Over the last year or two, a cultural shift toward anti-religion has become pretty prominent in popular media. My profession is the printed word, and in the Religion category in various publishing digests, you'll now see prominent discussion of best-selling books condemning religion and touting atheism. Five years ago, it was Christian fiction dominating these categories.
In blog land, it's much the same. Recently I have come across some extremely intelligent, articulate, and skillful blogs that exist almost exclusively to torpedo religious extremist views, or religion in general. A couple of the better ones, in fact, can be seen if you browse my list of recommmended blogs shown in the left column.
Researching this blog trend shows that some blogs like to puncture one religion alone. There are a lot of blogs that seem intent on skewering Islam, as well as lots of them that want to set the world free of Christian extremism. A number of the more compelling ones are written by former evangelicals who have escaped that world. Other blogs are multi-denominational, and will point out the ridiculous and bigoted aspects of any faith. Still other blogs celebrate science as its own religion, and argue that science alone offers the road to truth.
I am fascinated by this trend, as well as awed by the skill of many of these bloggers. And I do think its justifiable to point out the lunacy inherent in much religious dogma—that's why I read these blogs. How can you not roll your eyes in disbelief when you listen to strict Christians ignore the evidence of biological evolution; or when you hear of Muslims trying to force toy stores to stop selling piggy banks because swine are unclean animals?
But I also sometimes fear that we want to throw out the baby with the bathwater during this anti-religion jihad. Is there room, I wonder, for denouncing the silliness of religion while still holding a space in our hearts for what William James called the "Religious Experience."? (See his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience.")
The God depicted in the Christian/Judaic bible, the Quran, is a quaint mythological representation of something inexpressible. And I agree that it's not only silly, but dangerous, to insist that such an entity exists in literal form, and that he has graced you and your friends with his favor.
But I will also insist on my right to believe in the spiritual impulse behind it all, and I'll also express my strong intuition that there is a spiritual and evolutionary goal that causes us to seek an enlightened state of mind.
That's all God really represents, after all: our desire for a peaceful existence.
And I also think that some apologists for "science" are just as deluded as any snake-handling hillbilly Christian in the mountains of Tennessee. Elevating science to a religion is complete folly—a fact that all the true geniuses of science have acknowledged. Scientific theories are always just theories, and the history of reason shows that these paradigms are nothing more than useful fictions, which can be discarded and replaced as circumstances require.
Do you think, for example, that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line? Then you haven't been reading your modern astro-physics, which now suggests that the cosmos is a curved phenomenon.
Any science and any religion is equally silly and dangerous at the point where it begins insisting that it owns the keys to certainty. This is the principle human folly, in fact—to insist on certainty, and I'd argue that it is the impulse behind most everything we think of as evil.
But what other option is there? I've heard people ask. Our job as rational humans is to find the truth, the certainty. That's what we do. Isn't it?
That's what most people do, I'll grant you, which may explain the condition of the human world. It's not the only way, though. The other way to live, the path less taken, is the one described by Irish song-writer Van Morrison, among many others:
Let go, into the mystery.