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Paul Ingrassia at The American Conservative has published a polemic entitled “The Religious Fanaticism of Silicon Valley Elites.” It should be noted that Ingrassia is himself Catholic, so he has no beef with religion per se. Just as the zealous Proud Boys find their greatest rival in a different type of zealot, namely Antifa, the biggest detractors of X often share many of the same qualities as X. In Ingrassia’s case, his Catholicism is perhaps leading him to mistake Silicon Valley for a rival religion. He writes:

While Silicon Valley types delay giving their own children screens, knowing full well their deleterious effects on cognitive and social development (not to mention their addictive qualities), they hardly bat an eye when handing these gadgets to our middle class. 

This is untrue. Or at the very least, there’s far from enough evidence to conclude this. Psychologist Amy Orben at Cambridge has researched the effects of digital technology on youth has shown that wearing glasses has greater negative effects on youth than does screen time with smart phones, which she correctly points out can include everything form perusing Kim Kardashian’s Instragram account to chatting with friends.

Ingrassia continues:

Their political views seem to become more radical by the day. They as a class represent the junction of meritocracy and the soft nihilism that has infiltrated almost every major institution in contemporary society. 

Silicon Valley gets more radical by the day? Eh. Updating Facebook Messenger’s user interface or introducing a chatbot into a banking app isn’t radical, and they’re the kinds of things that comprise the mundane bulk of what Silicon Valley is up to. But where Silicon Valley is radical, it contradicts the notion that it’s nihilistic. More interesting developments such as synthetic meat, 3-D printed prosthetics, and crypto-currency are expressions of idealism, not throwing one’s hands up. Scott Alexander has a good rundown here of the suprisingly, er, down to earth nature of what Silicon Valley occupies itself with. VR porn or drones for extreme sports enthusiasts isn’t on the top of the list.

Our elites hope to spare themselves from incurring any moral responsibility for the costs of their social engineering. And “social engineering” is not a farfetched term to use. A portion of the Times article interrogates the premise of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian 1932 novel Brave New World, which tells the story of a totalitarian regime that has anesthetized a docile underclass into blind submission.

Hyperbole, all the way down.

Say, what is the Godwin’s Law equivalent of invoking either 1984 or Brave New World? There must be something like that. If not, it’s just a matter of time before Silicon Valley invents it…

Ingrassia spills alot of digital ink bashing Silicon Valley “guru” and “maharishi” Yuval Levin for supposedly celebrating the demise of work and the creation of a “useless” class of citizens. But Ingrassia’s linked New York Times article describes Levin as a purveyor of the idea that “Silicon Valley is an engine of dystopian ruin,” and describes him as worried that “by creating powerful influence machines to control billions of minds, the big tech companies are destroying the idea of a sovereign individual with free will.”

It sounds like Levin is in agreement with Ingrassia, if anything.

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Jan/19

9

Chesus

It does not take much detective work to understand that Marxism is, in many respects, another branch of the Judeo-Christian tree, most notably in its millenarian fantasies, but also in, one way or another, its sanctification of poverty.

Many religions, of course, have saints and in this intriguing piece for Quillette, partly based on his father’s own acquaintance with Guevara, George Schifini looks at the cult of Che. There’s so much in this article about the transformation of an almost certainly psychotic killer into a saint that it’s hard to know where to begin.

One aspect of the piece that is perhaps worth highlighting is how quickly Che’s transformation into something with a touch of the divine about him began:


“The cult of Che began within hours of Guevara’s execution by a Bolivian army sergeant. After his body was placed in the Vallegrande, Bolivia, hospital laundry room, hospital nuns, the nurse who washed his body, as well as several women of the town, had the impression that the dead Argentine resembled Jesus Christ and clipped snippets of his hair to keep for good luck. “

And that cult has endured. Helped, doubtless, by that iconic photograph of Guevara taken by Alberto Korda, it has been shown, to use a wonderful phrase of Schifini’s, to have “the wattage to light up the religious circuits of the human mind for the long haul.” Put another way, the circumstances of Guevara’s life and death and the iconography (including some of the photographs of his corpse) that came with it have offered enough for the ‘God gene’ to work with.


