Understanding Religion

Religion is a near-universal aspect of human experience. One cannot properly understand history, society, law, culture, or politics without familiarity with religion.

I’m not sure how common or uncommon it is, but I was lucky enough to have a comparative religions course at my high school back in Chariton, Iowa. I also took Latin in high school — once a decidedly uncommon option in US public schools, though luckily a new generation of students and teachers is reclaiming this bit of their cultural patrimony. World Religions was a thoroughly worthwhile and surprisingly useful class. Then there was Modern American Religious Movements at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls — another course that gave me insight into how people who are different from me think and live.

You may disagree with Daniel Dennett’s thesis (for video, click here) that religion is a merely natural — as opposed to supernatural, praeternatural, or divine — phenomenon, but in the secular, polycultural context of our society that’s the readiest common ground for believer and nonbeliever alike. Our current political climate shows that many people are content to be bubble-dwellers, people with no interest in understanding the world beyond their own noses. The same is true for much of mainstream American religion. The development of honest and compassionate understanding of others is beneficial for an individual as well as for society generally. Familiarity with the phenomenon of religion and with the world’s various religious and spiritual traditions is essential to that understanding.

~BT Waldbillig
February 1, 2017

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