Every human is religious, especially those who don’t believe in traditional religion.
A good chunk of you is chomping at the bit to tell me how wrong I am, which proves my point. Your visceral reaction to my initial statement is a tell. It tells me you have deep-seated, religious, beliefs. You get triggered when someone disagrees with your beliefs. No matter what your religion is, you have something higher than yourself you need to submit to, even if the thing that’s higher than you is nothing at all.
I’m not a fundamentalist.
I’m not going to tell you that traditional religion is the way, nor am I going to absolve traditional religion for its many faults. Instead, I’m going to explain your religious nature and talk about the ways it can be harnessed. I’m going to spell out some of the issues I see with the ‘religions of our time’ and provide better alternatives. I see a spiritual sickness in our society and it’s a direct result of the perversion of our religious nature, orchestrated by people who want to control our minds.
If you want to stop being sick, you must first diagnose your illness.
I define religion as a set of organizing principles we use to understand the world, ourselves, and other people. Many will reject this premise upfront because they believe that belief systems like atheism don’t fall under the category. They do. Atheism is the strongly held belief that there is no God. I mean, how can you be so sure? You can’t prove God exists, but you can’t prove that he doesn’t either.
Religion contains a set of strongly held beliefs. You have rules to live by — the ten commandments, observation of sabbath, eating practices — halal, kosher, not eating meat during lent. There are ceremonies with ritual practices — communion, praying, chanting & reciting of phrases, observations of time windows, etc
For better or worse, religions have a strong in-group/out-group bias. Your religion is the correct one and those who live by it will make it to the promised land. Your community is the true believers and everyone outside of it doesn’t understand the true way — they’re lost.
Of course, traditional religion has its faults — mainly the whole killing millions of people in the name of your God thing. I’ll give it just desserts just so that you know I’m being fair.
Traditional religion can brainwash you into believing things that aren’t true and instill twisted values in your mind. It can cause deep prejudice. Often, it rejects reason altogether. It can put people under non-sensical behavior constraints. The word can be misinterpreted and many of those interpretations just create…cults I went to a Lutheran high school. They taught us that the earth was 6,000 years old, dinosaurs roamed the earth with man, and that the great flood killed them instead of a meteor. They made us watch videos of abortions and ‘sex education’ videos that told us we’d get an STD or get knocked up if we had sex. I don’t accept this version of religion.
I understand the rejection of traditional religion.
But we threw the baby out with the bath water. For all its faults, traditional religion has served a useful purpose. In the absence of it, something else has to fill the void. And it has.
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? – Friedrich Nietzche
Humans got smarter.
The age of enlightenment helped us better understand how the world works, which naturally led to the abandonment of supernatural myths. We don’t need to worship the Sun. After all, it’s just one of a gazillion stars in the universe. We discovered there was no creator. The universe emerged on its own when an infinitesimally small ball of energy exploded. Science helped us expand our capacity for reason. Since we found the true explanations, God was no longer needed.
Nietzsche feared that the rejection of God would have negative consequences because people need a binding set of belief systems to help them navigate the world — morality, ethics, a code, or prescription for how to live. Without them, we’d lose our way. He understood the religious nature of human beings. Since the dawn of humanity, we’ve looked up to something to give us meaning. Primitive humans worshipped nature. We worshipped pagan gods. Then came the great religions — Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I’m not a religious scholar and this is all armchair analysis, but I get the gist of the argument. We’ve never not worshipped something. The reason is unknown, but we all have this religious instinct inside of us and exhibit these religious behaviors.
Many atheist scholars understood the benefits of religion and the consequences of the absence of respect for it. The genius feminist thinker and writer Camile Paglia had this to say about religion:
Anti-religious sneers are a hallmark of perpetual adolescents […] I do not believe in God, but I believe God is man’s greatest idea. Those incapable of religious feeling or those who profane sacred ground do not have the imagination to educate the young. … Until the left comes to its senses about the cultural power of religion, the right will continue to broaden its appeal.
She says that all the great religions should be taught in school. Not to indoctrinate, but to give students an understanding of history and the way these organizing principles helped shape the world we live in today. Religion is one of the ‘collective myths’ that helped us build civilizations, the term coined by Yuval Noah Harari in his best-selling book Sapiens to describe the way large groups of human beings developed the capacity to organize themselves toward a purpose we could build things.
If you look at most of the things we agree on that make someone a good person, most of them came from the Judeo-Christian ethic — don’t steal, don’t murder people, the Golden rule. Nietzsche also argued that these moral truths weren’t necessarily self-evident before we created them.
Speaking of the Golden Rule, one major issue in modern society is a lack of divinity.
