Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Atheist Is Probably Right

But Homo Religiosus has all the fun...

Me, I find indulging my agnosticism - by way of a deep interest in the history and philosophy of religion - more interesting that being an angry anti-theist.  In that pursuit I am indebted to historians, philosophers, psychologists, and theologians of the 20th century.  Useful guides in this territory have included Tillich, Otto, James, Jung, Campbell, and several times now, Eliade

The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion is the most accessible of the several books by Mircea Eliade that I've read. History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries, was pretty dense. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy was a bit of a slog.  Were you to read only one book by Eliade The Sacred and the Profane is the one I'd recommend, at least until I've read more of him.

Unlike the Angries who think religion should be simply and finally dispensed with by modern societies, Eliade (and the others) explain that some sort of religion is all but inevitable.  The religious impulse is hard-wired into how we perceive the world and interact with each other.  We've likely had religion for as long as we've had speech, music, and art; it may even spring from same nexus of traits that made us finally fully human.  What humanity has done with - and proposes to do with - this drive is as significant today as it was 2,000 or 20,000 years ago.  Religion is not going away, if anything the most dangerous sorts of it are resurgent.  Understanding religion and sort of certainty that leads to life-changing (or life-ending) dogma, doctrine, and action is more important than ever.

If the study of religion is your thing you've probably already read The Sacred and the Profane, but if you haven't, you should.