So the prior conversation is a good segue to this thing that I've been wanting to post about, which is: some major misconceptions about religion.
I live in the US, where the average person's ideas about religion are based on Protestant Christianity, and people are often heard saying "religion" when they actually mean "the loud and annoying branches of Protestantism". This drives me so far up the wall it drives me back down the other side as well. But even when it's not that egregious, for many USians, "religion" entails a lot of assumptions-- some positive, some negative, some completely neutral-- that are really just true of the particular religions that make up a majority of English-speaking countries. Even Wikipedia struggles to define what a "religion" is, but what I want to call attention to here is its function-- it's a system people use to deal with spiritual things. And people around the world do not all do this in remotely the same way.
Consider these mistaken generalizations, for instance, and this is just a small sample:
- Belief is important. No, not always! It's not just culture that makes some people go through the motions even if they can't get behind it or even feel like it's doing any good. The idea that you have to ~~believe~~ is a Christian thing. Some religions are going to say, "good, keep asking sensible questions."
- There's some kind of moral code, or you're supposed to be a "good person". No, not always! It is a common idea, but it isn't universal. It's also common for gods to have specific things they ask followers to do if they want to have a good relationship, and sometimes those things are obviously nice things, but not always.
- You can only have one religion. No, not always! The Judaic family of religions has a god that gets very angry if you worship anything else, but other traditions don't have that. You don't have to pick favorites and cut out everything else. Buddhism doesn't even have a god. And some that do have gods that *like* to see you be active in other traditions.
- Religions want more followers. No, not always! Christianity likes to go out and try to get people to join. Some religions wouldn't even allow you to join. And most of them aren't going to chase you at all. *You* have to be proactive to find out about *them*. There are secrets everywhere. It's little wonder people think it's "mostly Christians" everywhere they go, if they think that what they are permitted to see is a representative portion of what's going on.
- Religions want YOU to join. No, not always! Often you have to *earn* a right to participate or consider yourself a follower. It's easy to join fundamentalist Christians because all they want you to do is say that you accept their god and you're in. That's a really easy club to join, you know? Even some branches of Christianity ask you to take classes and stuff first. In some religions, you're tested or required to do things. Some insist on your being born in a certain place, or have a certain ancestry. For some, being a follower means adhering to the practices, and if you stop the practices you stop engaging in them.
- Religions make you go to a church, temple, or other place of worship periodically. No, not always! Not every religion has a place you can go, and of those that do, not every one requires you to visit it. And if you do go to a place like that, even if you go on a regular basis, it may not involve sitting through someone lecturing at you. You might ring a bell and clap your hands, instead. You might dance or watch a performance. You might sit there doing absolutely nothing. But maybe you don't go to a place at all. Maybe you just keep a certain diet or say certain words.
And here's my "favourite" misconception:
- Nobody has figured out how it all fits together. "If they did," I told myself when I was younger, "then they'd tell us all about it and we'd know it, right?" But no, I was wrong. What actually happens is that some people in rare cases do have everything figured out, and they try to tell people, and hardly anybody believes them, and even fewer understand what they're saying. So of course I never knew that anyone really did have any answers. That's just an error in reasoning, but a persistent misconception nonetheless. Ouch.
Religions | typo fix
Oops, fifth paragraph should read "sometimes those things are obviously-nice things". Not only would that be grammatically correct, it's semantically what I meant. I don't think any of this stuff is obvious at all. If it were, things would have been so much easier, for me, at least.
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