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Teaching3bears

S/O cultures without religion?

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The Hunger Games thread made me wonder if there have ever been cultures, either in ancient, medieval, modern times, or today that have do not have religion. Funny, I never thought about this before. A culture would need to be a whole group of people, not just individuals or families who do not believe in religion but are part of other cultural groups where the majority do. I would not include ie. an atheist organization located in a major city because those people would also be part of a larger cultural group. Also, I don't know if I would include people who were raised within a religion and left it.

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Communist Russia.

edit: I guess you could argue that one either way, actually.   

Edited by CES2005
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It really depends on how you define religion, and where you would draw the line(s) between superstition, magic, and religion. There are certainly tribal cultures with animistic beliefs about nature, but without "gods" as we would think of them and with rituals that focus on practical things (curing illness, bringing rain, ensuring a good hunt) rather than worship. 

ETA: As soon as a culture starts to develop hierarchical social structures, where one group controls material resources, you tend to start getting more organized religious structures as well, with elites controlling access to the supernatural "resources" as well as the earthly ones. And when the elites control the religious structures and canon of beliefs, they generally mold/use those to further consolidate and justify their own power.

Edited by Corraleno
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I agree with China.  I know someone from there and I think it's pretty accurate.  They do have lots of cultural superstitions though.

When I visited China about 14? years ago, they said people were allowed to pursue religions, and some chose to do so.  I'm sure some do, but in general it is an atheist culture.

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43 minutes ago, AmandaVT said:

Modern China is the first thing that jumped into my mind.

https://www.businessinsider.com/how-xi-jinping-is-attacking-religion-in-china-2018-11

 

And yet religion persists in spite of Government efforts to tamp it down. I would not say that China has a culture without religion, government policy and culture are not synonymous.

Edited by maize
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You might be interested in looking into the cognitive science of religion.  What its researchers have found is that the human mind is predisposed to think in ways that essentially ensure that religion will develop.

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14 minutes ago, Corraleno said:

It really depends on how you define religion, and where you would draw the line(s) between superstition, magic, and religion. There are certainly tribal cultures with animistic beliefs about nature, but without "gods" as we would think of them and with rituals that focus on practical things (curing illness, bringing rain, ensuring a good hunt) rather than worship. 

 

They would be asking some kind of higher power to bring them rain so I think that this would be religion.

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1 hour ago, EKS said:

You might be interested in looking into the cognitive science of religion.  What its researchers have found is that the human mind is predisposed to think in ways that essentially ensure that religion will develop.

Oh sure. There goes my weekend. Dh is going to love this. 🙂

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1 hour ago, Teaching3bears said:

 

They would be asking some kind of higher power to bring them rain so I think that this would be religion.

Well then that raises the question of how you define "higher power" — invoking the "power" of a plant to heal a wound, or thanking an animal spirit for a successful hunt, or asking a dead ancestor for help with something, doesn't mean the person thinks the plant, animal, or the dead relative have "higher powers" than living humans — they just have different powers. And sometimes its the living human who is seen as having special powers to invoke or manipulate the plant/animal/ancestor/whatever. That's why I said it really depends on where you draw the line between superstition, magic, and religion, because there are tribal groups where human beliefs and interactions with "the supernatural" are more along the lines of what we could consider magic rather than religion. If someone avoids walking under ladders or patting black cats or always wears the same "lucky" jersey in every game, do those beliefs count as "religion"? You can define religion in a way that includes the belief that black cats are bad luck, in which case all cultures have it. Or you could define it to mean an organized and codified set of beliefs in the existence of one or more specific, named higher powers. Or anywhere in between.

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I agree with some of the comments upthread, but I'll add on here anyway. I think all communist regimes suppress religion, but religion persists nonetheless. Even those who fully adhere to communism have an arguably irrational belief that a political system can create a utopia.  I think the closest thing you might find is in areas where Buddhism is the dominant preference, because even though we call it a religion according to a comparative religions class I took Buddhists are technically atheist, but of course that doesn't mean it isn't a religion, and you could also argue that ancestor veneration is just a smaller form of a god. Whenever we confront unanswerable questions we're going to construct ideas to explain them, and I think in that way it's impossible to escape.

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Well, AU is pretty irreligious. 

Which is different to having no religion.

We don't have a state religion. And indigenous spiritualities are not religions in the way I understand religions to be defined. 

The countries mentioned as having no religion (Communist Russia, China) are more accurately described as having repressed, or repressing religion.

Where religions are weak, other belief structures seem to emerge, other articles of faith, which may be godless, but function like religions, with heresies, dogma, practices etc.

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I think things get further complicated at the individual level. I know the question isn’t about individuals, but individuals are what form a culture. I know many people who call themselves _____ <enter religious group there>, but aren’t interested in adhering to most tenets. (As opposed to imperfect _______s, who strive to become better _____s.) I’ve never really known how to process that. I also know a lot of people who believe in a higher power but reject organized religion. And I know a lot of secular Jews. Etc., etc.

The modern world gives its own twist because, in places like the US, people don’t have to settle with their tribe, so to speak. Even in my rural community, the number of religions represented is huge. People can drive far from their homes to worship if need be. So I suppose my corner of the world can be considered religious, but there’s no consensus on what religion that would be.

My local Muslim friends do not live in a culturally Muslim area. Same for my local Jewish, LDS, JW, and Catholic friends. The Lutherans and Methodists have higher representation when combined, so I’m not sure where that falls. But I, as an atheist, fall more in the situation of the first few groups I mentioned. Then again, I was raised Lutheran but (at the time) in a much more Catholic culture.  If none of us really dominate the local culture, can we really label it?

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