This post got me thinking: why does the study of religion fascinate me?
It’s true that after I came to the realization that I could probably never know The Truth about th euniverse, I lost interest in religious studies for awhile. But now I’ve more or less set myself on an informal course of investigation into religion in all it’s forms that I expect to last many years or, more likely, until the end of my life. It begs the question, why should I even be interested?
I don’t expect to find The Answers in this quest. I have no hope of discovering the truth behind the universe – I don’t think that, as a citizen of the universe, I have the capacity to know, let alone understand, things beyond it. Part of my interest is surely simple curiousity, the desire to know things that others know. But why religion, of the many more tangible subjects I could study?
To me religion is interesting on a more practical level. I’m on of those freaks who believes that on balance, religion has done more good than harm in history. And I think that the “God-shaped hole” in the heart that Christians yap about is true of many, perhaps most, people. Humans seem to have a natural longing for something to put their lives in perspective, something that makes them feel like a part of something grand and ultimately important.
I’m interested in the way religion brings people together, the way it gives them hope in hopeless circumstances, the way it drives them to do things that have no direct positive return, but DO have a positive return for their descendants or for society as a whole. I’m interested in how it is that the religious experience can uplift people, give them a sense of transcendance, a greater love for their fellows, a sense of connectedness and inner calm. I don’t believe any of these things are a gift of religion alone; in fact, one of the things that interests me most is secular analogs of the religious experience.
So that’s why I’m reading The Varieties, why I read Adler, why I have Eliade and Lao Tzu and Joseph Campbell and Anthony de Mello and many, many others on my reading list. I’m not looking for revelation. I want to get a feel for how it is religion has been so necessary to humanity, how ritual, symbolism, mysticism and myth can have such a powerful effect on our minds, and perhaps, someday, use that knowledge towards my own good and the happiness of others.