Is Religion an Unavoidable Human Necessity?

I have fallen behind in my attempt to write something about each course as it is given, or at least before the next one. Naturally, being who and what I am, I am easily distracted. In particular, I have been thinking about religion and narrative in general. This is, as I have been feeling, is intimately connected to the idea of rasa, and I have been finding the insights in Religion as Story (J.B. Wiggins (ed), New York: Harper and Row. 1975) particularly fascinating.

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.


Anonymous said…
Jagat : ......... set the discourse and though the penetration into the mysteries of what impersonalism is often seems extremely shallow, the rhetoric is bombastic.

Most preachers are bombastic.

What do you think of the “atheist preacher” Richard Dawkins and his ideas in God Delusion?

Be well. Hare krishna
Jagadananda Das said…
Funny, I was intending to expand on the latter part of this day's post in which I was going to mention Dawkins and a French philosopher who is on pretty much the same crusade, Michel Onfray. Unfortunately I have gotten caught up in writing an article on "Ahangrahopasana and Aropa." I had hoped to finish at least a part of it by today. At any rate, this means that nothing else is getting done here.

Of course, there is illusion in religion, but perhaps these authors are overconfident in their judgement.

Inasmuch as the search for Truth and the search for God are coterminus, there should be no fundamental argument between believers and atheists, provided there is genuine looking involved. When self-deceit (kaitava) enters the picture, both devotees and atheists can be the source of a great deal of trouble in the world.
Anonymous said…
We are not able to comment anymore on your latest posts. Is it because of spam or don't you like our comments ?

Anyway, your latest post is interesting reading. This is indeed what is happening when scholars come across our confidential literatures. First they are attracted by our clear philosophy and then hopelessly dissapointed with our love stories that supposed to be the climax of the philosophy. As someone said, he almost wishes to take Shankaras' sword and cut of all the Vaikunthas.

Clearly, I am warned not to look at these Scriptures with the eye of a recensist of literature, so I won't. Actually my teacher told me not to read them at all for the time being.

By the time I am ready to read Love Stories of the Infinite I am sure I will perceive everything different as I do now.

Actually your analysis seems perfectly logical. Somehow or other though in the end we need to give up our attachment to our cherished logica to grasp the Infinite. To some that might be even harder than giving up a sex-addiction. Let me add..... logica is not the same as common sense.

I guess this is where faith and logica are on a collision course. Which one feels better ? How much are we in touch with our spiritual intuïtion ? If faith is not strong, logica seems the better option... for the time being. But logica and love are incompatible (logica of love ??). So better to project our logica on something else.

Of course you already know the background of this comment.
Jagadananda Das said…
I don't know if you are refering to this blog or to the one I posted today (Feb. 26, 2007). I am not quite sure what is going on. I am finding it necessary to filter the comments because there is just so much spam every time I post something. I will try to move your comments to the appropriate place and get around to answering them when I have finished the series, which should not be too long.

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