What is religion? Not faith or spirituality, belief or ritual: these are all underpinning facets or tributaries for religion. The word itself in Latin is connected to the verb ‘to yoke’ or ‘restrain’. It carried the implication that the devotee was bound by a series of sacred oaths to a certain deity, set of ritual observances, or group. Our current understanding of ‘religion’ seems to me better expressed as ‘faith-group’, since it indicates membership in a group, near or far, that holds a common set of beliefs. Even more simply put, one’s religion according to the popular view indicates belief in one or a set of Gods as understood by that religion’s paradigm of reality. Thus, by asking what religion may be, I am also addressing the nature of faith, divinity and the relationship between our epistemic and ontological methods (how we know and what we know) and what is “real” or true.
It’s been a nice little while since I have posted an entry here, which would seem to indicate a collapse of purpose. Such is not the case and I have actually been steadily, if not swiftly successful in realizing my new conclusions in my own life. Some of the posts that I have read have almost enticed me to comment, but I think it more appropriate if I fold what I would have said in response into this entry. I am thinking particularly of the “Am I a Pagan?” post on the Pagan tribe. Having read the post I find the question absurd, but there is no benefit in arguing with somnambulant shadows. A sudden explosion of creative activity has characterized my own process of awakening, which is only how I can put it, and life will never be the same.
I am so happy about this that I cannot put it into words.
But such is not my purpose.
Divinity, faith, religion: actually, I will need to start someplace else and work my way in to these. I will start with culture. The word culture, again from Latin, implies something cultivated as well as at least semi-religious. ‘Cultus’, our root for both culture and cult, comes from the verb ‘colere’, meaning to tend or observe in a ritual sense. This was why Georgics, a popular Latin genre, were simultaneously treating agricultural methods and morality. Culture is thus something that is both semi-religious and needs to be tended constantly and even tenderly. It involves the ever popular ‘reproducing the means of production’, to use the Marxist terminology, but also paradigms of morality, ethics, society and even truth. Religion in many ways is inseparable from culture. I would even go so far as to say that, in reality, religion is merely one facet of any given culture.
Of course, this means that a remapping of our understanding of culture is necessary, including how culture relates to individual polities across the planet. I have a strong suspicion that there are fewer cultures than we think and that the number is dwindling. My sense of this is informed by my belief that the clearest indication of culture, even its root and foundation, is language. Most people will claim that language is only one of a number of accidences including dress, food, music, art and so on, but this in my mind is foolishness. Language is an expression of thought and governs thought as much if not more than it serves thought. The structural systems of language provide our perceptions of what is probable and possible. This is not to say that language is the end-all, be-all of our natures. We existed before we came to understand language, but we first begin thinking through language at a very young age. Almost the entirety of our development rests in the paradigms of one language, perhaps two or even three.
What does this mean for divinity, then, the very foundation of religion? I have neither the time nor the space —barely the patience — to provide a full exposition here. Suffice it to say that I, drawing from the German term ‘zeitgeist’, spirit of the age, the idea that a spirit or spirit-complex lies behind each culture — else why would so disparate a peoples as the Celts be so recognizable across time and space? Each spirit carries with it a linguistic and social paradigm of some kind and manifests as the thoughts and actions of individual groups — hence my idea that one does not choose one’s faith. My attempt to define my faith and make it one with my day-to-day awareness is also an attempt to discover my true cultural alignment.
What does this mean for polytheism and monotheism or other cultural and scholastic paradigms? What does this mean for religion as an organized entity? These are questions to be dealt with later.