Robert S. Ellwood, Jr. (1933- )

Introducing Religion From Inside and Outside

Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1978


[1] Our basic idea will be that religious thought and activity represents one’s acting out, or actualizing, who one thinks he or she really is deep within.  It [Religion] simultaneously includes the corresponding relationship to our [2] ultimate environment, infinite reality itself.  (… Religion must assume, however, that one can come to know his or her true nature and that it is meaningful and dwells within a universe of meaning with which it can have a relationship.” … [4] [The vignettes in the previous section exhibit] thoughts, feelings, or actions that do not meet ordinary, practical needs in ordinary, practical ways. … Even if they were directed toward a practical end, such as a better harvest, they do not go about it through practical course of planting and cultivating.  They add to what is practical by implying another point of reference and another level of activity.  Even if a religious act is a dance or prayer for rain, it does not set about meeting the practical need using ordinary deduction about cause-and-effect….

[5] Religion, however, adds other dimensions full of color, stylized acts, and symbols that outsiders sometimes see as bizarre and totally nonsensical. 

Religion is gestures that make no sense at all if ordinary practical reality is all there is, if the universe is only matter and space, if humans are only organisms that feed, mate, and die. … Religion always presupposes a reality other than the visible…. Religion declares that, compared to that reality, what we think about most of the time is like sound and [6] foam on the surface of a deep lake or the hopping about  of grasshoppers beneath the infinite sky.

  The added dimension implied by religion is often called transcendence, which means “climbing across” or “going beyond.” … Thomas Luckmann… has argued that the essence of religion lies in the ability of humans to transcend or go beyond their biological nature by means of the cultural construction of universes of meaning—music in place of noise, art in place of the haphazard coloration of nature, societies and political systems in place of herd instincts.

[Submitted by James A. Santucci]