“In the village of Vallegrande… some of the locals pray and attribute miracles to San Ernesto. A nurse who washed Guevara’s body said, “None dies as long as he is remembered. He is very miraculous”…. In Cuba, the Afro-Cuban faith Santeria has incorporated Guevara (as a black man) as a divine entity that can, for the supplicant, intercede with God…. But it’s the secular world that keeps the Che cult from withering.”

That’s not so surprising. The secular world has the technology and the money to keep a cult going, and it has, for many of its inhabitants, a spiritual gap to fill. The God gene does not switch off in what are nominally secular societies. It merely finds a different outlet. It didn’t hurt, of course, that what Guevara was preaching was merely a variant of a long-established template.

And this also helped:


Ernesto Guevara was born, raised, and died in the Latin American milieu of Christianity. The Bolivian women who tended to the corpse of Guevara reported that he resembled Jesus Christ, and not, unsurprisingly, Osiris, Zoroaster, Krishna, or Buddha. As we have seen, many analyses by secular intellectuals of Che instinctively draw on analogues with Christianity and its eponymous divinity. In Latin America, and arguably Western society, the “mythic lore” of Jesus Christ is one the “filaments of myth that are everywhere in the air” acting as magnets to “the great and little heroes of the world” (Campbell, 1964). Guevara’s narrative, in particular his death—the whereabouts of Che’s body was unknown for decades—contains a strong field of mythic magnetism to attach itself to the Christ myth…

…When Campbell wrote of the filaments of myths that floated in the “air,” he argued that myth did its heavy lifting in the human mind. He defined a “functioning mythology” as a “corpus of culturally maintained sign stimuli” that catalyze a release of energy. Myth functions as a sign, stimuli triggering an innate releasing mechanism, terms borrowed from ethology, the science of animal behavior.

Schifini’s father had asked what could keep the cult of Che from becoming a religion.

After all:

The Ernesto “Che” Guevara narrative, now more mythology than primary source history, and the Korda photo contain an abundance of “sign stimuli.”

To Schifini’s father, the way that religions began was that “a messianic man kills and is killed and decades, perhaps centuries later, is worshiped as a deity”:

Schifini’s father was astonished that his path had crossed, however briefly, with such a man:

“My father didn’t believe in religion…He probably didn’t believe in a god or gods, although I can’t be sure because we never explicitly discussed the topic. I wish he were still around to talk of all these things. “

We should be grateful that the son still is.

Read the whole thing….

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Nov/18

25

Thought For The Day

“Humanism is a secular religion thrown together from decaying scraps of Christian myth.”

John Gray, Straw Dogs (2002)

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The New York Times recently published a piece on Wiccans in New York City, “Witchcraft in the #MeToo Era.” Despite the name, the article has nothing to do with #MeToo – there are no tales or even allusions to Wiccan women under the spell of nefarious Wiccan men – but instead highlights the practice of paganism and Wicca in Goth-am from a vaguely female perspective:

In Manhattan, family-oriented witches attend the Wiccan Family Temple with their children. The Temple of the Spiral Path, also based in Manhattan, offers workshops and an introductory witch’s academy that meets weekly. New York’s pagan couples can be married by legally ordained Wiccan ministers offering their services on The Witches’ Voice; there’s even a Wicca e-group based in the Bronx. Catland Books, an occult bookshop in Bushwick, Brooklyn, offers weekly workshops, drawing a younger, trendier crowd.

According to a City-Data forum, the best metros in the U.S. to be Wiccan and/or pagan is New Orleans, New York City, Salem (shocker!), the Bay Area and Minneapolis/St.Paul. I’m surprised the Pacific Northwest doesn’t appear in the list, given its post-religious susceptibility to non-traditional (or in this case hyper traditional, it can be argued) and new-agey spirituality. Conversely, the inclusion of New Orleans may seem odd given the south’s Pentecostal and Evangelical-driven hostility toward the occult; but then “Nola” has a fairly unique history, and is far more Catholic today than a city like Atlanta.

