Imagine No Religion (At Least the Ones We Know)

future-babel.jpg

I like to dream up future scenarios with just one or two set conditions in the proposition and see where they might go as kind of thought experiments. It’s a game that any number can play, and the fun is in seeing how each person’s logic, imagination and present view of the world lead them to different conclusions. The great part is unless you live long enough to reach the future you envision, no one can prove you wrong. Though we don’t learn much about the future, we can discover quite a lot about the various ways we see things:

Imagine the world a few or several generations from now. Our civilization has somehow survived (after some serious casualties) the climate crisis, the oil crisis, the food supply crisis, the radical Islam crisis, the emergent diseases crisis, the nuclear proliferation crisis, the overpopulation crisis (partly from big losses caused by those other crises), and a couple of crises we haven’t even seen coming down the tubes yet. It’s far from perfect but the world is basically stable at least for a while.

Imagine that society’s interest in the present major religions has greatly diminished. The U.S., or whatever it is called, is now even more secular than Europe was in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The familiar religions are not an important part of most people’s lives, and the very few who still practice them are viewed as quaint, quirky, or whimsical, similar to the way we presently view Civil War reenactment groups or the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Without the ubiquitous presence of the major religions, what would happen with people’s tendency for magical thinking, superstition or religiosity? Would they diminish and would people become increasingly rational in all their affairs, or not? Would superstitions both old or new fade away, continue to thrive or even increase? Would new religions spring up, based on yet unknown developments in society, science or technology? How would society react to these things? Would freedom of thought and belief continue or would such things be discouraged, suppressed or even outlawed?

What do you imagine?


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    If you buy into the idea of a “God gene” or some other variation of the idea that our propensity for religion is an evolutionary trait (I’m not saying I necessarily do, but it seems that many here probably would) then wouldn’t you have to imagine that religion in some form or another would continue to exist in your future scenario? Even science or reason itself might take on religious/messianic overtones (as it often does in much of the science fiction I read – e.g. Kim Stanley Robinson’s books).

  • Doris Tracey

    At this point in time we are at the”y” and humanity can either choose to evolve or de-evolute. We can choose another dark age or progressive revelation depending on how we use our free will. Many people do not seem to be in their right minds and they seem to have hearts of stone. Maybe that’s how the stone age came about. Usually when things start getting really bad, people turn to God more and more. When things get easy many people take what they have for granted and turn away from God.

  • andrew

    There is no god gene…only god memes.

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

    I like to dream up future scenarios with just one or two set conditions in the proposition and see where they might go as kind of thought experiments. It’s a game that any number can play, and the fun is in seeing how each person’s logic, imagination and present view of the world lead them to different conclusions. The great part is unless you live long enough to reach the future you envision, no one can prove you wrong. Though we don’t learn much about the future, we can discover quite a lot about the various ways we see things:

    you, my friend, mean that you like science fiction.

    i think if you’re talking about the time frame of only a few generations, you’ll end up with what we see in places like china — a secular political life but plenty of superstition, both memes handed down from ancestors that survive or belief in traditional/new wave mixes such as alternative medicine or numerology, or just various spirits that affect our lives.

    it’ll take an extremely long time (if ever) for the tendency to disappear from our psyches, as we humans see patterns that may or may not be there. we don’t really know where our evolution will take us.

  • http://stereoroid.com/ brian t

    Sounds like the world of Star Trek: no overpopulation, no possessions, no money, and religion is something found among backwards alien tribes. Mr. Roddenberry was something of a freethinking idealist, wasn’t he?

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    I envisage a world where Dawkins is worshipped as the messiah, where the Origin of the Species is honoured as a sacred text and foundation of civilization, and where female rock stars get themselves crucified on big Red “A”s as part of their stage act to shore up flagging careers. Of course there will be “irreligious wars” with those nasty little Pink “a” agnostics. ;-)

  • TolgaK

    We’re humans. We’re still going to find stupid things to worship and groups of people to hate. A world without religion isn’t enough. A populace who prides empathy over everything else is what it would take to eradicate most of the evils in this world.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Doris wrote:

    At this point in time we are at the”y” and humanity can either choose to evolve or de-evolute.

