A note on religion, a faith for our time and every time

Religion is seldom discussed on the FM website, but plays an important role in an well-founded society. There are many levels of faith, but there is a foundation on which the edifice can securely rest: collective action against the chaotic forces of nature and man’s nature.

As described in Act II of Major Barbara, by George Bernard Shaw. Cusins is a young man, a scholar. Undershaft is co-owner of a great munitions manufacturer.

CUSINS:  I am quite genuinely interested in the views of the Salvation Army. The fact is, I am a sort of collector of religions; and the curious thing is that I find I can believe them all. By the way, have you any religion?

UNDERSHAFT:  Yes.

CUSINS:  Anything out of the common?

UNDERSHAFT:  Only that there are two things necessary to Salvation.

CUSINS:  [disappointed, but polite] Ah, the Church Catechism.

UNDERSHAFT:  The two things are–

CUSINS:  Baptism and–

UNDERSHAFT. No. Money and gunpowder.

CUSINS:  [surprised, but interested] That is the general opinion of our governing classes. The novelty is in hearing any man confess it.

UNDERSHAFT:  Just so.

CUSINS:  Excuse me: is there any place in your religion for honor, justice, truth, love, mercy and so forth?

UNDERSHAFT:  Yes: they are the graces and luxuries of a rich, strong, and safe life.

CUSINS:  Suppose one is forced to choose between them and money or gunpowder?

UNDERSHAFT:  Choose money and gunpowder; for without enough of both you cannot afford the others.

CUSINS:  That is your religion?

UNDERSHAFT:  Yes.

For more information

Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.

Some posts about deep things:

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below. Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

28 thoughts on “A note on religion, a faith for our time and every time

  1. I think a rediscovery of Deism would do America a world of good. I bought a copy of the Jefferson Bible a couple years ago, and it was like seeing the forest for the trees. Haven’t read the King James since.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: Deism is the Theism as Playboy is to sex. A refined but not as much fun version of the real thing. IMO the only religion with any explanatory power is Gnosticism, which gives a coherent explanation for the existence of evil. It’s also a real time-saver, eliminating the need for worship.

  2. One of the key roles of religion is Good vs Evil / Right vs Wrong.

    What makes most Great religions great is that, in the internal enforcement of the majoritarian religious views, less tax-funded gov’t is needed.

    The neo-religious Secularism (NOT a religion! or is?) and Political Correctness are sort of attempting to do this, but failing. Their failures result in a call for gov’t laws to enforce the desired behavior, whether it’s anti-global warming, anti-hate speech, anti-free from health insurance payments, anti-poverty, anti-greed, anti-smoking, anti-drugs, etc.

    All religions and belief systems, including atheism, assume that the Truth is Good. This is a pretty huge, important, and possibly not fully justified assumption.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: I’m uncertain that all eastern religions assume that “truth is good”, or even that those concepts translate well into them. Equally problematic for that theory are the ancient Egyptian religion and the Norse religion.

  3. FM: “. . . there is a foundation on which the edifice can securely rest: collective action against the chaotic forces of nature and man’s nature.

    A Taoist might find this formulation amusing . . .
    .
    .
    FM reply: Or even insane. Certainly an opposite to the 3 Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation, and humility. But I am not a Taoist.

  4. From the past writings on this blog I’m guessing Fabius feels the same way as Undershaft.

    Important information on religion in America: “Losing Our Religion“, James Joyner, 23 September 2009. Basically, the United States is gradually becoming less religious. I wonder what the impacts are going to be going forward? More importantly what are the impacts now? As an atheist myself I think a less religious America is a good thing for all.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: Perhaps, but probably not. First, there is a generations-long and irregular cyclicality to religious fervor in western cultures. There was the First Great Awakening in the UK 1730-1750 and Second Great Awakening in the US (1790-1850). In between were slumps, deep but lacking nifty names.

    Or do we see a shift in religiosity from the Judeo-Christian forms to something new? Two thousand years is a long run for a non-ethnic based religion, and the time of transition might appear as “less religion” to those oblivious to its new forms of expression. Such as the various green variants.

    We lack the perspective to see such changes in our own culture. I recommend caution when drawing conclusions, combined with an open mind and eye to see change happening outside the frames of our experience.

    If anyone would like to get Gnosticism going again, I’ll join.

  5. “If anyone would like to get Gnosticism going again, I’ll join.”

