What Will Replace Religion?

One argument for theism that I have always found interesting is the argument that humans do not have desires for which there exists no corresponding object in the real world. For example, we desire water, and water exists; we desire food, and food exists; we desire love and friendship, and those things exist. Similarly, this reasoning goes, human beings innately desire fellowship with God, and this strongly suggests that God exists.

This argument is clever, but naive. A straightforward application of its logic would lead to the conclusion that there is a Santa Claus at the North Pole, pots of gold at the ends of rainbows, and lamp-dwelling genies that will grant the finder three wishes. After all, various groups of people have desired all these things to be true, and why would we have these desires if there existed no object that satisfied them?

The apologetic response would probably be that these examples are overly specific, and that we should instead consider the general objects of desire, and not the specific ways in which people hope to attain those desires. For example, rather than Santa Claus or leprechauns, the general trend is that people desire gifts and wealth, and it is possible to obtain both those things in the real world.

However, this reasoning can backfire on the apologist. How do they know, I would argue, that God is not the same kind of thing – an overly specific example of a general human desire which can be fulfilled, just in other ways?

Many of my fellow atheists, in their books and websites, focus on attacking religion and arguing for its elimination. This is understandable, given the harm that supernatural belief has wrought, but I believe there is an underlying point that needs to be addressed. Religion is extremely widespread and popular, and it could not have gotten that way unless it was filling some important human need. No attempt to overthrow religion is likely to be successful unless it addresses this need; it never works to take away from people something that is important to them and offer nothing in its place. Yet I have seen relatively few atheist works that attempt to envision our ultimate goal, a world without religion. I intend to do just that. In this post, I will cast my gaze over the horizon and imagine that all our goals have been achieved – that all varieties of superstition and unreason have faded away, that religion no longer tyrannizes the minds of humanity – and sketch a picture of what I think that world would ideally be like.

Although religion provides its members with some social services, that is not the only reason for its popularity. After all, there are many other community groups that also provide social services that do not have nearly as large a following as churches do. I believe the true reason for religion’s popularity is that it inspires the sense of spirituality – it makes people feel as if they are involved in something larger and more significant than themselves. This is a basic human desire, and at the moment, religion has little competition when it comes to fulfilling it.

But there is no intrinsic reason why this need must be fulfilled by belief in supernatural beings. As many scientists and naturalists will testify, the intricate beauty of the natural world, truly understood, provides at least as powerful an inspiration to the sense of awe as any of the small, anthropocentric belief systems taught in churches. I can envision a world of groups that speak to this sense with genuine spirituality, rather than the packaged, mass-market version sold by religion – not churches in the religious sense, but places of humanist fellowship where people freely come together to fill their lives with meaning and to learn about the world they live in, the better to revere its beauty.

Imagine, if you will, a humanist church that met at night under the open sky, discussing the true nature of the planets and stars, and the incomprehensible vastness and majesty of the cosmos of which we are but a very small part. Imagine a humanist church that spent its Sundays not shut up in a musty building, but on nature walks and hikes, teaching its members to appreciate the beauty of the living world, to identify all the species they see and understand the magnificently complex web of their interactions. Imagine a church that chose sermon topics not from one ancient book, but from the writings of great philosophers and scientists throughout history, or one that did not even have a sermon as such but rather a discussion, with every member an equal, of the virtues of a particular book or essay.

This would not be a religious service. There would be no prayers, no sacred texts, and no rituals invested with beliefs in magic. However, there could well be rituals, in a secular sense and without extraneous supernaturalism, to commemorate and celebrate milestones in the lives of community members, such as a wedding or a coming of age. There could also be humanist holidays, premised not on deeds allegedly performed by past religious figures, but on dates of seasonal significance such as the solstices and equinoxes – again, as part of teaching the community to feel connected to the natural world and to understand the basis of that connection – or on important historical events. If there were tithes, they would go not to prop up a wealthy and unaccountable church hierarchy, but to be reinvested to aid worthy causes in the community and beyond.

These gatherings could have their own dedicated meeting hall, or – an idea that appeals to me – they could simply rotate through the homes of community members, eschewing formalism as much as possible in favor of the simple pleasures of warmth, light, fellowship, good company and good conversation. Instead of a hierarchy of obedience where one person always stands in the relationship of authority to every other congregant, this role could be filled on a weekly basis by different members of the community. After all, no one person has a deeper sense of spirituality than any other, nor does one person have all the answers to life’s mysteries. We can always learn from each other.

