Tag Archives: church

Homo Religiosus: Sunday, August 25, 2019

Today I attended a Catholic mass at Bellaterra’s church. The service was in Catalan, but in knowing Spanish, I was able to follow along. I’m not a practicing Catholic, and I haven’t been to confession in years. But I’ve always been fascinated by religion from the point of view of cultural anthropology. Man’s need for ritual has held my attention since I was a kid. Mircea Eliade, a Romanian historian of religion and an anthropologist/sociologist, coined the term Homo religiosus to mean that man has always yearned for the sacred. This yearning can be broken down into four beliefs:

1) A belief in a transcendent reality;

2) A belief that the Sacred wants to connect with human beings;

3) A belief that when the Sacred enters a place, it makes it holy. Once a place is holy, a human being can enter it and become holy him/herself;

4) A need to celebrate and recount myths. In doing so, Homo religiousus enters “sacred time” and remembers what Eliade calls “paradigmatic models”–lessons in how to be a good person, what values and virtues to cultivate, what vices to avoid. In this celebrating and recounting of myths, Homo religiosus enters sacred time again and again to discover and re-discover his/her purpose in life.
These four beliefs have been paraphrased from here.

In Chapter 4 of The Sacred and the Profane, Eliade writes:

What we find as soon as we place ourselves in the perspective of religious man of the archaic societies is that the world exists because it was created by the gods, and that the existence of the world itself “means” something, “wants to say” something, that the world is neither mute nor opaque, that it is not an inert thing without purpose or significance. For religious man, the cosmos “lives” and “speaks.” The mere life of the cosmos is proof of its sanctity, since the cosmos was created by the gods and the gods show themselves to men through cosmic life.

The inner patio of the church is well-taken care of as you can see by the lushness of the plants.

Geneticist Dean Hamer proposed the existence of a “God gene,” meaning that we’re genetically predisposed to have spiritual or mystical experience. He studied over a 1,000 people and singled out the gene VMAT2 for predisposing individuals to mystic experiences and the feeling of the presence of God. This gene is responsible for regulating serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. In turn, these neurotransmitters are hypothesized to cause mystical and spiritual experiences in individuals. He believes that having these mystical experiences gives people the will needed to live life fully in the face of death.

This has been an extremely controversial hypothesis because it has been based on one, unreplicated study. Plus, this gene can make you believe in anything, as New York Times science journalist Carl Zimmer pointed out here. Personally, I find the hypothesis fascinating and would love to see whether the study could be replicated. I would suppose that Dean Hamer is today’s scientific exemplar of Homo religiosus, in that he’s looking for a scientific reason for why so many people believe in God and religion.

It was wonderful to attend the service and view it, for the first time, as an anthropological experience instead of as a purely religious experience as I did as a kid. I had a couple sitting across from me that were in full devoted prayer the entire time I was there. My heart went out to them because they were clearly troubled and were asking for divine help.

Ancient Church: Tuesday, August 20, 2019, A.M.

Yesterday was a bit of a weird day. It wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be, so that was nice. But the things I wanted to do were cut short by stomach pain. I was able to visit the doctor, who was very nice but suggested I get an endoscopy done. I am very reluctant to get an endoscopy done in a country that is not my own. The procedure entails some risks I don’t want to take, and if something happens to me, no one will hear from me again, and that fills me with terror. Plus, I already know I have an ulcer and re-diagnosing an ulcer wouldn’t change the treatment plan, which is a rigorous course of antacids and Spain’s answer to Pepto Bismol. I was able to go to the supermarket to buy chicken broth and chicken soup as directed by the doctor, and I visited the church in Bellaterra.

But get this, the church was closed. They only open on Saturdays and Sundays during the month of August. Because you guessed it, it’s vacation month. Gone are the days when you could visit a church on any day of the week, even if it was not for prayer and only a respite from walking, and have it be open for people. I remember in my childhood that churches were open at all times. But in speaking to my mother, who is a fund-raiser for restoring dilapidated churches, the world has changed. Robbery and disagreeable events have made churches close unless mass is being given. She said St. Patrick’s may be one of the few churches open to the public all the time. So, in essence, I could only see the outside of the church, which was very beautiful (see photo).

I then had to go home and lay down for awhile in order for the stomach pain to go away. But I was able to catch up on my reading for my master’s and work on my Web site, which was a class on WordPress all to itself. I want to thank the anonymous person at the other end of the live support chat who was so patient with me, answering every single question I had on how to customize the site.

Today is cleaning day. My apartment comes with a weekly cleaning. Not only that but today, as promised by someone, we’re getting a storm, which will cool things down a bit. I’m excited. I’m about to make myself my first cup of decaf coffee so the ulcer doesn’t complain. I’ve never made decaf coffee because the idea is anathema to me. Coffee always makes my day exciting, though. Baby steps with that darn ulcer.