Sunday, December 27, 2009

Three Religions Meme

James McGrath has recently tagged me (well. really a very large set of people) with the meme of naming three religions you find fascinating of which you are not or have not been a member.

I'm going to place a few additional restrictions on my choices:

First, I am not going to pick any purely fictitious religions. Thus, for example, I'm not going to pick any religions from Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series (although there is a very large temptation to try to pick some of those). Similarly, I'm not going to pick any religion
that started as a fictional religion and then became real. Thus, Melkorism and Cthulhu worship are both out. Finally, I'm not going to pick any parody religions. Thus, Invisible Pink Unicornism and Flying Spaghetti Monsterism are both out although I will note that IPUism was around long before FSMism which is a sad little upstart in comparison (I mean, c’mon. It doesn't even have an oxymoron in its title.).

So of the real, non-parody religions, what will I choose are Cargo Cults, Roman Catholicism and Bahai in no particular order.

Cargo cultism is a religion with which some may not be familiar. It is also as far as I am aware the only example where nearly identical religions arose independently which already makes it very interesting. However, where and how cargo cults arose explains this feature. At the same time, it makes them all the more fascinating. During World War II, the United States used islands whose populations previously had had little or no contact with the outside world. Many people in Western and other civilizations believe in forms of sympathetic magic or the like, but small tribal groups often take this to an extreme. In these cases, the tribes saw the US soldiers doing apparently ritualistic activity that included marching in formation, talking to themselves on pieces of wire, and clearing out large fields. The tribes further saw the immediate responses to this activity: Airplanes came and dropped cargo to the soldiers, including food, medicine and clothing. The tribal members concluded that if they could engage in the same ritualistic behavior, they might get the same or even better results.
Thus, the cargo cults were born.

When the soldiers left, the tribes assigned priests who talked to spirits on the radio which would generally consist of a few pieces of wire. They cleared out or kept clear airplane landing fields. And they wore uniforms and conducted drills. These religions were derisively labeled "cargo cults." These remained strong through the mid 1970s. Members retained their beliefs and practices even when confronted with more features of modern civilization and explanations of what US soldiers had been actually doing. Cargo cults still exist in limited numbers today, seventy years after World War II.

The second religion is Roman Catholicism. The Church has been and remains a fascinating set of contradictions. On the one hand, it is hard to reconcile the gilded architecture and massive hierarchy with the ascetic messages preached by Jesus. The Church has a history of encouraging violence from the Crusades to the Inquisition. When the Church has not encouraged war and killing for its own ends, it has been silent when speaking up could save lives. The Church has also actively persecuted individuals such as Galileo who disagreed with the Church. On the other hand, the Church helped preserved learning that would otherwise be lost. The Church was a bastion of knowledge against the tides of ignorance (tides possibly encouraged by aspects of the Church. but still) The Church has provided shelter and relief to the poor for centuries. In the last fifty years, the Church has strived to modernize and reconcile its beliefs with science while many other religions have gone out of their way to attack science.

The Roman Catholic Church is the Church of Torquemada But it is also the Church of George Coyne and J. R. R. Tolkien. Whether the Church survives this next century and whether it embraces modernity or not will be some of the major questions impacting this century.

The third is the Bahai. The Bahai are the youngest of the major Abrahamic religions. They have consistently embraced reason over dogma and thus far have a history of being the least persecutory of the Abrahamic religions (although how much this is due to their still small numbers remains to be seen). If I had to name a single religion that I might be comfortable with drastically increasing in size over the next few centuries, I would likely name the Bahai.

Edit: It was pointed out to me by multiple people that I neglected to tag this meme for anyone. So I'll tag Kurt because he hasn't blogged much since he got married, Apikores because I'm just curious what he has to say, and Kat because she commented on this post already so hey, why not? And I suppose anyone else who has enough free time who reads this blog regularly and has a blog can consider themselves tagged.

8 comments:

Sor Cyress said...

Um, sorry, but its called "Pastafarianism", not Flying Spaghetti Monsterism. Get your words right if you're gonna be snarkin' on my quadertary religion.

((Mama Nature > Athe > FSM > Eris > Chort, as far as my personal pantheon goes.))

~Sor

Johan said...

I also have interest in Catholicism. It's intellectual nature is interesting.

But otherwise I prefer polytheistic religions. The mythology is usually better than monotheistic ones.

Joshua said...

Sor,

Yes, you are correct although I think many people don't use that term. I also reserve the right to construct labels that suit my own purposes.

Also, you're now tagged. See the updated version of the post.

Sor Cyress said...

Stupid tagging.

And done

~Sor

Nathaniel said...

"On the one hand, it is hard to reconcile the gilded architecture and massive hierarchy with the ascetic messages preached by Jesus."

Reminds me of a quotation ascribed -- whether correctly or not I do not know -- to Thomas Aquinas. It seems that Pope Innocent IV was showing Thomas the treasures of the Vatican and boasted, "So you see, Thomas, we cannot say as did St. Peter of old, 'Silver and gold have I none.'"

"No," replied Thomas, "neither can you say, as did he, 'In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, arise and walk.'"

I confess that I rather hope it really happened.

Shalmo said...

"The third is the Bahai. The Bahai are the youngest of the major Abrahamic religions. They have consistently embraced reason over dogma and thus far have a history of being the least persecutory of the Abrahamic religions (although how much this is due to their still small numbers remains to be seen). "

I know this is an old topic but I am surprised you can make such ahistorical claims so easily.

The Bahai have more than their fair share of nonsense.

In Iran by all accounts they are a cult that practise all the aspects of insular behaviour you find in orthodox judaism, scientology, the Moonies and so on.

Some education is in order:

http://www.bahaiawareness.com/bahai09.html

More to the point see here for an in depth analysis on their founder's questionable tactics:

http://www.bahaiawareness.com/bab09.html

Joshua Zelinsky said...

Um, Shalmo frankly I'm once again confused by your deep dislike of the Bahai and the links you provide really don't help. The first is some sort of inane theological claim that somehow argues that because the Ba'hai don't proselytize to certain groups somehow they aren't a "universal" religion. I can't decide if that entire page is stupid or just incoherent. Regardless, doesn't show much for any claim of being cult-like. Even if they had engaged in cult-like behavior in Iran, it would be a pretty reasonable as a response considering how much they've been persecuted there.

The second link is more interesting but marginally so. All it shows (assuming its accuracy) is that even the Ba'hai don't have a perfect history. Frankly, if that's the best one has compared to say for example Muhammad's large scale military campaigns then I'm extremely unimpressed.

Johan said...

Regarding the cargo cults an amusing anecdote I gave heard is that some journalist asked cargo cult member why they still waited for the return of the legendary founder (John From) after 50 years. His reply: "If you Christians have waited for 2000 years, we can wait for than 50."