Religion without gods or an afterlife

Discuss philosophical questions regarding theism (and atheism), and discuss religion as it relates to philosophy. This includes any philosophical discussions that happen to be about god, gods, or a 'higher power' or the belief of them. This also generally includes philosophical topics about organized or ritualistic mysticism or about organized, common or ritualistic beliefs in the existence of supernatural phenomenon.
Burning ghost
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Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by Burning ghost » October 20th, 2017, 4:47 am

This is something I wrote around 20 years ago that I still find to be a very useful exercise when viewing religious traditions:

Religion without gods

Imagine that the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hindus, Aborigines or Celts never believed in a god or gods; never considered the ‘afterlife’ to be important or even to exist. Then look at all material that is left behind by them: the texts, temples, stone circles, pyramids, ziggurats, and tombs. The tales and fables of strange characters with moral themes encompassing the universe and mankind as one. Descriptions of strange worlds and beings, beast men and serpents all vying with and against each other. The symbolism and artefacts, the artwork and tools. Special festival days, calendars, looking to the heavens, aligning the stars to constructs, personalising and naming constellations.

Ask yourself, if the people didn’t believe in higher beings then what does it all mean? Say if people went to church, to a mosque or some other place, with no belief in god or consideration of god whatsoever, then why would they go? For the Koran or the Bible? For words of wisdom? Why walk into a building when you could stay at home and read there? For mind to have a place for these thoughts? Fir experience to be enclosed separately from normal life? Why? Is it easier to remember the knowledge bestowed by moral texts if associated to a physical place?

If this is taken to be so for our ancestors then why have festivals and special days? For the same reason? A system of place and time for memory like schooling? How do you preserve knowledge? Through memory?

Why bury the dead in pyramids of stone aligned with the Earth’s poles and certain heavenly constellations? Why fill these places with pictograms and scripture about journeying to another world if god plays no part and the afterlife is not considered of any value? What could it all mean?

It is best never to forget that science as we know it started in the humble temples of the world. Why? Because of memory? Before language how did we remember? Through maps in our minds?


So, what do you think? What explanations can you come up with?
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LuckyR
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Re: Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by LuckyR » October 21st, 2017, 1:31 am

Burning ghost wrote:This is something I wrote around 20 years ago that I still find to be a very useful exercise when viewing religious traditions:

Religion without gods

Imagine that the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hindus, Aborigines or Celts never believed in a god or gods; never considered the ‘afterlife’ to be important or even to exist. Then look at all material that is left behind by them: the texts, temples, stone circles, pyramids, ziggurats, and tombs. The tales and fables of strange characters with moral themes encompassing the universe and mankind as one. Descriptions of strange worlds and beings, beast men and serpents all vying with and against each other. The symbolism and artefacts, the artwork and tools. Special festival days, calendars, looking to the heavens, aligning the stars to constructs, personalising and naming constellations.

Ask yourself, if the people didn’t believe in higher beings then what does it all mean? Say if people went to church, to a mosque or some other place, with no belief in god or consideration of god whatsoever, then why would they go? For the Koran or the Bible? For words of wisdom? Why walk into a building when you could stay at home and read there? For mind to have a place for these thoughts? Fir experience to be enclosed separately from normal life? Why? Is it easier to remember the knowledge bestowed by moral texts if associated to a physical place?

If this is taken to be so for our ancestors then why have festivals and special days? For the same reason? A system of place and time for memory like schooling? How do you preserve knowledge? Through memory?

Why bury the dead in pyramids of stone aligned with the Earth’s poles and certain heavenly constellations? Why fill these places with pictograms and scripture about journeying to another world if god plays no part and the afterlife is not considered of any value? What could it all mean?

It is best never to forget that science as we know it started in the humble temples of the world. Why? Because of memory? Before language how did we remember? Through maps in our minds?


So, what do you think? What explanations can you come up with?
But since they all did believe in gods, what is your point?
"As usual... it depends."