    I’m with you. I didn’t mention Gnosticism in regards to America because, at least in my experience with faithful Christians, it seems to depart a bit too much from their familiar conceptions of the deity-human relationship for their comfort zone. Some also said it reeked of ‘Orientialism’ and ‘New Age Hippie-Babble’. Baby steps Fabius ;)

    It’s a shame really; the elimination of the Thomasine school from New Testament canon is one of the great tragedies of Western culture.

  6. What are the best books about religion?

    My nominees:

    * The History of Hell by Alice K. Turner (1995) — The story of humanities longest sustained intellectual effort, pondering the nature of the afterlife.

    * Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: A Historical Look at the Old and New Testaments (1988) — A clear look at at confusing book.

  7. Maybe I’m woolgathering a bridge too far, but here goes : Religion and broken OODA loops.

    Orientation lock due to dogma is the obvious religious danger to effective OODA loop functioning. However from a Boydian perspective after Orientation one of the key aspects to the OODA loop is implicit control (being faster and more efficient than explicit control). If a society has few common shared morals (irreligious) it follows that it would necessarily demand more explicit control in social interaction. Examples of explicit control range from overcomplex semantics in relating ideas in to requiring bureaucracy and lawyers to resolve ever more trivial issues. All of this would considerably burden its collective OODA loop ….

    Think late USSR.

    Does then the highly legalized modern US shows signs of excess implicit control due to a lack of common outlook/morals? Or is it just modern world complexity?

  8. In the police department analogy, I think of science as the detectives and religion as internal affairs – neither run the entire department.

    That is, religion has the vocabulary – “hypocrite”, etc.

  9. FM: “Or do we see a shift in religiosity from the Judeo-Christian forms to something new? Two thousand years is a long run for a non-ethnic based religion, and the time of transition might appear as “less religion” to those oblivious to its new forms of expression. Such as the various green variants.

    I think so. I think that despite the cyclicity of the supernaturalist religions, the long-term trend is down, as they become less plausible. Of course this is not a new prediction, and God’s been dancing on Nietzsche’s grave for some time, but still . . . I don’t think you can measure religious sentiment by church attendance. Religious belief, at least in the West, is on a qualitatively different level than it was in the middle ages, say. A lot of people feel they should believe, or they want to believe, or they are making Pascal’s wager, or they enjoy the community aspect, but deep down I’m not sure how truly they believe. If you truly believed in the tenets of most Christian churches regarding the afterlife, you’d be running down the street screaming and holding a “Repent!” sign.

    But the spiritual hunger remains:

    The arresting fact about life is that it doesn’t last. As someone said, nobody gets out of here alive. One day the elephant sits on your chest, or the drunk runs the red-light, or the blood vessel bursts. We become definitively dead, smell terrible if not embalmed, and turn into unattractive bones. This would seem to be more fundamentally interesting than the standing of the NASDAQ.

    Yet we do not discuss, do not think out loud about such matters. Where do we come from? We don’t know. Why are we here? We don’t know. Where is here? We don’t know. Where do we go next, if anywhere? Isn’t it a trifle odd that we find ourselves on a small blob spinning around a spark, in a vast emptiness?

    Fred Reed in “The Siege of Religion”

    Perhaps, like Einstein and Jeffers, some pantheism is in order?

    The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. It was the experience of mystery even if mixed with fear—that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms — it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavor to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.

    Albert Einstein in The World As I See It.

    “The Answer”, by Robinson Jeffers

    Then what is the answer?- Not to be deluded by dreams.
    To know that great civilizations have broken down into violence,
    and their tyrants come, many times before.
    When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose
    the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.
    To keep one’s own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted
    and not wish for evil; and not be duped
    By dreams of universal justice or happiness. These dreams will
    not be fulfilled.
    To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear
    the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand
    Is an ugly thing and man dissevered from the earth and stars
    and his history… for contemplation or in fact…
    Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness,
    the greatest beauty is
    Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty
    of the universe. Love that, not man
    Apart from that, or else you will share man’s pitiful confusions,
    or drown in despair when his days darken.

    Certainly not an organized religion in the traditional sense, as a spiritual praxis I believe it can work marvelously as a basis for collective action, or at least as counsel against despair . . .

  10. Once again, I must confess that I am out of step with everyone else in a discussion. As far as I can tell, most everyone here thinks that “religion” is a set of opinions concerning what is most important to our lives, and perhaps our society. Fabius’ remark that “Religion…plays an important role in an well-founded society” seems to imply that this “religion” thing is (or at least can be) a socially beneficial thing—an asset, perhaps even a requirement, to good social order.