    I think you’re just using “evolution/devolution” in the colloquial sense, but just to be annoyingly pedantic I have to say biological evolution does not follow human standards of progress. It’s a common misunderstanding. More here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_devolution

    Regarding the topic of the blog post, I think the answers to those questions depend a lot on the type of educational system this future world will have.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/johnpritzlaff John Pritzlaff

    Would freedom of thought and belief continue or would such things be discouraged, suppressed or even outlawed?

    Freedom of thought and belief would continue, and religious thinking would be discouraged socially.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    I have to agree with Tolga. I think religion can be anything that we decide to worship. Political party can be a religion. A firm stance on an issue can be a religion. Hunger for power and pretige can be a religion. Desire to prolong youth can be a religion. Education can be a religion…and it almost is in our culture today, in that it’s no longer about what the kids learn but more about the test scores.

    If you think of religion in those terms, I don’t know if we can ever get away from it. There will always be something that we covet and/or worship.

    hmmm… I’ll have to think more about this…

    Great picture, by the way. ;)

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Linda, what if I (as you know) don’t think of religion in those terms?

    What word should I use to describe things like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism etc., but not things like politics, hobbies, obsessions, or ideologies?

    Back on topic:
    Maybe in the future aliens will come and teach us the true religion (and it requires base 11 mathematics).

    Maybe people will have access to designer drugs which allow you to experience various religious brain states. Pop a pill and talk to God, or experience nirvana, or feel the single minded devotion of a suicide bomber.

    Maybe all the churches and cathedrals will become museums.

    Maybe Google really will become God:
    http://www.thechurchofgoogle.org/

    But we’ll probably just have wars with talking otters in the name of Atheism.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    NYCatheist,

    What word should I use to describe things like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism etc., but not things like politics, hobbies, obsessions, or ideologies?

    But can’t you see that what makes the first group unbearable is because the second group becomes the driving force? How can you separate the two?

    What reason would there be, then, to oppose them?

  • Eddie Pittman

    It would benefit persons to understand themselves as sacred! If we could get away from thinking God is something we can never see or touch and understand that we are a derivative directly thereof, then we can worship our own kind, not doubting our significance on earth.

    In short, we are special. Very special! We will see this as it is, instead of what we cannot see at all. We will acknowledge each other as perfect beings instead of aspiring to irrational perceptions of a being who we cannot conceive.

    Look around you ignorant people! This is not a game. It is reality! We are far from animal and far from God. We do not allow ourselves called equal to either. So, we should accept that we are neither, and embrace the radiance between.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Linda wrote:

    But can’t you see that what makes the first group unbearable is because the second group becomes the driving force? How can you separate the two?

    Sure we could draw Venn diagrams with the circle “religious folks” partially overlapping with “ideologues” or “obsessives”, but the title of the post is “Imagine No Religion”. When most people read that, we imagine a world without things like Christianity, Islam, etc. Most people don’t also imagine a world without politics, health fads, and baseball.

    Any English word, even simple words like “tree”, has fuzzy boundaries. (When does a tree become a shrub or a bush?) But it’s good to avoid this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivocation

    Otherwise the discussion becomes confused, or a meta-discussion like the above.

    What reason would there be, then, to oppose them?

    If the religion is a simple faith with harmless rituals and beliefs, then some atheists would not oppose them. Other atheists would still oppose them because they see “faith” itself as a problem.

  • http://blargen.com/blog postsimian

    When I look at that picture… I have to wonder whether there were fundamentalists who opposed the building of the first skyscraper, citing the tower of Babylon as a warning. Does anyone have information on this?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    TAG,

    You and I always go around in circles with this… :-( But no problem. I know you secretly enjoy it. ;-) (and so do I.)

    The thing is… the way I see it, religion (as you define it) loses its power when you take out the elements such as politics, obsessions, and ideologies. But as humans, we will still seek out something else that have those elements that we can cling to. Then we will end up worshipping whatever that new thing is.

    I don’t care what you name it or how you define it… striving for significance, perfection, and/or righteousness will always exsit. There will always be opposing sides, conflicting views, and the desire to destroy what we deem bad, wrong, or evil.

    Humans can never transcend humanness. I’m afraid religion (your definition) will always exist, because our need for religion (my definition) will always exist.