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Re: Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by Burning ghost » October 21st, 2017, 10:31 pm

I guess that means you cannot come up with anything.
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Re: Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by Greta » October 22nd, 2017, 12:42 am

My understanding of the history and prehistory is very broad and shallow, but my understanding is that "acts of God" such as major storms, droughts, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, meteor strikes and so forth were interpreted to be gods themselves - of each domain, and later they were bundled into a monotheistic model.

Even knowing as we do, facing the power of nature will evoke a sense of awe, wonder and shock that was no doubt similar to that of our culturally less experienced ancestors. These things truly are awesome and physically, if not theoretically, beyond our comprehension. In our comfortable, cossetted urban lives it's easy to forget the scales of the edifices on which we rely. It's hard to imagine a civilisation evolving without at some point going through a phase of considering disease-causing microbes and neural disorders to be evil spirits and for large natural events to be the manifestation or the expression deities.

It's easy to imagine how belief in an afterlife could come from those who experienced near death experiences. Believing a deeply comatose person to be dead, the person shocks them by awaking with strange tales of the other side. Further, these would surely tally (no idea if before of after the fact) with shamanic visions. No one is going to tell them that their brains might have been playing tricks on them - they will be in awe of this person who seemingly has returned from the dead bringing incredible tales!

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Re: Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by Spectrum » October 22nd, 2017, 1:46 am

As I has stated many times, DNA wise ALL humans are infected with "zombie parasites."
For the majority of humans, the "zombie parasites" is active or very active while for some it is dormant.

All the activities you described above are ultimately traceable to the impulses driven by that "zombie parasites" without the host being conscious of it. Most of the time these 'victims' think what they are doing is based on their own free will while not aware of the subliminal impulses that are directing them to perform those activities.

This "zombie parasites" drive humans into secular, religious and theological activities to serves their own parasitic interests without the host being consciously knowing what is driving them from the sub-conscious. What is directing them to these activities are psychological angst, pain, discomfort and immediate relief from them when the acts are done.
  • For example in the religious, believers feel immediate relief when they believe or call upon God.
    In the case of the secular, they turned to drugs, etc. to relieve the psychological pains and unpleasant impulses generated by the "zombie parasites" within.
In ancient times very long ago, humans in response of the psychological discomforts, anxiety of the afterlife, etc. [as driven by the impulses from the "zombie parasites,"] direct their awareness to some unseen power which is supposedly greater than what humans could perform. Subsequently this evolved and culminated to the present greatest 'idea' of an ontological God [perfect].
Not-a-theist. Religion is a critical necessity for humanity now, but not the FUTURE.

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Re: Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by Burning ghost » October 22nd, 2017, 1:56 am

I am a little puzzled by the responses.

I was not asking for the reasons people believe in gods or an afterlife. Although I was kind of asking this from a contradictory position. It is a "What if?" question.

I was suggesting that the process is about passing down knowledge to the next generation. That certain days and habits of society help us in some way to pass on ideas to the next generation and warn of certain dangers.

Think of the question like this if it helps. Imagine you are an alien who is observing human history. For you there is no concept of God or life after death. How would you fit the whole religious paraphernalia into your understanding?

note: I did write that about 20 years, and I have found it a very interesting thing to consider in many areas. You could even look at "houses" as not having anything to do with shelter, and then expose more hidden details of what a "house" is composed for. I would imagine in the far future, or even for the youth of today, the use of a computer beyond its connection to the internet may be less than obvious to them.

LuckyR, Greta, Spectrum -

None of you are responding as I would have wished. I hope the above clarifies more what kind of response I was looking for (my own response to the question was to look at memory and knowledge.) If large groups of pepple gather together to build something then why would they do so? Why would they hold festivals? All of these kind of questions are meant to be answered looking upon human history as if belief in gods or an afterlife don't exist and no one ever believed them.

