Tag Archives: religion

Religion from a biological or anthropological point of view

It seems to me that everything we do is for one purpose and one purpose alone, and that is to survive. We eat, sleep, exercise, work, play, wear clothes, buy houses, read, write, speak, listen, study, teach, sing, have sex, defecate, pretty do everything as a way to survive.

We create institutions to survive. Health care, education, science, philosophy and religion are just some of the institutions we have as a way to survive as a group rather than as an individual.

Seen this way, religion is no different to the ballroom dancing club, tennis club, academic associations that we create in order to survive. Religion, God, souls, mind and self, therefore, are concepts to help us, and should be studied as a biological and anthropological necessities. It should be off-limits to scrutiny.

Soul, spirit, psyche, mind

Language influences not only the way we think but also the words we use. In many cases it also limits our choices.

The soul, incorporeal part of which makes a material being “alive”. Seen as that which survives the body’s death. It is what imbues the being with reason, decision and action. The soul is the seat of consciousness, self and essence. Starting with at least Socrates and Plato the soul is seen as separate from the body it occupies.

Related to the wider spirit which is not individuated but animates (giving breath to) matter and sometimes defines what is life from non-life. Spirit, unlike soul, may infuse all things created. In this sense, animism is a religious belief of the spirit in all things.

Psyche, the Greek term for soul and the root word for psychology has to do with the mind in which, in part, is hinted to be more than simply its neuroscientific functioning (by implying soul).

Willing suspension of belief

Most people have heard the phrase willing suspension of disbelief where we ignore inconsistencies in film and fiction in order to allow the work to work its magic, as it were.

So I am suggesting, if one is to move on from their religion one must, in the same manner, be willing to suspend their belief.

When does a soul get created?

As a Buddhist, I do not believe in souls. Talk to most people – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and even Buddhists – and they talk as though something survives after death. Such is the power and attraction of the concept of the soul.

Out of curiosity, I asked an American Muslim when is the soul created. He said, “at the moment of conception”. And thereafter it remains either in Heaven or Hell (and also Purgatory if you are Roman Catholic). So the mystery, it seems to me, is that the eternal soul did not start off as eternal but was created out of the grace of God or gods (of which again in Buddhism are concepts).

The problem here is that we have no evidence for these, only that of the textual sources, and not any independent or direct proof of souls and gods as such. Apart from being told by someone else, namely the sacred texts and by those who believe in word of the sacred texts, there is no other proof. Buddhism’s claim that everything is impermanent can be verified by observation. While we cannot observe everything, the weight of non-contrary evidence is substantial. Inferential logic tells us that the soul is perhaps one of these “things” which stands counter to impermanence even though no one can show us any evidence for its existence.

This alone should sound off alarm bells in your head.

While I do not have a problem with the concept of the soul, I do have problem with the belief in the existence of a soul. But at the same time, it is normal to think and believe that such a thing exists. This is something humans do very well, and perhaps defines us from other animals. But it is also natural that some for the human species (Buddhists) to “see through” it, that is, to understand the nature of it.

So it is baffling that in this day and age, where our understanding of the natural physical world has progressed this far, to be still caught in the grips of such an illusion. Powerful indeed is this illusion, passed on from generation to generation through speech and action.

Souls are not created. The concept of a soul is. The concept is perpetuated by its continued reinforcement. The root is therefore in the nature of words and not in the nature of the thing.

Religion is man-made

To me, religion is man-made, not god-made. It serves a purpose similar (if not identical) to that of philosophy and science, two other man-made concepts.

There is nothing “natural” to religion, philosophy or science. If the Christian God were natural then every person and culture would have naturally gravitated toward Christianity. That God is not known to people unless they are told about his existence is proof that God is a construct. If philosophy and being a philosopher is natural then it would have been of the same structure across all cultures. Again, the fact that Confucius is considered a philosopher is wholly a Western construct. The word and concept “philosophy” is Western, and completely foreign to Eastern thinking. Yet again, if science was natural it would have been the same across all cultures at all times. The fact we needed to discover and develop it means it is constructed.

The only thing not “man-made” is matter. We are part of the material world. We come from the material. So are we not part of nature? In other words, we are nature-made. And it is nature, ironically, which had made us to believe in things that are man-made and the god-made.

