Tibetan monks


Neither Lost nor Alone:
Belonging as a Form of Salvation

Individual Devotion to a Numinous Reality
    Devotion to a Personal Numinous Being
    Devotion to the Right Order of Things
    Mystical Devotion to an Absolute
Belonging to a Sacred Community
    Primitive Religion: Local 
    Archaic Religion: "National" 
    Historic Religion:  Universal
    Holiness Communities
Separation of Society and Religion
    Possibilities of Separation
        Primitive and Archaic Religion
        Historic Religion:
          Church, sect, and cult
    Belonging as a Source of Intolerance

Salvation is not necessarily restricted to life after death. Many religious traditions including Confucianism, Taoism, and most primitive religions consider salvation to be a this-worldly achievement. Religiousness can provide a comforting and supportive sense of belonging in this world.

Devoting oneself to a numinous reality can provide a sense of belonging.   Devotion to a god or God, a friendly, helpful, and loving person, can provide a sense of belonging. Such devotion, however, sometimes becomes religious masochism, a tendency to cause pain to oneself in order to prove supreme devotion. This too can fulfill the human need to be accepted and cherished. Devotion to a cosmic order can also bring about a sense of belonging and harmony. Spiritual commitment can even take the form of a mysticism, an intense experience of unity with the Ultimate.

    The communal aspect of religion can also cause a sense of belonging. In primitive society, religion, community and individual identity are inseparable. This is similar to the sense of national community shared by archaic societies, in which devotion to the gods of the society is often the same as devotion to the city or territory itself. 
      Archaic people accept the multiplicity of gods, including those of other cultures. Historic religion thinks there is only one true Ultimate and therefore only one true way for all humankind. Historic religions respond to other religions either by treating their practitioners as evil, thereby sparking a multitude of religious conflicts, or as subhuman, justifying imperialism. Or historic religion may attempt to share the single truth with outsiders through missionary work.

   Holiness Communities
Some people in various religious traditions join specialized religious communities, like convents and monasteries, or sects or cults (see below). This release from everyday distraction is thought to make living in accordance with religious precepts easier, and therefore help achieve otherworldly salvation. But life in such a community can also provide strong feelings of belonging here and now.

In primitive and archaic cultures, society and religion are inextricably intertwined. The primitive person lives with knowledge of magic and spirits and social customs as the single simple truth. The archaic person recognizes the possibility of switching gods, perhaps because of a move to the territory of new gods, but expects that the gods rule over the societies of their territories. The relation between society and religion gets more complex in historic cultures.

Historic Religion 
At least three types of relationships between historic religion and society are possible, indicated by the names church, sect, and cult. When a religion is in general conformity with society, especially when the government supports a certain religion (it is "established" by the state), this religion is a church. A sect is a religious movement similar to a church, but whose members are more strict and fervent about their beliefs, and more antagonistic to the laxness of society in general.  When a religious group expresses views that are notably foreign to its social context, the group can be labeled a cult, frequently a word with negative connotations.

Belonging as a Source of Intolerance
The natural human need for belonging can produce a desire for conformity, along with intolerance or hatred toward those who are different or to outsiders. There may be survival value in strong loyalty to one's own group. But intolerance arises from a religionís belief that it is the one and only true path.

End of notes on Ch. 6

This page last changed Wednesday May 14, 2003

In The Presence of Mystery









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