A Lost Word Essay

This essay has a total of 1803 words and 7 pages.

A Lost Word

Jackson, Ross
2/14/2001
Religion 152


A Lost Word

One word in the English language above all others throughout the history has caused more
controversy, both in terms of human fatalities and words written about it than religion.
Religion has been a subject of major controversy long before there was an English
language, long before there was a word for the concept. What follows however, is not a
discussion of the controversy, or history for that matter. What follows is a discussion of
the word and it's meaning. "Religion" since it's first minting has come to be an immensely
broad term. So broad in fact that It defies a singular comprehensive definition. The word
has come to refer to a loose and chaotically organized system of aspects and ideas, topics
of you will. Many philosophers have attempted to define religion but only succeed in
identifying a new topic. Overlap is always the case but this continual attempt to define
the word has only resulted in the continuation broadening process.


One such philosopher who sought a comprehensive analysis of religion was Karl Marx. Marx
explained religion is economic, social and psychological terms. For his purposes Marx
succeeded admirably. Marx held that man creates religion for himself and that when he
looks into religion he sees his hopes and desires that have realized themselves through
fantasy. Key in Marx's conception is that religion is a construct. Without man there is no
religion, that is to say there is nothing behind religion except a reflection of
ourselves. The hope that man puts in religion, god, and an afterlife are simple fantasy.
This hope is a resignation of the hope that satisfaction can be gained in the immediate
world. We believe in a happy afterlife because we have given up hope in this life. The
hope is a total illusion. It is the opinion of Karl Marx that due to the nature of
religion, specifically its dependence on the fantasized and projected hopes of oppressed
people, that when oppression ended, that religion would cease to be a compelling issue to
man.


Far from the radical and political atheism of Marx stands Rudolf Otto. Rudolf, rather than
examining religion from a secular and economic perspective, Otto focuses on the mystical
and personal experience of religion. In fact Otto defines religion as the experience of
awe and mystery. Otto describes a feeling of awe in the grasp of what is not so much
perceived so much as it is felt. A consciousness of the holy and the sacred although far
from an apprehension or understanding. This ‘Mysterium Tremendum' was a pre-intellectual
consciousness of the great mystery of life. Otto says that these experiences come in many
forms ranging from terror to quiet understanding, to ecstatic. All are reactions of the
powerful mystery of life. For Otto awe and mystery were the essence of religious feeling.
It is clear that this personal experience as religion is not what Marx was talking about.
They are talking about two entirely different aspects of the word religion.


Clearly though approaches and perceptions of religion are going to differ among those who
believe and those who do not. A secular understanding of religion is going to quite
different from someone who is wrapped up in religion. However, not every atheist agrees
with Marx's assessment of religion. For example Sigmund Freud, the father of modern
psychology understands religion quite differently that Marx. While Freud would agree that
religion is a projection of mans hopes, Freud has a very different conception of what
exactly these hopes are. And in general looks at religion from a very different
perspective. Freud saw that religion had three major effects to a psychological need.
Firstly it satisfied mans desire for knowledge by telling man where he came from, by
offering him a cosmogony. Secondly it gave man consul in times of hardship and a reason to
persevere through it. Finally, it offers man moral guidance with what to do in his life.
The religion that man has created is in response to his psychological needs. Freud talks
about the disillusionment of a child about the strength of his father as he grows with
age. Freud states that religion is a transference of all the wonderful things we feel
about our father and the protection he provides unto a deity figure. He brings up the many
parental and patriarchal aspects of god in religion. Freud feels that science will force
religion to take a backseat as it takes over the roles of religion, for example supplying
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