Through these deep and meaningful interactions with our fellow human beings, our friends and loved ones, we can meet the human desires for spirituality and involvement and fill our lives with happiness and meaning. The invention of the term “God” is and has always been just a misguided attempt to produce this same feeling from an ethereal source (an “imaginary friend” in a very real sense), when in reality it must, by its nature, be grounded in the genuine love and friendship of people around us. Religious apologists who believe that desire to worship the supernatural is primary are confusing cause and effect.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.toomanytribbles.blogspot.com/ toomanytribbles

    for many, religion provides relief from a fear of death. that must be addressed as well.

  • anon

    WOW will replace religion, i’ll let you figure out why.

  • Joe Hardwick

    Please look at my comments on your article, “Tipping the Scales.” Religion isn’t an inherently bad thing, we just lack a rational instance of one. I think religious awe, reverence, sense of the sacred, or whatever you call it, is as natural and functional as love, hate, fear, etc..To argue that its proper object is Yahweh, however, is absurd in the extreme.
    But you neglected to mention some vital functions of religion. Validation of the social order and preparing people to live happy lives within it are very important, which is why Christians were punished for not honoring the gods. The distinction between religion and politics is largely a modern one. But the basis of democracy is that good and evil are known by Reason, and we are all equally capable of reasoning. Ironically, it would appear that one duty of religion is to prepare us to think rationally, and develop a “religious conviction” in our right and duty to do so.
    Psyche means Soul. A religion should help its people develop their psyches, in a free society, as they would choose to develop them. “How can I increase my courage, that I do not shame myself with cowardice, when the ideals I hold true are threatened?” Religion should answer such questions. It should, with respect to the individual, be the Art of Life.

  • miller

    I don’t know about this… I love science, but I don’t find “the intricate beauty of the natural world” to be “spiritually fulfilling”. But then, I don’t really feel the need to be “spiritually fulfilled”, so it hardly matters to me.

  • Stephen

    Let me applaud and underscore your assertion that spirituality does not need to be provided by supernatural beings. Nature provides more than enough wonders, both the majestic such the great mountain ranges or the wonders of the heavens, and the more everyday, such as the metamorphosis from egg to butterfly or the exquisite craftsmanship of a small bird’s nest.

    I would add to your list the experience of one the great musical works: a Beethoven or Tschaikovsky symphony, a Verdi opera etc. (As a side note: it is sad that so many people consider the great classical works inaccessible, or at best something for elderly people. Yet Dvorak’s Song to the Moon has been one of my daughters favourite pieces for well over a year – and she is only five years old now! While my son likes nothing better than the Ride of the Valkyries with the volume turned well up.)

    Having said that, I see no need to aim for “a world without religion”. People like to lose themselves in fantasies, whether they be the detective stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, the comedy of Douglas Adams or (heaven forbid!) Star Trek. Rather let us aim for a world where religion is universally accepted as a personal matter – one as harmless as Star Trek.

  • Joe Hardwick

    Btw, your “humanist church” is almost exactly what I imagine, except that the word “church” is repulsive (temple?). I imagined something that looked a bit like an ancient “forum”; and each had, throughout the week, submitted topics of concern for oratory and debate. In my vision, the participants were wearing philosopher’s robes. Of course, it is more than probable that, as a youth, I partook too deeply of my own idealization of ancient Athenians.

  • chronomitch

    What about Freud’s theory on religion? According to Freud, as a child we view our father as a person who shields us from nature and who acts as an authority figure. When we grow up however, we no longer have a father figure, so we invented one. The idea of god (and religion along with it) gives us an authority figure, provides order to the forces of nature, and nullifies the fear of death by providing the promise of an afterlife.

    I think anything that replaces religion would need to address these issues, and currently science seems to be doing a fairly good job. Today, we have great control over the forces of nature. We have battled death on many fronts (medicine, vaccines, etc), but we haven’t completely eradicated it yet. I still think we need to have something that will address our fear. Otherwise, I doubt the masses will want to choose anything other than religion. Even if we can easily point out the absurdities of their beliefs, most would choose illusion over reality.

  • Chris

    Chronomitch, this is an interesting point. Several atheists have written on the fact that religion seems to keep people in perpetual childhood – trusting, obedient, etc – by inventing a Parent to replace their real parents (who die or are seen to be flawed and thus lose some of their authority). This is generally considered a bad thing, and the mainstream of atheist thought (if I may presume to identify one) is that we would be better off if we all grew up and stopped relying on parent figures, either earthly or heavenly. (Some government figures also attempt to claim the parent role, with varying degrees of success.)

