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Why a Religion?
Pretty much everybody - everybody who is truly sentient - needs something to believe in; something broad enough to answer most of the questions they accidentally run up against in the course of living their lives; and deep enough to hold any purposeful search of its basic premises in quest of validation.
Conventional metaphysics, constructed of smoke and mirrors, fulfils both of these requirements quite effectively for most people. For those who find mirrors and smoke too brittle and insubstantial, a religion established closer to some definition of objective reality can be just as effective.
It is a religion because, despite its "rational" basis, its individual adherents - when it comes to the nitty-gritty - tend to have very little in the way of empirical proof that what they believe is "true."
It may look "logical" and "sensible" but those qualities are subjective products of one's education and past experience. And centuries of careful investigation have long since taught us that what is "readily apparent" is very often not the case, at all.
Why not just "Philosophy?"
Because philosophy is hard and it doesn't have a universal enough appeal. Philosophers don't know when to quit. They get into the habit of thinking and they have to go on thinking everything out unto the piddlingest detail. After the third or fourth level of subtlety, nobody cares.
All right, already! We believe you! Shut up!
Also, philosophy has too many pretensions: without the safety net of metaphysics to catch the pieces, which fall through theory, it suffers from too many holes. And it's a lot of work, which most people just aren't disposed to do.
Science would be better, but trying to believe in any specific science is scary. How can you base your whole intellectual, moral, spiritual life on a foundation which admits -- as a first premise -- that it may change tomorrow... and which a lot of smart people are busily trying to modify at this very moment?
You can believe in the process; as long as you realize that it doesn’t work for everything.
Most people don't have time or inclination for philosophy and theology. They have to base their spiritual dimensions on foundations laid by others who do have that time and inclination.
We need something easily-grasped and manageable that we can glom onto and say, "This is true," even if we know it may be temporary and down the line supplanted by something else.
Think of it as a scaffold for the construction of self; a placeholder for your center.
If you are inclined constantly to tinker with it; adding, subtracting, moving it around; that's philosophy. If you buy it built and don't think about it much, that's religion.
If you believe it, first, and spend all your mental spare time trying to prove or understand it, that's theology.
There are many people to whom conventional theology just doesn't seem "reasonable." God as a nice old man - or god as a stern parent - who can be every place all the time is too much of a stretch. Even people who have been heavily indoctrinated as small children sometimes have trouble with a deity (Bad things happen to good people; obvious villains prosper.) who doesn't follow his own rules.
The human mind can, indeed, rationalize anything; there is survival value in that. But there comes a point down every tortuous path of rationalization where it becomes simple self-delusion.
We can live in the Universe, deluded about most of it, but we are at its mercy.
Lord knows (I am aware of the irony; it's a figure of speech) that we have little enough control over our lives without surrendering them to fiction. Living in a self-constructed fantasy may successfully get us from birth to death with minimal pain, but some people would rather have more input to the process.
These need a Rational Religion; a system of belief based as near as possible to empirically perceived reality; minus the red herrings of metaphysics.
But can there be a "religion" without conventional metaphysics?
"Theology" itself translates as "the study of God."
Well, we study innumerable things which are only concepts or metaphors and well known as such. There may have been a Prince Hamlet, once, in Denmark, but no historian or Shakespearian scholar pretends that he likely bore much resemblance to the character we know as possibly the most intriguing in all of dramatic literature.
(I read back in the 1940's that from about that time back to the middle of the previous century, an article or book about Hamlet had been published somewhere in the world on an average of every 11 days, and I doubt the incidence has decreased. Not a frequency that would be boasted by Christ or Mohammed, but not bad for an admitted literary invention.)
However one defines god, one has to believe in something great and powerful and ultimately beyond knowing, completely.
It's too obvious that we are surrounded by forces beyond our control, and subject to their vagaries. Anybody who doesn't grasp this simply hasn't been paying attention.
For those who do not find it logical to invest this Great Wall of Mystery with an anthropomorphic personality and an all-seeing consciousness - nor to imagine that it might conceivably be as interested in us as we are in it - there should be a Rational Religion.
"But, a Rational Religion cannot possibly succeed because it has no mysteries."
It has different mysteries, perhaps, but an infinite number, and many of them guaranteed to be intractable for at least the life-span of the human species.
It's true that mystery, itself, is a powerful element of faith. But constantly having to explain away painful contradictions becomes for many people less mystery than confusion.
How much more mystery do you need than the law of gravity? Or closer to home, how long do you think the initial unraveling of the human genome - already mostly completed - will keep medical researchers busy finding applications?
If your bent is more sociological than physical, how long do you think it will take to get enough people to observe the Golden Rule so that killing other people for ideological reasons will no longer be socially acceptable over most of the globe?
As a matter of fact, why can't people get along together, since they've known the formula for several thousand years? (See DECALOGUE: #6)
I do not suggest that everyone spend all waking hours exploring these various mysteries. I only point out that they exist; somewhat more demonstrably than Yaweh or Siva. And if you want to explore them, a small portion of any one of them will keep you busy long past your allotted time on the planet.
Meanwhile, if you want to seek intellectual and spiritual refuge in some pretty good answers and ways of thinking, try the Rational Religion.