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Religion

From Thelemapedia

Part of the Thelema & Religion series

Religion is, in its broadest sense, defined as the answers given to explain humankind's relationship with the universe. In the course of the development of religion, it has taken an almost infinite number of forms in various cultures and individuals. Religion today is dominated by a number of major world religions.

Occasionally, the word "religion" is used to designate what should be more properly described as a "religious organization" - that is, an organization of people that supports the exercise of some religion, often taking the form of a legal entity.

The relationship of Thelema to Religion is arguably a unique one. Consider the motto of the Equinox, published by the A.'.A.'.:

The Method of Science; the Aim of Religion
Table of contents

The nature and content of religion

Defining "religion"

Beyond the above, very broad definition of religion, there are a variety of uses and meanings for the word "religion." Some of the approaches are as follows:


Approaches to distinguishing religion from non-religion

Approaches to distinguishing religion from non-religion can be divided into two broadly defined schools of thought: function-based approaches and form-based approaches.

Religion is subject to much discussion in the fields of theology, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Specialists in these fields, as well as ordinary people—theists, atheists, and agnostics alike-often disagree about the fundamental nature of religion. Consequently, any discussion of religion must begin by answering certain "basic" questions such as "What is a religious belief?", "What is the difference between religious and secular beliefs?", "How do we recognize what are religious beliefs?", "Are religions individual or group activities?", and "What methodology shall we use to investigate these questions?". The answers to these questions and similar questions can then serve as a common ground upon which further discussion can be based.

If the conclusions of a discussion are to be accepted by people from diverse religious backgrounds, then that discussion must make as few assumptions as possible. However, all societies and this article start with the following a priori assumptions:

The last one is most controversial because there are two main ways of looking at the world, each bringing with it certain a priori assumptions that are usually not recognized. While a study of a particular religion made by either viewpoint may come to many of the same conclusions, differences between the two approaches include what beliefs are to be considered religious and the effects of religions.

By function

One approach, sometimes referred to as "Hebrew thought," defines "religion" as any set of beliefs that fulfills certain functions in an individual’s life, especially answering questions about our origins, present existence and where are we going and how shall we get there?, thereby forming the individual's attitudes, values, morality and actions. Consequently, adherents of this approach regard any belief system which answers any of these questions as "religious", including such non-theistic belief systems as Communism, secular humanism, and biological evolution.

The main advantage of this approach is its ability to incorporate seamlessly all of the belief systems that are considered religious, including some of the agnostic forms of Hinduism and Buddhism; according to its advocates, another advantage is its recognition of the fact that the phenomenon usually perceived as conflict between “religion” and “anti-religion” is in fact competition between different fundamentalisms.

One difficulty in applying this approach is the fact that many individuals hold multiple belief systems, some of which may be contradictory, and some feigned; consequently, it is often difficult to recognize the effect that any particular belief system has on an individual. Another difficulty is that it tries to evaluate what act as the inner guiding principles within an individual, his "religion" as it were, by the fruits those principles produce in his attitudes, values, morality and actions. It does not necessarily consider those beliefs and associations he admits to in public. Though this is a difficulty, it can be used to identify those who truly are adherents to a particular religion versus those who merely join the organization for reasons other than belief.

When studying specific religions or comparative religions, a functional study typically starts with an analysis of the teachings of the belief system, which includes an analysis of the "sacred writings" connected with the belief system if they exist. In this analysis, attention is paid to internal consistency, to whether or not the belief system answers the basic functional questions of origins, ontology and teleology, how well it correlates to observation and how it guides an individual's attitudes, values, morality and actions, even how he thinks. It looks at how integrated the religion is with daily life: is it merely ritual that once acted upon can be forgotten as done, or is it a belief that should inform every action an individual does?

A functional study also looks at those who claim to follow the religion to see if they truly follow it or not, and why.

Questions concerning group beliefs, actions and institutions, though important, are secondary because they are a result of doctrine and individual response. They may actually represent cultural norms and institutions rather than individual belief and practice, so that though they may appear to be a religion, they really aren't.

