Wednesday, November 30, 2011

When Religions Die

It’s a great question, not an easy one to answer.

Yesterday Bret Stephens asked: “How do religions die?”

Stephens tells us that we are watching the religion of global warming die.

It is dying, he observes, for good reasons: “Religions are sustained in the long run by the consolations of their teachings and the charisma of their leaders. With global warming, we have a religion whose leaders are prone to spasms of anger and whose followers are beginning to twitch with boredom.”

Global warmism,  as it is called, presents its dogmas as hard science. Yet, the more we read emails of its lead researchers the more we see that claiming to be science was a ruse to trick the gullible.

Of course, global warmism adds an apocalyptic vision of the earth’s future that fits perfectly the template of religious prophecy.

Global warmism is not the only modernist religion. It does belong to a unique class of religions: the secular variety.

Stephens mentions Marx and Freud, both of whom founded modernist, secular religions.

Secular religions are a reaction to the Enlightenment.It is commonly believed that the Enlightenment substituted the authority of Reason for that of religion.

People have failed to notice that worshipping at the altar of Reason is roughly equivalent to worshipping at the altar of Apollo.

Making decisions rationally is surely a good thing. Worshipping the god of Reason is pagan idolatry.

Similarly, global warmism is a cult to the Nature goddess. It, like other secular religions, tries to provide a religious experience for unbelievers.

Still, the question remains: how and why do they fail? How and why do some religions die out?

To answer the question, we should define what religions do. It is insufficient to say that religions provide access to divine or metaphysical realities.

Religions also form communities and congregations. They produce social cohesion.

If the purpose of religion, be it secular or metaphysical, is community, then, one can infer that religions fail when the communities that they form become radically dysfunctional and even self-destructive.

A religion can also disappear when the community that practices it is conquered by an alien army. If the invaders destroy the religion, it will cease to exist. The inability of a community to defend itself counts as a basic failure.

Or else, a community can implode; it can destroy itself from within.

Communism never produced harmonious human societies. It produced famine, desolation, and destruction. Based on atheist principles, communism demonstrated that a religion that believes in nothing is only capable of producing nothing.

Refusing to accept any divine authority, Communist leaders suffered from a notable absence of humility. The secular religion of Communism was destroyed because a series of leaders took themselves to be gods. 

If the leader’s Ego is the ultimate authority, people were likely to want to emulate his example. If they did they would produce anarchy. To forestall that result, Communists were obliged to practice the worst forms of oppression.

But, does the religion of global warming try to produce a new human community? I think it does. It promises that people will not only develop a new relationship with nature but will return to a more natural, pre-industrial, form of human community.

Perhaps not explicitly, but global warmism promises a return to a prelapsarian state, a state of community life that preceded the advent of factories, steel mills, steam engines, and cotton gins.

In truth, global warmism traffics in reactionary fantasies. It pretends to be ushering in a brave new world filled with children frolicking around windmill farms, where electricity will be supplied by solar panels, and where we will all live happy, healthy, long lives eating organic fruits and vegetables.

The more people understand that global warmism produces rolling and extended blackouts, higher carbon taxes, higher corn prices, and an avian holocaust, the less they are tempted to follow its high priests.

Religions die when they fail to produce what they are in the business of producing: effective human communities.

Modernist secular religions attract people who want to be part of a vanguard leading human beings to a brighter future. They die when their adherents start feeling like gullible fools.


n.n said...

So, they replaced divine gods or God with mortal gods. How utterly regressive and masochistic.

The most noteworthy outcome of enlightenment is that people recognized their own dignity and rejected superior or exceptional dignity. We no longer readily defer judgment to authoritarian or expert interests. The people of the post enlightenment era have acknowledged that resistance exercised to preserve dignity is a virtue.

It's also worth noting that everyone accepts articles of faith or axioms. There is a fundamental and insurmountable division between what we know, don't know, and are incapable of knowing. I attribute this limited potential to existing inside the system which we hope to characterize.

The Earth's system, including atmospheric dynamics, resides largely in the second class of knowledge, and as it is influenced by extraterrestrial forces, it may remain there for the foreseeable future. The best we can hope is to characterize the system so well that we can reasonably predict and preemptively adapt to changes in our environment. For now, it is even difficult to reliably distinguish between cause and effect.

As for the secular cult, it is presumably derived from a selective adherence to the science process, but a selective reality in general. By definition and design, science is a faith which is necessarily constrained to a limited frame of reference. The proponents of the AGW agenda have exploited that faith and a progressive deferment to authority exhibited by secular zealots. They supported it for the most common of reasons: dreams of material instant gratification through redistributive and retributive change; and in this they reaped corruption of themselves, scientific enterprise, and society.

