Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Religion

Most people today often look at religion as a social construct created by people. Even though most people see religion and act about religion in this manner, it doesn’t make this view accurate or useful. Religion either misunderstood as only a human social construct, or used as a purely human social construct is not religion at all. We people tend to think that religion is all about us, and our thoughts, and our beliefs. There are other sides in this equation which aren’t people.

The deities exist, even as the sun, the moon, the trees, the air, all exist because the deities are intrinsically these things, of these things, and a part of these things. Whether or not a person decides to acknowledge that, ignore it, honor it, misinterpret it, distort it, disregard it, belittle it, cherish it, believe it, or disbelieve it, it doesn’t make the deities exist more or exist less, but it changes the interaction between that person, that person’s community, and the deities. The word “religion” in English is a troubled word which often notes a concept of a “system of beliefs.” This concept of a “system of beliefs” is one that many ancient people, including the Canaanites, did not have since it was known, understood, and accepted that deities exist. Ancient religion was not based on the modern idea that "deities might or might not exist." Understanding the difference in this matter, and this error of our non-ancient inheritance, is important for coming to terms with the mindset we often take for granted around us today.

Belief is not an issue because the deities exist. Belief isn’t important because instead of belief, there is knowledge and understanding. What constitutes as “religion” is what one does as an extension of that knowledge and understanding; and what one does is that which supports (or doesn’t support) an ongoing relationship among the deities, one’s community, and one’s ancestors. One’s deeds are fully integrated in one’s life and not separated out as “a system of beliefs.” To our ancients, there would be no point of building on the shifting sands of a “system of beliefs.” The deities exist; the only fallible part in this matter is people and peoples' perceptions.

Religion is—and should be restored in human thinking as—systems set in place with the participation of the deities, the ancestors, and people, as a constant negotiation.

Religion, if one separates it out from life and uses this word, refers to an interface, a hinterland of common ground for humans, ancestors and deities. The purpose of this interface is to provide useful, efficient, practical, effective, and safe(r) structures as means for people engaging with the deities. It is a negotiated middle ground between us and the deities, and as such sometimes it shifts and changes in accordance to the deities’ needs and/or the needs of people, and/or the locality, and/or the ancestors. Sometimes these things are accidentally or intentionally distorted in response to faulty human perception—but this distortion isn’t religion, it isn’t holy, it isn’t this negotiated hinterland and it should not be confused as such or attached to it in concept.

Religion is also about relationships. It is always negotiated with at least two parties in mind—humans and the deities. The people who do this negotiation are priests and shamans. The beings who have gone before and who have done this are counted among the ancestors, and this is one of many reasons why honoring ancestors and receiving their guidance is vital.

To recap—
Religion does not equal “system of beliefs”
Religion is better described as
1. Systems for people to engage in some way with the deities
2. Negotiated spaces and meeting points between deities and humans
3. Dynamic, constantly moving, constantly shifting relationships among deities, humans, and ancestors

We should also keep in mind that “religion” as negotiated terms and as dynamic relationships does not guarantee that existence is always comfortable for one party, i.e. people. There are at least two other groups at the same table. Therefore, the terms are not always what we like, or want, need, or what we think we like, what we think we want, or what we think we need. Sometimes it's about the deities’ likes, wants, needs; sometimes it has to do with the ancestors’ likes, wants, and needs. Negotiation. Compromise. Relationship. Interaction.  Sometimes this means making sacrifices in our lives, taking the time out to do that which is difficult because it restores right relations with the deities, with the ancestors, and with communities, and with people. Sometimes it means fasting or spending sleepless nights, or walking up the side of a mountain. That’s just how it is. 




So…why did I post a picture of a kid with a slingshot to go with this post? A slingshot is a simple weapon comprised of a forked stick and something stretchy attached to both prongs of the stick. The tension created when that band is pulled, when released quickly, will cause a projectile to hurl through the air. It’s the tension that makes the simple thing work. Negotiation is always filled with tension and dynamic, and it is the tension which, when used properly, can bring about the maximum effectiveness and the best arrangement for all parties, when done well. The slingshot works because of the relationships these parts have to one another and the tension-in-motion in that relationship. Religion, done well, does similarly: there are relationships amidst the parts (deities, ancestors, people) and a dynamic in these relationships.



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