The Book of Warren (The Unauthorised Revised Version)

In the beginning was a “big bang”. No one is sure how it happened but it happened about 14 billion years ago (in Earth time, that is). All the material in the universe came from this event. The material in the form of dust slowly gathered to form galaxies, suns, planets and satellites through attraction. The planet we call Earth was formed about 4 billion years ago, a little after the formation of the Sun, the star which gives us the energy for our survival, around which we revolve. Life on Earth began around 1 billion years ago in the form of simple cells. Our species – Homo – is perhaps one to two million years old. Civilisation in the form of societies and writing came about perhaps 20,000 years ago. Recognisable society is perhaps 7,000 years old. We know these things because we are smart.

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What should we believe in?

Perhaps you are wondering how I can be a Buddhist and not believe in a god. According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English religion is defined as “a belief in one or more gods”. Few would argue with this definition.

I said few.

There are thousands of religions out there. If Justine religion does not include a god or gods within it, then, the definition fails. And Buddhism is one such religion. (Another is Jainism.)

Buddhism is atypical of religions in that it rejects the worship of gods. Buddha is not a god and had never said he was. It should be noted it was those who came afterwards that added the gods, perhaps incorporating aspects of the local culture.

But far from rejecting existence of a god or gods it is, in my opinion, far healthier to accept the concept of a god or gods as part of what it means to be human.

The main religions of Japan – a quick guide

There are, in my opinion, four main groups of religions in Japan. I will go through each below.

Shintoism
Shintoism is what can be considered the indigenous religion of Japan. It is at least 1,300 years old but possibly much older. It describes the power struggles in its early history in the disguise of creation myths of the country. This points to migration from Korea as the possible source of its history but also indication of much an earlier culture. It is generally a religion of animism, where mountains, trees, the sun, machinery, virtually anything has a spirit. It is also a religion which promotes purity and fertility, both for agriculture and sex. Shintoism is seen as one religion but can be thought of as having facets of folk, state and culture. From the 6th century until 19th century Shintoism was synchronised with Buddhism (see below).

Buddhism
Buddhism was introduced into Japan from China in the 6th century. It is a religion which originated in north-eastern India in the 6th century BCE. Buddhism is based on the teachings of the Buddha. Buddha taught it is possible to find happiness by thinking and living correctly. There are different “denominations” with Jodo-based sects being the most predominant and the Zen sects being second most predominant in terms of temple count.

Christianity
Christianity was introduced into Japan in the 16th century when Francis Xavier arrived with Christian converts. Although it makes up a small percentage of followers (around 1% of the population) it is nonetheless prominent within Japanese culture. Most weddings are “Christian” weddings with rites performed by a “priest” (read: ‘foreigner’). Christianity functions thus as marriage officiate, while Shinto functions as life celebrating, and Buddhism for Funerary. All major Christian denominations are represented in Japan.

New religions
Most ‘new religions’ are based upon one of the “traditional” religions – Shintoism, Buddhism and/or Christianity. Some were established after 1868 – when Japan began its modernisation period – but many sprang up after 1945. While some do have real ideological differences to their foundation religion most new religions were created for tax-break purposes.


Below are some “keywords” in each of the religious groupings.

Shintoism – inari, hachiman, susa, Izumo, Ise, fertility, creation myth, purity.

Buddhism – Jodo, Jodo Shin, Shingon, Tendai, Nichiren, Zen, death.

Christianity – Francis Xavier, Jesuit, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, marriage.

New religions – politics, tax-haven, Neo-Shintoism, Neo-Buddhism, Neo-Christianity.

What does it mean to be a philosopher?

According to one dictionary, philosophy is the study of the nature and meaning of existence, truth, good and evil etc. And a philosopher is someone who studies and develops ideas about the nature and meaning of existence, truth, good and evil etc.

Personally, I prefer to boil down this definition to just philosophy is the study of the nature of existence and truth. It follows thus a philosopher is someone who studies and develops ideas about the nature of existence and truth.

The inclusion of meaning assumes that existence has meaning to begin with. Here, I beg to differ (or perhaps go along with existentialists like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Sartre) and point out that nowhere does it say life has implicit meaning, that only we have assumed it to have meaning, and a universal one at that. It is for this reason I believe that Western philosophy tends to think Eastern Philosophy, particularly Buddhism is nihilistic in outlook.