Some social scientists, such as Emile Durkheim, emphasize the social aspects of functional forms of religion, as a means of providing social cohesion and community. Other social scientists now define religion by its consequences not in social life but in the personal life of individuals. These authors define religion as “a combination of forms and symbolic acts which relate the individual to the ultimate conditions of his existence." (Richard Bellah, “Religious Evolution”, 1964, p. 358), or as “a system of beliefs and practices through which a group of people faces the fundamental problems of life.” (Yinger, J. Milton, "The Scientific Study of Religion," Macmillan, 1970, p. 7)

This approach is also illustrated by the 4th definition of religion in Webster's Online Dictionary, which defines religion as "a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith."

By form

Also called "Greek thought", it is the method most widely used by far. It is almost universally used in academia and among sociologists, anthropologists and Western philosophers.

Most people, particularly those influenced by "Western" culture, almost instinctively recognize which of their beliefs are to be called "religious" and which "secular". Usually unconsciously, they have already made a priori assumptions such as "There are beliefs that are 'religious'", "Religious beliefs are not the same as secular beliefs" and typical assumptions imparted by western culture to recognize "religious" beliefs include:


When studying specific religions and comparative religions, discussions typically begin by answering questions about uncontroversial, easily verifiable facts, such as "What beliefs do different groups of people hold?", "What practices are inspired by these beliefs?", and "What institutions arise as a result of these beliefs and practices?". Hopefully, answering these questions will create a body of data upon which all further discourse, including the answers to the "basic" questions mentioned in the first paragraph of this section, can then be based.

One advantage of this method is that people who hold to agnostic and atheistic belief systems can decide for themselves whether or not what they believe is a religious or secular belief system. Another advantage is that it conforms to widely held societal and academic norms, aiding in communication. Thirdly, in that it conforms to societal and academic norms, it avoids misunderstanding and conflict that can arise when using minority approaches, such as the functional approach above.

In contrast to the functional approach, the use of Greek thought as the methodology to study religion, with its emphasis on the inherently uncontroversial statements about religion's external manifestations, its expressed statements and rituals, is far less controversial and easily recognizable, therefore are more readily accepted by people with widely differing views of religion. Consequently, most major thinkers prefer to begin by examining the easily observable external forms of religion.

This approach is also illustrated by definition 1b of religion in Webster's Online dictionary, which describes religion as, "the service and worship of God or the supernatural."

Practical examples

The question how to distinguish a religion from a non-religion is not just a theoretical question. In the case of Scientology it has been disputed in court, for example in the Netherlands. Classification as a religion gives tax privileges. Scientology's critics claim that it is a business and not a genuine religion. See Scientology controversy.

Discordianism has been described as both an elaborate joke disguised as a religion, and a religion disguised as an elaborate joke. Some of its followers make the claim that it is "a religion disguised as a joke disguised as a religion." Some Discordians have described Discordians as Taoists with a strange sense of humor and the inability to sit still. The reader is welcomed to try their hand at determining what Discordianism is for it is a very difficult case study to discern.

Religious Thelema

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See also: Arguments for Thelema being a religion

Some religious concepts and practices in the Thelemic literature


The O.T.O. as Religious Organization
Professor William James, in his Varieties of Religious Experience, has well classified religion as the "once-born" and the "twice-born"; but the religion now proclaimed in Liber Legis harmonizes these by transcending them. --Aleister Crowley, Magick p. 159

In Magick Without Tears, Crowley wrote, "To sum up, our system is a religion just so far as a religion means an enthusiastic putting-together of a series of doctrines, no one of which must in any way clash with Science or Magick." (p. 219) He specifically described Ordo Templi Orientis as "the first of the great religious Societies to accept the Law," strongly implying that the Law of Thelema was a suitable basis for religious activity. O.T.O. Grand Master Sabazius has articulated an advocacy of "scientific religion" under the rubric of Thelema, a phrase that originally occurred in the "Constitution of the Order of Thelemites" approved by Crowley. Crowley also considered Freemasonry to be essentially religious in character, a position detailed in Chapter 49 of his Confessions.

