This post is in response to Three Ideas in Development, specifically the third idea.
As for the third…I love your last paragraph…and have a lot to say about this. I know that you are of course not advocating the side of “science” which I am about to put forth and I more want to raise a philosophical or sociopolitical issue that arises from the void of a society opposed to religion…
In a nutshell of course the superstitious elements of religion can be/have been detrimental. However it is not the religion that is the problem but the superstition. And that is rooted in all of our beliefs, and to extract it means we need to examine our grounds for believing. Per our scientific knowledge it is absurd that Jesus turned water into wine but we readily believe such narratives as Columbus sailed the ocean or America dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. You subtract one myth and take on another. Myth is a fundamental property of human culture…so I’m not so sure we would be better off without it let alone have been capable of reaching our modern condition without trying to make sense of our origins on this earth.
To do away with this seems easy, but not in the face of evolved historical resistances from colonialist persecution of so-called superstitious less civilized and therefore inferior people for their exploitation. The imperialist justification for genocide found a hearth in their scientific superiority.
The thinking back then was our religion + our technology makes us superior because we can kill you and we will kill you because we are superior. Now we say, oh, stupid Muslims, your religion is so stupid. You guys think heaven has 42 virgins in it. Sick perverted heathens in caves. We will kill you because we can. And of course Osama is thinking the same things backwards. Right? So what happens when science becomes the superior religion? I think this kind of helps capitalism. Stupid little people in shacks in that faraway country, they have a crazy religion and aren’t well educated – it doesn’t matter if we take all their money and if they die we really don’t feel that bad but if royalty or celebrity dies then that’s one of us and we go nuts (ok I’m sick but c’mon it’s true).
This raises actual serious concerns…
The assumption is that scientific knowledge would take faith’s place – but science is also fallible and cannot dictate the human spirit. As an example Nazism coincided with a decrease in religious membership in Germany, the philosophers which influenced Hitler were of the “man is their own God” variety. This is an extreme case but illustrates my point.
As Wittgenstein said: “Science: Enrichment and impoverishment. One particular method elbows all the others aside. They all seem paltry by comparison, preliminary stages at best.” In other words so assured of its method that it cannot honestly assess perhaps other methods which can be superior in the right situations. Of course a virgin birth seems outrageously improbable but we openly believe many things which will seem equally absurd in fifty years. Yet it is not superstitious to accept wholeheartedly what contemporary scientific experts dictate although this knowledge is incomplete and only relative to what we know now. Superstition can become a term of convenience and a way to distinguish between/reduce what we consider inferior knowledge/cultures. When one says “I know” this is not superstition although it relies on all the same faith-based mechanisms of knowledge.
The false objectivity of a secular rational society can unwittingly prop thought control, and we see it in the so-called separation of church and state within the schools, bleeding nationalist and capitalist propaganda and scientific knowledge together into one clean unquestioned forum while denying that simple spiritual matters such as living a good life or peace is worth the time of inquiry, scholarly or not. At the same time something like reincarnation which when explained properly makes perfect sense gets reduced to religious mumbo-jumbo and avoided, to the relief of the warlords and totalitarians who depend on our constrained fearful group identities.
Ultimately all of our knowledge relies on faith which we have discussed and a thorough and honest evaluation of faith and the subjective certainty of our knowledge renders the distinction between religious and secular faith trivial.
What I always say is that it makes more sense to study God which actually might have corporeal substance (even better constitute the essence of all corporeal substance) and therefore exist, and not merely conceptually; compared to studying America which certainly does not exist and is merely a concept perpetuated by the thoughts of man.
I hope one of my biggest contributions will be to bridge the gap between religion/spirituality and secular science/logic. They both have a lot to offer our thought processes and appreciation for the world. I think that it is misguided to attribute certain evils to religion when fundamentally bad events and suffering are still very simple: hunger, killing, rape, slavery – get rid of religion and that shit will still be happening just under the “secular priesthood” (A term from Chomsky which references the theocratic elements of a so-called non-religious state). So I agree with Cheryl that the problem is identity, and our views on negation which goes back to our entire foundation of knowledge – see previous posts on Leibniz and Aristotle. My solution is that we exist and don’t exist, we must see past the duality, it is not an either/or.
To be honest I don’t think that people believing in virgin births are the problem…I think that the crushing wave of institutions is more the problem and here is where we can agree on organized religion. But should be built upon, not tossed away. Nobody needs a church to find peace but they don’t need a school either. These things are useful for their ritual, tradition, and familiarity. Humanists should move to a compromise of some sort. A productive solution that lies in digging even deeper and implicates all of us on myriad fundamental levels. I will get back to this in many many future posts…