Day 064 - Replacing religion

Submitted by Sam on 24 July, 2011 - 03:05

There is a lot of social good derived from religion, and there is a lot we would miss in a completely secularized society that did not have adequate replacements for the forces for good that organized religion offers now. A balanced inventory of religion's beneficial qualities would include, among many others, the provision of effective self-help mechanisms, the enabling and promotion of teamwork and morals, and the establishment of long-term loyalties. Religion is a safety net for a lot of people, offering a sanctuary to those who have lost hope and confidence. To ensure that a secular society is not a step backwards there needs to be atheistic equivalents to every item on such an inventory. Any engineered replacement for religion must insulate against those problems systemic in many organized religions, never, for instance, using guilt as an animating force, never deferring to superstition and never glorifying irrationality.

Can a secular alternative to religion that provides a weekly thrill and sense of purpose ever be realized? It would need to provide the encouragement and solidarity of a gospel choir, and it would need to leave a great legacy of art and music. It might even need to have ceremony and tradition, two of the most binding and unifying forces in human psychology. It would need to be an institution that helps people realize their good intentions better than religion does, joining people together in the pursuit of what is 'good'.

Some aspects of the TED conferences fulfil some of these criteria already. Indeed, the BBC recently ran an article entitled “Ted Global: Worshipping at the church of TED”. TED has all of the theatrics and ceremony of the most popularly subscribed religions, it has generated what has been described as a 'cult' following (an intellectually engaged global audience), and it has created its own legacy of music, performance and comedy. It is a landmark to which millions of people around the world are drawn, offering an irresistible sense of community and empowerment for those inspired by its ideas. It's design, whether wittingly or not, has adopted a lot from the good aspects of religion.

The more secular institutions can emulate (and perhaps displace) the good parts of religion, the sooner the more toxic parts associated with them may begin to fade away.

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