  • http://blargen.com/blog postsimian

    Linda – meh, I wouldn’t define any of those things as a “religion” any more than I would define playing sports or cooking or reading a book as being a religion. A person can be enthusiastic about anything without worshiping it, and to me it seems we’re using the word “worship” as a hyperbole to describe that enthusiasm and, let’s be honest, calling something a religion doesn’t make it one.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Linda,

    Sorry, I lost this thread in my inbox…

    I guess I have to ask, how do you define “worship”.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    I will try to answer it as best and honest as I can. But remember… you asked. :)

    To me, worship is what we do when we let something have power over us. When we allow anything to take over our minds and affect the way we think… if we let our decisions be influenced by whatever it is that grips us, then it is worship. That thing can be our fear, our shame, our guilt, our desires, our pain, our obsessions, or even our own ideas of God.

    I worship my God who I know is not the same God that many atheists and even some theists refer to. My God is the abundant life, grace, and unconditional love. That’s who/what I worship. I freely surrender to and trust my God; and in turn, I have the complete freedom to love… and live my life in every part.

    Remembering that on a daily, even hourly, basis is where the struggle is. There’s always something/someone else that tries to take control of our free-thought… and that includes religion as you define it. I choose to categorize all of it as religion, as they all serve the same purpose of controlling us in one way or another.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Linda,

    OK, earlier you said, “I think religion can be anything that we decide to worship.” And your recent comment says, “I worship my God who I know is not the same God that many atheists and even some theists refer to.” But I thought you have said elsewhere that you aren’t religious (by your definition)?

    Before you said, “But as humans, we will still seek out something else that have those elements that we can cling to. Then we will end up worshipping whatever that new thing is.”

    I think most atheists try not to worship (by yours, or anyone’s definition) anything. If we can do it (or at least try our best) any human can.

    Finally, regarding the object of worship, you said, “That thing can be our fear, our shame, our guilt, our desires, our pain, our obsessions, or even our own ideas of God.” Lets take ‘fear’ as an example. When do people worship fear? I’m not really clear on that.

    Imagine a person with agoraphobia. To quote Wikipedia “Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder, often precipitated by the fear of having a panic attack in a setting from which there is no easy means of escape. As a result, sufferers of agoraphobia may avoid public and/or unfamiliar places. In severe cases, the sufferer may become confined to their home, experiencing difficulty traveling from this “safe place.””

    The fear is affecting their lives significantly if they become confined to their home. But would you say they are “worshiping” their fear?

    You say, “When we allow anything to take over our minds and affect the way we think… if we let our decisions be influenced by whatever it is that grips us, then it is worship.”

    I have a better, but a bit informal word for that: a hang-up.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    “I think religion can be anything that we decide to worship.” And your recent comment says, “I worship my God who I know is not the same God that many atheists and even some theists refer to.” But I thought you have said elsewhere that you aren’t religious (by your definition)?

    Yes… I did, didn’t I? Since I tend to separate religion from God, I meant anything other than God. That’s where you and I clash on the definition. I call religion everything other than God himself/itself; and you call religion only what has to do with the idea of God.

    I have a better, but a bit informal word for that: a hang-up.

    Yes, hang-up is a good word. We all have our hang-ups.

    The fear is affecting their lives significantly if they become confined to their home. But would you say they are “worshiping” their fear?

    The fear has power over them. It looms over their lives. They cannot make a move without it. But who gives it that power?

    My take on “idol worship” is just that. Worshipping something, giving something power to control us, when the thing has no power on its own… When it happens to be something that we all agree is negative, bad, or wrong… yes, I guess we call it hang-ups, phobias, addictions, whatever… It’s the wrong way to be, so we get obsessed with trying to fix it.

    When it happens to be something that we all agree is positive, good, or the “right thing to do”, such as wealth, health, fitness, success, education, etc., then it becomes desirable and encouraged… rewarded. It’s the right way to be, so we get obsessed with chasing after it.

    When it happens to be religion (your definition) and dealing with righteousness, the judgment of others and the elitist mindset start to cloud our rational thinking. We get so obsessed with both trying to do what’s right and also condemning what’s wrong (which seems to be everything about human nature), that our own free thinking goes right out the door.

    All of the above are idol worship in my opinion.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Yes… I did, didn’t I? Since I tend to separate religion from God, I meant anything other than God. That’s where you and I clash on the definition. I call religion everything other than God himself/itself; and you call religion only what has to do with the idea of God.