    Growing up is a stressful and scary process, though, so it’s not surprising that some, possibly many, people would prefer to remain emotionally in the childhood stage, placing their trust in a parent figure and relying on his judgment (or, in the case of religion, what his representatives say his judgment is) to avoid the frightening prospect of being required to exercise their own and take responsibility for the results. (Note how passing off responsibility for one’s mistakes to Another is the central feature of one of the world’s most popular religions.)

    So how do we reverse this trend and make more people want to grow up, take responsibility for their own actions, limit their trust to people proven worthy of it, don’t believe everything they are told, etc.? I don’t know, but it seems to me to be a very important problem.

    P.S. Personally, I prefer to contemplate the immensity of the Universe or the complexity and beauty of life on Earth alone, but if others would rather do so in groups, I’m not going to stop them.

  • Joe Hardwick

    The Epicurean approach? http://www.epicurus.net/index.html

  • Alex Weaver

    Please look at my comments on your article, “Tipping the Scales.” Religion isn’t an inherently bad thing, we just lack a rational instance of one. I think religious awe, reverence, sense of the sacred, or whatever you call it, is as natural and functional as love, hate, fear, etc..To argue that its proper object is Yahweh, however, is absurd in the extreme.

    I think that’s more or less what Adam’s saying, except you’re using “religion,” which has a more specific connotation and a great deal of baggage, in place of “spirituality.”

    But you neglected to mention some vital functions of religion. Validation of the social order and preparing people to live happy lives within it are very important, which is why Christians were punished for not honoring the gods. The distinction between religion and politics is largely a modern one. But the basis of democracy is that good and evil are known by Reason, and we are all equally capable of reasoning. Ironically, it would appear that one duty of religion is to prepare us to think rationally, and develop a “religious conviction” in our right and duty to do so.

    A social order that cannot stand on its own merits, without the validation of religion, should be allowed to die with dignity and, if that fails, staked. However, you are right that spiritual groups have an important role to fill by instilling attitudes and habits that are both ethical and practical. I think a greater emphasis on parents’ role in this would be beneficial to society; while some of it seems to be chickenlittlism and a kind of social Luddism, I believe that the complaints from some quarters that entirely too many parents now rely on television to keep their kids occupied and the churches and/or schools to teach them values and practical competence have some merit.

    Psyche means Soul. A religion should help its people develop their psyches, in a free society, as they would choose to develop them. “How can I increase my courage, that I do not shame myself with cowardice, when the ideals I hold true are threatened?” Religion should answer such questions. It should, with respect to the individual, be the Art of Life.

    I agree. But I think we probably shouldn’t call it “religion” simply because it provides moral instruction and spiritual fulfillment. That would be a bit like naming a society of skeptics, scientists, and others who seek answers, “the Inquisition.”

    I would add to your list the experience of one the great musical works: a Beethoven or Tschaikovsky symphony, a Verdi opera etc. (As a side note: it is sad that so many people consider the great classical works inaccessible, or at best something for elderly people. Yet Dvorak’s Song to the Moon has been one of my daughters favourite pieces for well over a year – and she is only five years old now! While my son likes nothing better than the Ride of the Valkyries with the volume turned well up.)

    I would add to that list the caveat that a piece can be a “great work of music” even if the author–or even the pioneers of the style–did not die before one’s grandfather was born. This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine; entirely too many people reflexively idealize older works while being trivializing (if not precisely demonizing) modern musical styles; I have no data on how much overlap there is between this group and the people who refuse to call anything written past 1930 “literature,” but I would predict it to be substantial. I can only imagine that these people have never listened to “Ghost Love Score” (Nightwish), the “Gettysburg 1863″ trilogy, (Iced Earth) or…well, really, anything from the “Nightfall in Middle Earth” or “A Night at the Opera” (Blind Guardian) albums. And for those who doubt the comparability of the best of modern metal to classical, I have two (three?) words: Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

    I think this underscores a deeper issue, though; we tend to have more regard (except as teenagers, and then, in most cases, only superficially) for not just aesthetic works, but ideas and institutions, that are old and well-established. This is not entirely unreasonable; the fact that one of these has withstood the test of time is a point in its favor, but does not automatically legitimize it–consider Christianity. I think blunting the tendency to reflexively idealize and legitimize older intellectual creations is probably necessary to the intellectual progress of society as a whole–and certainly to creating a world without religion.

    Having said that, I see no need to aim for “a world without religion”. People like to lose themselves in fantasies, whether they be the detective stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, the comedy of Douglas Adams or (heaven forbid!) Star Trek. Rather let us aim for a world where religion is universally accepted as a personal matter – one as harmless as Star Trek.

