Religion has played a preponderant role in the history of humanity. Religion remains, however, an unfathomable mystery for the positivist sciences. All the positivist sciences and each of the various outlooks of contemporary agnostic secularism share a root epistemology in common with each other and with religion. The essential marker of every approach they make to the problem of human experience is to raise doubt over whether this experience originates in its entirety from the necessities of the living world. This takes the form of insisting on the ambiguity of human experience, and therefore, of the experienced world itself and of its role in absolutely determining all human thought and actions. There is no middle ground between the closed identity of thought, perception and experience and the conceit of insisting on the independence of these from one another; transforming moments in a single objective process into three independent subjects. Both the positivist agnostic and the religious devotee believe implicitly and instinctively in an ego, a metaphysical source of human self-determination which appears under any of a multitude of current and historical names and descriptions. The ego is the self-imposed boundary of discovery and understanding, a refusal to venture further from the incidental and individual aspects of existence into the contemplation of the inevitable and the impersonal infinite. All meaning in human life is a social product, a construction standing between human practice and the conditions of human existence. When reality in some finite, routine form is perceived as a known, socially labeled and conventionally understood “thing,” it is accompanied by meaning. When it escapes from this kind of understanding and appears to the perceiver as unknowable, and unappealable, it is accompanied by fear. The surveys and data sheets collected by the positivist sciences have no meaning in themselves, and in the hands of positivists can only be interpreted by invoking the conventional perspectives and assumptions which prevail at any given time in a given society.
The various approaches of positivists, pragmatists and post-modernists have produced different explanations of religion.
It is often suggested that a scientific explanation for religion could only be found buried somewhere in the human genome. This is convenient for the agnostics of academia, because they would also explain the necessity of capitalism with references to the human genome if pressed on the matter.
Such attempts at explaining religion as primarily a biological necessity for the human species lend themselves to religion than an honest critique or an understanding of religion.
The idealism of all agnostic philosophies and methods only counterpoise uneasily the “rationality” of their own shibboleths against that of religion. The rational and logical in the view of history as the natural, biological and social environment of humanity in the course of its development. It is entirely inappropriate to suppose that it is the animal or evolutionary origins of humanity as such which make up the foundation for religion rather than the social and interpretative elements of human cognition which transcend those origins. It is the greatest concession and mistake to separate religious thinking from thinking in general, in its causes or in its forms. Certain pretenses of positivistic science, too, often come to conclusions that are, in the final sense, as divorced from the life of our species as the creation theories they seek to supplant – or perhaps supplement.
Speaking then, from a social historical standpoint which understands cognition in an exclusively material context, religion can be seen only as a functional necessity. This function, in which the sociological is inseparable from the psychological, assumes different characteristics in different social environments and historical moments. The theologies which were utilized in the ideological life of primitive cultures often resembles that of those used in later and more advanced civilizations. The content and consequences of the seemingly “comparative” faces of religious belief, however, differ dramatically from epoch to epoch. There is in history a constant process of conversion of religions to mythologies, and, likewise, of mythologies to religions. The historical struggles behind the stories, symbols, rituals and systematizations of religion has no place in the reflections of later men and women. Their identification of the superficialities of the religions of their own times with their essences makes almost all religion, from the dawn of time until the present, an apparent rearrangement of the same devices of thought. It is no wonder that it has long been fashionable to attempt a verbal reconciliation of all forms of religion and mythology under one heading or another, a pretense at a “universal” view which inevitably takes as its starting and ending point the narrow perspective of the eclectic’s own environment.
Religion as it emerged in history is not so much invented as discovered in the way that an intriguing rumor is discovered. The religious idea, in direct relation to other ideas, both religious and empirical, ultimately serves to fulfill distinctly human needs by human cultures. Where there is an impasse in human understanding that stands in the way of human practice, religion appears as the vital medium of social development. Unavoidably and significantly, these ideas almost always reflect a general anthropomorphism of nature and perpetuate a veiled anthropocentrism. Human intentions are stamped onto every troubling mystery of nature and society, to which the individual and his or her contemporaries are subjected. These apparently incoherent events and conditions, both as catalysts and catastrophes for human practice, are ungraspable by a pre-scientific society, and moreover any society that operates without full consciousness of historical development. The thought and logic of societies so far existing, then, is supplemented generously with that most convenient and relieving of idealism, religion, that is: the forced humanization, the forced coherency, of nature.
