Religion is best understood by the exploration of various critical lenses which focus on the actions, beliefs, and goals of humanity; both individualistically and collectively. To gain the deepest understanding of religion; one must be able to understand religion as an illusion, as an error, and as a fundamental element of human existence. It is only possible to understand religion through the lens of each of these three ideologies. The visions of the ideologies of illusion, error, and elemental existence are only seen if one opens their eyes, their mind, their mouths, their ears, their movements, and their location to whatever humankind or human experience may besiege them.
If one understands religion through the lens of it being an illusion; they are arguing that religion somehow has mislead our impression of reality, that there is some falsehood within religion which makes us believe something that may really not be or have ever been. There are many religious stories which are truly unbelievable in the eyes of modern day physicists, astronomers, biologists, mathematicians, and other academics. How is it possible that a man could defy the laws of gravity by walking on water? Can a baby be conceived without sexual intercourse? Is is possible for animals to speak? Can a woman really come from a man’s rib? Is there such thing as flying angels with great halos? Is there a God that could send plagues to a specific set of individuals? Do we have evidence that sacrifice solves problems or saves the lives of others? How is it possible to multiply bread and loaves with no outside substance? Can one survive being swallowed by a whale and live to tell about it? Is resurrection from the dead possible? Can a lame man walk again? Is it possible to turn water into wine at the strike of a stick; or the utterance of a prayer? How can we live as old as some of the characters seen in the religious texts?
All of these things are seemingly illusions, as most modern humans can not claim to have seen these tasks performed; nor could they perform them at this time even given the modern technology. It is merely by fate and a seemingly irrational longing that humans hold on to the idea that there are possibilities for a miracle.
Yet, every single day, it seems that other types of miracles happen. Many times, these miracles seemingly happen through error. In the modern sense, miracles happen when a child overcomes cancer, a pre-mature baby lives, a soldier wounded in the field survives after being partially blown up, a person passes their test without studying, an opportunity appears out of seemingly nowhere, an unexpected bill comes up along with an unexpected outlet of money, a person meets the love of their life after many lonely years, a person gets pregnant after the doctors tell them it would be impossible, a unlikely candidate graduates from college, people survive extreme weather conditions, missing people are found, etc. There are typically numerous inexplicable things; whether they are called errors, or miracles, they are things and happenstances which defy the statistics or the laws of the natural world. There are human records stating that these types of things happen every single day. Many people even find religion most reverently in times of great error. It is typically when peoples’ lives have encountered error that they most turn to sacred and ancient texts to obtain some sort of understanding of their odd condition or happenstance. Religious text is full of odd ball, error filled stories. The study of these stories help individuals to understand how to navigate their own errors, the errors of their neighbors, and the errors of their communities or nation states.
Many of the scholars studied in the course titled, ‘Religion; Theory and Practice’ taught by Eugene Clay Phd at Arizona State University, have noted the errors found within religion, with those who have studied it, and with those studying religion now. Racism, sexism, colonialism, extremism, violence, prejudice, and discrimination have all been found within religion, religious leaders, and even in scholars of religion. There were many religious leaders who believed that their ideology was supreme to others; many Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and other well known religions groups have showed little respect for the ways of those whom they encountered on the missions and voyages. They preached their religious beliefs and histories like they were the only truth. This has been disadvantageous to humanity, as it only allowed for a great bias in perspective for far too long.
Sociologists like Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Émile Durkheim helped to initially open the minds of societies across the globe in terms of understanding religion as being an intrinsic element of human existence; something that has been within us as a species since the beginning of our time.Sociologists looked at religion as more of an experience which comes from group behavior. Behaviors; especially if found useful for societal and individual progress, create traditions which are then passed down through people and land for a great period of time.
Many times these behaviors have to do with farming, dealing with emotional matters, the delegation of authority, societal organization, the sustainability of the community, and reproductive matters. Sociologists view religion with respect to how it differs and relates in matters of race, culture, and history. These sociologist sought to understand why people thought, acted, and believed the things that they did. Many of these scholars left the libraries and the books behind to go live with people in different areas and with different beliefs so that they could write new, better, and more accurate books on the religious experience; but namely to document a more realistic history of societal behavior and experience across the globe. This type of study was very different to many other previous approaches because it required actually showing up as opposed to elaborating on what may have happened. One of the discussions explored in Religion, Theory and Practice looks at a documentary by Fanny Bräuning called, “No More Smoke Signals”. This documentary warned against the practice of going into a community with pre-conceived notions and agendas for people whom one has never previously met. Bräuning encouraged scholars of religion; even proponents of religion, to enter into communities with an open mind and an open heart; knowing that even though one may think they have the superior viewpoint, they may not because of differing environmental, cultural, experiential, and materialist conditions. The sociologists who studied religion through a behavioral lens recognized the relationship between knowing and acting; they understood that religion provides humanity with new behaviors which can be performed individually or within groups. These new behaviors among individuals and groups will ultimately change the behavior and therefore the outcomes of the lives of those engaged in the practice. The sociologists studied thus far argue that religion, although flawed is something that allows humans; and uniquely humans, to become aware of new possibilities, create fresh ways of being in the world, and turn toward recovery both individually and collectively. Many of the sociologists explored have been big proponents of love and never settling for certainty.
When discussing the lenses in which we can view religion, we must not forget the brave anthropologists. The insights of anthropology have given humanity a much greater understanding of what is actually going on in the world. Anthropologists are the bravest of scholars, as they seem to be the brave explorers of the world who aren’t afraid to jump right in to the action. Anthropologists like Bronsilaw Malinowski, Edward Burnett Tylor, William James, Evans Pritchard, and Charles Long set out to live, drink, eat, sleep, work, dance, and learn with individuals much different from themselves. It was through their daily experiences that they began to understand how seemingly ‘primitive’ people understand religion, life, the magical, the sacred, the good, the bad, the sad, the happy; namely the human experience.
Anthropologists are responsible for much of the liberation that has happened in the modern world. Anthropologists, through their real time experiences have allowed for an overall widened consciousness which has demonstrated to humanity as a whole; both religious and not, that many things in this world may never be verified scientifically. The experiences of the anthropologists; which we have studied in ‘Religion, Theory and Practice’, have shown that humanity has its best shot at living its most fulfilling purpose by seeking to attempt to solve problems through peaceful emersion and the scientific method. It is through scientific exploration, research, and peaceful but rigorous study that humans may experience the possibility of the divine. For it is what is done to us and what is done to ourselves in which we have the opportunity to see inexplicable phenomena. Understanding religion is understanding that our actions will change our experiences; and that because of time and space, nothing will ever be the same. There is beauty in this unknown; for it gives our minds the ultimate challenge of a never ending, irresolvable condition that is both life and death. There are varieties of religious experiences. Humanity will only understand these religious experiences if we enable ourselves to be blessed with these types of experiences through our refusal to settle for certainty. Humanity must take a chance on the idea that understanding we are free to believe in whatever we choose to believe, it what makes us so unique within the living world. It is our cognitive freedom which is seemingly the most divine.