[FoRK] Anything to be learned from religion?

Ian Andrew Bell FoRK fork
Wed Aug 10 15:33:31 PDT 2005

Among the most interesting socio-cultural myths I've ever peeked at  
are the Haida and other tribes of the Pacific Northwest Coast.

By anthropomorphizing creatures, and using those creatures to  
represent the forces of nature, they explained the complex ecosystem  
around them to later generations using a complex web of lore, often  
with the Raven at the centre, with great accuracy.  While in their  
culture there is no specific central god figure this embodiment is  
much like the Greek, except that it portrays a much richer and deeper  
understanding of the interactions between the people, the animals  
sharing their world, and the forces of nature which affect them.

These tales were passed on through beautiful art works and a rich  
oral heritage, like this tale, which has likely changed little over  


Read between the lines and there is a great deal to be learned from  
this explanation of tides, etc.

I think it's their ingrained understanding of their ecosystem that  
was a major contributor to their survival and their flourishing  
culture, right up until they met their first stupid white man in the  

Even more important is that, Unlike modern America, issues of Church  
and State were separate.  Even this early society maintained social  
order by separating their set of beliefs from their social  
hierarchy.  Their Chiefs were administrators and their position was  
largely maintained within a hierarchy driven by wealth and influence  
-- not religion.  And since their set of beliefs were so woven into  
daily life there was no need to "worship" in a church.  Most of their  
tales of figures like the Raven and the Wild Woman were moral  
epithets to guide socially-responsible behaviour -- including  
environmental responsibility.

These were exchanged by elders to children, and the central building  
of each village was a Long House (often ornately carved) which was a  
place for the community to gather and celebrate their tradition of  
Potlatch (where we get the word "Pot Luck") which entailed a  
staggering redistribution of wealth and goods within the community.

It's a shame that they're one of the most poorly studied peoples in  
the world, probably due to the fact that their contact was so late  
and that their decline and disintegration post-contact was so rapid.   
Like us, the peoples of this region had lots of wars -- but mostly  
after they began trading with Europe.


On 10-Aug-05, at 12:53 PM, Albert Scherbinsky wrote:

> Personally in the past I have not had much use for
> religion. I've always figured that if there was a God,
> and there was something particular [It] wanted me to
> do then It would ask. I mean It's God, right.
> Supposedly It can do whatever It wants. Why would it
> beat around the [burning] bush about what It wanted me
> to do.
> Lately my views have broadened, or maybe I'm just
> getting soft with age. It seems to me there are one
> heck of a lot of people who believe in this stuff, and
> so there must be something to be learned from the
> phenomenon of religion itself. Perhaps even something
> useful.
> 1. Religions have been extremely successful at
> persisting over long periods of time.
> 2. People seem to have a need for a higher purpose,
> whether one exists or not.
> 3. Stories are a very powerful means of passing
> knowledge from generation to generation, whether they
> are true or not.
> Often it seems to me that proponents of Science have
> trouble communicating effectively. Maybe Science has
> something to learn from the Religious process.
> Regards,
> Albert
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