As a problem of the human experience in general, which might be labeled a psychology of religion, it is more than apparent that religion has been frequently invoked throughout history to address fears and unknowns about mortality, chance and suffering which the human individual experiences as part of his or her existence. In relation to suffering, religion has been tasked often with explaining the laws of rulers, the latest standards of conformity and misbehavior. The passage of time brings to every human mind questions as to the origin, purpose and destination of humanity, which religion explains one way or another. For the human individual, religion orients the believer as much as any other unifying social experience to a type of identity and subservience to corresponding institutions and social orders.
Religion is often differentiated from secular thought on the premise that it dramatically violates the popular vulgarization of empiricism which is expressed in the phrase “the simplest explanation is best.” Religion does not violate empiricism, which was proven from the standpoint of epistemology by George Berkeley, and in practice by the persistence and existence of the concepts (and concept) of metaphysics in the face of all the carefully separated and obfuscated “facts” of capitalist society. Empiricism and all derivatives are approaches to reality which doubt their own legitimacy by default, and to save it must sacrifice reality itself. The project of subjectivist philosophy since Kant, then, has been the critique of reason itself, and not of any of the social assumptions which have prevailed in the last two hundred years. The crisis of empiricism mirrors the crisis of capitalist society. We start with Hume, the brilliant iconoclast, and end with the blasé conformity of Post-Modernism.
In all honesty, if we take the record of empiricism and note its constant adherence to the general lines of “common sense” then we can regard the explanations of religion as just another type of impressionism based around convenience – a criteria that is in no way alien to any form of Subjective Idealism. It was not for a lack of intellectual integrity that the great men of philosophy often fell short of completely exorcising all deities from their world views. The foundationalism of the Enlightenment was not grounded in an abundance of knowledge about the universe, but in careful criticism of ignorance regarding it. Is there any doubt that the religious tint to Hegel’s work does not prevent it from advancing past the agnostic skepticism of some of his predecessors?
The impressionism of religion, whether brought to a level of dense complexity or reduced to vulgarity, are apparent inductions freed from the pretense of imitating a deduction. It would be a mistake
The unjust are tortured forever, no one good truly dies – but instead goes to an abstract paradise through some inexplicable process to which the physical process of decomposition we observe is only a front. The universe is controlled by a benevolent being literally in the human image and whose full attention is fixed on the daily tribulations of individuals of the human species on the planet Earth, in the star system Sol in the galaxy the Milky Way. In addition to this, it is commonly believed, He potentially offers supernatural aid as well, should you call for His help. God and the afterlife are essentially the forced humanization (to the point of absurdity) of an inhuman, uncontrolled and unsympathetic universe in which humanity has no apparent purpose – to the believer at least.
As for understanding of social phenomena, for religion these need not be addressed complexly but instead are to be reduced to simple “good and evil.” Ethics are based on tradition, which is assumed infallible. History has a clear and simple purpose; it is a mysterious and inherently incoherent trial for the devout ending in the coming of God (That is: history, physics and society itself are all just a front, much like decomposition, and are of no consequence or concern). Other religions are scarcely different in the final result, though they may use different means to dissociate humanity from the world the human species exists in. Perhaps the real world is a meaningless mirage and should not be pondered as the believer awaits a higher plane of existence, the inner peace of nihilism, or some form of reincarnation? Religion is a substitution for answers to difficult questions which emerge in the course of being human, conjured up originally in an age before scientific knowledge.
