Sometimes we look at religion as a form of superstition. So we look at ancient cultures as backward.
This is part of our current paradigm based on the modern concept of development and progress.
We feel we are at the top of evolution, so much we can no longer imagine a history in front of us. The “capitalist” philosopher Fukuyama called it “the end of history”.
I don’t agree with this vision.
I wrote this article to explore the meaning of “religion”, because I think we are still a religious culture (every culture is religious). Only our modern religion is immanent and it replaced God with Market (and God’s will, with the same inscrutable “Market’s will”). About this topic an entire book could be written, but I won’t go in that direction.
I’ll just focus on the etymology of the word “religion”.
“Religion” comes from Latin “re –ligare”, that means to tie/bond, together.
This is usually interpreted as something negative: religion ties people to ignorance. Or, as Karl Marx said, “religion is the opium of the people”.
This interpretation shows our prejudice and I think it is not correct.
First, for the ancients “religion” was something extremely valuable, so it is unlikely that they called all the rituals, that were so important to them, with a negative term.
Second, the prefix “re” means “together”.
So we can say that “religion” means to “bond together”, in the sense that it comprehends all the rituals and beliefs that unite people into a “culture” or a nation.
It is the symbolic system through which the world is seen, the experiences are lived and emotions are felt.
It has not necessarily to do with God (as it happens in present times).
Of course it’s easier to see a religion when it is over, when a new system replaced it. It’s harder for a culture to see its own belief system (and that’s why we struggle to see our own).
Today we see religion as a private fact, but this is not the original meaning of religion.
In the ancient times, it was not a private dimension of life: it was life itself, comprehending rituals, beliefs and behaviors to maintain universal balance and harmony. It wasn’t a matter of believing or not.
And it still like this nowadays: but our system hides in everything that cannot be said or imagined. And whoever tries to imagine a new future, a new economic system, a new way to be in relationship with humans and with the world is seen as heretical.
For a long time there was like a voice that said “The age of utopia is over. Now it’s the time for life to be as cruel as it is, and for individuals to be as selfish as they are. There’s no place for imagination. It is surely not a perfect system, but it is the only system that you have. And “thou shalt have no other systems before me”.
But things are changing fast.
We can see the shift of paradigms in the shift of religion’s purposes.
Ancient religions, when there was no sense of individuality and man was one with Nature, where all about maintaining the Universe, the Equilibrium.
Later religions, when individuality was developing, were about personal salvation, and the personal access to Eternity (as a spiritual life, as an afterlife, as Nirvana or the kingdom of God to come).
Modern religion is all about maintaining what there is, the status quo: there is the individual but it has nowhere to go (there’s nothing but the material life).
So beware: you may think you are free from religion, and this is your religion.
The mind is the product of religion.
As Nisargadatta would say: “Go back to the Self, free from all bonds”.
And in the future there will be no need for religion, as man will be one with the Universe, from an individual point of view. And his behavior will be necessarily in harmony with all there is.