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How do religions die?

How do religions die?

How to believe: Do they waste away, or get conquered by something better? Perhaps it is easier to think in terms of gods dying, rather than religions

If religions are born, they must also be able to die. How does this happen? I think we can discount at once the idea that it happens because people realise that science is better. It’s obvious that the more people try to replace religion with science, the more they reproduce the worst features of organised religion.

On the other hand, societies might be reconfigured in such a way that the idea of religion made no sense. Interestingly, the reverse process seems to have happened in Japan in the 19th century, after American gunboats broke the country’s isolation. According to a recent book from Chicago University Press, there had been until then no concept of “religion” in Japanese society; afterwards, as part of the modernisation, some social practices and beliefs had to be carved out as “religious” while others were classified as “non-religious”. I don’t know how this account might apply to the spread of Christianity in the 17th century, and then the murderous suppression over generations; I’ll have to wait for the book to arrive. But the process seems a plausible one, and something like it may be under way in the “secularising” parts of the world today.

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Answer Question

Asked by MamaK88 at 4:36 PM on Sep. 30, 2013 in Religion & Beliefs

Level 33 (62,090 Credits)
Answers (4)
  • It's interesting that he mentions Pratchett because Small Gods was the first thing I thought of (as well as Good Omens)

    My opinion remains pretty firmly on that side of the argument. Religions die because people quit believing in them. The author states:

    "So blasphemy can kill off deities, and the measure of its success is that it comes not to be blasphemous at all."

    I have a very small disagreement with that statement in that it seems to imply that there is a malevolent process regarding the death of a religion. My thought is that it is much more benign. Apathy seems to be the biggest contributor.

    Answer by Mrs_Prissy at 5:19 PM on Sep. 30, 2013

  • But what about reconstructionism? Some less educated people honestly believe the religions of ancient Greece and Rome and Scandinavia are dead. We know they are not, but we do know they went through periods where practicing them was punishable by death, and they went underground. For that 500ish year stretch where being a Heathen in Europe meant your local Christians would kill your children if you refused to convert, does that count as "dead"? Do the past 200ish years where people have returned to practicing freely (as much as they can in places where they might still be fired or ostracized) count as a new birth?

    Does it have to have a public face, or simply one human being to believe, to still be a "live" religion?

    Answer by NotPanicking at 5:45 PM on Sep. 30, 2013

  • (btw, his entire premise is flawed in that he states Aztec is "surely dead" along with others we "can't reconstruct")


    Aztec Reconstructionism is alive and well


    Answer by NotPanicking at 5:47 PM on Sep. 30, 2013

  • Good point^^

    The Tarahumara (Raramuri) in Mexico are also an interesting case in point. When the Spaniards tried to convert them to Catholicism they incorporated the things they liked into their own established religion. When I was working with them they'd continue to cover their entire bodies in ash and walk the stations of the cross while at the same time calling on EyerĂșame (the one that is Mother)

    Answer by Mrs_Prissy at 6:45 PM on Sep. 30, 2013

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