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Thread: What it means to be religious...

  1. #1 What it means to be religious... 
    墨子 DaBOB's Avatar
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    This is not a thread for arguing whether or not God exists.

    I recently started the thread "Are you religious?". I've come to some new conclusions that I'd like to run by y'all.

    First, the purpose for this discussion: I find myself uncertain about what to say if someone were to ask if I were religious. I am therefor attempting to define for myself what it means to be religious. I'm not here asking if you're religious so I can argue it, I am just trying to get people's ideas.

    It occurred to me that there are two words which are often interchangeable and vague; these are "religious" and "spiritual." Both of these may or may not deal with the following:

    Reverence for a deity or deities, belief or faith, control of self and/or others, ritual, personal development, teachings, social conduct/morals, explanation/s regarding the origin of the universe and human purpose.

    The etymology for the word "religious" points towards having reverence for a deity/deities. A spiritual person could also have reverence for a deity/deities, but I feel it is more emphasized in a religious person (from my experience). One distinct difference that I came across though is that religious often or always implies a relationship with a particular religious organization or a religion with a considerable following and well developed customs.

    I would also propose that a spiritual person is closer to the laws of nature whereas a religious person is closer to the laws of humankind.

    What do ya' think?


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    Exponents of nature based spirituality were often regarded as 'pagan savages' in past history.

    For example - the native Americans
    - I'm currently reading the biography of the scientist Robert Boyle who was a seriously pious christian and spent a good deal of his own money
    to fund missionaries to "the Americas" along with paying for the translations of the bible into various tribal languages to liberate them from their ignorant
    savage state.

    People who hold spritual nature based views these days are now sometime referred to as new age hippies / pagans / witches etc.
    My point being here that then, as now, anything other than a fundamental christian philosophy is marginalised to a sort of 'cult' status thereby reducing it's credibility.

    I would venture to say a person who is "close to the laws of nature" is a good definition of a scientist. A contemporary of Boyle's - Isaac Newton had already began to secrete some of his notes away as the he knew the 'church would not like what he had written. Newton also declined a professorship offerd to him as it held an obligation to take up holy orders and he was uncomfortable with this - the holy order bit got waived. Religious myths were already being questioned by the cogniscenti of the day

    I live on the North East coast of England and I'm often out on local beaches very early in the day - watching the sunrise and the reflections of the sun dancing on the sea is a sight that does fill me with awe and makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I guess you could interpret this as a spirtual response though it does not move me to credit a superior being for creating it. Nature is truly beautiful and this is why peole are drawn to places of outstanding natural beauty
    but the truly amazing fact is that it WASN'T designed by anyone or anything.

    May I recommend that you read what ever you can find about chaos theory, fractal geometry, the Mandlebrot set, morphogenesis ( particularly any papers written by Alan Turing ) - this is where the true wonder lies.


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  4. #3  
    墨子 DaBOB's Avatar
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    I think your beach example is more on the lines I was thinking of, though paganism, witchcraft, and the like could definitely fall into the spiritual category. What about Shintoism? I think it's practiced like a religion and you could call it's practitioners religious, yet it was invented less than a few hundred years ago and it is about worshiping, or giving respect to nature. I guess I would consider most Native American traditions spiritual, probably because they are on a smaller scale and are more about respecting nature or thanking nature than architecture and power schemes.

    I wouldn't call a Confucian or Daoist a hippie or pagan. I think those terms are only functional to cultures which developed with or where heavily influenced by Christianity.

    I think many scientists are spiritual. I think it is the spiritual side of humanity that drives it to make observations and discoveries.

    I would love to take your reading suggestions but have been a bit far from the hard science for a while. Reading more philosophy, martial psychology, scifi, and non-fiction history type stuff these days. I have a nanotechnology book on the shelf I'd like to take another go at soon though.
    Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only realize the truth. There is no spoon. Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself. -Spoon Boy
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    As with all discussions of this nature, much reduces down to semantics. I don't think I have ever come across a good definition of 'spiritual' because no two people seem to use the word in the same way. Ditto for many other words like 'wisdom', and 'justice'.

