Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Beware Secular Religions?

TCS has a fascinating article where a self-professed atheist DEFENDS religion. The thesis is essentially this:

- If organized religion did not exist it would be replaced by replaced by secularized religions
- Secularized religions that come to mind include communism, socialism, fascism, the welfare state and Al-Gore environmentalism (the last two clearly not comparable in evil and effect of the first three but certainly are pseudo-religions nonetheless)
- Man, generically needs to have faith in something
- Faith in organized religion is much safer than faith in secular religion

The fundamental difference between traditional religions and these secular religions is that secular religions promise us that perfection (heaven) is possible here, on earth, in present times. Conservatives, starting with Eric Voegelin, have long warned against buying into these secular religions by warning us not to "immanentize the eschaton." As Jonah Goldberg explained:

"Immanentize means to make part of the here and now. Eschaton, like eschatology, relates to the branch of theology which deals with humanity's destiny. You know, the end times, when all of that wacky, end-timey, Seventh-Seal stuff happens (oceans boil, the righteous ascend to heaven, Carrot Top is funny, etc). Hence 'immanentizing the eschaton' means, in effect, trying to make what is reserved for the next life part of the here and now."

Even if the secular authors' ire is well-justified, we are never going to live in a world in which the vast majority of people don't have faith in something, whether that something is God or Government. As an atheist I feel much less threatened by someone who is willing to put off perfection by relegating it to another place than I do by someone who thinks they can create it here and now. In other words, I think that the chance that a religion will "poison everything" is indirectly proportional to the length of time the proponents of the religion think it will take to perfect this world. Therefore, nothing scares me more than the demagogue who promises to immediately do just that. Without traditional religion, I think we would have a lot of demagogues in this mold.

Remember that recent great effort to 'perfect' society? Cambodia. ONE-THIRD of the country slaughtered.

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