I think the closest response was from Greta in mentioning "awe".
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Re: Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by Spectrum » October 22nd, 2017, 2:51 am

Burning ghost wrote:LuckyR, Greta, Spectrum -

None of you are responding as I would have wished. I hope the above clarifies more what kind of response I was looking for (my own response to the question was to look at memory and knowledge.) If large groups of pepple gather together to build something then why would they do so? Why would they hold festivals? All of these kind of questions are meant to be answered looking upon human history as if belief in gods or an afterlife don't exist and no one ever believed them.

I think the closest response was from Greta in mentioning "awe".
I believe I have answered 'Why would they hold festivals?' i.e. because of impulses by the "zombie parasites." e.g. why do the ancients hold festivals to sacrifice humans with hope of rain, good harvests, etc.
There are many festivals that are held to worship heroes and this is ultimately due to the "zombie parasites".
There are many festivals that are held to celebrate or promote elements of fertility and this is related to the sex impulse and reproduction.

It is difficult to set aside 'belief in gods or an afterlife' because most of the notable structures [pyramids all over the world, stonehenge, etc.] left from the past are related directly or indirectly to 'belief in gods or an afterlife.'
Not-a-theist. Religion is a critical necessity for humanity now, but not the FUTURE.

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Re: Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by Burning ghost » October 22nd, 2017, 3:31 am

Spectrum -

Yes, it is difficult. Thanks for trying.

"zombie parasite" doesn't actually mean anything to me though.

note: Not fishing for an explanation.
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Re: Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by Count Lucanor » October 22nd, 2017, 5:22 pm

Burning ghost wrote:I am a little puzzled by the responses.
I would bet every one is puzzled by the question.
Burning ghost wrote: Think of the question like this if it helps. Imagine you are an alien who is observing human history. For you there is no concept of God or life after death. How would you fit the whole religious paraphernalia into your understanding?
So, this alien is an atheist, an skeptic, one who doesn't believe in spiritual, non-material worlds. And you ask how this person would fit the whole religious paraphernalia into his/her understanding. That question has been answered countless times, but I'm afraid you misrepresented your own question again. For what I see in your other comments, you meant to say (using the alien analogy):

"Imagine you are an alien who is observing human history. For you there is no concept of God or life after death, nor there is for the humans observed. How would you fit the whole cultural paraphernalia into your understanding?"

Most scientific approaches to human history (sociology, anthropology, etc.) already consider the concept of supernatural realm a byproduct of material culture, so the answer you expect is practically the same they would give to why and how there is material culture: scarcity of resources, division of labor, kinship relations, class divisions and class struggles, technical revolutions, surplus production, ideological apparatus, and so on.

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Re: Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by Burning ghost » October 22nd, 2017, 8:26 pm

Count -

Yes, anthropologists do this kind of thing all the time when trying to understand prehistorical cultures. They strip down their biases as best they can and try to think outside the box.

I wrote this because I meant it:
Think of the question like this if it helps. Imagine you are an alien who is observing human history. For you there is no concept of God or life after death. How would you fit the whole religious paraphernalia into your understanding?
Your alteration is one that shows a lack of understand of the question. I guess it's not so obvious to others as it is to me.

I'm just going to have to assume I'm thinking on a completely different level in this particular circumstance. If it sounds ridiculously arrogant so be it. :P
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Re: Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by Count Lucanor » October 22nd, 2017, 9:11 pm

Burning ghost wrote:
I'm just going to have to assume I'm thinking on a completely different level in this particular circumstance. If it sounds ridiculously arrogant so be it. :P
OK, you be arrogant at that and I'll be arrogant in knowing that this question has been answered so many times and so many ways that it gets boring.

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Re: Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by Burning ghost » October 23rd, 2017, 12:49 am

Answered so many times yet no one here seems able to actually answer it (including yourself.)

