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Is rational secularism becoming a religion?

Did you know that 28 per cent of Americans describe themselves as evangelical? During the recent U.S. election I Googled it. I was surprised by their large numbers.

What also surprised me was how many people despise them and are happy to say so. This was something that was hard to ignore during the election campaign.

Although I am not religious myself, I have sympathy for people who are. Because I think most people need something they can count on, something solid, a rock, something that gives their lives meaning; something that explains the mysteries of “why” and “how.”

This is what religion provides. And that is why it is so hard to change. Which makes it the opposite of what rational secularists crave. They believe that all change is good. (Unless it involves the climate.)

It is easy for them to mock religion, because religion is not based on reason. It is based on faith. Reason cannot lead you to religion. Only faith can. And in most cases you have to have faith in something that, on its face at least, is obviously unreasonable.

When you look at many religious tenets they seem absurd. But to the faithful this very absurdity is a test of their faith. It is more of a reason to believe. Because that’s what religion is about. It is a leap of faith.

But religion does have one good reason, which can even be understood by the secular rationalists. It has a sociological function.

No great civilization has lasted without some kind of religion; some set of beliefs to explain the unexplainable that is necessary to hold the society together. Reason alone is not enough. (The Soviet Union tried to go without religion, and we all know how that worked out.)

This is important to consider be-cause now, for the first time, our own society is embarking on a secular stage where there is an attempt to replace faith with reason, to replace religion with secularism.

We have replaced Genesis with the Big Bang, and the Garden of Eden is now populated by enormous lizards instead of a snake. The will of God has been replaced by the randomness of natural selection. And now we even have a looming apocalypse of climate Armageddon caused by human sin.

And although it is all speculated from rational science, it seems to me that it takes as much magical thinking to believe it as it used to take for me to imagine what I was taught in Sunday school.

But as the divide between U.S. evangelicals and U.S. secularists filled the news cycles, it became obvious that the secular was fast replacing the religious, and that secularists were dead sure of themselves. Their contempt for those who see the world through religious eyes was quite disturbing.

Disturbing because this absolute certainty is breeding intolerance for those who do not share their view of the world, which has always been one of the most unfortunate aspects of religion.

Which begs the question: Is our new rational secularism becoming a religion of its own?

Reason doesn’t have to be the enemy of religion. We can live a life based upon reason and still be religious. Because we know the limits of our reason.

There are limits; reason itself should tell us that. But knowing those limits is what I would call wisdom.

Rick Blue is half of the musical-comedy duo Bowser and Blue. He is also a long-time Beaconsfield resident.

3 comments

  1. By Ralph Neumann

    Wow. I am a practicing Catholic and consider this to be an excellent article. I will read it again several times over the next few days. Thank you very much for this, Mr. Blue.

  2. Rick, there are several parts of your post that concern me.

    - You say religion provides answers to “why” and “how”. But if the answers are made up or false, are they really valuable? Every mystery of nature ever solved – every single one – turned out to have a natural, not divine or magical answer. An example close to my home: angry gods don’t cause hurricanes to punish the wicked, weather patterns cause hurricanes. And what’s more, the weather patterns are predictable. So millions of people had days of warning about Hurricane Sandy that would not have been possible if we were satisfied with the answers religion provides.

    - You make sweeping generalizations about secular rationalists. “They believe all change is good.” That’s nonsense, and I think you know this. And if you open your Bible, you’ll find that slavery, genocide, rape and polygamy were “traditional”. Fortunately, it’s not just secularists who like some change. But it’s not change that a rationalist seeks, it is truth – what is the REAL answer? Is the volcanoe caused by the God Pele, or is there a different, REAL answer?

    Rick – if Adam and Eve were fictional creations used to tell a story and fill a gap in knowledge, isn’t it important to know that? Isn’t it more important to know the truth than just take the story on faith? Do you really consider the Big Bang and evolution and dinosaurs to be speculation on par with what is taught in Sunday school? Does the difference between truth and fiction matter so little to you?

    We used to tell children stories about the stork because we thought them too young to understand where babies really come from. Is it any wonder that rationalists scoff at the denial of evolution in favor of stories of magical gardens, talking snakes, and “The Fall”? Are the evangelicals promoting these bedtime stories because people aren’t mature enough for the complex truth?

    You’re right in that neither side can be blind. Rationalist must realize that (at least historically) humanity needs stories, narratives to give structure to their history and their lives. But fundamentalist religious people must realize that stories of a 6000-year-old Earth are as absurd as the stork delivering babies.

    Maybe the growing secularization of many parts of the world is, like the reduction in violence over the centuries, a sign that humanity is maturing enough to handle more of the truth.

  3. What would Lenny say?
    “God is alive. Magic is afoot.
    God is alive. Magic is afoot.
    God is afoot. Magic is alive.
    Alive is afoot. Magic never died.
    God never sickened. Many poor men lied.
    Many sick men lied. Magic never weakened.
    Magic never hid. Magic always ruled.
    God is afoot. God never died.
    God was ruler though his funeral lengthened.
    Though his mourners thickened Magic never fled.
    Though his shrouds were hoisted the naked God did live.
    Though his words were twisted the naked Magic thrived.
    Though his death was published round and round the world
    The heart did not believe.
    Many hurt men wondered. Many struck men bled.
    Magic never faltered. Magic always led.
    Many stones were rolled but God would not lie down.
    Many wild men lied. Many fat men listened.
    Though they offered stones Magic still was fed.
    Though they locked their coffers God was always served.
    Magic is afoot. God rules.
    Alive is afoot. Alive is in command.
    Many weak men hungered. Many strong men thrived.
    Though they boasted solitude God was at their side.
    Nor the dreamer in his cell, nor the captain on the hill.
    Magic is alive.
    Though his death was pardoned round and round the world
    The heart would not believe.
    Though laws were carved in marble they could not shelter men.
    Though altars built in parliaments they could not order men.
    Police arrested Magic and Magic went with them
    For Magic loves the hungry.
    But Magic would not tarry. It moves from arm to arm.
    It would not stay with them.
    Magic is afoot. It cannot come to harm.
    It rests in an empty palm. It spawns in an empty mind.
    But Magic is no instrument. Magic is the end.
    Many men drove Magic but Magic stayed behind.
    Many strong men lied.
    They only passed through Magic and out the other side.
    Many weak men lied.
    They came to God in secret and though they left him nourished
    They would not tell who healed.
    Though mountains danced before them they said that God was dead.
    Though his shrouds were hoisted the naked God did live.
    This I mean to whisper to my mind.
    This I mean to laugh with in my mind.
    This I mean my mind to serve ’til
    Service is but Magic moving through the world,
    And mind itself is Magic coursing through the flesh,
    And flesh itself is Magic dancing on a clock,
    And time itself
    The Magic Length of
    God.”

    Leonard Cohen

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