Superstition, darkness, the inquisition, the opiate of the masses.
This is religion in polite ‘rational’ society.
Yes, religion has been used as a control mechanism and to help keep people docile under oppression but to focus on this only is to think very small.
Religion is a purpose engine for human societies.
The same type of thinking that allowed humans to plan for the winter or the dry season enabled us to become aware of our mortality and the impermanence of all things. This awareness allowed us to arrive at the logical conclusion that the universe is indifferent and our petty struggles pointless.
Humans require some means of fixing this bug. We must have some way of establishing meaning and purpose.
Nihilism is fatal to the continuity of the human species.
No nihilistic human society has ever survived. Societies that lose their sense of purpose are quickly subsumed by their neighbors and forgotten.
A well-established reason to exist better determines a society’s competitive success than sheer numbers, force of arms, or abundant natural resources. Meaning comes before all else.
This does not mean we all ought to try to revive traditional Christianity or any other religion. The old ways have failed for a reason in our own age and we are naive to suppose there ever was a golden age.
Systems of absolute morality have always been a clumsy way of regulating human behavior.
Absolute morals must self-contradict in countless unforeseen ways. A whole science of apologetics is required to keep the system afloat. Absolute morals set a standard that’s impossible to emulate in real life. Most people just ignore The Rules because absolute morality lays out an abysmally poor model of human reality.
In a highly religious society the payoff for clever, hypocritical defectors is very high while those who naively follow the rules are easily exploited. This is the problem that irks critics of religion to no end.
Despite all these shortcomings, however, religions kept thriving societies alive for millennia.
If a traditional religion is no longer suitable as a purpose engine, it must be replaced.
Secularism, a philosophy that favors a lowest common denominator that offends no one is not the answer. It provides a legal basis for a society of many factions but it cannot provide the power of purpose and meaning.
The ‘humanism’ set forth by atheists is not a viable answer. It is Christian ethics without Christianity to support it, a foundation fancifully suspended in mid-air.
Strong atheism reduces to nihilism. It can never uphold or produce a system of social values derived from a system of absolute morality.
There are two main functions that must be performed by a replacement purpose engine.
1) Avoid nihilism.
Traditional religions perform this function by assuming the existence of an eternal, omniscient creator(s) that cares about its creation.
I would propose that a post-religious thinker must assume a higher purpose.
This higher purpose ‘exists’ precisely because we perish without it.
The possibility of a pointless existence self-eliminates.
The higher purpose is pragmatically self-evident from the very laws of our universe.
2) Establish purpose.
In traditional religions the omniscient creator(s) gives us some kind of mission in life.
I have my ideas on how this problem might be approached. I hint at these ideas throughout this blog and will continue to develop them in new posts.
The old religions arose spontaneously from societies operating wholly in a state of nature.
If Western civilizations continue on their present course, they will be engulfed by the old religions as they falter. The cycles that led to the rise and fall of our civilization will repeat. Better luck next time.
For now, there is a brief window of time to experiment with creating a deliberately engineered purpose engine; a construct superior in function to those that arise by chance and which can never develop beyond a bare minimum required by natural selection.
The fatal flaw in Western enlightenment thought is its relentless obsession with the material and the empirical.
After centuries of technological breakthroughs, methods of social organization, the use of belief systems, the power of human consciousness have remained in an uncultivated, pre-scientific state.
Indeed, it is precisely this lopsided mode of development which now brings the West crashing down.