[this is a precurser of a longer article, posted May 14 2018]
When you judge, investigate. This maxim from Seneca is very dear to me, despite me often being forgetful about it’s great truth value.
I have investigated religious belief for more than 20 years on a private basis. I have had numerous discussions with protestant vicars, jewish believers, muslims, asatru, one buddhist even, which can be difficult to find in a Scandinavian country, and even a proponent of intelligent design (we have a few in Denmark).
I must say that I have gained a growing amont of respect for many believers on the one hand – their personal narrative or motives leading to “finding God” or needing something grander than the physical universe, and the like.
But on the other hand, I have become ever more estranged from the need for faith. I find Nature ever-so amazing, grand, mysterious and puzzling, that I don’t feel any need for more than this immense and perplexing cryptogram that is called the (physical) Universe.
Evolutionary speaking, we’re standing on the shoulders of believing predecessors who managed to gather around religious artifacts, making the religious tribes stronger than non-believers, thus surviving battles, having a common deity to add meaning to the likely meaninglessness of physical reality.
But I am certain that we have now passed the need for this kind of gathering around mysterious objects like tabernakels, crucifixes or quaba houses. It seems that what we need to gather around now, having already entered the anthropocene, is solving the ultimate quest of humanity, namely how to live in concert with Nature, how to blend in, how to exploit and explore at the same time, in ways that benefit not only the human monkeys (with frontal lobes) that we all are, but also Nature. If we manage to succeed, our great-great-grand-children could perhaps prosper. If we fail, alas, their future seems bleak.
Statistical evidence are legion that we need to use science and reason, not mystical (mass) belief, to increase human flourishing. We need people to think. For themselves, and critically. Evidently, knowledge will always be stronger than superstition and ignorance. We know this from the history books. We need humanist role models for the youth, who can facilitate a new belief in future progress of humanity and who can instill technological optimism.
To succeed, I believe, we don’t need religious artifacts as gathering points any longer. It is unnecessary for human survival, contrary to earlier times. So, religious belief, an experience completely unknown to me, and unexperienced by me, is not what we need for our future societies to prosper. What we need is precise facts, democratized knowledge (e.g. free-access to satellite data of our blue, green and black global sphere), scientific accuracy in education and research (using the ever-so cumbersome and rigid peer-review processes of ensuring international high standards of the growing body of knowledge – in most cases) and an openness to evident facts that don’t immediately please us.
This project is not synonymous with a demeaning of religious belief. It is importnat to keep respecting other people’s need for religious faith as long as they will exist, as there is really no reasonable alternative. We surely cannot judge religious people. What we can do, though, is to keep working for the necessary and complete secularisation of all (democratic) nations, ensuring that we keep facts in the public domain (which has lead us to the present state of historic global wealth and prosperity, in general – with very sad exceptions, still, obviously), and then keep faith in the private domain.
Spiritual growth and personal development is obviously something of very high importance and value to many people on a global scale. But life can be spiritual also without religoisity.
[This is a great map of the evolution of religion]