Within O.T.O., the existence of a Church with forms and officers that bear a superficial similarity to Christianity has sometimes led people to assert that the Gnostic Catholic Church is "the Thelemic religion" to the exclusion of the remainder of O.T.O. (which is in fact religious in both origin and current instantiation), and other Thelemic groups. In fact, Thelema depends on a synchronization of many earlier religious forms, and the vast majority of its expressions can be fairly characterized as religious.

Some religious concepts and practices in the O.T.O.

Nonreligious Thelema

Crowley on Thelema & Religion


Questions that religions address

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Religions are systems of belief which typically seek to answer questions about the following issues:

Generally, the different religions and the non-religious all have different answers for the above concerns, and many religions provide a range of answers to each question.

Religious practices

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Practices based upon religious beliefs typically include:

Adherents of a particular religion typically gather together to celebrate holy days, to recite or chant scripture, to pray, to worship, and provide spiritual assistance to each other. However, solitary practice of prayer and meditation is often seen to be just as important, as is living out religious convictions in secular activities when in the company of people who are not necessarily adherents to that religion. This is often a function of the religion in question.

Contrasts among religions

Religions diverge widely with regard in the answers they provide to the questions listed above, and the practices of the religious faithful. For example:

Number of gods

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Gender of gods

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Sources of authority

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Organizational structure

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Ethical focus

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(It should be noted that, to one degree or another, most religions draw from all types of ethics; however, most traditionally emphasize one over the others)

Afterlife

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Approaches to relating to the beliefs of others

Template:Thelema Adherents of particular religions deal with the differing doctrines and practices espoused by other religions in a variety ways. All strains of thought appear in different segments of all major world religions.

Exclusivism

People with exclusivist beliefs typically explain other religions as either in error, or as corruptions or counterfeits of the true faith. Examples include:

Inclusivism

People with inclusivist beliefs recognize some truth in all faith systems, highlighting agreements and minimizing differences, but see their own faith as in some way ultimate. Examples include:

Pluralism

People with pluralist beliefs make no distinction between faith systems, viewing each one as valid within a particular culture. Examples include:

Syncretism

People with syncretistic views blend the views of a variety of different religions or traditional beliefs into a unique fusion, which suits their particular experience and context.

Religion in relation to other closely related topics

Religion and spirituality

It is common to distinguish the concept of "religion" from the concept of "spirituality."

Individuals who ascribe to this distinction see spirituality as a belief in ideas of religious significance (such as God, the Soul, or Heaven) without being bound to the bureaucratic structure and creeds of a particular organized religion. They choose the term spirituality rather than religion to describe their form of belief, perhaps reflecting a large-scale disillusionment with organized religion that is occurring in much of the Western world (see Religion in modernity), and a movement towards a more "modern" — more tolerant, and more intuitive — form of religion.

Many members of organized religion, of course, see no significant difference between the two terms, because they see spirituality at the heart of their religion, and see the church organization as a means of preserving that spirituality. Many of them associate themselves with an organized religion because they see the religious community as a means of maintaining and strengthening their Faith in fellowship with other believers. They see amorphous "spirituality" movements as "religions of convenience," in which individuals can choose whatever beliefs make them feel comfortable at the time, without being bound to any external standard of accountability.

Finally, it should be noted that many individuals, while still associating themselves with an organized religion, see a distinction between the mundane, earthly aspects of their religion and the spiritual dimension. They note that people may take part in organized religion purely for mundane reasons, for example, gaining security from such things as regular attendance at churches or temples, or the social comfort of fervently agreeing with other believers; they note that this sometimes is done without a corresponding spiritual dimension. They then conclude that such behavior is "religious" without being "spiritual." Further, some aspects of religion (for example, the Catholic Inquisition or Islamic Terrorism), are seen as completely contrary to the teachings of the religions' founders, who many believe taught tolerance and love. In support of this belief that religions may "lose their way," many cite things such as Jesus' criticism of the Pharisees, who represented organized religion in his context.

As a result, many who consider themselves deeply involved with the Divine may have come to reject much of the recognized aspects of established religion, in an effort to free themselves of the mundane trappings or perceived corruption of "religion."

