Secular Society but Religious Animals

Huston SmithBy Huston Smith

Religion's future is secure for the sufficient reason that human beings are religious animals. Religion derives from the Latin, religio, to rebind, and we need to be bonded to the scheme of things entire; for separation betokens isolation, loss, and estrangement. We are like theater tickets that read Not good when detached.

We can reach the same conclusion by another route. Human life is precarious. It is macro-precarious because we never know when earthquakes, cyclones, and their likes might strike us; and it is micro-precarious because a heart attack, fatal car accident, or cancer could cut us down without notice.

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When our lives are threatened beyond our capacity to cope, we instinctively reach out -- cry out -- for help. When our condition is dire, we cry out for as much help as we can get. Logically, the maximum help would derive from God who is omnipotent.

The above demonstration of religion's durability is not compromised by the fact that we live in the most secular society history has ever known. Science and technology have turned out to be a veritable cornucopia, multiplying our goods, reducing our drudgery, and extending our lifespan. As these are not inconsiderable goods, they have led us to regard science as a kind of savior. A moment's reflection shows that it is not, for although it can delay death, it cannot eliminate it. The ‘grim reaper' remains, perpetually looking over our shoulders.

In sum, our society is secular, while individuals remain religious creatures. QED, quod est demonstrandum, it isdemonstratively proved. Human beings are religious animals, so the future of religion is secure.


Huston Smith is Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, Syracuse University. Smith's fourteen books include The World's Religions, which has sold over 2 ½ million copies, and Why Religion Matters, which won the Wilbur Award for the best book on religion published in 2001. In 1996 Bill Moyers devoted a five-part PBS Special, The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith, to his life and work. His most recent book is Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine, an Autobiography. To browse Tales of Wonder, please click here.

9/13/2010 4:00:00 AM
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