This passage doesn’t make Wiccans look especially serious:

On a recent Friday night, the witches of the Temple of the Spiral Path gathered to watch the spunky teenage witches in “The Craft.” The Temple occasionally hosts pagan movie nights. This one drew eight people — a few coven members and friends, to a Midtown dance studio where the group often meets. JoAnna Farrer, 34, and her husband, had never seen the 1996 cult classic, a supernatural horror film following a teenager who falls in with a clique of witches. Everyone else in the room, including Ms. Farrer’s close friend Ms. Cruci, expressed dismay. “How can you be a witch and have never seen ‘The Craft’?” one witch demanded, munching Doritos.

Was it really necessary to mention the Doritos?

The article fails to examine what impact, if any, Wiccans have had on the development of the musical genre known as “witch house.”*

*(Yes I’m being cheeky.)

 

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Feb/18

8

China: Holy See No Evil

Cross-posted on the Corner:

It’s no great secret that Roman Catholic ‘social’ teaching, normally seen as a form of corporatism, is a touch difficult to reconcile with free market economics, even more so in the era of Pope Francis, a man who absorbed too much and understood too little during his youth in Peronist Argentina.

That said, this (via the Catholic Herald) was, well, quite something:

“Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese,” a senior Vatican official has said.

Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, praised the Communist state as “extraordinary”, saying: “You do not have shantytowns, you do not have drugs, young people do not take drugs”. Instead, there is a “positive national conscience”.

A national conscience so positive that, until recently, it positively insisted that women should only have one child each, and positively reinforced that insistence with methods up to and including forced abortions, a practice that may not have disappeared quite so completely as the Chinese regime now likes to suggest.

A national conscience so positive that it can’t see what’s wrong with the Laogai, China’s gulag, the largest system of forced labor camps in the world.

And a national conscience so positive that Mao, the murderer of tens of millions, remains venerated.

Back to the Catholic Herald:

The bishop told the Spanish-language edition of Vatican Insider that in China “the economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States, something Americans themselves would say.”

They would? What they might say is that in the U.S. there is more of a separation between the economy (and thus the individual) and politics (and thus the state), than corporatists—whether of the Vatican or Chinese Communist variety—might like.

The Catholic Herald:

Bishop Sánchez Sorondo said that China was implementing Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ better than many other countries and praised it for defending Paris Climate Accord. “In that, it is assuming a moral leadership that others have abandoned”, he added.

He accused US president Donald Trump of being “manipulated” by global oil firms, and said that, as opposed to those who follow “liberal thought”, the Chinese are working for the greater good of the planet.

This bishop, like his pope, cannot, it seems, resist the lure of conspiracism: Demagogues—a  species certainly not confined to the Vatican—tend to be like that.

Note too Sorondo’s obvious disdain for the very idea of “liberal thought” – and, to be clear, by “liberal” he  means classical liberal.

That should come as no surprise.

And this was no one-off.

Here’s Sorondo last year (via Crux):

“China could be a model we need today to respond to globalization, a model for the dignity and freedom of human beings…”

Sorondo’s remarks are, I am sure, the product of deep ideological conviction, however revolting, but they also, doubtless, come with another, more cynical objective, flattering a dictatorship with which the Vatican is currently very keen to cut a deal over the appointment of bishops.

A sort of Lateran Two, you might say.

 

 

 

· · ·

Sep/17

20

Palmyra’s Earlier Attackers

From The Spectator, a review of a new book, The Darkening Age, on Christianity’s early centuries.  I haven’t read the book itself (it’s not out in this country until next year), but judging by the review  it looks interesting, no least for the light it throws on the Christian cult of suffering, something still all too evident today in the widespread opposition—across denominations—to assisted suicide.

In the late years of [the Roman] Empire, and early days of Christianity, there were monks who didn’t wash for fear of being overcome by lust at the sight of their own bodies. Some concealed their nakedness in outfits woven from palm fronds. One designed a leather suit that also covered his head. There were holes for his mouth and nose, but not, apparently, his eyes.

There was a monk who spent three years with a stone in his mouth to remind him not to speak. Another wept so hard, his tears dug a hollow in his chest. There were those who went about on all fours. St Anthony, one of the founders of monasticism, chose to make his home in a pigsty. St Simeon Stylites stood on a pillar for 37 years until his feet burst open.