    Yeah, but when people believe they actually live in a Sherlock Holmes story or Star Trek episode, we tend to call them deluded and pity and try to help them–or, if we’re of an ignorant or vindictive bent, call them crazy and regard them as unstable and potentially dangerous. If the world were to view religion in the same way…that would be pretty much what Adam’s describing, I should think.

  • Joe Hardwick

    In my mouth the word is formed. It moves upon the air, and enters your ear; Thought is passed from Psyche to Psyche.
    The proper role of the mystic is that of the poet: the conveyance of significance. When I say religion should validate the social order and teach people to live happy lives within it, I mean that it must instill the principles conducive to prosperity for that society. The statement that “all men are created equal” is a prescription for who can make the Law. And it is based on the premise that we are all capable of Reason. As I have said before, the politician could not sell the public a Caesar, if the public were not buying one. I therefore say again that a religion of free people must make sacred to those people the principles that keep them free.
    The line about the significance of our ability to communicate is intended to convey something else, too. Another very important aspect of religion is this: it is a verbal and sometimes physical War over the socially shared paradigm

  • mzsquare2

    Holy War Once Again.

    …nuts! Are we going to start a new Holy War ?. C’mon, starting all this killing, rape and destruction in The Name of God again? Whose religion pleases God more ?.

    How about if, we just give God, say, a 100 years suspension and talk human language only,
    without all that supernatural craze . We can and should do just that. We know better now. We are
    defining world on our own. We’re finding the knowledge, God was withholding from us, we have liberated ourselves from the chains of dark ages – the church enslaved ours minds and souls.
    The physics and order of universe seems clearer now, no signs of God’s touch.

    God is so old !. Let’s leave Him alone. The concept of God was very helpful in the beginning.
    We have feared lightning bolts and thunder rumbles of angry God. So we prayed and God listened,
    and in return painted a rainbow on the sky, to put us in awe:- what a fantastic powers He has!.
    God helped us to make sense of everything then. We adopted Him, allowed Him to live inside our heads.
    We saw the signs, we did many bad things to each other – still, having comfortable feeling that
    it must be God’s will since it happened. We have also invented an anti God – evil, so the fighting
    can continue… perpetually. We have gotten lazy because God is taking care of us. Is He ?.

    It will be tough at first, to live without God. Some may think: “…if the bible doesn’t apply anymore, can I kill my neighbor now ?…”. Or, to some in the Land of Arabia it will seem impossible to give up God given rights to hit a woman with the stick or worse, when she ‘misbehave’.
    The rulers of our world would have to give up this perfect crowd control tool too, they are
    too cozy with God helping them with political tricks.

    Hey, Hollywood !, can you help me here?. If you could create a holographic prophet. Make a few copies, to display them simultaneously to Pope in Rome, to Sunnis, Shiites and other interested parties around the world. Make it flashy, get some pyrotechnics and better yet,
    do it during a total sun eclipse. Have the prophet-hologram deliver a message:, “…God is disgusted with you people and decided to leave – fend for yourself from now on.”

    Perhaps some day, we’ll finally realize that we already possess all the powers we need. Within.
    We can destroy and sink the only boat we have – for all of us. Or, we can keep on sailing into
    the Universe, in peace.

  • Christopher

    As a former Christian, I can say that religion doesn’t fulfill any needs in our lives but rather it convinces us that we have needs and then sells us a cure. It kind of reminds me of one episode of Star Trek when on race living on one planet sold a “plague cure” to another race on a different planet: the plague that the cure took care of was gone, but the cure had a narcotic effect about as strong as cocain. One race continued to sell the cure after telling the the other race that the plague would kill them if they didn’t constantly inocculate themselves with it; thus duping them into thinking they needed this “cure” to live.

    I see religion as being no different from this “cure…”

  • Billps

    As a life-long atheist, I must object to your attempt to try to organize a church for humanists or atheists as an alternative to religion. You appear to base your whole argument around a semi-acceptance of an old fashioned objection to atheism. In your first paragraph there is a description of one of the oldest arguments in the book for the existence of god, which you describe as “clever, but naïve”. Let me assure you, that argument is not clever at all and it certainly isn’t naïve – it is designed to trick you into belief and is essentially dangerous. It is also a logical fallacy. It sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? However, once you examine it logically it falls apart. Its main premise, “human beings innately desire fellowship with God” is completely false. There is absolutely no evidence for this and yet you continue to allow yourself to use it to promote the idea of organizing churches for atheists as a replacement for religion. The whole point of atheism and humanism is that we are free from thought control. Any effort spent trying to organize atheism into some sort of godless church will ultimately destroy one of its highest tenets – free thought.

