Should Religion Change?

Religionists worry and debate about “how” or “if” their religion should change — it is a universal phenomena.  Very similar to languages, religions change whether people want them to or not.  Here is how I imagine the various voices debating the issue of change:

The Conservative Religionist:  Truth must be preserved.  Our faith must hold steady and not change.

Liberal Religionist:  God speaks and works differently at different times.  We must adapt our message and expression as culture changes.

Anti-Religion Atheist:  It is all hogwash, who cares.

Anthropologist/Psychologist:  Religion is a personal/cultural tool.  It changes to reinforce or initiate a change in person/culture and has very little to do with actual truth.  It is the deep structure of religion (relationships, actions, attitudes) that effects a person/culture, not any inherent “truth of dogma”.

No matter how “right” or “wrong” these attitudes are,  all four will interact in the evolution of religion — all will count!


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

13 responses to “Should Religion Change?

  1. NFQ

    Hmm, I think my contribution to this debate would be more along the lines of: If religion represents ultimate truth, it shouldn’t change. The fact that it does change is one kind of evidence for its unreliability as truth, but the brutality and/or ignorance of ancient beliefs in the face of what we know today is also evidence for its unreliability as truth. Either way, religion loses, and the very existence of this debate illustrates that.

  2. Brandon

    This is an interesting way to look at the phenomenon.

    To me it seems that the other three are subordinate to the Anthropologist/Psychologist perspective in that one must more or less be detached from the “lived experience” of faith (or lack of) to be able to really operate from it. The first three seem to be beliefs directly applicable to the phenomenon of religion as it is lived. The last one seems to be necessarily about religion itself, from “above” it. As a (casual) non-believer I for one can’t see how someone could take the A/P approach and not see the whole enterprise as little more than a human invention.

    It is also interesting that the Liberal Religionist perspective is strikingly similar to the A/P.

  3. Dealing with the descriptions you provided above, the Conservative Religionist is the only one who seems to respect what it means for something to be true. If a thing is true, say their religious ideas for example, then why shouldn’t they hold steady and not change. If they were to accept change then it would show what they had originally they did not really believe was true.

    The Liberal Religionist is in this perdicament. They (according to your description) work from the notion that religious ideas are subjective and not true in the real sense of what it means for something to be true. My question is why believe something if it is not really true? If I can change it to my tastes, then why not just make up a religion of my own rather than start with an established religious system and change it?

    The Anti-Religion Atheist is the only other one who takes the idea of what something means to be true. They believe it is false, truly false.

    The Anthropologist/Psychologist assumes a priori religious ideas are false and a product of human imagination. But as CS Lewis said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important”. They do not take into account what the ramifications are if a particular religious system is actually true.

  4. “No matter how “right” or “wrong” these attitudes are, all four will interact in the evolution of religion — all will count!”

    Amen to that!

    We can evaluate claims with use of accuracy, precision and reliability now. We don’t have to rely on simplistic True/False assessments. And as long as we are conscious while living in the ‘phenomenon’ we are able to observe the consequences of religious (or any) claims.

  5. Definitely interesting.

    I’m somewhere between 2 and 4, mostly 4: I figure that subjective things like religion, philosophy, etc. are tools for transcending the limitations of rational thinking (as opposed to replacing rational thinking; we have objective things like science for rational thinking). Any inspirations or visions you may have on the religious front will necessarily be filtered through your ego and senses, and your individual version of irrationality. The same goes for those had by others that inspire you in some way. They work through individual humans, so, by nature, they’re human constructs. But they’re useful human constructs, so they’re still around.

    As for why you should believe something if it isn’t true, which is a good point, you have to look at your underlying assumptions. To say that a given account is true in that sense, you have to assume that absolutely everything in it is true. And seeing non-abstract things as written in stone this way, as in 1 and 3, and even outside religion entirely, necessarily leads to problems. (Some parts may be true, some parts may not, and some may be closer to the truth than others. It all depends on the available facts.)

    On the rational side, if any new facts come along that challenge the current scientific theories, and you’re assuming that those theories are absolute truth and therefore unchangeable, you’ll throw out those facts instead of changing the theories to fit the new facts as science would dictate. (Scientific measurements have margins of error for similar reasons.) For example, there are people who “know” that the Big Bang happened exactly as described in their science textbooks; if, say, according to a theory I heard once, the Big Bang turns out to be an extrapolation and the universe was born out of a quantum fuzz, where will the people who “know” be?