The secular cult, especially atheism, relies on displacing a common moral code with totalitarian policies. With this premise it becomes progressively incompatible with optimal liberty through self-moderating behavior. The principles which guide its adherents are inconsistent and often vary widely, which predisposes them to fanaticism and pursuing extreme behaviors. The destructive history of secular regimes is only matched by Islamic imperialism, and where the latter achieved in over 1000 years, the former achieved in less than 100.

I think every religion and its underlying faiths should be judged by the principles it engenders. The Judeo-Christian faith which underlies Western civilization has demonstrated a superior -- though not perfect when its adherents submit to corruption -- ability to preserve individual dignity and elevate the human condition.

David said...

"a return to a prelapsarian state, a state of community life that preceded the advent of factories, steel mills, steam engines, and cotton gins"

The most fervent advocates of this religion are generally not the people who would do particularly well in the prelapsarian environment. I think a pretty good comedy could be made with the scenario of transporting one of these types via time machine to, say, the Sioux territory in 1840 and trying to persuade the members of the tribe that he would be a valuable addition to their number...

Dennis said...

One of the reasons I enjoy this site, besides the quality of Stuart's commentary, is that both David and n.n responses are well written and thought out. One additional comment.
The problem for most of these progressive religions, such as AGW, is that the underlying aim is to remove a vast majority of humanity from existence. As in all secular cults only the anointed ones have the right to life and or ascendance into utopia. All others are a disease.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you, Dennis, for articulating something I had been thinking. I very much appreciate the high quality of the comments on this site. You and n.n. and David make some excellent points in your comments and advance our understanding. The comments are also very well written. Thanks to all of you.

David said...

Chesterton on nature-worship:

"All the same, it will be as well if Jones does not worship the sun and moon. If he does, there is a tendency for him to imitate them; to say, that because the sun burns insects alive, he may burn insects alive. He thinks that because the sun gives people sun-stroke, he may give his neighbour measles. He thinks that because the moon is said to drive men mad, he may drive his wife mad. This ugly side of mere external optimism had also shown itself in the ancient world. About the time when the Stoic idealism had begun to show the weaknesses of pessimism, the old nature worship of the ancients had begun to show the enormous weaknesses of optimism. Nature worship is natural enough while the society is young, or, in other words, Pantheism is all right as long as it is the worship of Pan. But Nature has another side which experience and sin are not slow in finding out, and it is no flippancy to say of the god Pan that he soon showed the cloven hoof. The only objection to Natural Religion is that somehow it always becomes unnatural. A man loves Nature in the morning for her innocence and amiability, and at nightfall, if he is loving her still, it is for her darkness and her cruelty. He washes at dawn in clear water as did the Wise Man of the Stoics, yet, somehow at the dark end of the day, he is bathing in hot bull's blood, as did Julian the Apostate. The mere pursuit of health always leads to something unhealthy. Physical nature must not be made the direct object of obedience; it must be enjoyed, not worshipped. Stars and mountains must not be taken seriously. If they are, we end where the pagan nature worship ended. Because the earth is kind, we can imitate all her cruelties. Because sexuality is sane, we can all go mad about sexuality. Mere optimism had reached its insane and appropriate termination. The theory that everything was good had become an orgy of everything that was bad."

n.n said...

We are playing follow the leader, Mr. Schneiderman. My comments are left, as I presume others as well, in response to your identification and presentation of "issues of merit", which are not normally discussed in so-called "polite company".

I have my perceptions and, hopefully, insights, and so do others. I appreciate that you and others are willing to share your knowledge and opinions. Of course, it helps that we are like-minded; but, I don't think that necessarily prevents us from reviewing the issues comprehensively.

We are not of the same mind, and there is assuredly a perturber waiting to make their presence known (i.e. "the second gunman on the grassy knoll") given the proper context. Well, maybe later, but not now.

For now, thank you.

Anonymous said...

I do believe however believe in Global Warming, although I am not joining any environmentalist cause because of several reasons.

First of all, even if these groups have a valid point, they seems to be like Pharisee, easy to condemn a government, political party, a business institution etc, when they themselves also indulge in the comforts of the goods that they claim to leave ecological footprint. like posting "save the earth" article on facebook, using a notebook that was produced in heavily polluted China, such an irony....

I myself would prefer a proactive stance in fighting global warming without finger pointing. If I see that oil based fuel is creating more pollutants, then I will choose to become solar panel engineer to create a more eco friendly source of energy. That way I solve the problem without casting a single stone on the so called "sinner"