Tuesday, February 27, 2018

What Should Replace Religion In A Post Religious Society?

I just wrote a few blog posts last week about how traditional religious belief is rapidly declining in the US, particularly among the younger generations, and how in its absence "social justice" increasingly has become the new "religion" of the Left, adopting along with it many of the negative attributes one typically associates with traditional religion: dogma, tribalism, group-think, purity.

I am certainly not alone in noticing this, nor am I the only one concerned by it. I see this as a huge problem. The Right has made somewhat of a comeback in recently years with its fresh faced new internet superstars Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder, Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Southern, and Paul Joseph Watson, all gaining notoriety riding the growing wave of criticism of the Left's extreme PC culture and identity politics. It's quickly becoming "cool" to riff on the Left's insanity — as well as a good way to make money. Notorious critic of the Regressive Left, Dave Rubin, for example, makes over $30k a month just on Patreon donations.

I'm mostly on the Left politically (even though I'm increasingly weary of labels), but I do have to say, many of these popular critics of the modern day Left do have a point. Their criticism isn't completely unfounded. In the larger picture, it was never just religion simpliciter that was the problem, it was always the kind of thinking endemic in religion that was the main problem: the dogmatic, tribalistic thinking that puts feelings-before-facts. Religion is just a product of that kind of thinking; it's not the cause.

Here is where I will predictably tell you that we need to replace religion with critical thinking, secular humanism, and skepticism. But I'm not sure anymore that this is even possible. I'm very skeptical skepticism will prevail. That's not to say we shouldn't encourage these three things as paramount, it's just to say that achieving them as a replacement for religion may not be feasible because human nature is antithetical to them. (More on that later.) Secular humanism is also too vague an idea to unite us. What is secular humanism? That's a topic I will tackle properly in a future post, but for now, suffice it to say that it's not going to unite people as easily as traditional religion did. Not even close. And yes, I'm aware that religions divide, even from within via competing sects, but I don't see secular humanism even coming close to the unifier that any major religion ever has.

Secular humanism only commits one to a few ideas: (1) we can be ethical and moral without god; (2) reject religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition. The problem is that many atheist secular humanists only reject religious dogma. On non-religious topics, some atheists embrace dogma and tribalistic thinking all the way, whether they're aware of it or not. This is a form of the bias blind spot, which is when you recognize the biases in others, but fail to notice your own. I just spoke at Long Island Atheists a few weeks ago for my Make Atheism Great Again! talk, which was supposed to be a prelude to the panel discussion of the same name at The Atheist Conference. In the talk I reminded the atheist crowd that "atheist" does not equal "critical thinker." Being  an atheist does not entail you think critically about anything, even atheism, because one can be an atheist for really bad (or no) reasons. I encouraged them to double down on their verbal commitments to critical thinking, science, and reason, and to apply that to all areas of their lives, not just religion.

The reason why I emphasized this is because the atheist community is not immune to bias and group-think. These are innate human tendencies that come easily and naturally to us that make it extremely hard if not impossible to be a critical thinker on all subjects. And it's the fact that those innate tendencies are so hard to overcome that I think makes the idea that we're all going to embrace a kind of secular humanism that commits itself to critical thinking, science, and reason a bit too naive. Therefore, the very thing that I think should replace religious belief is precisely the one thing I think humanity will have the most difficulty adopting, because critical thinking, scientific thinking, reason, and being mindful of, and proactive against one's cognitive biases go against our innate human tendencies for for bias and group-think.

That being said, I think we have no better alternative than to double down on our efforts to promote critical thinking, science, reason, and something akin to secular humanism, even if it's just its most basic form of being ethical without god, and rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition. Secular humanism doesn't tell you what's ethical, or exactly how to live (aside from not being religious), or exactly what is "the good life." And that seems to be its flaw. Nevertheless, I will take on secular humanism in light of all its flaws in my next post. Stay tuned!

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