If you don’t see other humans as divine, you have no incentive to treat them like you want to be treated. They’re now something less than. Divinity doesn’t have to be religious, per se, it could simply mean you see other people as made up of the same matter as you, the same matter as everything in the universe. Rationalists think that human beings can treat each other well without some binding principles to make them do so, but they underestimate how rules keep people from giving into their worst impulses. Trust me, you’d be a lot more lawless if there were no laws and punishments for bad behavior, laws derived from the ethic I talked about earlier.
Reason is valuable.
We don’t need to believe in supernatural entities to live a good life. But we also shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The absence of religion created a void that, in many ways, has been replaced with religions that have all the negative tenets and none of the positive ones.
Instead of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, we now have three new religions created by the modern age:
They all have rules to follow, even if the rule is to have no rules. They all carry strong and deep belief systems that people will fight, and even kill, for. You can see many of the same religious practices and rituals carried out by its followers. They’re all based on the belief that our capacity to reason and make decisions without a shared consciousness is strong enough to help us properly navigate the world.
People who say ‘believe the science’ tend to have the flimsiest grasp of it.
Science doesn’t need to be believed. You can prove it. Real science is supposed to be questioned, scrutinized, and picked apart until it’s improbable to disprove. You don’t need to believe in gravity. Nobody (who wants to live) jumps off a building because they know what’ll happen. You don’t need credentials to practice science. You just need to follow the scientific method. Many great scientific discoveries were made by people without some stamp from an institution.
Much of what people call science in the modern age is scientism — cult-like religious beliefs about science that masquerade as facts.
With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30 years of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating at best only 1/3 of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers (or Montaigne and such filtered classical knowledge) with a better track record than these policymaking goons.
Indeed one can see that these academico-bureaucrats who feel entitled to run our lives aren’t even rigorous, whether in medical statistics or policymaking. They can’t tell science from scientism — in fact in their image-oriented minds scientism looks more scientific than real science. — Nassim Taleb
Just because a scientist says something, it doesn’t mean it’s true. You don’t need to browbeat people into believing solid science. Running a single study that’s never been replicated doesn’t make a theory true, yet these are the sort of studies a science cult member will throw in your face if you dare to disagree with them.
Modern science and scientific study are riddled with problems:
The fact that I run the risk of getting banned on a platform for questioning science, the principal act that built the foundation of it in the first place, shows how far gone we are.
Notice how emotional people get about science these days. It’s not like you’re disagreeing about facts, you’re committing blasphemy. Notice how science is now focused on consensus instead of dissent. Notice how fearful people in the cult of science are about counter-narratives, just like the traditionally religious were afraid of scientific discoveries.
Our political leaders will now slap the word science on any agenda they have.
If you disagree with a ‘science-based’ course of action, you’re now a science denier, which is code for saying you’re not a true believer. Real science doesn’t tell you what to do. It just provides an explanation for how something works. It’s unscientific to say that action ‘x’ must be taken because science says so.
Scientists are human beings with biases.
Motivated reasoning has crept in and many scientists now form the conclusion first and fit the facts in to support them retroactively. Humans respond to incentives. If disagreeing with the prevailing scientific zeitgeist means you lose funding or flat out get black-balled by the community or deleted from the internet altogether, it stands to reason that you might alter your ethical code to save yourself.
If we can’t debate the science or question its validity, it’s no better than believing a whale swallowed Jonah.
Politics is the main religion of our day and it’s the nastiest one.
It’s the nastiest because it lacks divinity. People who are obsessed with politics don’t see their political opponents as those who disagree with them. They’re something less than human. This is why political violence is so prevalent. It’s wrong to hurt another human being, but it’s okay to harm an interloper, an insurgent, a sub-human enemy in your holy war.
You can tell politics is religion because people believe in logically inconsistent sets of beliefs.
You’d only hold sets of beliefs that contradict one another if the beliefs were less important than being part of the tribe. It doesn’t make sense for one party to be one hundred percent right about everything and the other to be one hundred percent wrong. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Yet, in 2022, if you can guess one person’s political beliefs, you can guess all of them. These days, I don’t even have to ask someone what their beliefs are. I can just look at them and nine times out of ten I’d be able to guess correctly.
If you look at protests and political gatherings you can see many of the same ritualistic elements. People are chanting phrases, gathered in formations, donning signs and flags, marking themselves as insiders. The rallies are the church service. You’re to follow the laws and beliefs even if they don’t make sense.
In many religious ceremonies, you’ll observe the spirit of God entering people’s bodies.
I grew up in a Baptist church. Often, people would ‘catch the holy ghost.’ The holy spirit would enter their bodies. They’d start convulsing and shaking. Some would speak in tongues. Watch some videos of people at protests and you’ll see something similar. Look at their eyes. It’s scary. You can see that they too are possessed by something. It doesn’t seem to be something good. Politics creates religious fervor. It can whip people into quite a state. I won’t do it, but I could simply utter a statement that could stir some of you into a frenzy. That should concern you. Whether or not it does, I don’t know. But I do know that of all the religions we’ve created, politics ain’t it.