    I tend to avoid such words, since I believe they obfuscate communication rather than clarify.
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  6. #5  
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    Quote Originally Posted by tszy View Post


    I live on the North East coast of England and I'm often out on local beaches very early in the day - watching the sunrise and the reflections of the sun dancing on the sea is a sight that does fill me with awe and makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I guess you could interpret this as a spirtual response though it does not move me to credit a superior being for creating it. Nature is truly beautiful and this is why peole are drawn to places of outstanding natural beauty
    but the truly amazing fact is that it WASN'T designed by anyone or anything.

    May I recommend that you read what ever you can find about chaos theory, fractal geometry, the Mandlebrot set, morphogenesis ( particularly any papers written by Alan Turing ) - this is where the true wonder lies.
    Religious: Often used to profile someone who participates in organized religion.
    Spiritual: Often used to profile someone who is not connected to an organized religion.

    People who call themselves "spiritual", can be believers or nonbelievers. Personally, I believe that believers who choose this path and separate themselves from organized religious practice are vulnerable to a host of false doctrine.

    As a believer, I agree that it is appropriate to have emotional responses to nature's beauty, because you are observing the "art of God". Most of us are moved by beautiful art.

    I often think of God when seeing a beautiful scene at the beach (where I was today). I may even interpret this as a religious experience.

    For example, years ago I went to the beach to surf. I am not sure why, but I was about to "lose my nerve", and go home without trying. That is the right thing to do if the situation is beyond your ability; however, the conditions were not that bad.

    However, it was January and I was alone, although there were other people out. I saw the sun beams break out through the clouds and it made me think of Jesus.

    I attached a religious interpretation to the experience because when I looked at the sun beams on the water, they were illuminating a "channel", or a rip current, through the breaking waves. When you can find a channel, it makes getting out much easier. Then I knew that at least I would be able to make it out without a problem.

    So with my confidence renewed, I went out and had a great time.

    Thanks for the author tip. Trying to get a clear understanding of differences between chaotic and adaptive systems and explaining it succinctly is something I am working on.
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    People who call themselves "spiritual", can be believers or nonbelievers. Personally, I believe that believers who choose this path and separate themselves from organized religious practice are vulnerable to a host of false doctrine.

    As a believer, I agree that it is appropriate to have emotional responses to nature's beauty, because you are observing the "art of God". Most of us are moved by beautiful art.
    LOL, "false doctrine" and "art of god" a bit presumptuous.

    Atheist are very capable of being moved by the beauty of a sunset, a work of art, or even getting captured in the emotion of a crowd yelling Ole Ole Ole (a version of Alah! Alah! Alah!) watching a spectacular dance.

    In addition to the materials above I'd suggest some articles on religious naturalism, such as by Ursula Goodenough (who probably got some vid clips as well).
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    As with all discussions of this nature, much reduces down to semantics.
    Exactly.

    I think you've said this before. The point is that I'm trying to clarify the use of the word. This way, when it comes up in conversation and I see that my definition and the other's definition are not matching I can be clear in my meaning by giving my definition (rather than avoiding the topic). Then you don't have to argue over semantics later on, you can just be clear with what you mean. I understand that these words are often unclear, but it's not unclear when the people involved have their own definition and can clearly communicate it. This is how you learn foreign languages. When ten words translate into a single word in your native tongue it helps for the teacher to be able to explain the individual feeling of each word.

    Example: 忽然 突然 猝然 猛然 顿时 忽地 骤 奄 蓦然 骤然 遽

    Google Translate: Suddenly suddenly suddenly suddenly suddenly suddenly suddenly suddenly suddenly suddenly suddenly

    Quote Originally Posted by dedo
    Religious: Often used to profile someone who participates in organized religion.
    Spiritual: Often used to profile someone who is not connected to an organized religion.
    I like this: "often used to profile someone who..."

    This is a good way to put it. This way I, or anyone else, can use the words in a general sense, but when they discover conflict they can be clear by simply stating how they are using the word.

