Designer Religions

Saturday, December 09, 2006

This cartoon is really about software and engineering project designs.

But it is certainly analogous to the process which frequently occurs of designing a new and different religious practice.

I posted the link to this amusing cartoon at a site which I frequent, which discusses religion, philosophy and politics.

There, I pointed out that such ideologies are just as much the product of design, and just as subject to misinterpretation or misuse, as software or engineering projects.

There is a saying that “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.” The notion is that a horse is elegant while a camel is ungainly. The ADA programming language is an example of the fiasco of design by committee.

Someone there replied to my post at the “philosophy forum” saying that “they kind of half get it, but it seems like an inside joke. Care to elaborate?”

So, here is my elaboration:

It happens over and over, time and again, throughout the millenia, that reform and innovation, followed by reactionary counter-reform, designs and reshapes a religious or philosophical or political movement.

Consider Siddhartha Gautama as a protestant reformer in Vedic times. Consider the rise of Pauline Christianity as Judaism redefined.

And each group or movement sees itself as most genuine, most original, and sees others as apostates and fallen dupes of deception.

Any ideology or doctrine, whether religious or political, is the product of design. Whether it is human or divine in origin, it is still something that is planned and designed. And planning and design have goals and objects and aims in mind, to achieve or empower certain things which are considered desirable, and to avoid or eliminate other things as undesirable.

Furthermore, whatever is designed, whatever tool, or constitution, or polity, or catechism, is liable to be misunderstood, misinterpreted or misused, or perhaps even turned into a travesty in the light of aims originally intended.

There are eclectic humanists who, when asked about their ideology, reply that they “roll their own” as the cowboys of the wild west rolled their own cigarettes, rather than purchase a pack of factory-made Marlboro cigarettes.

One may make such observations of the religious movements which brought colonists to America, or of Vatican II reform in 1965, or the development of Reform Judaism.

Or, one may see such design evolution in democratic constitutions, or communist regimes.

Is this sufficient elaboration for the cartoon?

It is just a cartoon.

But, many a true word is said in jest.


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