Sunday, March 25, 2007

Limits and Potentials of Words and Religion

Words are not reality. Words are just metaphors that tell us about the way humans categorize the world, the way we conceptualize our experiences. Words are the map, not the territory. Words should be judged based on usefulness; not “rightness.”

(For more about this, look here or maybe start here)

We don't "see" reality. The word "sight" is a metaphor that we use to conceptualize patterns of color and light that reach our eyes. Sight is a map, and the map is not the territory. Sight should be judged based on usefulness, not “rightness.”

We can't "hear" reality. The word "hearing" is a metaphor that we use to conceptualize vibrations in the air. Hearing is a map, and the map is not the territory.

"Smell" is not reality. "Smell" is a metaphor that we use to conceptualize gas molecules that reach our nose.

But then again, these terms, “patterns of color and light”, “vibrations in the air”, “gas molecules”, these terms are not reality either. These terms are words, meaning they are metaphors that tell us how we humans categorize the world. Really all we can say about the sense perceptions, sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste, is that they are metaphors that we use to conceptualize the “bits of reality” (patterns of color, vibrations in the air, gas molecules that reach our nose) that reach us.

The point is that reality exists completely independently of the words (the categorizations, classifications, and divisions) we use to conceptualize it. Words categorize, classify and divide reality in ways that are extremely useful to us; people find sight, hearing and smelling to be very useful metaphors by which to remember and communicate their experiences to others. However, the “rightness” of words is determined solely by the usefulness of those words; not by some philosophical or theological truth.

Applying this to religion, we see that “religion,” like any other series of words, cannot exist independently from humans, from our limited ability to conceptualize and interpret reality. All religions are just human creations used to explain who God is. And God exists outside religion. There is no “absolutely true religion,” in the same way that there are no “absolutely true words” that “correctly” describe reality. The “rightness” of religion must be judged only by usefulness, just as the rightness of any other words must be judged. Reality exists completely independently of the words we use to describe it, and God (whatever your conception of this word is) exists completely independently of the words we use to describe Him (or it, or whichever pronoun is most suitable to your line of thinking.)

Some religions are good at “drawing people closer to God”, “giving people direction in life”, or whatever you think that religion is for. But the idea that some religions are “right” and others are “wrong” is a misconception. Some religions are useful; others are less useful. That is all.

Addendum: The reason I consider myself Christian is that I think Christianity is the most useful religion for my life right now. (I also think the Christianity presents a very powerful set of beliefs for anyone to order their life by, but I’ll address that in a minute.) Christianity gives my life a strong sense of direction and a strong set of ideals to live by. But if someone is currently productively involved in another religion, Christianity probably would not be the most useful religion for their life, given their place in their society; such a person should not convert to Christianity, if doing so would decrease their usefulness to society as a whole.

Given Christianity’s prominence in my culture, even if I thought there was a more powerful, useful religion out there, I would be Christian right now, because given my place in my culture, it would still be currently the most useful for my life. The goal of society is for natural continued growth and evolution. You don’t have to believe in the most useful religion (whatever religion you believe that to be) to contribute to this goal.

I would hope these opinions would not make me “undevout” in the eyes of other Christians. I believe that the story of Christ’s death and resurrection, combined with its historical significance to our world, contains a very powerful set of ideals and a very powerful vision of the potentials that life has, and I love being part of a community that shares in this belief! The danger with religion, as with any words, is that we let the conception (the words themselves) cover up the purpose, the usefulness that the ideas have for our lives. We should remember that God exists outside of religion, and that all religions can be useful at bringing people closer to His purposes for their lives.


  1. Would I really remain Christian, if I thought there was a religion that gave a more powerful, more useful direction to my life? The more I think about it, the tougher this question is to answer. Given my place in my culture, Christianity would still be currently more useful to my life overall, so I think my answer would be "Yes, I would," but I would qualify this answer by saying that I would work to make Christianity more like that powerful, more useful religion.

    We often see religion as outside the changes that occur in society. "Societies change, but religions remain constant," we think. I believe this idea should be examined more closely. On the one hand, religion should provide constant beliefs that remain firm in the face of social trends and pressures. On the other hand, though, if religion is outside social change, then any deficiencies that may have crept into religion are outside our ability to change, also. Christianity, in fact, HAS changed over the centuries; the primary example being the rise Protestantism.

    Even if I thought Christianity did not give the most powerful direction to people's lives, I think I would remain Christian due to my involvement with my society; I would not want to lose my influence and ability to contribute to the growth of my culture. We shouldn't want followers of other religions to leave their current beliefs and become Christians; we should want them to transform their current religion to be able to give people a more powerful direction in life, like the one we have found through Christianity.

  2. Faith is energy, even the very same as light, sound, etc. Use it wisely.