Friday, 21 October 2011

Autochthonic, revealed and rational religions

Pagan and indigenous religions are said to be "autochthonic" which literally means "earth-born" or self-generated from the Earth. They are traditional and indigenous practices and folk customs which people develop in order to facilitate their relationship with the land and nature. They are the kind of religions that deal with hunting, farming and fishing. Typically they regard the divine or deities and spirits as immanent in the land; they are either pantheistic or animist.

Revealed religions are those which are revealed by the deity or deities to humanity, and seem to come from a transcendent reality. Most of the religions of the so-called Axial Age (the age of great founder-figures like Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Lao Tsu and Jesus) are revealed, and are characterised by having scriptures and a transcendent view of the divine.

Rational religion is a child of the Enlightenment, and refers to the idea that people should be able to work out for themselves that the divine exists, and apply their reason to scriptures and other revealed ideas. I am not sure if anthropologists and sociologists of religion actually use this category, but it seems to me that Unitarianism doesn't fit in either the revealed religion category or the autochthonous category. It grew out of a revealed religion but it was trying to get back to "natural religion" and often regards the divine as immanent rather than transcendent.

I am strongly drawn to the idea that the experience of divinity should be compatible with reason, and accessible to anyone. However I do not think that the experience of the divine is a rational experience - it is accessed through the subconscious and the collective unconscious, which are associated with dreams and visions, and therefore not rational. What we should do with these promptings from the subconscious is to test them using our reason to see if they are harmful or beneficial, however.

I also believe that when you get to the heart of the religious experience, whatever religious tradition you are in, it is the same experience, albeit with different cultural trappings. The mystics of all traditions have reported similar feelings and developed similar practices.

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