In the reviewer’s  opinion  this shows that “Christianity is a fundamentally masochistic religion”. Despite the cult of suffering (which is real enough) and the behavior of more recent grotesques such as Jean Vianney, that’s too simplistic, but this caught my eye:

[Christianity’s] self-punishing characteristics are a particular product of time and place: not only a reaction against Roman decadence but also, as Catherine Nixey points out in her clever, compelling book The Darkening Age, a response to the end of imperial persecution. The theory goes that, after the Empire adopted Christianity, some felt nostalgic for the enlivening fear of martyrdom, and compensated by metaphorically martyring themselves. This, then, is the essence of asceticism. It was a syndrome that St Jerome dubbed ‘white martyrdom’, to distinguish it from the red kind, which got you killed in front of a baying, paying crowd.

And then there was this (my emphasis added):

Nixey’s book presents the progress of Christianity as a triumph only in the military sense of a victory parade. Culturally, it was genocide: a kind of anti-Enlightenment, a darkening, during which, while annihilating the old religions, the rampaging evangelists carried out ‘the largest destruction of art that human history had ever seen’. This certainly isn’t the history we were taught in Sunday school. Readers raised in the milky Anglican tradition will be surprised to learn of the savagery of the early saints and their sledgehammer-swinging followers.

Here are some darkening dates: 312, the Emperor Constantine converts, after Christianity helps him defeat his enemies; 330, Christians begin desecrating pagan temples; 385, Christians sack the temple of Athena at Palmyra, decapitating the goddess’s statue; 392, Bishop Theophilus destroys the temple of Serapis in Alexandria; 415, the Greek mathematician Hypatia is murdered by Christians; 529, the Emperor Justinian bans non-Christians from teaching; 529, the Academy in Athens closes its doors, concluding a 900-year philosophical tradition…

It’s important not to be tempted into facile point-scoring comparisons between the Christians of the 4th Century and ISIS in the 21st. Nevertheless else, that ancient Christian attack on the temple of Athena is (yet) another reminder that the God of the Middle Eastern monotheisms is a jealous god, and thus someone who could not be added with any ease into the (fairly) relaxed polytheism of the Classical era.

Gibbon  (From The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire):

The policy of the emperors and the senate, as far as it concerned religion, was happily seconded by the reflections of the enlightened, and by the habits of the superstitious, part of their subjects. The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.

The refusal to play according to the rules  of that system goes, I imagine, a long way to explaining the persecution of the  early Church.

It’s also something of a mild corrective to the praise for the (not undeserved) praise for those monks who “saved civilization”. Their coreligionists destroyed quite a  bit of it too.

· · ·

Sep/17

7

The Transhumanist ‘Threat’

The Jesuits’ America magazine is a somewhat overwrought publication, and a recent article (“Who’s afraid of Transhumanism? (We all should be)”) it ran on the ‘threat’ posed by ‘Transhumanism’ was no exception. If I had to guess, Transhumanism, a fancy word for an over-excited philosophy and technologies that have yet to exist, will turn into something largely prosaic: Continuous, often undramatic improvement.

This is a concept  that, back in the day, management consultants used to call ‘Kaizen’ for the reason that it was thought to be one of the many secret sauces in Japan’s postwar economic boom. It also sounded more sophisticated with a Japanese name, however inaccurately used  (in reality ‘Kaizen’ means any sort of improvement, continuous or otherwise).

Applied to our species, Kaizen could involve pharmaceuticals, elective surgery, some (who knows?) six million man dollar style upgrades and, yes, a spot of genetic engineering.   Nothing much to worry about, in other words.

It is when we turn away from the objections that the author of the article, John Conley, a priest and an academic, has to some of the loopier aspects of Transhumanism (a sort of Ayn Rand plus plus philosophy) to the core of his argument, that a  familiar picture emerges, that of the glorification of suffering as a positive good. This is a morbid outgrowth of the Christian tradition that can, as I noted here, be detected in other areas, such as in some of the opposition to assisted suicide.

Conley asks:

Why would we want to abolish aging and dying, essential constituents of the human drama, the fountainhead of our art and literature?

Why would we not (although I doubt that we  will get there any time soon – if ever)?