    Quote Originally Posted by dedo
    Personally, I believe that believers who choose this path and separate themselves from organized religious practice are vulnerable to a host of false doctrine.
    You're probably right. This is the same with any practice I think. I discover this in martial arts. People want to skip over tradition and just get the theories and then conclude that the martial art they are learning is incomplete or ineffective, when actually they were never given the chance to use it. Then incomplete systems begin teaching and it becomes something completely different. False doctrine. It may be effective, but it no longer works they way it was intended to.
    Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only realize the truth. There is no spoon. Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself. -Spoon Boy
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    a Buddhist lives his life the way Buddha would want him to.

    a Theist lives his life the way God would want him to.
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    The difference is that Buddha is a man who does not "want" people to live a certain way. God is a greater power (as in greater than humans) that has demands, commandments, and so on. Generally speaking, Buddhism is taught, not preached. Though newbies are often prone to preaching... I know I did when I first discovered it.

    I have been called a Buddhist, but never really obey any rules. It just happens that I agree with many things and practice meditation. I have also been told I'm not a Buddhist because I don't want to attain enlightenment, or abide by the same rules a monastic might abide by. Doesn't really make a difference to me though, as I don't claim to be either or. (I feel like I say this too often...)

    That being said, I'm not sure how this is all relevant. Are you meaning to say that a Buddhist is religious? I would say that some Buddhists, as with some Christians, are religious, and some are just spiritual. Not all Buddhists consider themselves Buddhist and not all monastics understand what it means to be Buddhist. Just the way it is.

    If I want to be a body builder and live like Schwarzenegger, does that make me Schwarzenist? Is a Schwarzenist religious? Is a Swarzenist spiritual?

    If the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was not religious, does that mean a follower is also not religious? Does sticking feathers up your butt make you a chicken?
    Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only realize the truth. There is no spoon. Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself. -Spoon Boy
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    the question is

    is a theist necessarily 'religious' just because he lives his life the way God would want him to?
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    Quote Originally Posted by granpa View Post
    the question is

    is a theist necessarily 'religious' just because he lives his life the way God would want him to?
    Or because he lives his life in a way he thinks "god" would want to---whether that be an abortion clinic bomber or a whore of Ishtar.

    In the spectrum of vocabulary theism is always about god/goddesses, religion is broader, more about people and can include life philosophies without gods.
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    The emphasis I was trying to make was that a religious person, involved in religion, is involved with a more organized system and larger following.

    If I practice witchcraft I'm probably not going to be called religious (unless I'm a Christian warlock), because the practice is not very common, and the practices involved aren't very concrete. There may be different sects of Wicca, and there may be people who just screw around and dye their hair black. But there's no single large following that can be identified by the common person. This is what I'm getting at.

    The rhetorical questions I posed before regarding Schwarzenism (obviously fake) were actually challenging my won definition more than anything. Even if one can live like Schwarzenegger this does not mean there is a organized method of practicing the religion or a large following and history backing it. The person could easily claim to be following a spiritual path, though it may be an unusual one.
    Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only realize the truth. There is no spoon. Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself. -Spoon Boy
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaBOB View Post
    You're probably right. This is the same with any practice I think. I discover this in martial arts. People want to skip over tradition and just get the theories and then conclude that the martial art they are learning is incomplete or ineffective, when actually they were never given the chance to use it. Then incomplete systems begin teaching and it becomes something completely different. False doctrine. It may be effective, but it no longer works they way it was intended to.
    If I had known this years ago, I would have advanced in the martial arts. I spent several years in a Korean style and then an Okinawan style. Then I drifted off to work out with some kick boxers. Although it started out as fun, and I learned a few tips, eventually getting hit all the time got old and I left the sport. If I had stayed grounded in a traditional style, I would likely have continued in the martial arts. Now, I am thinking of getting back into it. However, if I do, it will be a traditional style more suited to older folks, as I have one knee that won't handle the kicks anymore.

