All human cultural hacks have an upside and downside as noted in this article. I would add that the balance of those sides changes steadily. It generally agreed, excluding people completely entangled in some religion, that religions are old hack that has been fading in leading cultures for about five hundred to a thousand years. The wonder is that they still survive spreading as much suffering at they do.
We all know people who find solace in religion on the death of a family member or partner. My experience has been that those people are repeating what they were told to think rather stating something that worked for them. It is very difficult in a set of post industrial planetary cultures to take solace in what is clearly bullshit. Some people can and that is fine for them but I don’t see that as a justification for a massive con game that still oppresses large segments of earth’s population.
Let me clarify things a bit. I’ve come to make a clear distinction between our instinctive nature that seeks connections and harmony in the world we perceive. This is the mental visualization of empathic relationships and continuity. Obviously I’m talking about the sources of religion, Or, in light of this article, the original hacks to blend these emotional states into articulated cultural concepts. The overdetermination of these tools produced layers of mythology and then religion.
The problem comes from the baggage of older inappropriate systems that survived long enough to be institutionalized in the classical world and remain as remnants in ours. These are communities founded on spiritual needs and solutions and the communities have survived but in atrophied form.
The point, and there is one here, is that the failing of the original hacks were quickly although not easily recognized. In the thirty years or so there has been a great deal of archeological luck and much more hard work with ancient sources that have clarified the importance of this early realization.
In essence we know that the universe we live in is unstable and in constant change. People imagine themselves to be unique individuals but there is absolutely no logical truth to that. The original religious hacks simply followed the storied that had always been told and assigned a soul or unique existence to each individual. This caused problems fairly quickly. How do we judge things? Good and bad? True and false? That requires a criterion to judge against. How that criterion judged?
This is full on philosophy but it doesn’t need to go that far. We know enough from science now to know that there are things that look as if they exist but don’t really and things are very different at the structural level of the universe. They do, however, fit the very broad category of illusion.
There was surprising very early work done on this in Central Asia and it has been attributed historically to a Scythian mystic named Gautama or something like that. The position was that if you realized that there is nothing permanent and no real way to find any absolute criterion to judge things by you can deal with the problem of pain and suffering, e.g. the loss of loved ones by using simple breathing meditation techniques and understanding of the lack of any absolutes.
This has very little to do with came to her called Buddhism that was a religion like all the others. But the knowledge was stunningly original and spread (this is what is being determined now) very broadly form the Greek stated of the Mediterranean to India, China, Japan.
While this knowledge was only partially preserved because people mostly wanted what they could understand and had always had, the early history fascinating now.
The final point. The understandability of these concepts to us now have made these techniques the only growing spiritual system (meditation, mindfulness) that is not religious and works for millions of people.
I’ve presented this from my own research which is way too academic for what most people want but it doesn’t really matter. If it is based in reality and works for people we need to consider as a possible help to people in need. A reworking of an early but difficult and lost hack.
Here is a book that provides the historical assumptions behind the statements above: — “Greek Buddha: Pyrrho’s Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia”