Religion is a practical discipline that teaches us to discover new capabilities of mind and heart. This will be one of the major themes of this book. (p. xiii)This makes religion sound like yoga or dieting or vowing to read ten pages of Proust every day: one of those worthwhile pastimes that one resolves to take up on New Year's Day, and not the central and most powerful guide to life. But that's okay. It's a definition that I, being something of a spiritual lazybones, rather like.
[The] rationalized interpretation of religion has resulted in two distinctively modern phenomena: fundamentalism and atheism. The two are related. (p. xv)And related partly because each is an alarmed reaction to the other.
Yes, and art has gained the upper hand. Sometimes religion's attempts to construct meaning only produce more "relentless pain and injustice." A recognition of this, and of the fact that humans -- not god(s) -- "have created religions," has caused many of us to turn for consolation to the arts and not to religion.If the historians are right about the function of the Lascaux caves, religion and art were inseparable from the very beginning. Like art, religion is an attempt to construct meaning in the face of the relentless pain and injustice of life. As meaning-seeking creatures, men and women fall very easily into despair. They have created religions and works of art to help them find value in their lives, despite all the dispiriting evidence to the contrary. (p. 8)
The desire to cultivate a sense of the transcendent may be the defining human characteristic. (p. 9)Which explains why religions have traditionally been hostile to most of these other outlets.
Human beings are so constituted that periodically they seek out ekstasis, a "stepping outside" of the norm. Today people who no longer find it in a religious setting resort to other outlets: music, dance, art, sex, drugs, or sport. (p. 10)