Religion vs SecularismI will attempt to outline some of what religion provides for individuals, the pros and cons of each of these provisions, and how secular life can fulfill and even surpass these provisions. This is mainly targeted toward Abrahamic and monotheistic religions, as these religions have the most impact on the society I live in, but much of this is applicable to other religions as well.
Traditionally, religion provides an individual:
A set of moral rules
- Provided a set of moral rules, individuals are left with a solid base for determining whether an action is moral. However, the rules of religions are subject to interpretation. Through churches and communities, followers can come to conclusions about the interpretation of the rules, and how this applies to their everyday actions. In this way, religions are like the United States government. The deity or deities fits the role of the legislative and executive branch. It both creates and enforces the rules. The clergy, church, and community play the role of the judicial branch. Typically, they interpret the rules through the impact and relevance of the rules to their society.
- This approach has some major flaws. While it is important that the religious moral zeitgeist is affected by societal changes, it is limited by the original rules. Because of this, fundamentalist movements can reverse societal changes through appealing to rules. Religion is like a rubber band in that when followers stray too far from the original dogma, they either break away into a new paradigm, or they are pulled quickly back to the religion's fundamental principles in their original context.
- My secular answer to morality is that morality is subjective, although I believe it is important to base morality on a rational, humanistic set of principles that both encourage respect for other humans and creatures and focus on humanity's progress as a species. Too many conflate subjective morality with the idea that morality does not exist. It is perfectly valid to say that people have different systems or morality. It is wrong to say that this leaves no room for someone to debate or even denounce another moral system on the basis of their own.
A feeling of belonging to something larger
- Through creation myths and religious communities, a follower of religion is given a feeling that they are special. The Christian Bible states that "God created mankind in his own image" (Genesis 1:27). This gives Christians a feeling that they are special in the universe. After all, they are in the image of the most powerful being in existence. Through religious communities such as churches or even just communities in which the majority of people are of the same religion, the follower of religion feels as if they are part of a community mutually dedicated to fulfilling their true purpose, whether it be the Buddhist desire to cease karmic existence or the Christian, Islamic, etc desire to enter paradise.
- The primary issue with religious communities is their impact on ideological minorities,
whether they are followers of other religions or atheists. Most religions forbid
overlap with other religions, and to state that supernatural beings do not exist
completely undermines religion in its entirety. While this can certainly be an issue
in secular communities, religious doctrine is based on dogmatic statements, while
secular beliefs tend to be based on reason and evidence. Reason and evidence,
in my experience, tend to be good deterrents against discrimination and violence. Also impacted by religious communities are those whom it deems sinful, unfit to live, etc... It must be a horrible feeling to be told that an integral part of your identity, something primarily determined by genetics, will result in earthly and supernatural punishment.
- My secular answer to the human need for a community is a sense of connectedness
with other humans and the universe around us. While there is a vast range of human experiences, humans can
feel connected to each other through the shared human experience. We are all the
same species. Despite the fact that everyone experiences reality differently, there is always at least one aspect of life that we can share with each and every human being. Through this, we form bonds. Some are stronger than others, but I believe that it is our mutual humanity that gives us a reason to support our fellow humans. Our bond with the universe is less emotionally charged, but still important to consider. As Carl Sagan said, "The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth,
the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the
interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff." As denizens of the universe, we are one with other humans, animals, potential alien life forms, and the universe in general through the mere fact that we exist and are composed of matter and energy. This is in itself a profound form of spirituality that I feel easily matches and even surpasses theistic spirituality. Of course, that is just my subjective outlook.
Source: The Oatmeal
To be continued in my final blog post