Thus, Western philosophy has a tendency to belittle relativism and relativistic meaning. They are happy to say things like the only constant is change and not blink an eyelid at the relativity and even the contradiction in the statement or proposition. One must also see the nature of language (move towards a philosophy of language) in order to understand the nature of knowledge (epistemology), the nature of existence (ontology) and the nature of reality (metaphysics).

And so I must therefore question the nature of religion as well. I have never known a religion to be personal, for one person and that person alone. If it were then its god must be non-universal. In short, religion is a social act. If it were a non-social act then we need not talk of church and religion in the first place. But the fact that we do have church and the concept of a religion we must assume religion to be above all else a relativistic social construct. And if so then the talk of good and evil must also be relativistic as well. Philosophy, therefore, must reject religion, or at least study religion as part of the nature of human existence, not to assume it is part of or above philosophy as such. There is what I will suggest here as not so much a philosophy of religion but a religion of philosophy, and that it has infiltrated Western philosophical tradition so thoroughly that it had almost escaped notice.

“You are light as air & heavy as clouds”

These lines are from my poem atheist become.

For me, a metaphor is what creates the illusion of something like God. They are concepts and nothing more. So they can be as light or as heavy as you can imagine. In the same way we can imagine that when we die we go to some place better. But do we? Is there some place to go? I ended the poem with but nothing will free you / from death and / to nowhere will you go to suggest perhaps the reason why we do imagine a heaven is precisely because the idea of nowhere to go is rather lonely. Atheists must overcome loneliness as they do not have something to comfort them as Christians do. It reminds of the line from Kafka’s novel, The Trial:

“It is often safer to be in chains than to be free.”

God/Word/Saussure

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (St John, Ch. 1, v. 1)

Perhaps this is the genius of the writer of these words. God is language. End of story.

But if we take Saussure to his word then words are just a system of difference. We can conclude that God is what everything else it is not. The word God must be empty, must be a container holding meaning only inasmuch as it is a concept, never to fully have presence, eternally is God marked with absence.

Why I am an atheist but not against religion

As a person who looks at language for a living and have come to believe all of what we know and believe comes from a combination of experience, thought and language

Not matter where we look cultures have religion. We, as human being, like to make religion, as much as we like to make language or literature. We are different to other animals in our ability to do so in such a way. 

So I cannot be “against” religion, or language or literature. It is inherent in us to make religion, language, literature and the such. 

What I do have believe, though, is that we also have the same capacity to “see through” the need for religion, language, literature, etc. For whatever reason we have religion, language, literature, etc, we have to learn to deal with it as reasoned but critical beings in a physical universe. 

I have no direct knowledge of God

It took me a while to figure this out.

I cannot say that I have ever had direct knowledge of God. I have had notions of God pitched to me for as long as I can remember, but I have never had direct contact from him (if it is a him).

Christians may say I am not “chosen”. But I would rather think of it as maybe there isn’t God.

Buddhism has gods and whatnot in their “pantheon”, but they are imports from other religions and systems such as Hinduism, Taoism and Esoteric Buddhism. I, for the most part, ignore them but accept somehow gods were created to represent the teaching, as manifestations of these ideas, and that the concepts and ideas (the teachings) are more important than the gods. To me, this seems to be the healthier attitude to have than to believe (more often than not, blindly) in God or gods.

Is The Buddha a god?

The Buddha was born a prince. His mother died soon after giving birth to him. So there is no claim of divinity of any kind. He was an ordinary man with ordinary problems just like you and me. And therefore he is not a god. Nor should he be worshipped as such.

Buddhist iconography was something which arose after his death. And temples are not places of worship. Both of these are created to help us understand his teaching, the dharma, which is we alone can liberate ourselves from unhappiness through attention to the nature of one’s body and mind.

This then means that Buddhism is not about faith but practice. The practice espoused was to look after the mind as much as we look after our body. This Buddhists do through meditation. Meditation does not have any special powers as such but only allows one to focus the mind to see clearly what the mind and body are. Some kind of basic understanding is necessary of course, but essentially it is that everything is impermanent, without self and suffering. Nothing including Buddhism lasts forever. That includes the self which many people cling on to. The self is an illusion. And that is perhaps the greatest of all roots of our suffering. Understand that this is what existence is then we can proceed to find the happiness which does not diminish.