A  few years back I posted an extract from an article by New Yorker writer Aleksander Hemon, whose daughter was diagnosed with cancer at 9 months old. The terribly bereaved father had this to say:

One of the most despicable religious fallacies is that suffering is ennobling—that it is a step on the path to some kind of enlightenment or salvation. Isabel’s suffering and death did nothing for her, or us, or the world.

Quite

And the idea that by killing off death or ‘abolishing’ aging, we would kill off art and literature, is a curious one. Art would doubtless change as the ‘human drama’ changed, but the idea that artistic expression would wither away when we did not is ludicrous. Mankind is a creative species. The spirit of Lascaux is not so easily extinguished.

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Aug/17

19

The Attacks in Catalonia: “Blind” Violence?

Cross-posted on the Corner.

Pope Francis on last year’s Nice attack (via the National Catholic Register):

Pope Francis condemned the attack on Bastille Day Celebrations in France, calling it an act of “blind violence.”

While Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the man who drove a truck into the 14th July crowds in Nice last year, was undoubtedly unstable, had not shown much interest in religion and lacked any formal affiliation with ISIS, it seems fairly clear what pushed him over the edge.

GQ:

In the final two weeks of his life, however, and perhaps for the first time, [Bouhlel] appeared to develop an interest in Islam, the religion into which he had been born. He played recitations of the Koran in his car; he criticized a friend for listening to music; he began to grow a beard. Online, he researched the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a killing carried out in the name of the Islamic State.

Also in evidence on [his] computer was his apparent fascination with the crowds drawn each summer to the Promenade des Anglais, on Nice’s tranquil coastline, where on July 14 the city’s Bastille Day fireworks can be watched unobstructed, reflected in the black mirror of the sea.

These things were not known by the time that the Pope diagnosed the slaughter as “blind violence”, but, given what’s happened in Europe in recent years, for Francis to describe the killings in the way that he did was as much of a rush to judgment as (in this case) immediately pinning the blame on Islamic extremism.

Pope Francis yesterday on the Barcelona attacks (via America magazine):

Pope Francis has condemned “the blind violence” of “the cruel terrorist attack” in Barcelona…

The Washington Post:

 BARCELONA — Spain was seized Friday with the realization that it had incubated a large-scale terrorist plot, as authorities across Europe mounted a manhunt following the deadliest attacks to strike the country in more than a decade: two vehicle assaults in Barcelona and a Catalan coastal town.

Investigators believe that at least eight people plotted the attacks, putting them at a level of sophistication comparable to major strikes in Paris and Brussels in recent years. Other more recent attacks in London, Berlin and the southern French city of Nice were perpetrated by individuals operating largely on their own.

Spanish counterterrorism officers were scrambling to untangle the terrorist network, which involved at least four Moroccan citizens under age 25, according to intelligence officials. In addition to those four, authorities have detained three Moroccan men and a Spaniard.

In a sign that the attack could have been significantly worse, police said they believed the assailants were planning to use propane and butane canisters in an explosive assault against civilians. Instead, the gas ignited prematurely, destroying a house in Alcanar, about 100 miles southwest of Barcelona that was being used by the suspects. The explosion killed at least two people and injured 16, including police officers and firefighters investigating the site…

Blind violence. Really? The temptation, of course, is to dismiss the Pope’s remarks as simple foolishness, but that would be a mistake. To misquote part of an old line, he has eyes and he sees. The question is what he wants everyone else to see or, more accurately, not to see.

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Aug/17

13

Des Moines: Theocrats Busted

The Des Moines Register (my emphasis added):

The FBI raided a Catholic Worker House in Des Moines early Friday in search of evidence linked to efforts to sabotage construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.

About 30 law enforcement personnel, led by agents armed with guns who identified themselves as being from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, entered the Catholic Workers’ Berrigan House just north of downtown Des Moines shortly after 6 a.m., said Frank Cordaro, a former Catholic priest who resides at the house. The agents left about 10:30 a.m. with boxes and sealed bags of property they had seized.

“As soon as they realized we wouldn’t put up a fight, the guns went down, and they didn’t cuff us because we told them we wouldn’t give them any trouble,” Cordaro said.  “They were nice. They got us coffee, but we didn’t get to see any of the stuff that they took, except to watch it leave.”