    Insofar as I can infer from the discussion, commentators here think that religion is a desideratum, and that its absence is to be viewed with nostalgia. Apparently, religion may (or may sometimes not, according to Fabius) produce virtues such as honesty, courage, and charity among its adherents. It follows that if a people lack religion, then they should get one double-quick.

    Gentlemen, you may choose to adopt such a set of beliefs, much as you choose to adopt a fashion of clothing. Such chosen beliefs will change your lives and our culture just as much as wearing those funny plastic shoes that recently enjoyed a brief measure of popularity.
    You do not adopt a faith; faith seizes you. Faith changes you—and societies— whether you will or not, in ways you might not imagine or desire. Consider:

    For the Kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. [1 Corinthians, 4:20]

    And no, Paul was not speaking of mere physical force; Christianity did not conquer Rome by such force.

    Of course, the great faiths of the world differ on their attitude toward the application of physical force. Need I remind you that we count among our enemies some of the worlds most religious people? And that those people have noted no contradiction between their faith and the opinions of Undershaft concerning the usefulness of high explosives? Of course, Christianity has a very spotty history in this regard as well.A great revival of faith will either come within our lifetimes, or not. I suppose talking about it does no harm—nor will it affect events. But when it comes you may find it is not what you wished for.
    .
    .
    FM reply: Little of this comment makes sense to me.

    (1) “absence is to be viewed with nostalgia”

    Much of this view comes from Nietzsche, as explained by Allan Bloom in the “Closing of the American Mind” (page 143):

    Values are not discovered by reason, and it is fruitless to seek them, to find the truth or the good life. The quest begun by Odysseus and continued over three millennia has come to an end with the observation that there is nothing to seek. This alleged fact was announced by Nietzsche just over a century ago when he said, “God is dead.” Good and evil now for the first time appeared as values, of which there have been a thousand and one, none rationally or objectively preferable to any other. The salutary illusion about the existence of good and evil has been definitively dispelled.

    For Nietzsche this was an unparalleled catastrophe; it meant the decomposition of culture and the loss of human aspiration. The Socratic “examined” life was no longer possible or desirable. It was itself unexamined, and if there was any possibility of a human life in the future it must begin from the naive capacity to live an unexamined life. The philosophic way of life had become simply poisonous. In short, Nietzsche with the utmost gravity told modern man that he was freefalling in the abyss of nihilism. Perhaps after having lived through this terrible experience, drunk it to the dregs, people might hope for a fresh era of value creation, the emergence of new gods.

    (2) “Such chosen beliefs will change your lives and our culture just as much as wearing those funny plastic shoes”

    Historically wrong. Many devout Christians and Moslems are ancestors descendents of those forcibily converted.

    (3) “faith seizes you. ”

    This is basic human psychology, at both the individual level (e.g., falling in love, adopting an ideology or faith) and the mass level (e.g, mob behavior leading to pograms, wars, religious revivals, and dancing mania). I don’t see your point.

    (4) ‘Need I remind you that we count among our enemies some of the worlds most religious people”

    I dont’ see any relevant point to this observation.

    (5) “And that those people have noted no contradiction between their faith and the … the usefulness of high explosives”

    You must mean “those people and us”. Very few religious people throughout history have objected to applying high explosive to the enemies of their faith. Again, what’s your point?

  11. Those of us who are practicing Christians (all contemporary Christians are “practicing;” as Nietzche pointed out, there was only one true Christian and he died on a cross) are under perpetual obligation to apologize for the history of our faith. So are the Muslims, Hindu, and most others, I suspect. Matters of the spirit took our forefathers (and continue to take some of our coreligionists even today) down all too many crazy paths.

  12. Yes, Christianity has become a thing intellectual. A set of beliefs and affirmations, rather than an experience. Religion without spirituality is a pale, impotent, useless thing.

  13. Surely most of us , at some time , will have walked in the valley of the shadow – and found we needed to pray for help against evil – not so much against evil in death , but against evil in whatever would follow death .

  14. Further on #14 , maybe the reason for decline n religion in ‘ advanced ‘ countries is physical . More are couch potatoes, risks are better assessed and prevented . Mobiles mean you can call the police instead of God . If you do have life threatening injuries or illness , you will probably be given drugs that as a side effect , wipe out recent memory . If you are in a life threatening situation , you will probably have counselling and tranquillisers . So perhaps few speak with personal conviction . Maybe there are some stats on PTSD and faith ?