  • lpetrich

    I think that Christopher’s theory may be called the mind-virus or meme theory of religion, that it is like a chain letter.

    Which is a good comparison in some ways, because many chain letters feature such things as:

    Something interesting or marvelous or spectacular
    Appeals to help someone or support some worthy cause
    Appeals to fight some big villain or great evil
    Promises of Good Things for copying the letter
    Threats of Bad Things for not copying the letter

  • Chris

    Human beings are such social animals that it’s hard to tell what they *innately* desire without some Lord of the Flies scenario (actually you’d have to be a good deal more thorough, the characters in LotF were far too old to be free of learned social behaviors). This would be unethical to set up, and very unlikely to happen spontaneously without killing everyone involved.

    The idea that actually, people *aren’t* born addicted to god, but get hooked on him by being exposed in their childhood is hardly new, but it’s hard to see how it could be tested. Pretty much everyone grows up in a god-saturated society, even in the rare case where their own parents aren’t actively pushing gods on them.

  • Joe Hardwick

    I agree. But I think we probably shouldn’t call it “religion” simply because it provides moral instruction and spiritual fulfillment. That would be a bit like naming a society of skeptics, scientists, and others who seek answers, “the Inquisition.”

    That analogy would seem to suggest that your notion of “religion” is overly colored by your experience with presently dominant forms. Understandable, since they are so dominant. However, what we currently call “mythology” was also religion, just as the current religions are also mythologies. I use the therm within the context of comparative religion.

  • Alex Weaver

    Which is more or less my point; I think most people’s notion of “religion” is overly colored by their experience with presently dominant forms, even if they don’t come to the same conclusion about the truthfulness and helpfulness of those forms as I do. Hence why I would suggest we find another name for what we’re advocating.

  • Andy

    If, today, everyone were suddenly perfectly rational…all organized religions would disappear. But God wouldn’t, because it isn’t irrational to believe in God. It isn’t irrational to not believe in God, either; it depends on whether or not one desires to experience God. So if you’re looking to the future… There may come a time when no one believes in God, but then it will be a matter of chance or genetics, not perfect reasoning.

    However, this reasoning can backfire on the apologist. How do they know, I would argue, that God is not the same kind of thing – an overly specific example of a general human desire which can be fulfilled, just in other ways?

    As a theist, I would never suggest that it is up to anyone but you and God if God’s existence is to be proven to you. But even if God is just an overly specific example of a general human desire…then God still is (meaning “to exist”) something, and therefore exists. Why must atheists always set up this straw man, that God can only be the God of Christianity or Islam, and then proceed to knock it down? The real issue of religion is based around the real issue of God, and you won’t destroy it, if that’s what you seek to do, by attacking silly organized religions. And if silly organized religions are your only problem, then why not make that clear from the onset? You’d find that you’d have a lot of theist friends on your side if that were the case.

  • sam

    an elderly gent once said to me, “when your fighting in the trenches there is no such thing as an athiest”

  • Christopher

    You might want to try mentioning that to the Atheists in the armed forces. I’m sure they’ll excuse that ignorant comment…

  • Alex Weaver

    Sam: Unless he meant that in the sense that sane people are not preoccupied with their theological positions while in combat situations (and hence are not, at the moment, “Atheists” or “Christians” or “Buddhists” or…) the statement you’re quoting is not only flatly wrong but arrogant and offensive. Adam’s site has numerous stories from Atheists who in fact have served in the military and fought for their country, and several of his posts have addressed this particular hateful stereotype as well. Here, also, is a link to the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers. If you see that gent again, please give him the links above.

  • stillwaters

    Ebonmuse, this “church” that you describe sounds somewhat like the Unitarian Universalist Association that presently exists today.

  • John McNally

    I also thought the church or religion being defined does exist as Unitarian Universalism. There is no creed or required belief in any kind of super-naturalism. Before joining the church I would describe myself as an atheist disposed towards science, but now that I have explored humanism, I think that is a better adjective. I have attended a UU church for a couple years, and have rarely heard anything an atheist would consider irritatingly wrong as belief in a deity. The one thing that could stop some from attending other than just disliking the idea of a church, would be the principle of tolerance of other’s beliefs.

    I think most of the churches do present services as primarily a one way sermon delivered by a minister. But some may be less formal and discussion based. The sermons are mostly presented indoors, but there has been one Sunday each spring spent outdoors. But its pretty cold here in the winter and there isn’t really any formal services in the summer. I’ve heard sermons on transcendentalists/naturalists such as Emerson; a few Sundays ago while assisting with Sunday School I found the topic was Henry David Thoreau. The sermons do sometimes mention the Bible, but it is rare, and if a quote is picked from there, it will be presented just as any other quote from literature created by philosophers, scientists, poets, psychologists, other religious texts, both new and old.