You'll find when it comes to speculation that the scientific community are loath to present their ideas so readily. The only real area that looks promising is with cognitive archeology.

I was merely looking for some fresh ideas. If we were to look at an ant mound we could well imagine that they've build the structure in honour of some ant god. All I am asking for is a reversal of this process. I completely understand if people don't find this a practical or useful method.

Present your imaginings or don't. Trying to alter my question is not going to help me in the slightest.

LuckyR made the heinous mistake of thinking that ancients did believe in gods and the afterlife. Such a view is one steeped in current modern perspectives. Although I may well be inclined to agree, I don't for a second believe this to be a hard fact for every member of ancient societies. Nor do I believe that our current concept of "god" in completely equivalent to the ancient concept of "god". I would pose such a thing in the face of monotheism being in its infancy as a social/intellectual concept. I would also say the modern view of nationhood is also a very blinding factor and that the vast majority of people are completely unaware of how much of a modern concept this is.

There are also tribes in Africa who used to let the dead lie where they fell and had no burial rituals nor any belief in a god. I also happen to know that when we move from one place to another we think in a different manner (such as idea is related to "pilgrimage".) There does not need to be any thought of an afterlife nor thought of some supreme deity.

An extremely western bias is to translate alien concepts into vague approximations. So some remote tribes word, or some ancient term like "Ba" or "Ka" is taken to be equivalent to some Judeo-Christian steeped term (ie. "spirit" or "magic".)

The burden is on me to squeeze from people here what I want. If I fail I fail. If you feel slighted or upset by my display then more fool one of us.

So I am pleading with you. If it's so "boring" why are you responding? To mock? I don't mind if you are if you have something to offer.

For direction I am more interested in "ideological apparatus" and "kinship". If you can expand on what they mean it might be fruitful. I have already hinted at something along the lines of unconscious use of space coming into more conscious prominence. I am thinking along those lines, but also looking to see if anyone can offer up something I have not even considered yet.
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Re: Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by Count Lucanor » October 23rd, 2017, 11:18 pm

Actually I was trying to help you formulate the question properly, in order that an exchange of ideas be possible. But if you like being stuck there, so be it!!

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Re: Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by Greta » October 24th, 2017, 1:03 am

Think of the question like this if it helps. Imagine you are an alien who is observing human history. For you there is no concept of God or life after death. How would you fit the whole religious paraphernalia into your understanding?
Earlier I mentioned it was probably inevitable that advanced societies at some stage went through a stage of attributing the awesome events of nature to deities. So I feel it unlikely that your intelligent aliens would be confused but would more likely first see the religious society as being at a certain stage of societal development.

Likewise, when we are babies we tend to go through a stage of believing our parents to be extraordinary beings. I suspect that any alien race that achieved the cooperation possible for interstellar travel without going through a stage of wonder and worship probably would not have actual sentience but simply be complex information and energy processing, self-sustaining systems. To such beings (and they might not be possible), we would simply be resources and/or impediments, regardless of cultural activities.

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Re: Religion without gods or an afterlife

Post by Steve3007 » October 24th, 2017, 1:36 am

Greta:
Likewise, when we are babies we tend to go through a stage of believing our parents to be extraordinary beings. I suspect that any alien race that achieved the cooperation possible for interstellar travel without going through a stage of wonder and worship probably would not have actual sentience but simply be complex information and energy processing, self-sustaining systems. To such beings (and they might not be possible), we would simply be resources and/or impediments, regardless of cultural activities.
I think this raises an interesting question. I think you're right in suggesting that parents are the central inspiration for most/many deities. The wise, intelligent and venerable old person - the father. But would an alien race inevitably have gone through a similar stage? Isn't this specific to the particular nature of our species as social mammals who have long periods of helpless childhood? It's impossible to predict all the different possible life forms that might develop in such a way that they could make contact with alien civilizations. Our social, cooperative nature certainly seems to be helpful in our case. But maybe not in all cases.
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