Last week's course was about some basic theology, mostly about the concept of God. I have already mentioned Neal Delmonico's article. I also had the students read Hridayananda's article about Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. I also gave a chapter from Sanatana-siksha, the one that includes sarvottama nara-lila. On the whole, though, I would have really liked to cover more of the theological material, but I would have had to go over the readings limit. This week was about Radha, and next class falls within the reading week, so I will hopefully be able to catch up.
I also read an excellent article in this month's Le monde diplomatique by the French philosopher Jacques Bouveresse. He asks whether religion is a unavoidable human necessity. Certainly Europe differs markedly from America in its thoroughgoing secularism. Nevertheless, the resilience of religion and its refusal to disappear as so many in the 19th century predicted would happen (as a result of "progress"), never ceases to cause their heirs to scratch their heads.
The article is primarily a discussion of Régis Dubray, who has just published a book on the subject. Dubray quotes Jacques Ellul who states unequivocally that every movement that seeks to supplant religion immediately becomes a religion itself, with its own symbols, rites and orthodoxies. This was recognized even earlier by people like Auguste Comte, whose famous failure, the "Religion of Reason," was an artificial attempt to supplant the illusions of Christianity with something more appropriate for evolved or evolving mankind.
Emil Durkheim developed Comte's ideas in this regard in his work, The Elementary Forms of Religion. Bertrand Russell, however, felt that humanity would only make progress if it could overcome the tendency to think religiously at all.
Bouveresse appears to favor Durkheim’s assertion that the conscious and deliberate creation of rational symbols that reflect evolution in human consciousness is possible, but expresses some consternation that Dubray could find anything positive to say about the role religion plays in America today.
Dubray seems to think that America’s religiosity gives it a moral force that is absent in more secularized Europe, about which he says that it has taken "a holiday from history," implying that religious belief, of whatever kind, is somehow the motor of historical change. Bouveresse, however, finds this argument shocking. For him, modern fundamentalism, indeed all refuge in ancient symbols, is regressive and the result of the temporary failure of putative rational replacements. Such religion is purely political, in his opinion, and has nothing to do with real religion.
I guess a little more definition about what Bouveresse means by religion is in order. There may be such a thing as good or bad, rational or irrational religion, but it remains unclear exactly what definition of religion is being accepted here. Durkheim’s purely social view is inadequate.
I will have to elaborate on this in the future. I will try to come back to this, either here or in a future article.