    The church is old and does have some trappings of christianity, it might be probable that you will see some sermon on Jesus’ life around Christmas time. And it does lean liberal, so you might run into liberal Christians who are fleeing from the bigotry and dogma of other churches. But it has a very strong humanist base, which actually is slightly older than the current diversity trend, so if you are looking for humanist church, I’d suggest looking to see if a UU church exists in your area.

  • http://ww.futureamerica.us Oloye Ajanaku

    I second your motion, to a new culture and world where all of us can live out its creed. I stand on the shoulders of Jefferson, Lincoln, Dr M.L.King JR., and Dr Nkosi Ajanaku. They all say we have a document in place that addresses just your point (DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE).
    Dr. Nkosi has given this new science a name, he calls it HUMACUTURE, how to raise babies to be free of the past cuture of hate, crime, ignorance, pain, racism, fear and proverty . IT”S A POSSIBLITY.

    TUTA!
    DR. Oloye Ajanaku

  • Jeromy

    So far, nobody has mentioned the obvious, so I will. This experiment has already been done. There was already a society that held no (real) deistical beliefs, had no religion. There was no war, no hunger, peace and harmony were the mundane. The people of this society rejoiced in the natural world. They gathered together and made stories of fantastic myths, not to explain why the sun and moon rise and fall, but instead to explain why people should be good to each other, and give their children love. History has been written by the victors (as it always is!) to misrepresent this society. Christians went there and “converted the brown heathens”, justifying their hideous actions through lies in our school books, lies that are meaningless to anybody but another religious person, saying that these people worshiped idols (who cares?), ran around naked (sounds fun to me), and saw no problem at all offering their daughters for sex to entertain the guests (no comment necessary). I am talking about the most isolated land mass on Earth, the Sandwich Islands. Unfortunately, it seems that once religion has reared its ugly head, a society is tainted forever. Billps has said it right, we should not try to emulate a failed societal model. I think your motivation, however, is kind, showing great empathy. You are a good person to have put so much thought and time into this. Thanks.

  • Alex Weaver

    Jeromy, I’m intrigued. Do you have a reference for that?

  • Jeromy

    Hi Alex. In fact, there are many. I will give you the one I started with, which startled me and delighted me at the same time. From that, I took the reference made by this one, and just kept running with it. Read “Roughing It” by Mark Twain. He provided other references in an appendix. They are obscure, but findable. And yes, I understand that Mark Twain had a tendency to take the truth out back and beat it with a happy stick. Hawaiian people I know and have worked with in the past have tried to make things more clear to me, but honestly, it is very difficult to understand for me, the whole island philosiphy. I hope you can understand it better than I do. But it has been impressed on me that, even though “spirits” of the sea and the volcanos are plentiful in Hawaiian lore, my friends and much of the literature I have read on the subject indicates that these “spirits” were representations of the items of nature, used to make predictions of natural disasters and to tell mythical tales of warning and praise for the beauty of nature. The spirits were not, as described by my friends, “believed in”, in the same way a christian believes in god. Rather, they were more akin to the parable told here – known to be false, but understood and contemplated in a very real manner. There is also literature, including history books, that use references from christian missionaries, that tell essentially the same tale, with the twist that the native Hawaiians were “savages” and that they “worshiped idols” and and the like. It seems likely to me that these interpretations of the pre-white-man island people are purposely, or perhaps subconciously deviant, in order to justify the forceful manner in which religion and modern society were forced on the island people. If you consider that the top priority of the missionary is to indoctrinate others with chritianity, it is easy to see that the missionary has a tendency to overlook little things like whether or not items carved of stone or wood are actually being worshiped. Some christians even think that atheism is a form of religion. In fact, I polled many of my christian friends about Buddhism, and every one of them think it is a religion, and that buddha is an idol that they pray to. I was unable to convince them otherwise. My father-in-law is buddhist, a real one. He is Asian. Haha. Anyway, he is very old and wise, as the saying goes, and he made sure that I understand what he is doing inside the temple. He is not praying, and, in his own words, there is no god. I made more than one point in my first posting. Is this the “that” that you were referring to making references about? Good night for now – Jeromy.