Religion and science

Generally speaking, religion and science use different methods in their effort to ascertain Truth. Religion utilizes methods that are based upon subjective interpretation of personal intuition or experience, the authority of a perceived prophet or a sacred text. Science on the other hand uses the scientific method, an objective process of investigation and acquisition of new knowledge based upon physical evidence, subject only to observable and verifiable phenomena.

Similarly, there are two types of questions which religion and science attempt to answer: questions of observable and verifiable phenomena (such as the laws of physics, or human moral codes), and questions of unobservable phenomena and value judgments (such as how the laws of physics came to be, and what is "good" and "bad").

People apply the two methods to the two categories of questions in a variety of ways.

Religion and myth

The word "myth" has two meanings, according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

  1. a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence
  2. a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon

Myth as "mere story"

Ancient polytheistic religions, such as those of ancient Greece, ancient Rome, the Vikings, etc., are often studied under the heading of mythology. Religions of pre-industrial peoples, or cultures in development to industrial conditions, are similarly observed by the anthropology of religion. Mythology can be a term used pejoratively by religious and non-religious people both, by defining another person's religious stories and beliefs as mythology. Here myths are treated as fantasies, or "mere" stories.

Myth as defining and explaining belief

The term myth in sociology, however has a non-pejorative meaning, defined as stories that are important for the group and not necessarily untrue. Examples include the death and resurrection of Jesus (which, to Christians, explains the means by which they are freed from sin, as well as being ostensibly historical), or the theory of evolution (which, to Secular Humanists, illustrates the course of history, and inspires them to strive to further the evolution of Mankind, as well as being ostensibly scientific). Joseph Campbell, in The Power of Myth, held that myth was a universal human trait, and necessary to well-being. By this definition, therefore, there is no essential difference between the myths of extinct religions, those of extant religions, and those of ostensibly "non-religious" people.

Religion and Occam's Razor

Template:Thelema In its simplest form, Occam's Razor states that one should not take more assumptions than needed. When multiple explanations are available for a phenomenon, the simplest version is preferred.

Some, such as atheists, secular humanists, and agnostics assert that Occam's Razor makes religious belief unreasonable, because religion requires an individual to make many more assumptions regarding causes in the natural world than Atheistic and Naturalistic explanations require. For instance, some religious beliefs require the believer to assume that an invisible God created the universe, is concerned with our moral behavior for some reason, yet does not reveal himself, and will judge us after death for decisions we made in relative ignorance, sending us to either an assumed Heaven or an assumed Hell. Atheists conclude that such belief requires a myriad of assumptions, that naturalistic explanations require significantly fewer assumptions, and that the religious beliefs are therefore less reasonable than naturalistic ones.

Others (such as William of Occam himself, who was a Christian and Franciscan friar), assert that Occam's Razor makes religious belief reasonable. Some, for instance, note the empirical phenomena of entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which indicate that over time, the universe passes from greater to lesser levels of organization. They further note that the only observable instances of increased organization are caused by life (in the context of evolution) or by persons (in the context of human creative efforts to alter and organize our universe). They then assert that naturalistic explanations alone are insufficient to explain Order in the universe, because they provide no mechanism by which order may arise from disorder, other than Persons. They conclude that the most reasonable explanation for the origin of Order in the universe is a Person of one form or another, who provided the creative impetus that brought about the remarkable order and structure evident in the universe.

Others assert that Occam's Razor is not a fair test for reasonable belief in all cases, because it is dependent on the available amount of evidence. They note that the history of science is the history of simple and intuitive explanations giving way to more complex and less intuitive ones. They note that belief in a flat Earth gave way to belief in a round Earth; that belief in strict Newtonian physics gave way to the much more complex Einsteinian relativity; and that belief in the doctrine of humors gave way to modern medicine. They note that Occam's razor was the means by which many nay-sayers of these scientific revolutions held back scientific discovery, because new theories required significantly more evidence and assumptions than traditional theory, and were therefore discouraged by many. They conclude that since the universe is often much more complex than our evidence allows for at any one time, one ought not rule out significantly more complex interpretations, simply because they require more assumptions than current theory. One ought instead to devote oneself to the investigation of all hypotheses, both religious and non-religious, allowing one's beliefs to change naturally with one's experience.

