Is religion created by society to be a cultural anchor?

(Whitney Bowman) #1

A friend and I took a class where Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth” was required reading and the basis for much class discussion. Unfortunately this was before I found RZIM connect. It haunts me that I wasn’t better able to relay Christ’s Truth in the discussions. I think my conversations with my classmates about faith are now shaped by their perceptions from the book that religions are created because people and society need it to be an anchor.

If an infant is born into the world with no knowledge of right and wrong, aren’t their values shaped and defined by the training of their parents and society? The professor likened faith and the Judeo-Christian morals that are dominant in Western culture as a survival mechanism that meets social needs but also the evolutionary need to preserve the existence of humankind. Campbell makes the argument that faith should keep up with the culture, and that “old time religion” belongs to a different society, people, and time. He argues that faith is crucial to society, but that it must be a global mythology and that people are driven by their need to “feel alive.” Much of our class discussions were not against faith itself, but that it is a beautiful and essential creation of society to make it through the harsh realities of life.

I’m sorry, I know I’m at square one with these conversations. I suppose that my question is for good resources that my classmates and I could journey through together to help answer their confusion in a relativistic culture of how God could be the ultimate Truth. I asked at church, but perhaps it’s just not something many of my mentors have had to wrestle with

(Roger Greene) #2

Hi Whitney, you’ve certainly come to the right place! The RZIM podcast Just Thinking will be a great resource for you if you haven’t already checked that out already

The problem with subjective morality is that it collapses under the weight of its own subjectivity. If you turn morality over to a society, you are essentially giving over to mob rule and the majority will almost always lord it over the minority. That alone is a problem, but you also run into the issue where you may chafe against the morals of your society, but you really have no cause to.

For example, consider slavery in the USA. If you lived at that time and believed in subjective morality, you would really have no call to reject the slave system, since the majority thought it was fine. Clearly that also didn’t benefit society since it was one of the principal causes of the American Civil War. You could also look at Nazi Germany and again realize that if morals are subjective, you cannot declare the horrors they perpetrated to be wrong since the ruling party didn’t see a problem with it.

If morality is subjective then your stuck with the shifting sands of societal norms for better or worse. If for worse, you really can’t disagree with it since the majority sets the moral standard. You would simply be left wondering why you didn’t agree with the modern morality.

Eventually moral relativism forces you to the conclusion that there is no evil and no good, because if everything is relative then what you call evil, someone else calls good, and no one can say for sure what is correct.

The only scenario where you really have cause to claim what someone else has done as wrong is one in which there is a moral absolute. If there is a moral absolute then there is a guide to say “this is wrong” or “this is right”.

(Andrew Bulin) #3

What if we were looking at the problem wrong? Perhaps we can identify the anchor in the first place because we are unmoored from the one truth. The fall was from perfect completion and unity with God. Ironically we may feel proud that we identified the very anchor we actually were designed for and would rather be found in our own chaotic and hopeless image.

I understand where you are coming from. Being born in a predominately Judeo-Christian community, why else would the population be predominately anything else? But then maybe we are also looking at this wrong. Many people in the west seem to think they are okay and will go to heaven. They are content with their Ives, but have they acknowledged Jesus as Lord over their life?

I have hopes of reaching the mission field soon where there are less than 1% Christians and I find myself faced with this question of cultural religion constantly. But I have the truth of a hope that I cannot help but share. And I found a “treasure” I must sell all to obtain. The truth is I think a great many people on this side of the world may not truly belong to Christ (Mat. 7:21). And then there are more people than we know that come to know Christ in countries where it is illegal and hidden (sometimes faster than you’d believe). I have to ask if I have enough faith that God is capable of providing a way for those who would acknowledge Him? Do I believe that Jesus was speaking of the supernatural when he said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.“ (Jn. 14:23)

Im afraid I’m still too young and have not ventured out enough to give you a stronger testimony. Maybe someone here has had a strong encounter, like someone with connections to the underground churches in the Middle East and southwest Asia. The book Insanity of God tells of such a person who wanted to go see how God was working in some of the harder to reach places and he has multiple stories of miraculous encounters of people meeting Jesus in their dreams, or stumbling on a Bible in an Islamic bookstore, or being told to go and wait only to encounter a missionary told to go and seek. It’s a great encouragement.

(Whitney Bowman) #4

@rgreene @andrew.bulin Thank y’all so much for sharing! @rgreene I hadn’t considered how morality collapses under subjectivity. I think many of my friends and classmates who have since wrestled with their faith struggled to see how their faith could stand when common themes emerge in other ancient religions. Because there is ultimate truth and societal definitions of right and wrong ultimately clearly fall apart, I think it will be helpful for us to talk through these failures of civilization to point back towards absolute truth

@andrew.bulin thank you for the book recommendation and for pointing out this new angle. Perhaps it is the development of these cultural legends and stories as Campbell walks through over history that ultimately in itself highlight our need for truth and faith in God. I’m not sure why this never came up in a semester of discussions, but thanks so much for pointing this out!!