    I’m more confused now! You said religion is “worship of something”, and since you said you worship God, I say (even by your definition) you are religious. I’m not saying God is religious (unless he worships something??). Or maybe you mean you (we) are God in the pantheistic sense, so therefore not religious?

    Just to reiterate, I think my definition of “religion” is pretty close to common usage. It just means the stuff people do because of their belief about a god or gods. Here’s Wiki’s take:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion#Definitions_of_religion

    The fear has power over them. It looms over their lives. They cannot make a move without it. But who gives it that power?

    Nobody. Their brains are just not functioning properly.

    All of the above are idol worship in my opinion.

    So why not use the word “idolatry” instead of “religious”?

    Would you say your average American Christian is religious by your definition? How do I tell the difference between a “religious” Christian and a non-”religious” Christian?

    I just feel like you could use descriptors like “obsessed”, “arrogant”, and “fanatic” to describe the kinds of people you are calling “religious”. If I can’t use the word “religious” like I’d want to, how can I talk about groups of Muslims, Christians, etc when these groups are clearly different from groups like running fanatics, workaholics, trekkies, and baseball fans?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    If I can’t use the word “religious” like I’d want to, how can I talk about groups of Muslims, Christians, etc when these groups are clearly different from groups like running fanatics, workaholics, trekkies, and baseball fans?

    You do have a point. They are clearly different in a narrower sense. But on a more broader sense, they are not. By the way, trekkies and baseball fans do not really apply, unless they are fanatical. Unless the pure enjoyment becomes an obsession and starts to influence their judgment…

    Anyway, when you use the word religious to describe anyone with a belief in God and group them all together, it becomes very subjective. God is not religion. God just is. Religion is made up by people as a means to point to God. The problem arises when people begin to worship the pointer rather than God and start to have a competition as to who has the better pointer.

    When I put religion (your definition) in the same category as the other things I’ve referred to, it’s because they are all worthless endeavors in the end. None of those things will give us happiness, peace, salvation, virgins, or whatever our ultimate quest happens to be…

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Anyway, when you use the word religious to describe anyone with a belief in God and group them all together, it becomes very subjective.

    I don’t think I’ve ever said that. I said religion is the stuff people do because of their beliefs about a god or gods. Some deists might not be religious. Just a simple belief about something a person calls “God” is not a religion until they start doing things (praying, chanting, studying supposedly divine revelations, gathering with others, proselytizing, etc.)

    “God is not religion. God just is.”

    But you can say that about any system you are calling “religion”. You might say someone is worshiping money, and that’s their religion. But money isn’t religion, it just is!

    When I put religion (your definition) in the same category as the other things I’ve referred to, it’s because they are all worthless endeavors in the end.

    I know you call yourself a Christian, so what are you doing that isn’t “religious” but other Christians are that are worthless?

    Can you estimate what percentage of American Christians are “religious?”

    Of course I see that as a silly question myself, since by definition (mine and most other folks) Christianity IS a religion. It’s like asking what percentage of vegetarians don’t eat meat.

    A better question to get the answer you would want to the one above is “What percentage of Christians worship the Bible and not God?”

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    But money isn’t religion, it just is!

    Exactly! You got it. Money in itself is not good or bad, but if we start to let our desire for money influence our ability to think clearly, then it becomes an idol.

    I know you call yourself a Christian, so what are you doing that isn’t “religious” but other Christians are that are worthless?

    I don’t know if I can qualify my actions as worthwhile or the actions of others as worthless. I have no way of knowing the inner workings of someone else’s mind. All I know is what I know, and sometimes (well, often) my actions do not comply with that knowledge. I just try to make the best of each moment, but as in all things… you win some and you lose some.

    “What percentage of Christians worship the Bible and not God?”

    Hmm… I would say a large percentage. It’s not even just about the Bible. Many self-proclaimed Christians don’t ever read the Bible (shoking, I know.)I would say a large percentage of American Christians idolize and worship the idea of Christianity more so than God himself.

    That is just my opinion and my view, which is, after all, only one of many.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    I would say a large percentage of American Christians idolize and worship the idea of Christianity more so than God himself.

    OK, that sounds like a good description. I just disagree with using the word “religious” to describe that group of people. In fact, I would say they are less religious since they aren’t taking their religion very seriously!


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