, one being about the evolution of the ritual in the time of the classical Greek drama.

But when you’re watching a play by Schiller or Tennessee Williams, the audience is observing it but is not part of it. We can identify with it to some extent but there’s a split. Nietzsche pointed out–Nietzsche was crazy as can be but he was damn smart–that if you look at the beginning of Western drama, which is the Greek tragedies, the audience was in it. The chorus was the audience. The chorus represented the citizens of Athens. And furthermore, Greek tragedy was presented at the festival of Dionysus, and it was a sacred event. You had to be there at the crack of dawn and it was all day long. And so the beginnings of drama, of plays, were so close to ritual that the difference between the actors and the audience was minimal. We walk out of the theatre and we say, “Well, that was quite moving, but it’s only a play. It’s not real life.” But for the Athenians, it was real life. It was a form of self-criticism, Greek drama.

Where worship practices once used drama as a collective involvement (the “audience” as a very real part of the actual ritual), religion has evolved this into a drama as we know it today–an audience, minimally involved, looking on to and applauding the action which happens on stage. I see this as especially true in that the template, if you will, of contemporary Christian religion is more often in the form of the megachurch, or stage-centric “worship service” where parishioners are more entertained than involved. What is also interesting to note, as an aside, is that The Atlantic chose to put this article under the heading of “Entertainment.” That speaks volumes of the way society views religion in this age. You can read the entire interview here.

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While at The Atlantic, another article worth a look is one in the “Life” category which addresses our changing view of what makes us happy, based on Maslow’s widely accepted “hierarchy of needs” model (see picture).

What they found is that, while the hierarchy of needs model stands on many accounts, it is not as definitive as once thought.

To find proof that Maslow‘s theory translated into real life, Diener, a University of Illinois psychologist and senior scientist for the Gallup Organization, helped design the Gallup World Poll, a landmark survey on well-being with 60,865 participants from 123 countries that was conducted from 2005 to 2010. Respondents answered questions about six needs that closely resemble those in Maslow’s model: basic needs (food, shelter); safety; social needs (love, support); respect; mastery; and autonomy. They also rated their well-being across three discrete measures: life evaluation (a person’s view of his or her life as a whole), positive feelings (day-to-day instances of joy or pleasure), and negative feelings (everyday experiences of sorrow, anger, or stress). Finally, Diener analyzed the poll data with fellow University of Illinois psychology professor Louis Tay for a study in the current edition of theJournal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The results are mixed. Maslow rightly saw that there are human needs that apply regardless of culture, but his ordering of these needs was not right on target. “Although the most basic needs might get the most attention when you don’t have them,” Diener explains, “you don’t need to fulfill them in order to get benefits [from the others].” Even when we are hungry, for instance, we can be happy with our friends. “They’re like vitamins,” Diener says on how the needs work independently. “We need them all.”

Read the full article here.

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This from MINEmergent this week on the subject of  Theology:

Theology is to truth like a model globe is to the earth. A globe is spherical and represents the proper placement of the continents and oceans. But a globe is not  wet, contains no dirt, lacks any living creatures, and is a bit on the small side.

When we build theology we take the raw materials of revelation, tradition, community, and experience and build the best model we possibly can. We are thankful that in  many ways we have built an excellent model of truth, but absolute adherence to even the best model is somewhere between hubris and lunacy.

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One more link, this time from Huffington Post, where David Lose has a go at answering the question “Did Adam and Eve Exist?” Or, more accurately, writing about why we need to believe in such stories and what their larger (symbolic) meaning may be.

The second argument against reading Adam and Eve as mythic story rather than historical account is that later theologians, most notably the Apostle Paul, base some of their theology on the Adam and Eve account. Lose Eden, the theory goes, and you’ve lost Paul as well. This I name the “house of cards” understanding of theology, because if any single element of a larger theological argument appears flimsy then the entire confession is at risk. This creates for conservatives tremendous insecurity about the validity and integrity of Christian theology that must be kept at bay at all costs.

Read the entire post here.


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