Friday, September 16, 2016

An Age of Atheists That Ignores Secular Religion

I have been over to Third Place Books a couple of times to look at Peter Watson's Age of Atheists. According to the publisher blurb on Amazon:
In 1882, Friedrich Nietzche declared that “God is dead” and ever since tens of thousands of brilliant, courageous, thoughtful individuals have devoted their creative energies to devising ways to live without God with self-reliance, invention, hope, wit, and enthusiasm. Now, for the first time, their story is revealed...

[It] sweeps up William James and the pragmatists; Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis; Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, and Albert Camus; the poets of World War One and the novelists of World War Two; scientists, from Albert Einstein to Stephen Hawking; and the rise of the new Atheists—Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens.
So I decided not to buy it.

Because the issue of the Age of Atheists, to me, is the question of the secular religious movements that have swept the globe like nothing else in history.

I mean, seriously. Sixty years after the publication of The Communist Manifesto Russia determined to try it, and 100 years after the Manifesto China tried it out, and India kinda, sorta tried it out.

When has there ever been an intellectual, or religious, or political movement that conquered the two most populous nations on the earth within a century?

Look, I am sure it is great fun to check out Picasso, Freud, Joyce, and even the second tier chaps like Dawkins and Harris and their courageousness. As if. As if they weren't boosted and celebrated in all the right places.

I've just finished a harrowing book about the youth of a believer, a believer in the secular religion of socialism. Child of the Revolution is the memoir of Wolfgang Leonhard, the son of a communist activist who fled Nazi Germany in 1935. This kid got the full indoctrination treatment at special schools, and he became enough of a true believer in the Marxist-Leninist theoretical system to become a member of the "Ulbricht Group" that followed the Red Army into eastern Germany and set up the communist East German state.

Yes, but what about freedom? To Leonhard, the west had no idea.
For us freedom meant insight into historical necessity. We were free because we were the only ones who possessed this insight on the basis of scientific theory[.]
The point is that for Leonhard and for many like him, ten years of the study of Marxism-Leninism provided him with a complete answer to life, the universe, and everything. He was appalled by the brutality of Stalinism but continued to believe in Marx's idea of every people finding its own independent way to socialism. But socialism was truth and truth socialism.

I have written that one aspect of this new secular religion is that today every well-born youth, male or female, wants to get into "activism," to do something for social justice. And that such activism gives meaning to their lives. You know, just like religion.

I want to read more about this, and understand it more. Because one thing I believe, that British social scientist Steve Bruce is wrong when he says in God is Dead that secularization means that "shared ideas are no longer as persuasive as they once were" and "a long-term decline in the power, popularity and prestige of religious beliefs and rituals."

Hum. If you confine "religious beliefs" to belief in God, I agree. But that misses the point completely. The question is, if God dies, then what takes His place. The answer is pretty obvious: transcendental religion gets replaced by secular religion that replaces a god-based religion with a secular religion that satisfies all the needs of what Nicholas Wade calls The Faith Instinct without actually enthroning a god in heaven.

And I want to know more about how this works.

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