Can we exist without religion?
Now, I don’t mean can you personally exist without religious, faith-based beliefs. Obviously, you can. Many of you do. What I mean is: Is it possible for us to be human and have a society in which there is no religion?
You can feel free to disagree with me, but I am going to throw down the gauntlet and say, “No.” Because I don’t believe we can ever remove religion from the human experience no matter how far science goes and how much evidence accumulates that faith in a higher power is silly.
I’ve been thinking about this since seeing Bill Maher on The Daily Show a couple days ago. At one point in his newly released documentary film Religulous, in a clip shown on The Daily Show, Maher stood in a park shouting out some of the tenets of Scientology just to see how crazy people would think he was. And, of course, also to make the point that as crazy as Scientology’s underlying sci-fi mystical underpinnings are, Christianity and other religions should be seen as equally silly because their underlying “mythology” is nonsensical, too.
Later in his interview with Jon Stewart, Maher noted that he wasn’t an atheist himself, despite the hard time he gives religion, because atheism itself is still a belief system based in absolutism, and he abhors that. In other words, there is no way to know, he seems to be arguing, and thus agnosticism is the only way to be if one is going to be intellectually honest. (These aren’t his words, but my interpretation of his meaning.)
OK, I’m not arguing Maher’s logic here. No point or need to anyway, as religious faith is by its very definition something that cannot be explained or proved by science. What I want to talk about is two things that Maher has shown me in this segment with Jon Stewart.
First, since he’s admitted that atheism seems just as stupid to him as belief in God or in multiple gods, he obviously isn’t quite the douchebag I’ve always felt he was. I still find him frequently irritating when he riffs on political, social or religious issues and I think he can be way too smarmy, but this statement alone make me respect him much more than I did before. But a corollary to this is that it also proves my point that religion will always be with us in some organized fashion or another, not matter how much certain people would like it to go away. If we cannot know for sure either way, you can therefore assume that someone will always gravitate toward, or even create, a religion no matter how silly it might seem to most everyone else. In other words, no matter how much science advances, there will always be doubt and thus always niches for both theism and atheism.
Second, the fact that Scientology exists, even though it is so eminently mockable, is proof religion will always be with us. Scientology is based on the lunatic sci-fi egomaniacal ravings of author L. Ron Hubbard. Now, there are people who swear by Scientology’s ability to help people, but they look like a bunch of loons to me, and Tom Cruise’s increasing zaniness, bordering on outright insanity, just cements that idea for me. But back to my point: Scientology uses science fiction-type concepts to create a religion instead of using mystical ones. Given that science will likely never advance enough to explain the whole of existence, this means that even if you wipe out all the old religions, someone will simply create a new one that draws more from science than mysticism/magic.
Nothing I’ve said here proves anything. I still have ample reasons both spiritually and even historically to believe that Christianity is honestly the path to God and the true way, spiritually speaking. And if you have alternate religious beliefs, you will tell me that I am wrong. Fair enough. Just rambling a bit and posing what I hope is an interesting question.
And, as a follow-up to the “Can we exist without religion?” question, I find myself wondering, “Why, then, do we insist on looking to (and for) a higher power now that we no longer need to explain why the sun rises and sets, why the seasons change, why people get sick and die, etc.?”