Religion when it first appeared existed in the gaps between knowledge and the unknown. Gods, angels, demons, these were considered to be material things. In the case of angels and demons, only a few centuries ago they were considered by the majority of Christians to be as physical as animals or human beings, only they resided, for the most part, in the clouds (literally). Heaven was marked on maps of the cosmos as being just behind the “celestial sphere” which was an apparent thin globular screen decorated on the inside with various fixed points of light which spun slowly around the Earth, just above the clouds – and behind this sphere was the physical home of God. The Church burned those who pioneered research into the structure of the solar system and beyond, precisely because such knowledge was already incompatible with a cosmos that the Christian God could inhabit physically. Similarly, the strong belief that the soul existed inside a designated place within organs and cavities of the human body receded in the face of the advancement of biological understanding of the human body (dissection was forbidden by the Church in the middle ages, and was initially done clandestinely). Science destroyed forever the materiality of all things spiritual, leaving only the denial of the material world for those who wished to find succor in the shadows of the human imagination.
Post-Modernism and Religion
The essential feature of religious thinking, which makes it so compatible with contemporary thought, as well as marking contemporary thought’s clear lineage, is its view of history as a series of inconsequential events affecting individuals as individuals, relevant only in an entirely subjective sense. In religion historical events are subjective “tests” of an arbitrary nature only meaningful to God – much like the post-modernist, contemporary way of thinking, where historical events are equally arbitrary and subjective. The post-modernist, unlike the preacher, does not necessarily care which book or creed you follow, but the point is clearly that history has value to humans only as a construct though which the individual navigates, successfully or unsuccessfully, with whatever narrative or ideas in mind. The post-modernist is agnostic toward reality, toward historical and universal process, and this entirely undermines his nominal agnosticism toward gods and metaphysics, for there is nothing to base disbelief on – and in fact – the absence of the ability to disbelieve in anything puts all beliefs on a plane of equality. This equality of meaninglessness either paralyzes the contemporary thinker, consigning him to a type of cheap, useless and vacillating state of solipsistic no-nothingnessness – or instead leads him to accept one of the books, creeds or myths; because “philosophically,” any of these is legitimate, or rather, all human thought is equally illegitimate.
These attitudes toward religion, knowledge and history permeate the contemporary social order, though they are hardly ever consciously expressed. Proliferating in the current period are anarchic, highly syncretic, heavily solipsistic and clearly post-modern mash-ups of religious “thought” or rather stereotypes which take endless forms inside and outside of organized religion. “New Age” religious pseudo-systems; regurgitated and context cleansed Eastern theistic stylings; grotesquely exaggerated anti-scientific “traditionalism” (as such could only exist in a thoroughly scientific age…), and countless examples of unapologetic “reform” characterized by the incorporation of scientific and cultural obviousnesses. Most importantly, however, is the transformation of the individual into a religious “free-agent” who builds his/her increasingly superficial and vague belief pseudo-system much like an online profile with various likes and dislikes and color schemes. The header of the page, whether it be Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, New Age… is irrelevant. In the middle ages, the Church was Catholicism and the believer was a Catholic. In modern times, the Church is Catholic and the believer is Catholicism.
What is truly human about experience, that is, human practice, perception and the process of discovery that drives human understanding is not acknowledged by positivism. Positivism bases itself entirely on the task of cataloging and labeling isolated incidents and the points of data abstracted from them so that it can factor them passively into the work of each specific science in their course of carrying out their defined functions as narrowly and conservatively as possible. Positivism insists that knowledge about qualitative relationships in nature are “unverifiable,” and positivist science imagines it can quarantine itself from these relationships and produce “objective,” practical results.
It is little wonder that the positivism, the science in vogue, is holds the same fundamental view in regards to the necessity of reality as religious dogmatists, viewing relationships in nature as arbitrary. For them too, any lawful, scientific understanding of physics, natural and social structure as an interrelated whole is unthinkable.
The individual positivists in their day to day lives act based on assumptions and articles of faith that are patently unverifiable to the positivist sciences. All actual human activity and experience is unverifiable until it is chopped down to raw numbers to the point that the product no longer reflects anything but a shadow of what has been and what is unfolding around the scientist. The positivists have no further comment and leave behind their conception of science at the doors of their facilities. Outside they grant themselves the freedom to believe in practice in the unverifiable prejudices and metaphysics of the present day precisely because they believe the role of science ends at the laboratory.