To my mind, a religion is the dogmatism of a set of ideas that were intended for another purpose. This doesn't diminish the goodness of the ideas, but it cannot elevate them. Key to this process is the unrepeatability of the foundational experiences.
Going back, I like and agree with SC's analysis. One point when I teach science and science fiction is the difference beween reproducible
discourses. Cookbooks and science are the former: in principle, any scientific result can be reproduced by anyone else, given enough time and funding. Religion is often founded upon irreproducible discourse--revelation of some sort. Unfortunately, because science is hard and time-consuming, because non-scientists can be lazy and scientists impatient, science often gets mistaken for irreproducible
History is full of examples of exactly the sort of religion we need right now - one that teaches compassion and progress, and is ravenous for new information and transformation as a system. We need to use the historical symbols, because if you stick modern phrases in their place, they are reduced to less than what they can mean and you end up with a self-help seminar instead of a legitimate religion. Also, since the symbols were generally created by the progressives in the various religions, they can be explained more fully, discrediting the conservative interpretations on their own ground.
I want to agree, although I recognize that for so many people the historical symbols are so loaded with negative baggage as to overwhelm the positives. This is where churches like the Unitarians come in, for people who on one hand want semi-mainstream religion, but who are damaged/offended/suspicious of (often with good reason) of typical American Christianity. In Baton Rouge, for example, a large number of the faculty at LSU attended the local Unitarian church (the others were pretty scary). Donna had a similar experience in Yakima.
I myself am comfortable with the traditional symbols in Christianity because, first I was raised in a relatively healthy environment, second, I was allowed to question without being squelched, and finally, as a theoretical physicist I am comfortable with "symbolic spaces:" whose connection to "reality" is difficult to pin down. Do electrons really
exist? I don't know, but it sure works for me. I am also comfortable because I don't think the point of religion is cosmology (anymore). To assert that Genesis be taken literally is silly. On the other hand, to assert that we ought to treat every human being, indeed every creature, as if it were a beloved divine creation--well that works for me. (Training in math and poetry does wonders for the subjunctive.) It may not work for everyone, and I will not assert that everyone need to work in the same symbolic space as me. There are many other symbolic spaces that work just as well. And there are many that are poisonous--much if not most of fundamentalism, "The Secret," and so on.
How do we balance that out? I don't know. Frankly, I don't think we can. People will always try to "game" the system, any system, will always exploit and distort whatever symbolic system we work with--just like there is no political or economic system that cannot be gamed. That's the genius of science, in many respects: where skepticism is a virtue
, it is relatively more difficult to game the system of science. Science also has an advantage of having an external referee--the natural world. I don't know how one can import those qualities to religion, or if they even can be imported.
On the other hand, SC has a point: much of the material is already there. Jesus was executed because he pointed out the emptiness of the religious and political authorities of his day. Unfortunately, the Pat Robertsons and George Bushes forget that Jesus' critique applies to the emptiness of all
religious and political authorities throughout time. How they fail to see this is beyond me--except man's astounding ability for self-deception.
Sorry, a bit rambling there. I wanted to show I wasn't blowing off the entire
discussion above. Most of it was really perceptive.