Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Is Democracy a Religion?

Well, no...of course it isn't.

But that was the discussion question for the group at the UU church I attended with Jill this morning.

There were perhaps twenty people, and we burned a good fifteen minutes on introductions, and another five on UU testimonials for the new folks, before we got to the topic at hand.

It could have been an interesting discussion, unfortunately there was little said in direct response to points that had been previously made, people preferring to deliver their own laborious, discursive monologues on the subject. Too bad.

I raised my hand a couple of times anyway, initially saying (as I've noted here before) that inherent in the definition of a religion is some underpinning of supernaturality (i.e. belief in a god or gods). If the definition is spread beyond that it basically becomes too watered down to be of much use in discourse.

Judaism? A religion. Islam? Yep. Fly fishing? Um...no.

To talk about fly fishing metaphorically as a religion, sure...but not in the literal sense.

Of course, I was among Unitarians, so some of them didn't like the oh so narrow box I was putting religion in. One fellow said that a religion is a system of thought that deals with absolutes.

It seems to me, though, that any system of thought that explains origins, morality, etc. without supernaturality is instead a philosophy.

Otherwise, what does it mean to say that someone is "a religious man"? Simply that they've thought about absolutes? I don't think so. Religiosity entails belief in a higher power, in supernaturality, whatever form that might take.

As a system of thought, as I've noted here before, religion also, by its character, approaches the concept of truth from the perspective that it is received.

Truth is not something you sift out of existence methodically, through trial and error. No, from the religious perspective truth is inherent in holy writings, through the lips of holy men, or perhaps directly from god on high.

This is the essential defining characteristic of religion that I find so distasteful.

And yet I haven't talked about democracy at all. Well, it's quite obviously a political philosophy, a system of ideas about the way people should be governed. And that is, that to the greatest extent possible, people should govern themselves (or each other...depending on how you look at it). If you've read this blog much at all, you know I'm a strong adherent of democratic philosophy.

In fact, I'm one of the few people I know who thinks America should be much more democratic than it currently is. I believe the more diffuse, and the less hierarchical, power structures are, the more fair and just they become.

But am I a religious man?

God forbid.

Originally posted 1/5/2003

1 comment:

philip_tucker said...

One fellow said that a religion is a system of thought that deals with absolutes.

As a system of thought, as I've noted here before, religion also, by its character, approaches the concept of truth from the perspective that it is received.

I think the 2 concepts here, "absolute" and "received", do indeed tend to be inherent in religious thought. And I think this is a clear guideline for a doctrine being religious without being supernatural. I would have no trouble labeling North Koreans religious. Even those that don't believe Kim Jong Il is divine, if they follow him without question and consider him and his government the authority on all topics, I'd call that a religion. Same with Stalinist Russia.