Cordaro said it was clear the FBI was seeking evidence related to claims of responsibility for pipeline damage by Jessica Reznicek, 36, and Ruby Montoya, 27. Both women reside at the house at 713 Indiana Ave. Members of the Catholic Worker movement place a heavy emphasis on social justice issues.

The two women held a news conference outside the Iowa Utilities Board on July 24 in which they described their use of arson and other efforts to halt construction of the pipeline in Iowa and South Dakota. The pipeline was developed by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners.

Put another way, they believe that their belief in their God gives them the right to defy the laws of a democracy and destroy private property.

The last time I checked, this country was supposed to be subject to the rule of law and not to what someone believes to be commandments laid down by their version of God.

If these ‘Catholic Workers‘  want to change the rules there is always the ballot box, but theocrats have never been too keen on that.

The Des Moines Register:

Crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch began flowing on the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline on June 1 to a distribution hub at Patoka, Illinois. The two women have told reporters they began efforts to stop the construction project Nov. 8, 2016. Their first incident of destruction involved burning at least five pieces of heavy equipment on the pipeline  project in northwest Iowa’s Buena Vista County.  New reports indicate the arson caused damage estimated at about $2.5 million….

Reznicek and Montoya have said they researched how to pierce the steel pipe used for the pipeline and in March they began using oxyacetylene cutting torches to damage exposed, empty pipeline valves. They said they subsequently used torches to cause damage up and down the pipeline in Iowa and into part of South Dakota, moving from valve to valve until running out of supplies.

Reznicek and Montoya were arrested by state troopers July 24 for damaging a sign at the Iowa Utilities Board’s offices and were charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief. But they were released on bond and have not been charged with any federal crimes for pipeline sabotage.

…Cordaro acknowledged Friday that it appears likely the two women will face federal criminal charges related to their claims of responsiblity.

America Magazine (“The Jesuit Review”) has more (again, my emphasis added):

Both women were part of those protests but carried out the pipeline actions on their own. Now, both await trial and could face years in prison.

“We chose to take these actions after seeing the continued desecration of the Earth, which we are to be stewards of,” Ms. Montoya told America.

They say they began their protest on Election Day by burning several pieces of construction equipment. Over the next few months, they used oxyacetylene torches to cut through pipeline valves and used gasoline-soaked rags to burn electrical equipment. Their actions delayed construction by several weeks, and they stopped when they learned the oil flow had begun.

The fact that these women say that they began their vandalism on Election Day tells you all that you need about their attitude to democracy.

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Jul/17

23

UFOs and The ‘Religious Mind’

Writing in the New York Times, Clay Routledge notes the interesting, if unsurprising, fact, that someone’s religious instinct doesn’t disappear simply because he or she has rejected ‘established’ religion:

Just a couple of decades ago, about 95 percent of Americans reported belonging to a religious group. This number is now around 75 percent. And far fewer are actively religious: The percentage of regular churchgoers may be as low as 15 to 20 percent. As for religious belief, the Pew Research Center found that from 2007 to 2014 the percentage of Americans who reported being absolutely confident God exists dropped from 71 percent to 63 percent.

Nonetheless, there is reason to doubt the death of religion, or at least the death of what you might call the “religious mind” — our concern with existential questions and our search for meaning. A growing body of research suggests that the evidence for a decline in traditional religious belief, identity and practice does not reflect a decline in this underlying spiritual inclination.

Ask yourself: Why are people religious to begin with?

Well, there was that Minnesota study of twins reared apart described in this Wall Street Journal article a few years back (I posted about it here):

The Minnesota study’s IQ results hit a nerve years before their publication in 1990, overshadowing other controversies that might have been. Many of its findings are bipartisan shockers. Take religion, which almost everyone attributes to “socialization.” Separated-twin data show that religiosity has a strong genetic component, especially in the long run: “Parents had less influence than they thought over their children’s religious activities and interests as they approached adolescence and adulthood.” The key caveat: While genes have a big effect on how religious you are, upbringing has a big effect on the brand of religion you accept. Identical separated sisters Debbie and Sharon “both liked the rituals and formality of religious services and holidays,” even though Debbie was a Jew and Sharon was a Christian.

