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An article donated by Alton C. Thompson:

Resurrecting An Old Concept of Religion

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It’s likely that most people in our society today have a concept of religion that resembles this one rather closely:

Religion is a cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, world views, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.

(Also, see this for a longer discussion.)

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That concept of religion must go!

The traditional function of religion -- that of supporting the Existing Order -- is now a dangerous function! Because of that fact, existing religions (those in the Abrahamic fold, specifically) must be replaced -- and my suggestion is that they be abandoned in favor an old concept. What I recommend specifically is resurrecting 1the one and only definition of "religion" given in the Christian Bible: this one from James 1:27:

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

Let me begin here with two comments on that verse:

  1. Although it occurs in the Christian Bible, it has played little role in Christianity -- which has been more oriented to belief (i.e., on orthodoxy), ritual, and control. 2

  1. It is a concept of "religion" that has a solid basis -- as I note in my article: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon". Although that verse articulates a normative concept of "religion" (as opposed to the descriptive concept of "religion" quoted above), so solid is its basis that it can be regarded as an objectively true definition of "religion"!

James 1:27 equates helping behavior with religious behavior; 3 and although that equation does not occur elsewhere in the Bible, helping behavior is commanded in a large number of places. Two examples -- of interest because in each case the "command" is implicit -- are:

  1. The "Sheep and Goats" quote of Jesus in Matthew 25:35 - 40:

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 "Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?

38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?

39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 "The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

  1. Luke 10:25 - 37 -- which has an injured man being helped by a passing Samaritan, while being ignored by a priest and Levite. In light of James 1:27, then, the two "religious" in the story failed to engage in religious behavior, while the Samaritan did! In effect, then, Jesus was criticizing the Judaism of his time in this parable. 4

Given that the James who wrote the Epistle of James may have been a brother of Jesus, 5 and given my interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable above (that it in effect declared that the Judaism of Jesus’s time did not qualify as a "religion"!, 6 a question that arises is: Did James learn this concept from Jesus or, rather, did Jesus learn it from James? Scholars may find that question of interest, but I don’t!

My interest in the Bible is somewhat "Shakerish" in that it is not so much Scripture for me (i.e., authoritative) but, rather, suggestive. Thus, in identifying the definition of "religion" given in James 1:27 as one that should be "resurrected," I mean that that verse should be interpreted in a way that is (a) relevant for today, while also being (b) consistent with that verse.

In so interpreting the verse, this means that we should continue to (a) identify neediness in others, in the here-and-now, and (b) strive to address that neediness, while recognize that to have well-being, one must first exist (!) -- and that’s a problematic matter at present!

In May of this year the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released the summary of a report that’s to be released in its entirety later in the year. A major conclusion of that report will be that 1,000,000 species are now in danger of going extinct in the near future! This primarily because of the "climate disruption" 7 that is now occurring.

Some climate scientists would add that our own species is in danger of going extinct soon! For example, there’s this statement from May of 2017:

"With little or no action taken on global warming, it appears that the Anthropocene will lead to extinction of the very human beings after which the era is named, with the Anthropocene possibly running from 1950 to 2021, i.e. a mere 71 years and much too short to constitute an era. In that case a better name for the period would be the Sixth Extinction Event . . . . [I corrected the two "typos" in this statement, and added the link to "Anthropocene."]

Also see this.

My response to this possibility has been to write this 33-page paper (A Road to Survival?), in which I propose the creation of "company town eco-villlages," and I have sent copies of that paper to a number of individuals and organizations, with the hope that I would be able to attract support for the idea.

Writing that paper was consistent with the fact that the "tone" of James 1:27 is individualistic. Recognizing that humans are a social species. I realize that those who might wish to adopt the concept of "religion" expressed in James 1:27 -- as modernized, to include a concern for climate disruption, for example -- might very well want to get together with fellow believers to discuss the matter of how they might best interpret James 1:27. In doing so, I recommend the use of the Life Enhancement Group institution (discussed in my 28-page A Life Institution).

A point worth adding here is that although James 1:27 contains the phrase "God our Father," one adopting the concept of religion contained in James 1:27 need not feel obliged to believe in "God." After all, books such as Thomas Römer’s The Invention of God (2015) now exist, Jack Miles has demonstrated that the "Old Testament" alone contains 24 concepts of "God" (!), etc.

A final comment -- in the form of a question, though:

Our species' name -- Homo sapiens -- suggests (the sapien part) that we humans have the wisdom to recognize our current precarious situation, and then act to prevent our imminent demise as a species. However, our failure on both counts suggests otherwise! In fact, it’s been asserted that stupidity is a part of human nature! Although I disagree with that diagnosis, I agree with this statement by environmentalist Kristine Mattis:

"We’re an egoistical, delusional lot, us humans. We’re the only species on the planet who despoils its own life support system and who does not live within biological limits."

What that statement suggests is that our species is anything but "wise"! Where, I ask, is there even recognition of how dire our situation is at present?! Granted that the "media silence" that exists at present helps explain our inaction. But how does one explain the irrationality of those who have been imposing that media silence on us?! This fact, for example: A couple of years ago I sent an email to the lead meteorologist at one the television stations here in Milwaukee, asking him why I never heard the words "global warming" uttered by any of the meteorologists working at that station. His response was:

"We are forbidden to do so by our management!"

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Does the management at that station (and other ones, as well) believe that they will be spared when the rest of us go extinct?! How is it even possible for them to believe this? Is there some other explanation of their forbidding? If so, what is it?

This suppression of important -- vital, in fact! -- information has led me to write this 21-page -- and rather pessimistic -- paper: Why We Are Doomed!

As one with five wonderful grandchildren, I don’t want to believe that our species is doomed; however, given our lack of interest in "saving" ourselves -- and even knowledge 8 that our situation today is a precarious one -- I see little reason for hope for the human future!

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. In a sense, my use of the word "resurrection" here has been inspired by this sentence: The "Shakers lived in what we might call a realized resurrection." Eric Reece, Utopia Drive: A Road Trip Through America’s Most Radical Idea (2016), P. 27. I am currently reading this book.

  2. Control is manifested in the division into clergy and laity that characterizes most of Christianity.

  3. While adding that one should keep "oneself from being polluted by the world" -- that part of the verse being ignored in the discussion that follows

  4. Is this what led to his crucifixion? After all, per Mark 14:55, "The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death . . . . But "they did not find any"!

  5. This is not a settled matter; in fact, this article lists four possibilities.

  6. Just as most of Christianity today does not, Quakerism is one exception, though! For Protestant Christians in particular, John 3:16 is central, not James 1:27.

  7. Also referred to as "global warming" and "climate change." I prefer the term "Trendular Atmospheric Depatternization"!

  8. Climate scientists have the knowledge, but their findings and beliefs are receiving inadequate publicity!

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Original posting: 2019-JUN-25
Author: Alton C. Thompson

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