Thursday, 18 October 2012

Atheist religion

Normal service is resumed!

If i've got this right, today's video ought to be on atheist religion:

Yep!  After a bit of fiddling, that's done it.

Jainism is an ancient world religion though it hasn't spread far beyond Northwest India.  Here in Leicester, however, is the Jain Samaj Europe, the European centre of Jainism.  This isn't as impressive as it sounds when you realise how few Jains there are.  However, Jainism is very interesting because it is unlike many people's preconceptions on religion in several ways.

Firstly, it is strongly atheist.  It actively denies there is any such thing as a creator of the Universe, a sustainer of the Universe or an omnipotent being.  There is even a lengthy passage in one of its sacred texts which wouldn't look out of place in 'The God Delusion':

"Some foolish men declare that creator made the world. The doctrine that the world was created is ill advised and should be rejected.
If God created the world, where was he before the creation? If you say he was transcendent then and needed no support, where is he now?
How could God have made this world without any raw material? If you say that he made this first, and then the world, you are faced with an endless regression.
If you declare that this raw material arose naturally you fall into another fallacy, For the whole universe might thus have been its own creator, and have arisen quite naturally.
If God created the world by an act of his own will, without any raw material, then it is just his will and nothing else — and who will believe this silly nonsense?
If he is ever perfect and complete, how could the will to create have arisen in him? If, on the other hand, he is not perfect, he could no more create the universe than a potter could.
If he is form-less, action-less and all-embracing, how could he have created the world? Such a soul, devoid of all modality, would have no desire to create anything.
If he is perfect, he does not strive for the three aims of man, so what advantage would he gain by creating the universe?
If you say that he created to no purpose because it was his nature to do so, then God is pointless. If he created in some kind of sport, it was the sport of a foolish child, leading to trouble.
If he created because of the karma of embodied beings [acquired in a previous creation] He is not the Almighty Lord, but subordinate to something else
If out of love for living beings and need of them he made the world, why did he not make creation wholly blissful free from misfortune?
If he were transcendent he would not create, for he would be free: Nor if involved in transmigration, for then he would not be almighty. Thus the doctrine that the world was created by God makes no sense at all,
And God commits great sin in slaying the children whom he himself created. If you say that he slays only to destroy evil beings, why did he create such beings in the first place?
Good men should combat the believer in divine creation, maddened by an evil doctrine. Know that the world is uncreated, as time itself is, without beginning or end, and is based on the principles, life and rest. Uncreated and indestructible, it endures under the compulsion of its own nature."

This is from the tenth century CE text the Adipurana.  Note the date.  Jainism is considerably older than that.  It's an ancient religion, itself claiming to be the world's oldest religion, but then so i imagine do many others, so that particular feature doesn't make it special.  Note also that it does not respect the idea of worshipping any God that might hypothetically exist.

Jainism is also entirely physicalist and naturalist.  It sees the world as entirely physical. The physics is of course somewhat different from contemporary scientific physics, but this is to be expected in an environment where alleged hypotheticodeductivism or other scientific methods had yet to be used on a systematic basis by a community of intellectuals.  Nonetheless, it sees the soul as physical, karma as a form of matter and enlightenment as the process of ascension to the top of the Universe, which incidentally is seven hundred light years high.

Furthermore, Jainism seeks no converts and claims not to have a monopoly of truth.  Its doctrine of anekantavada involves the claim that humans cannot perceive the whole truth and that apparent incompatibilities can mask a deeper unity inaccessible to the human mind.  It also claims that it will die out - there is no real eschatology, no idea of the world ending (or beginning for that matter), no day of judgement.

OK, so what makes it differ from a philosophy of life?  Well, Epicureanism is substantially similar.  Nonetheless, that is not a religion.  Jainism has temples, images of its "heroes" such as Mahavira, which are of course to be emulated rather than worshipped, a total world view, rituals, priests, ethics (in spades!) and, well, everything on Ninian Smart's list.  Epicureanism had none of those.

So it's an atheist, physicalist, anti-proselytising organised religion.  It has deeply dodgy characteristics of course - people are admired for starving themselves to death, menstruating women are not allowed in temples and humans are seen as spiritually and physically the centre of the Universe and superior to all other beings - but one thing it does not do is share any of the major characteristics of the Western concept of religion.