  • john chiotti

    jeromy
    my merriam-webster suggest buddhism is a religion—how do you classify it—– if your father is not praying–does he prefer meditating or self reflection—help me with a discription—what is a Haha its not in my dict.
    thanks rocco

  • Maybe-I-know

    I believe historically religion in general has attempted to explain 3 relationships in an individual’s life. 1) Their relationship with themselves, 2) their relationship with other people and 3) their relationship with the natural / physical world. A combination of the fact that the above 3 relationships are very important (can’t be ignored), are difficult to understand (the complexity is the fuel that keeps these important questions alive) and tend to be interrelated (its difficult to address one without one of the others) led to the creation of groups of ideas and organizations (ie religions) to address these particular questions.

    I believe the new religion you describe in your essay leaves out many roles that religion fills. A religion simply based on the appreciation of nature leaves out a code of ethics / belief system addressing how we should handle our complex relationships with others.

    A 1,000 years ago religions gave the best answers to the above 3 relationships. Currently a mix of science, secular laws, and religion give the best answers. How about the future?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Can you expand on what answers religion actually gives to anything?

  • Peter N

    What can the study of the supernatural, which it to say the nonexistent, usefully tell us about your three relationships?

    A thousand years ago, all questions were answered by consulting ancient traditions; and for new questions, divine revelation. No evidence, no falsifiable hypotheses, and no experimentation. Knowledge progressed at a predictable pace — hardly at all. The only really important question was how to achieve salvation and avoid damnation, and the favorable outcome could be guaranteed in exchange for large sums of cash. I suspect people were discouraged from such self-indulgent matters as you mention (discouraged by the application of the rack and hot pincers, that is).

    If the modern manifestations of religion have a more humanistic feel, it’s because they have been dragged unwillingly behind secular philosophy and science, and vastly diminishing in importance along the way. It hasn’t been a straight line, but the trajectory of history is clear: religion is on the way out.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    A religion simply based on the appreciation of nature leaves out a code of ethics / belief system addressing how we should handle our complex relationships with others.

    I don’t need to be told how to behave, thanks.

  • Zietlos

    Oooh! Oooh! Peter! I can answer that rhetorical question!

    For the three rules, religion has taught us the following:
    1) Ourselves: We are horrible, filthy things that are better dead than alive, and the good things we do here are worthless in every sense of the word, barring the chance for a better afterlife.

    2) Others: If they call their sky-fairy a different name than ours, it’s okay to mass murder and enslave them. Also, women, religion teaches us, are items, about on par value to a sickle or slave. And again, as previous, THEIR lives are ALSO just as worthless as yours, they’ll get what is coming to them in the afterlife though; don’t worry, they aren’t human.

    3) Nature: Earthquakes are caused by women’s cleavages. Throwing virgins into volcanoes stops eruptions. Kneeling and asking really hard can get rain to come or go at will. Tomatoes are poisonous. Shellfish are a sin against nature, and anyone who eats them is going to hell. The earth is flat, and the sun and all the stars spin around it.

    There we go! Religion’s contributions towards the Big Three Interactions, using ONLY the religious texts and religious leaders, and discounting any non-religious people who have died to correct these views along the way.

  • Maybe-I-know

    Religion is definetly on the way out but what will replace religion? Just science? Science and secular law? Western secular, democratic, capalist culture? What role did religion fill in the past? What will fill that role when religion is finally gone?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    True spirituality springs from introspection. Do you think only of science and law? Culture?

    The role religion has filled is that of a channel; it has channelized thought, such that when we think of its absence, we wonder what will hold the flood.

  • Maybe-I-know

    ‘channelized thought’? What does that mean? Religion in the past told people how they should think of themselves and what makes you worst and what makes you better. Religion has told people how to relate to the world around you and what can damage that and what you can do to improve it. I doubt too many people on this forum will agree with what religion has attempted to teach us but in general religion was an attempt to explain YOU and the rest of the world. What will replace those explanations? What has been replacing those explanations?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Religion doesn’t provide any explanations. What makes the made up stories of religion any better than any other made up stories given a different label? Why should we hope to retain made up stories that are no better at explanation than anything else that anyone can simply make up?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    ‘channelized thought’? What does that mean? Religion in the past told people how they should think of themselves and what makes you worst and what makes you better.

    You answered that well enough.

    Religion has told people how to relate to the world around you and what can damage that and what you can do to improve it.

    Actually, most religions attempt to tell us how the Universe was made, why we should tithe, and what we should do to avoid damnation and/or annihilation.

    In terms how to interact with the world, I’d say you’re wrong, given the accommodations all religions have had to make with the advance of science. Religions cannot even describe the world accurately; any attempt to prescribe behaviors based on it don’t tend to fare well, and are generally ignored by the masses of people in their private actions.

