Sunday, May 4, 2014


When I was in fifth grade in Brooklyn, I recall reading books in the school library on mythology. I was engrossed by the ancient Egyptian and Greek deities.  At the time I had no religion because both of my parents had abandoned their religious beliefs before I was born. This gave me the freedom to think about religion without feelings of guilt.  One thought I had was almost astounding to me.  No one in 1942 believed that Zeus, Hercules, Athena, Aeolus, Medusa, and dozens of other Greek gods were actual gods.  We referred to them as myths of the past.  But at their time (and for many centuries) virtually all of those living in the Greek civilization from Homer to the rise of the Roman empire believed in those deities, worshipped them, prayed to them, and made sacrifices to them.  If gods come and go over the millennia, why do we believe any religion is the one true religion and all others are mistaken? Later, in high school, I took a somewhat different view of religion as an attempt to make sense of the universe, especially our own lives at a time when science was non-existent or knew very little about the universe and how it works and its past history.  
About 1960 I took an interest in Unitarians because it was a creedless religion and Nedra and i sought a place where both of us would be comfortable. Some of the Unitarian ministers over the years have considered themselves atheists or agnostics. Like me, they thought religion provided something valuable but it wasn’t the supernatural.  What attracted me to them was their belief that humans form and need communities.  A religion that does not offer a creed, but instead offers humans a chance to think about questions that are important—like why there is existence, how life began, what meaning do we create for the one life we have on earth, and why we have so many diverse answers to these questions, I found immensely appealing.  Despite efforts of religious leaders to make religion permanently fixed in its creed, rituals, and status among hundreds of other contending religions, religions undergo change. There are hundreds of Christian denominations ranging from liberal to rigid (“fundamentalist”) in their interpretations.  A similar spectrum (but with fewer denominations) exist for Jews. There are many forms of Buddhism. There are different Muslim traditions; the most familiar to those who are not Muslims are the Shiite and Sunni branches in the Middle East. 

Everything changes.  I expect many religions will be demoted to the status of myths and new ones will arise to meet the needs of cultures that may not arise for hundreds of years.  They will have different views of life and society we cannot predict.  If humans can extend life so that most people could live reasonably healthy lives for 100 to 120 years, I expect those with 50 years of retirement will have different needs from those who are considered old today in their 70s.  If we do colonize the moon or Mars in the next two or three centuries, I would not be surprised that their religious views will show the same tendency to diversity as those that have evolved on earth. 

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