  15. The more we learn, the less gods fill the gaps. There are no gods, just superstitions. The reason for a decline in many European countries has been attributed to the lies being exposed, to the “truths” being found to be a sham and to the utter human greed of those who are meant to be models of religious thought and action.

    But hey, what would I know. I am but an atheist. It suits me yet makes others uncomfortable. Not that atheism is the answer to anything but it sure does remove a lot of the dubious justifications of certain actions.

  16. “Historically wrong. Many devout Christians and Moslems are ancestors of those forcibily converted.”

    FM, you mean “descendents,” do you not?
    .
    .
    FM reply: Fixed. Thanks for catching this!

  17. “Further on #14 , maybe the reason for decline n religion in ‘ advanced ‘ countries is physical . More are couch potatoes, risks are better assessed and prevented . Mobiles mean you can call the police instead of God . If you do have life threatening injuries or illness , you will probably be given drugs that as a side effect , wipe out recent memory . If you are in a life threatening situation , you will probably have counselling and tranquillisers . So perhaps few speak with personal conviction . Maybe there are some stats on PTSD and faith ?”

    Anna, I agree with your thesis that because modern humans have become so safe and largely secure from the vicissitudes that used to characterize life, we have lost the capacity to feel awe at nature’s power. We have also lost the knowledge of danger, the kind of danger that literally threatens your very life, or those you love. 100 years ago, people died before the end of their natural lifespans much more frequently, whether from violence, workplace accidents, or infectious disease. These are largely absent now in many developed nations. Something to ponder.

    Nice post, phageghost (#10)… good quotes.

    I married into a family of rural people, close to the land, who farm and know well the changeablity of nature. Something about being close to the land, seems to inspire relgious faith in people. Closeness to nature, red in tooth and claw, hammers home to humans like little else that life is fragile and can end unexpectedly.

  18. Reynardine It seems that many here do not understand you. But that is to be expected. You speak of a thing that does not fit into mere words. :)

  19. I would say that religion the religious impulse is certainly alive and well in America. Religion is something one believes without evidence. Today, most Americans who consider themselves to be educated probably consider themselves too sophisticated to believe in a deity. They still have true faith, just not in traditional things.

    Global warming for example, requires true faith, and many things are said to flow from global warming by those who have found faith. Storms, fires,and other natural disasters, even earthquakes have been blamed on global warming.
    Other forms of faith are alive and well also. Worship of the State, or in some cases of Caesar, seems to enjoy a certain vogue as well.

    It should be noted that the more modern forms of religion can be capable of quite vicious religious persecution. Questioning global warming, for example, can certainly land one in hot water. But adherents of global warming have not yet burned anyone at the stake. (Which would increase their carbon footprint) The cult of Caesar has not yet engaged in serious persecution, although recently some of Caesar’s functionaries have complained about members of a news organization that has refused to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar. But as of yet no one has been thrown to the lions.

  20. You speak of religion as if it were a philosophy, a belief, a creed, an ideology. Mine is an activity, an experience, a feeling.

  21. I suppose it was inevitable that people who worshiped a book would become intellectuals. That a book written by hermits and edited by monks would create sensual incompetence. That a Universal, authoritarian church would be unable to negotiate balances of wealth and power. He he. Just kidding, don’t tase me brothers :P

  22. I suppose that, if you beleive that there really is a growing “Green Religion” in the Western world, then this could provide the society-wide faith that some here feel is needed. Personally, I’m happy that I live in a nation which has a separation between church and state, embattled as it is. It seems to me that the advantages this gives to a society in terms of flexibility outweigh the lack of a ‘common belief’ that it can cause.

  23. I see hints of this green religion, but it is still tiny, weak, only just being born. If ever it does arrive it could be a long time away.

  24. What is see has nothing to do with the climate worriers, but something new and different, and still far in the future.

  25. My point? Hurriedly made, but basically this: religion isn’t what you think it is, Fabius. It’s not some kind of social virtue, it’s not a set of rules, it’s not something you can teach like an academic discipline. It’s not terribly logical. I think I’d better take Wittgenstein’s advice: “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.”
    .
    .
    FM reply: Where do I say it is something logical? Also, I believe that in practice most religions boil down to a set of rules. Very few feel the mysticism.

Leave a Reply