Friday, August 21, 2015


Quotable: Armstrong on Religion & Myth

... our modern Western conception of "religion" is idiosyncratic and eccentric. No other cultural tradition has anything like it, and even premodern European Christians would have found it reductive and alien ... In the West we see "religion" as a coherent system of obligatory beliefs, institutions, and rituals, centering on a supernatural God, whose practice is essentially private and hermetically sealed off from all "secular" activities. But words in other languages that we translate as "religion" almost invariably refer to something larger, vaguer, and more encompassing. The Arabic din signifies an entire way of life. The Sanskrit dharma is also "a 'total' concept, untranslatable, which covers law, justice, morals, and social life." The Oxford Classical Dictionary firmly states: "No word in either Greek or Latin corresponds to the English 'religion' or 'religious.' " The idea of religion as an essentially personal and systematic pursuit was entirely absent from classical Greece, Japan, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, China, and India.

Source: Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (New York: Knopf, 2014) p. 4.

Every polity—even our secular nation-state—relies on a mythology that defines its special character and mission. The word myth has lost its force in modern times and tends to mean something that is not true, that never happened. But in the premodern world, mythology expressed a timeless rather than a historical reality and provided a blueprint for action in the present.

Source: Armstrong, p. 24.

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