I eagerly looking forward to what Routledge had to say about the “religious mind” as something that is inherited, an aspect of the ‘God Gene’, yet another by-product of the evolutionary process.

But no, to Mr. Routledge, the “fundamental nature” of the religious mind is:

[O]ur awareness of, and need to reckon with, the transience and fragility of our existence, and how small and unimportant we seem to be in the grand scheme of things. In short: our quest for significance.

Count me out of that “quest”, but each to his own…

But then Routledge moves into more interesting territory:

Evidence suggests that the religious mind persists even when we lose faith in traditional religious beliefs and institutions. Consider that roughly 30 percent of Americans report they have felt in contact with someone who has died. Nearly 20 percent believe they have been in the presence of a ghost. About one-third of Americans believe that ghosts exist and can interact with and harm humans; around two-thirds hold supernatural or paranormal beliefs of some kind, including beliefs in reincarnation, spiritual energy and psychic powers.

These numbers are much higher than they were in previous decades, when more people reported being highly religious. People who do not frequently attend church are twice as likely to believe in ghosts as those who are regular churchgoers. The less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse empirically unsupported ideas about U.F.O.s, intelligent aliens monitoring the lives of humans and related conspiracies about a government cover-up of these phenomena.

An emerging body of research supports the thesis that these interests in nontraditional supernatural and paranormal phenomena are driven by the same cognitive processes and motives that inspire religion. For instance, my colleagues and I recently published a series of studies in the journal Motivation and Emotion demonstrating that the link between low religiosity and belief in advanced alien visitors is at least partly explained by the pursuit of meaning. The less religious participants were, we found, the less they perceived their lives as meaningful. This lack of meaning was associated with a desire to find meaning, which in turn was associated with belief in U.F.O.s and alien visitors.

When people are searching for meaning, their minds seem to gravitate toward thoughts of things like aliens that do not fall within our current scientific inventory of the world. Why? I suspect part of the answer is that such ideas imply that humans are not alone in the universe, that we might be part of a larger cosmic drama. As with traditional religious beliefs, many of these paranormal beliefs involve powerful beings watching over humans and the hope that they will rescue us from death and extinction.

A great many atheists and agnostics, of course, do not think U.F.O.s exist. I’m not suggesting that if you reject traditional religious belief, you will necessarily find yourself believing in alien visitors. But because beliefs about U.F.O.s and aliens do not explicitly invoke the supernatural and are couched in scientific and technological jargon, they may be more palatable to those who reject the metaphysics of more traditional religious systems.

It is important to note that thus far, research indicates only that the need for meaning inspires these types of paranormal beliefs, not that such beliefs actually do a good job of providing meaning. There are reasons to suspect they are poor substitutes for religion: They are not part of a well-established social and institutional support system and they lack a deeper and historically rich philosophy of meaning. Seeking meaning does not always equal finding meaning.

Or at least an acceptable facsimile of meaning for the individual in question. ‘Meaning’ in this sense can only ever be subjective.

Routledge:

The Western world is, in theory, becoming increasingly secular — but the religious mind remains active. The question now is, how can society satisfactorily meet people’s religious and spiritual needs?

Well, it’s not up to ‘society’ to decide on this one way or another, but, if Routledge is correct (which, I think he is, if not quite for the right reasons) , the religious impulse is not going anywhere soon. That suggests that much of atheist rage—itself an expression, I suspect, of religious feeling—against organized religion is misdirected.

Organized religion can be a device for channeling the innate religious impulse in a positive manner. It can be, but very often is not. Those who either lack or have little in the way of a religious mind should oppose the more destructive forms of organized religion (there are plenty of examples to choose from) while welcoming the existence of those that are relatively benign.

As I’ve noted here before, the more or less agnostic Winston Churchill said that he was not a pillar of the Church of England, but a buttress, ”supporting it from the outside”. I feel much the same way.

To repeat myself from that earlier post:

At its best, the C of E…is in some ways as close to perfection as religion—a man-made thing—can come to perfection, benign, kindly, gently patriotic, theologically broad-minded, a quiet conservator of tradition and order with room (for those who want it) for a spot of the supernatural, but little time for superstition, the navel-gazing nonsense of mysticism or an over-insistence on dogma.

Beats a UFO cult any day.

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