People look to politics to fill the void because they don’t have the confidence to manage their own lives.
It’s all signaling anyway:
What do the protestors want? Can they articulate it meaningfully, not in platitudes or “people over profits” or “more fair income redistribution” soundbites? They can’t tell you because they don’t know. They can, however, yell at you what they don’t like, and the louder they yell it the more they hear it themselves. Nothing is expected to be accomplished, it is all for branding. – The Last Psychiatrist
Most people who are deep believers couldn’t even properly articulate what they want to happen. Even if, somehow, they could win all their political victories and get the exact society they wanted, they still wouldn’t be happy. The state can’t give you purpose and meaning. No law can fix your spiritual sickness. Deep down, people know this, but removing themselves from the cult of politics would mean they’d have to confront their own role in their lives, take responsibility for themselves, and develop a sense of agency.
Creating your own principles and setting high standards for yourself is a hundred times harder than chanting ‘fight for change.’
The religion of nothing is the belief that human beings are blank slates.
The overarching rule is that there are no rules. It’s a nihilistic religion that says since God doesn’t exist and nothing happens after you die, nothing you do while you’re alive really matters, so you should be able to do whatever you want. It’s the belief that behavior doesn’t have any spiritual consequences. It’s a hedonistic religion marked by debauchery and depravity. This is precisely the outcome Nietzsche was afraid of.
I’m no finger-wagger, trust me.
I just smoked weed last night. I have casual sex. I’m not preaching a life of purity. Feel free to do whatever you please. It’s a mistake, though, to reject the idea of spiritual consequences. By spiritual consequences, I don’t mean going to heaven or hell. I mean the way your actions make you feel about yourself deep inside. Is it a coincidence that the rise of blank-slate living and anxiety are trending upward at the exact same time?
I once wrote an article called Stop Doing These Things, They’re Making You Hate Yourself.
In it, I talked about certain actions that harm you spiritually. Is watching other people have sex, many of whom are sex-trafficked or recorded in secret, good for your spirit? Is getting black-out drunk every weekend and constantly sleeping with strangers good for your spirit? A life marked by pleasure and a free-for-all mindset that also lacks any sort of boundaries might not be the best way to live. Again, do your own thing. The point of this essay isn’t to tell you what to believe. It’s to help you question the outcomes your beliefs are creating in your life.
Notice how there’s a backlash against movements like no-fap — men committing to avoid masturbating and watching porn.
The religions of our day hate movements and practices that teach discipline, restraint, and focused energy. When you add these elements to your life, you become more awake and aware because you’re no longer in a haze. Awake and aware people are a threat to the overarching religion of Modernity that aims to usher in a new era of spiritually sick, homogenized, media-obsessed, mindless consumers. Wall-E is a documentary.
The religion of nothing is a religion because of the strength of the belief that nothing matters.
Nietzche’s hope was that we could create a sort of secular humanistic religion that contained the Judeo-Christian ethic without the belief in the supernatural and the moral finger-wagging.
That’s what I aim for in my life. It’s difficult but doable. In short, I try to treat people like I want to be treated. I have my own set of morals and organizing principles. I understand my religious nature so I try to direct it somewhere positive instead of trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. Instead of needing to believe in God, I focus on pursuing a higher purpose in my life.
That’s what people need. That’s the antidote to the modern religions of our day that cause spiritual sickness.
If you look at many people in society, they are unwell. They’re lost and looking for something to cling to. Since pursuing your own purpose is hard they default to bowing to the altar of some of the nastiest religions known to man. If you feel like shit all the time, maybe your beliefs aren’t so great, ya know? If I look at the most dogmatic observers of every modern religion, they all have deep unhappiness in common. They filled the void with a poor substitute and they know it. But, they’ve been doing it for so long they’re damn near too committed to break free from it.
I’m not right about everything. I’m a dilettante. But that doesn’t make me wrong. If this essay has triggered you in any way or stirred up some heavy, negative, emotions, it might serve you well to look in the mirror. You have a natural need to submit yourself to something. Be careful what you submit yourself to.
All you have to do is look at where your beliefs are taking you and be brutally honest about whether or not that’s a place you really want to go.
Don’t follow a religion that drains you.
Don’t follow a religion that makes you hate your fellow human beings.
Definitely don’t follow a path that leads to nowhere.
Construct your own code of ethics, give yourself rules to live by, and most importantly, create some sort of constraints and boundaries for your behavior because you need them. Don’t listen to God, or to me, listen to that voice deep inside you that intuitively understands there’s a right and wrong way to live.