Religion has been for centuries been that thing that compels us to exist, because it wasn’t only camus who discovered that life is absurd and why should we live it anyway. We have been suffering from this existential crisis ever since we contemplated our own mortality. So then people build temples, gods and heroes to be models for excellence and righteousness. They created beliefs to organize peoples thinking and practices to organize people’s behavior. These had both practical and sectarian purposes. And at some point these grew up into institutions, which ended up only serving a few and kept the rest obedient (materialist theory of religion). But they also gave people hope and helped to emphasize transcendence over materialism and gave people dignity through adherence and a sense of righteousness to boot. Each movement was a response to the agony and suffering of life and the attraction of apathy and licentiousness, especially among a group persecuted and disenfranchised. The powers that be would rather you exist in chaos… it makes them feel better about themselves and justifies their persecution of you. There is nothing empowering about using free will to make bad choices.
So when we look at the world’s religions and those that don’t make sense in our modern age, we have to consider that, though they might be confusing, they are a living history of people’s experiences through time and perhaps our best record of how people have been treated in history. Hasidism and pogroms and the shoah for instance.. The reform movement and general acceptance of Jews in the 19-20th centuries. Christianity and the Roman empire. Protestantism and Catholic corruptions. Islamic extremism and capitalist, secular egoism. (And the unwillingness of the western world to accept Islam.)
And yes institutions are inherently absurd too and conformity is by its nature not functional for everyone, but still sometimes the institutions protect history or sacred knowledge that is not easy to understand or immediately available to us. But they should not be thrown away hastily because they aren’t progressive enough for our tastes and we believe that science and technology will save us from all of our sufferings anyway. I’m not saying that science, reason and technology are not going to lead us to a healthier more sustainable way of living, but ignoring the emotional and spiritual aspects of our existence is not healthy either. And might result in the elimination of good art or authentic human feeling, which ultimately is the only thing keeping from being our devices anyway.
I really get tired of Bill Maher’s extreme lack of compassion for religious people. But even his position proves my point, because it is a response to evangelical Protestantism (and other fundamentalisms too), which really has very little authenticity. It is kind of fundamentally flawed and very easy to tear apart and is ruining our country for its influence on our politics. (I am not throwing out protestantism enitrely here, just forms of it in the US.) And yet, it too was a response to the failures of the late renaissance Catholic Church. Certainly many religions do not emphasize such a personal relationship with the divine that we should put up our hands and do nothing when suffering occurs in areas of society that we can control (the poor existing in areas with failing education systems, racial prejudice concerning the justice system.) We cannot keep on having the belief that because we believe people are created equal means that they are treated equally under the law or by the institutions that govern their existence. Moral egoism is a great corruption. I am not trying to even say that we need to steal money from the rich and or status from the elites and give to the poor and without. And I am not say that one shouldn’t be responsible for their own success or failure. But we should be able to at least ensure a certain quality of life in this country when it does appear that there is money in our system to make it possible for everyone to be fed, clothed, housed and educated. And let us not forget that it was ethical monotheism of Abraham that gave us any sort idea of morality from the beginning anyway. Stop villainizing religions or religious people; the real evil is that people suffer unjustly, when policies can change or money can be spent to actually make peoples lives better. When peoples basic needs are met then they can approach the secular rationalism that Sam Harris talks about. But telling people to stop being religious or that all religions are invalid is sure sign of elitism. Religious has guided radicals and progressives as much as it has confined people to a set beliefs that made them complacent. Alright im done…
Can you tell I watched Jerry Maguire last night?