The turn to God

Centuries before our time, Cicero derives religion this way: Those who carefully took in hand all things pertaining to the gods were called religiosi, from relegere [careful consideration]. Such reverence is in keeping with the Roman reverence for tradition followed by the whole community to ensure health and prosperity.

Lactantius disagrees: We are tied to God and bound to Him [religati] by the bond of piety [right dealing towards the gods], and it is from this, and not, as Cicero holds, from careful consideration [relegendo], that religion has received its name. Not just careful behavior, but a bond and not to your city or your tribe, but to God and not optional either. We are bound by nature. To be religious is to look above now. And this change in attitude is not confined to Christians. It’s in Plotinus and later Platonists too.

Augustine dresses this upward gaze with the very Christian conception of recovery: having lost God through neglect [negligentes], we recover Him [religentes] and are drawn to Him. But he later returns to Lactantius’ more elemental derivation.

This fourth century sense of religion, being of God, being apart from the world survives today, whether talking of Rome and the Christians or society’s persecution or bemoaning religious talk outside of church. As used today, Religion no longer means reverence for this world’s things, despite calls from the dark.

Discussions

6 Responses to “The turn to God”

  1. Greg Says:

    I wouldn’t say I’m “bemoaning religious talk outside of church.” I have no problem with the debate and discussion of religion, but my difficulty draws from its prevalence in the American political process, particularly in the 2008 races. The fact that American politicians allow their superstitions to be discussed in the same forum as their political qualifications is troubling to me. It is troubling firstly because our Constitution strictly separates matters of faith from matters of state. Secondly, it disturbs me that many of my fellow Americans would be so discriminatory as to disqualify a Muslim or atheist from office simply on the grounds of their views on the divinity of a 2000-year-dead carpenter/prophet.

    Perhaps the shift into a more dualistic, compartmentalized view of religion is due to a larger memetic shift as we (in the broadest sense) begin to quarantine it from our more developed methods of truth-seeking? Maybe as scientific discovery has obviated much of religion’s old role, and as our ability to see other corners of the world and its cruelty/beauty gets stronger every day, we’re finding the old gods and their rules more and more incompatible with the world? Yet we’ve clung to the traditions, and have reconciled their incompatibility with the observed world by creating an almost schizophrenic separation- I think this separation is one of the greatest social difficulties of our time.

  2. conor Says:

    Greg, I agree with everything you wrote here but I would say that the separation of religion happened first in the fourth century when (official) religion first downgraded this world and more or less focused on another, off beyond death. And when science came, this other place shielded her from obsolescence. Though she had to discard her worldly clothes completely, her new home went unexposed. Which gets to that place and how man the scientist will treat that in years to come. As we poke and point into the brain, the old reliable soul shatters and ideas of death and life blur - is your friend’s alzheimer’s brain alive, still holding the person you know or have they died? These explorations challenge what we now call religion in a new way, in her previously safe place and will, provocation by provocation, force us out of these old metaphors that grew up so long ago.

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