    I doubt too many people on this forum will agree with what religion has attempted to teach us but in general religion was an attempt to explain YOU and the rest of the world. What will replace those explanations? What has been replacing those explanations?

    I would replace it with a rationally-derived morality, and an epistemology (sorry for the philosospeak) based on reason rather than faith.

  • Steve Bowen

    Religion in the past told people how they should think of themselves and what makes you worst and what makes you better. Religion has told people how to relate to the world around you and what can damage that and what you can do to improve it.

    It surely has. Unfortunately it has got it spectacularly wrong to the extent that it has contributed to the enslavement of races, the debasement of women, the denial of sexuality, the repression of truth and the promulgation of division. Even if we didn’t have the the light of reason at our disposal to take us forward, the death of religion leaves no hole worth filling.

  • Lion IRC

    OK Ebonmuse, I read it. Thanks.

    But………..

    “There would be… no rituals…however, there could well be rituals…”
    Which is it? Religious woo or secular woo? If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck……

    “Holidays based on “dates of seasonal significance such as the solstices and equinoxes” ???
    Right. Just like Stonehenge.

    “…the harm that supernatural belief has wrought…”?
    It hasnt harmed me. Last time I checked, religion confers an evolutionary survival advantage. Or has that been purged from the Book Of Atheology?

    “…Yet I have seen relatively few atheist works that attempt to envision our ultimate goal, a world without religion…”
    Yep. I agree Ebonmuse. Same here. Still true in Jan 2011. Mr Hitchens was recently asked what an atheist utopia would look like and he tanked.
    http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2010/s3069457.htm

    “Although religion provides its members with some social services….”
    Some? Talk about understatement. Care to put a dollar sign in there? Its OK. Just pick one single country. Religous schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, orphanages (for the babies who arent aborted).

    “… it [religion] makes people feel as if they are involved in something larger and more significant..”
    “…This is a basic human desire..”
    You got that right Ebonmuse! Something BIGGER. The word “transcendent” works just as well. No wonder atheism fails to inspire.

    “…genuine spirituality…”
    Show me the atheist who accepts that we are spirits in the material world and let me ask them if they think we are the only spirits in the universe/multiverse.
    I too can envision a world of groups that speak to this sense with genuine spirituality – its called the world we live in TODAY.

    Lion (IRC)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    “There would be… no rituals…however, there could well be rituals…”
    Which is it? Religious woo or secular woo? If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck……

    There would be no prayers, no sacred texts, and no rituals invested with beliefs in magic. However, there could well be rituals, in a secular sense and without extraneous supernaturalism, to commemorate and celebrate milestones in the lives of community members…

    Quote-mining is lazy and dishonest at the best of times, but it’s especially moronic to do it in a comment thread immediately below the original post where everyone can see the context you’re removing.

  • Lion IRC

    What…and you think I was just hoping nobody would notice?
    When the atheist “spin” and jargon gets edited out what youre left with is…
    “oh yeah, you can still have rituals as long as they arent too ritualistic.”
    and
    “never mind about the disappearance of $ billions in religious charity. We’ll sort that out later”
    and
    “yes, yes, dont worry, you can still be all spiritual and stuff just as long as your spirit isnt immortal.”

    And the real kicker is this.
    “Oh well thats how things will just be. We just wont have religion any more. We will go from “religion is OK” to “no religion” by clicking our heels 3 times.”

    Do you honestly expect us to believe that the re-appearance of religion can be prevented in an atheist utopia without “a hierarchy of obedience where one person always stands in the relationship of authority”? You are happy to call God an imaginary friend but I say there is something entirely “imaginary” about the dont worry, it’s for your own good, “genuine love and friendship” offered by smiling atheists who want to take away God and replace religion with atheism.

  • heliobates

    What…and you think I was just hoping nobody would notice?

    “Rational discussion: how the fuck does it work?”

  • Steve Bowen

    “never mind about the disappearance of $ billions in religious charity.

    Much religious charity is self serving and proselytizing. Anyway what makes you think you have to be religious to give to charity? Plenty of non-religious people donate without that coercion

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    What…and you think I was just hoping nobody would notice?

    IOW, not only did you quote mine and you admit it, but now you are insisting that your quote mine is the correct meaning of the thoughts conveyed, even though the full quote shows differently and the author himself has corrected you. I think we’ve gone beyond lazy straight to dishonest or complete incompetence with the English language.

    Do you honestly expect us to believe that the re-appearance of religion can be prevented in an atheist utopia…

    Wow, I’m leaning towards dishonesty, especially considering you’ve once again brought up Hitchens and utopias even after this has been explained to you before.


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