    Lynx:

    I don't see "presumption" in seeing creation as the "art of God". From my point of view, God is an artist and His creation is His art. Of course, I agree that an atheist can be moved by something beautiful in nature. I also believe that an atheist can also follow God's will by following his / her conscience. That is just my point of view. I practice organized religion because I want to improve my ability to "hear" the direction of God, so I don't miss the signals that might say "charge it" or "back off". Also, I believe this maximizes my own chances of personal development in a positive direction.
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    I don't see "presumption" in seeing creation as the "art of God". From my point of view, God is an artist and His creation is His art.
    I assume though, you can be objective enough to see why your point of view presumes there is not only a god, but the particular one you have in mind.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dedo View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by DaBOB View Post
    You're probably right. This is the same with any practice I think. I discover this in martial arts. People want to skip over tradition and just get the theories and then conclude that the martial art they are learning is incomplete or ineffective, when actually they were never given the chance to use it. Then incomplete systems begin teaching and it becomes something completely different. False doctrine. It may be effective, but it no longer works they way it was intended to.
    If I had known this years ago, I would have advanced in the martial arts. I spent several years in a Korean style and then an Okinawan style. Then I drifted off to work out with some kick boxers. Although it started out as fun, and I learned a few tips, eventually getting hit all the time got old and I left the sport. If I had stayed grounded in a traditional style, I would likely have continued in the martial arts. Now, I am thinking of getting back into it. However, if I do, it will be a traditional style more suited to older folks, as I have one knee that won't handle the kicks anymore.
    It's actually quite amazing to see. I've had a number of students now who had previously studied the art I teach. However, they were more into mixed martial arts and had made a deal with the last teacher to just go over the theories and quickly cover the techniques and forms (literally five+ years worth of material in less than a year). I could tell immediately by touching hands with them that they had not LEARNED any theories. This is why I try to talk less and train more in my classes, because people can talk theory all day long, but it won't get them anywhere until they practice.

    Tai Chi may sound really cliche but it's great for "older folks" and "bad knees." It's beautiful and teaches you about the body and how to manipulate it. In the end a good fighter is up to the individual, so if you ever actually have to defend yourself, even though the Tai Chi seems soft, in application it will come out hard (assuming you have the psychological preparedness to hurt someone). I don't teach Tai Chi, but I've practiced it for a few years.
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    A great martial arts example of false doctrine is Bruce Lee. He was an incredible fighter. People want to have his skill so the train under his students, the art of Jeet Kun Do. The problem is that Jeet Kun Do is only a philosophy, not an art. If you want to be like Bruce Lee you have to grow up learning Tai Chi, the train in Wing Chun, then start a bunch of fights and have to leave your home because the police are after you, then you have to prove yourself in another, racist country, and finally begin teaching. So, the false doctrine would be Jeet Kun Do, which is really just a collection of relevant discussions from eastern and western philosophers and martial artists, and not a martial art.
    Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only realize the truth. There is no spoon. Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself. -Spoon Boy
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    Thanks for the tip. Starting with the same art that Bruce Lee started with would be cool.

    I think I will go and watch a Tai Chi class. I was also thinking of checking out some of the Japanese sword arts. if anyone teaches one in our area.

    I recently read a book on Musashi, and he
    was pretty bad with a wooden sword.
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    Everyone in China learns Tai Chi from their pa. It's a pretty slow game. Hopefully though, once you learn the form well (or maybe earlier) you can begin the push hands. You just have to be patient until you get their, or better yet enjoy the slow intricate movements.

    I would also love to learn the Japanese sword arts. In the ol' days they tested the sharpness of the swords and the skill of the wielder by how many prisoner's heads they could sever in one swing.
    Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only realize the truth. There is no spoon. Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself. -Spoon Boy
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  20. #19  
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaBOB View Post
    The emphasis I was trying to make was that a religious person, involved in religion, is involved with a more organized system and larger following.

    If I practice witchcraft I'm probably not going to be called religious (unless I'm a Christian warlock), because the practice is not very common, and the practices involved aren't very concrete. There may be different sects of Wicca, and there may be people who just screw around and dye their hair black. But there's no single large following that can be identified by the common person. This is what I'm getting at.
    Lack of rules seems to be the defining difference.

    Religion is something people practice in groups. The rules are there to keep all participants on the same page so they can have a group experience. Spirituality is something you do on your own. Even if others happen to be with you at the time (like in a Tai Chi class or something like that), each person is individually experiencing something totally separate from what the others are experiencing.
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