Approaches to the study of individual religions

Methods of studying religion subjectively (in relation to one's own beliefs)

These include efforts to determine the meaning and application of "sacred" texts and beliefs in the context of the student's personal worldview. This generally takes one of three forms:

  • one's own — efforts by believers to ascertain the meaning of their own sacred text, and to conform their thoughts and actions to the principles enunciated in the text. For most believers, this involves a lifetime process of study, analysis, and practice. Some faiths, such as Hassidic Judaism, emphasize adherence to a set of rules and rituals. Other faiths, such as Christianity, emphasize the internalization and application of a set of abstract principles, such as Love, Justice, or Faith. Some believers interpret their scriptures literally, and apply the text exactly as it is written. Other believers try to interpret scripture through its context, to derive abstract principles, which they may apply more directly to their lives and contexts.
  • another's compared to one's own — efforts by believers of one belief system attempt to describe a different belief system in terms of their own beliefs. One example of this method is in David Strauss's 1835 The Life of Jesus. Strauss's theological approach strikes from the Biblical text the descriptions of angels and miracles which, due to his presupposition that supernatural events do not occur, he does not believe could have occurred. He then concludes that the stories must have been inserted by a "supernaturalist" merely trying to make an important story more convincing. In this course of his argument, Strauss argues that the supernaturalist who inserted the angels into the story of the birth of Christ borrowed the heathen doctrine of angels from the Babylonians who had held the Jews in captivity. That is, the New Testament's fabulous role for angels "is evidently a product of the influence of the Zend religion of the Persians on the Jewish mind." Due to his presumption that supernatural events do not occur, he dismisses the possibility that both cultures came to believe in angels independently, as a result of their own experiences and context.
  • another's as defined by itself — efforts by believers of one belief system to understand the heart and meaning of another faith on its own terms. This very challenging approach to understanding religion presumes that each religion is a self-consistent system whereby a set of beliefs and actions depend upon each other for coherence, and can only be understood in relation to each other. This method requires the student to investigate the philosophical, emotional, religious, and social presuppositions that adherents of another religion develop and apply in their religious life, before applying their own biases, and evaluating the other faith. For instance, an individual who personally does not believe in miracles may attempt to understand why adherents of another religion believe in miracles, and then attempt to understand how the individual's belief in miracles affects their daily life. While the individual may still himself not believe in miracles, he may begin to develop an understanding of why people of other faiths choose to believe in them.

Methods of studying religion objectively (in a scientific and religiously neutral fashion)

There are a variety of methods employed to study religion which seek to be scientifically neutral. One's interpretation of these methods depends on one's approach to the relationship between religion and science, as discussed above.

