Incredibly, there are three articles over at HuffPo Religion that I have recently bookmarked for brief discussion here. There are of course about ten others which reflect the liberal, progressive, ecumenical, and mystical view of religion adhered to by a tiny minority of people, and which will be of interest mostly to the highly educated and politically engaged readers of the Huffington Post.
The philosopher and historian of science Michael Ruse has a nice piece titled “Darwinism and the Moral Argument for God,” in which he discusses the religion deflating research demonstrating that morality has no necessary linkage to God or religion. This is of course true, as I explained in Religion Functions to Sustain the Moral Order — Starkly Wrong. Aside from the considerable body of research showing that primates possess proto-morality (see Frans de Waal’s work) and that humans have evolved moral sensibilities (see Marc Hauser’s work), one should also consider that most or all hunting and gathering groups had distinct moral codes that were unwritten and unattached to notions of deity. These codes became considerably more complex after the Neolithic Revolution, when writing first appeared and organized-systematic religions were formed. You can, in other words, have morals without religion.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche has posted an article asking: “Is Buddhism a Religion?” Although Rinpoche’s version of Buddhism is non-religious, the fact remains that many practicing Buddhists around the world believe in a kind of Buddhism and engage in various Buddhist practices that are distinctly “religious.” Rinpoche’s version of Buddhism is a recent incarnation that is highly westernized:
If you are interested in “meeting the Buddha” and following his example, then you should realize that the path the Buddha taught is primarily a study of your own mind and a system for training your mind. This path is spiritual, not religious. Its goal is self-knowledge, not salvation; freedom, not heaven. And it is deeply personal. Without your curiosity and questions and your open mind, there is no spiritual path, no journey to be taken, even if you adopt all the forms of the tradition.
This version of Buddhism is also tightly linked to the concept of the secular (see Talal Asad’s work) and concomitant privatization of belief.
Finally, Paul Wagler has posted on the early history of Christianity — “Ancient Empires: Reflections on the Spiritual Conquerers of the First Century.” This story is interesting insofar as it goes, but a more complete history of Christianity and empire would discuss the marriage of Christianity to power that came with the Roman Emperor Constantine’s (272-337 CE) conversion and the subsequent adoption of Christianity as the official state religion. This was perhaps the most fortuitous of all events in Christian history, and it resulted in Christianity becoming a “world religion.” Without Constantine’s conversion, Christianity may have remained an esoteric Mediterranean religious sect.