Re: Ch. 7 - THE 'GOOD' BOOK AND THE CHANGING MORAL ZEITGEIST
misterpessimistic: But how can this claim even be entertained as serious? How can something born of human history, cutlure or society transcend the same?
I think it can be seriously entertained by analogy. How does a species that supposedly got its start sucking the marrow out of scavenged cannon-bones become a species that builds cities and writes the Iliad? Evolution is, in some sense, transcendent, and part of the story is that some generations manifested physiological differences that simply weren't in their parents. Another step is cognitive, and human history is largely written as a succession of ideas that weren't there before, and couldn't have been there without the foundation of previous ideas, but which enable us to become more than we were previously -- moral, for example, or airborn, or poetic.
The idea of religious transcendence is essentially seeing that kind of transformation as applicable in another domain. Not necessarily the domain of the supernatural, because it isn't necessary for a religious tradition to conceive of the world as divided into the natural and supernatural, but in the domain of some kind of relationship to something that the believer finds meaningful.
I'm not arguing that you should accept any of this, but I am hoping that the explanation will allow you to see religious believers a little more sympathetically. On the whole, I agree with you that religious transcendence is typically safest when it's a personal matter.Christianity has propagated itself well, it must be admitted. But that does not show, to me at least, that it has transcended anything at all.
Historically, I'd say that the Church helped European culture transcend rather narrow limits in the wake of the fall of Rome. What we conceive of as a continuous civilization -- Europe -- is largely the result of efforts made by the Church to unify everyone into a single brotherhood. And a lot of the terminology and categories of modern thought are the result of work done within Christian thought over the last 2000 years. Is it perfect? No; and that same work has contributed to as many problems (Middle Eastern conflict) as it has solutions (the concept of human rights). Whether or not it has helped anyone achieve some sort of spiritual transcendence is susceptible to your "keep it in your pants" rule -- if it isn't their place to force your transcendence, then it's not your place to judge what it's done for them.