Critics note that historical, archeological, and literary approaches are scientific insofar as they uncover the facts of ancient religions, and seek to understand and interpret those facts within their context. They assert that the approaches are unscientific, however, insofar as they make value judgments as to which parts of ancient religions are "bright" and which are "dark," because value judgments are beyond the realm of the verifiable phenomena of science.
The term "religion" is extremely problematic for anthropologists, and approaches to the subject are quite varied within the discipline. Some anthropologists (along with many other academics) take the view that religion, particularly in less technically complex cultures, is a form of proto-science--a primitive attempt to explain & predict phenomena in the natural world, similar to modern science but less advanced.
However, many (if not most) modern anthropologists reject this view (a form of social evolutionism) as antiquated, over-simplified, ethnically and intellectually chauvinistic, and unsupported by cross-cultural evidence. Science has very specific methods and aims, while the term "religion" encompasses a huge spectrum of practices, goals, and social functions. In addition to explaining the world (natural or otherwise), religions may also provide mechanisms for maintaining social & psychological well-being, and the foundations of moral/ethical, economic, and political reasoning.
While many early anthropologists attempted to catalogue and universalize these functions and their origins, modern researchers have tended to back away from such speculation, preferring a more holistic approach: The object of study is the meaning of religious traditions & practices for the practitioners themselves--religion in context--rather than formalized theories about religion in general.
Critics note that this approach is relativistic, informal, and primarily descriptive--possibly putting it outside the realm of science. Anthropologists themselves remain divided on the issue.
Critics note that the sociological approaches are scientific insofar as they note that the three "stages" are empirically observable, but unscientific insofar as it makes the value judgment that any one is superior to another, because value judgments are beyond the realm of the verifiable phenomena of science.
Critics note that the psychological approaches are scientific insofar as they document and describe experiences of the divine, but are unscientific insofar as they attempt to refute the proposition that the phenomena also contain a supernatural component, which is, by its very nature, beyond the realm of science.
Critics assert that while philosophical approaches are competent insofar as they logically systematize and compare sets of a priori fundamental values, they are incompetent insofar as they attempt to assert those a priori fundamental values.
In sociology, Rodney Stark has looked at the social forces that have caused religions to grow and the features of religions that have been most successful. For example, Stark, who claims to be an agnostic, hypothesizes that, before Christianity became established as the state religion of Constantinople, Christianity grew rapidly because it provided a practical framework within which non-family members would provide help to other people in the community in a barter system of mutual assistance. Similarly, evolutionary psychology approaches consider the survival advantages that religion might have given to a community of hunter-gatherers, such as unifying them within a coherent social group.
Critics assert that while neuroscientific and evolutionary approaches are scientific insofar as they note the practical advantages religions provide their adherents, it is unscientific insofar as it asserts that people subscribe to religions merely in order to take advantage of those advantages, and exclude the religion's purported attraction: closer experience with Truth and God.
Critics assert that cognitive psychological approaches are unfalsifiable pseudoscience, because they assert that religious experience is a "side-effect" of another cognitive faculty without showing any actual connection between the two, and without providing any way to falsify the cognitive psychological explanation by showing the religious experience to be genuine.

For a discussion of the struggle to attain objectivity in the scientific study of religion, see Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey, who argues that some studies performed pursuant to these methods make claims beyond the realm of observable and verifiable phenomena, and are therefore neither scientific nor religiously neutral.

Development of religion

Template:Thelema There are several models for understanding how religions develop.

Religion in modernity

Template:Thelema In the late 19th century and throughout most of the 20th century EV, the demographics of religion has changed a great deal.

Some historically Christian countries, particularly those in Europe, have experienced a significant decline in Christian religion, shown by declining recruitment for priesthoods and monasteries, fast-diminishing attendance at churches, synagogues, etc. Explanations for this effect include disillusionment with ideology following the ravages of World War II, the materialistic philosophical influence of science, Marxism and Humanism, and a reaction against the exclusivist claims and religious wars waged by many religious groups. This decline is apparently in parallel with increased prosperity and social well-being. It appears increasingly common for people to engage in far-ranging explorations, with many finding spiritual satisfaction outside of organized churches. This is a demographic group whose numbers are growing and whose future impact cannot be predicted.

In the United States, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, studies show that Christianity is strong and growing stronger, and many believe those areas to have become the new "heart" of Christianity. Islam is currently the fastest growing religion, and is nearly universal in many states stretching from West Africa to Indonesia, and has grown in world influence in the West. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Shintoism remain nearly universal in the Far East, and have greatly influenced spirituality, particularly in the United States. Explanations for the growth of religion in these areas include disillusionment with the perceived failures of secular western ideologies to provide an ethical and moral framework. Believers point to perceived terrors such as Naziism, Communism, Colonialism, Secular Humanism, and Materialism, and the havoc reeked by such movements around the world. Particularly vehement in this regard are Islamic fundamentalists, who view Western secularism as a serious threat to morality itself. They point to perceived decadence, high rates of divorce, crime, depression, and suicide as evidence of Western social decline, which they believe is caused by the abandonment of Faith by the West.

Modern reasons for adherence to religion

Typical reasons for adherence to religion include the following:

Modern reasons for rejecting religion

Typical reasons for rejection of religion include the following:

See also

References

External links

Retrieved from "http://www.thelemapedia.org/index.php/Religion"

This page has been accessed 21138 times. This page was last modified 20:47, 18 Nov 2005. Content is available under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2.


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