    On the irrational side, take Aesop’s fable about, say, the fox and the grapes. The lesson in it about disliking what you can’t have is useful, but do you claim that there’s no point in the fable unless you believe in all of it, including the account of a talking fox? And since C. S. Lewis has been brought up, he can provide another example: his idea that Jesus was either telling the truth, lying, or psychotic all rests on, among other things, the assumption that Jesus actually said what was attributed to him. As with any sufficiently ancient account, religious or not, that’s debatable.

    Everything is subject to change; the search for truth, if it ends, will only do so when omniscience is reached and the limitations of humanity are abandoned, if those feats are even possible. A given thing is only “best” until the next “best” thing comes along.

  6. “If religion represents ultimate truth, it shouldn’t change” (NFQ)

    For all this talk about ‘truth’ in Christianity – what does actually mean? You mention ultimate truth, well what does that mean? Seems very vague to me. Is the ultimate truth the meaning of life? Is the ultimate truth finding out whats true about each statement made on this planet? Is science uncovering some of this ultimate truth?

    I just hear a lot about the truth in Christianity – it’s starting to intrigue me as to what it might mean?

  7. As for religion, I am fairly progressive or liberal. I see a motif of religion constantly changing from era to era and to stagnate that might be to stop progress or the way the progression is supposed to go. Plus I am aware that I am quite limited in what I know in the history of this world and all the people that lived in it, learning more and more things are bound to change.

  8. Ed

    Hey there Sabio… a few observations. First, I have noticed, by reading your blog and many of those from links that you provide, that atheists are as emotional and certain as religious people. And atheists have a double religion: the first part is that many of them have been so badly damaged by christianity that this seems to drive their arguments. And second, they have an equally serious need for there to NOT be a god… of any kind.

    In studying various systems and religions, I have noticed that there is a three headed dragon guarding the status quo. Culture, religion and spirituality. One of the reasons these organizations change is that culture changes and so do religions. The truth remains. Ultimate Truth is just that… Ultimate. We seem hell-bent on making the Bible or the Koran or the Upanishads infallible. No. The cultural always changes and so do the resulting religious phenomenon. But somewhere in all these books could be some Truth, but we miss it because we are so freaked out by bible thumping pouffy-haired, screaming southern preachers or whatever, that we miss Truth… if and/or when it appears.

  9. geoih

    I like your graphic. I didn’t know there were so many religious logos. It’s like every religion’s first act is to visit a marketing agency for proper branding.

  10. Ed

    @ Sabio… like geoih, I too like the graphic. Where did you find it? I do not recognize all of them. Is there a key?

  11. Pingback: Liberal Religion and Compromise | Unsettled Christianity

  12. It is claimed that Gods can perform miracles. It is true. I know it. I am not impressed.
    Show me a God who can bake a good loaf of Bread. Show me a God who will make a thermometer and take a child’s temperature. Show me a God who will even change a baby’s diapers. Show me a God who will serve on a jury. Show me a God who will work nights on a suicide hotline.
    When someone shows me such a God I will prostrate myself to his will.
    Until then I call on God to submit to my will.
    There are 7 billion examples here on earth who are more worthy of honour than a God. We humans stand on an unfair testing field, God does not.
    Of course some humans are much more likely to get honour from me than others.
    Every other human could of course say that too.
    If God does not want to submit to my will he has 7 billion alternatives to chose from. The Gods that I know of claim to be know it alls. I have serious doubts about that. They have the benefit of greater experience. But, my understanding of history shows me that humans are much much faster learners. If a God wants to prove that she is smart she should prove it by submitting to the most enlightened human among us.
    If a God is smart I have no doubt about whom that would be.
    It sure as hell will not be Obama or Clinton or any US Republican Party member.
    Speaking for Citizen V
    aka Citizen Vee
    aka Citizen Wee
    aka Citzen Wie


    ^ OMG I am completely amused at the ignorance of “Curt” its just hilarious
    Curt your life is a joke.

    oh and I don’t think religion should change cuz than we’d get people like Curt walking around…which we definitely do not want.

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