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The Religion Recession


…while there is nothing new that we can learn from religion, there’s so much more we can learn from science.

Xenocrates

 

Cognitive Evolution

Religion is dying. It’s slowly falling away, losing its stranglehold on modern man, increasingly coming under greater more insurmountable pressures to compete with notably more evolved and sustainable ideas that make the world far easier to live in. In this post, I highlight the finer mechanics of what is actually going on and why after many millenia, it is finally receding.

A Dangerous Idea

Do you know what the most resilient thing in the world is? It’s not diamonds. It is not a virus. It is an idea. An idea, once believed can change the entire course of humanity — it can also utterly destroy it. The resilience of religion is a testament to the power of an idea. Just like a virus, an idea acts like a set of instructions which influence the very essence of our societies.

We often mistake ourselves to be intrinsically intelligent animals. However, the truth is that the illusion of intelligence is little more than an automated instinct bound by the parameters of environmental conditioning. This is precisely why ideas are so resilient. Environmental factors determine what ideas we have. Once infected by an idea, it can take root in the depths of our consciousness, and like a virus, alter your every functionality from the very core.

Automatic Thinkers

This is how every idea works. The trouble is that we often don’t examine these ideas to know that they are destructive because we tend to be automatic thinkers. Automatic thinking is the process where we are caught in a ritual that is performed subconsciously, largely because from an evolutionary standpoint, it is far easier to simply do it rather than to think it through.

This is why you can drive home from work and not remember the journey and why you can cook a gourmet dish for dinner with mastery while talking on the phone. This is why you can pack away your clothes after doing the laundry and not remember where you put one of your favourite items and also why you could exhaust your salary and not know what you bought.

Have you ever been fooled into accepting a computer virus? Have you ever opened an e-mail from an unsolicited source? Have you ever forwarded an e-mail someone sent to you simply because it said that you should forward it to a certain number of individuals otherwise it may show that your conscience is lacking? If so, then it proves that you are an automatic thinker.

Automatic thinkers tend to be the ones who get things done more quickly — but they are also very easily deceived. This is why most subscribe to religion because it is easier to believe it than to examine its merit. With that belief, they also accept the programming that comes along with it. Most people in the world are automatic thinkers, but most aren’t cognizant of it.

The Evolution of Moderate Belief

While this function has a genuinely useful evolutionary purpose, (for e.g. during fight or flight situations) it has the ability to threaten one’s survival if they are infected with a dangerous idea. For if Deuteronomy 13 is to be believed, then every non Christian is to be killed. So how is that any different from similar writings in Islam? Even more importantly, why do moderate Christians or moderate Muslims exist at all? What’s stopping them from carrying it out in full?

Isn’t it curious that Muslims who execute every tenet of Islam to the letter are  somehow regarded as extremists while those who capriciously follow Islam are seen as moderates? If you take the time to browse through the Koran, you will find many passages which are not unlike the Bible’s Deuteronomy 13. So why isn’t it every Muslim trying to kill everyone else? It’s probably the same reason why every Christian isn’t trying to do the very same thing anymore.

The reason is that another idea has taken hold. Modern society has infected them with the idea that killing non believers does not serve our evolutionary purposes. So they reinterpret the Bible or the Koran so that it suits that idea not realizing that tenets of their faith are also being slowly unraveled. All their religious convictions are being eroded by social engineering.

Social Engineering

Everyone who has grown up in religion has gone through exactly the same process. When you get older, usually no one has to tell you that there is no Santa Claus or that there is no tooth fairy. Usually, most adults come to that conclusion on their own after their brain has finally developed enough horsepower to debunk that myth without help, usually automatically.

So why does religion stick? I’ll tell you:

While you are immersed in an environment that only restricts the Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy myths to children, that same environment places no limits on any myth attached to an established religion. In other words, the key reason why you have faith is not because you chose to believe, but rather because you were told to believe — just like how your parents had you believing in Santa Claus and tooth fairies. Very few are doing the same for religion.

Either way, as people develop more brain power, they tend to become far more moderate in the practice of their faith. We no longer have Christians slaughtering entire towns because of alternative beliefs. Even though Muslims seem to have taken over those reins, it is a very tiny percentage of their lot as compared to the same Islamic movement over one millennia ago.

Even when you compare Hinduism, only very tiny populations scattered throughout the east, such as in remote pockets of India, Pakistan and Nepal still practice the faith to the fullness of its doctrine and not just the elements suitable for modern societies. Most of the notably more objectionable practices such as arranged infantile marriage have long since been outlawed.

Religion in general, is in decline. It’s still quite a powerful force in today’s world, but it’s slowly loosing its grip on people’s minds. It is loosing the power it once had on newer generations. Therefore while you were brought up on the Jesus, Krishna or Mohammed bandwagon, as you merge with modern societies, you’ll soon find yourself tempted to relinquish such ideas.

The primary cause is obvious:

Cognitive Evolution

Today’s children are being bombarded by several hundred thousand times more stimuli than those born during the 1950s and 1960s. Today we have computers, iPods, HD-Tvs, video games, smart phones and a myriad of other forms of electronic media. Kids back in the 1960’s had little more than a radio and a TV for those who could afford such any capital expenditure.

The end result is that today’s children form many more synaptic pathways in their brain than their parents did at the same age. 21st century kids undergo considerably more intensive brain development than their parents, and so their brains become more sophisticated a lot sooner. The end result is that the IQ of today’s 17 year olds were that of 1960s 35 year olds.

So you shouldn’t feel bad (or even frustrated) that you have a question that neither your parents, nor your church elders can’t answer. While they were your age, they had not begun to develop the synaptic wiring that would be necessary to facilitate articulating the kind of thoughts that you can. Furthermore, the societies we live in today are far more sophisticated.

This is partly why today’s smarter kids have the cognitive capacity to examine what they are being taught in such a way that they can make deductions that neither their pastors nor their parents, nor their teachers, nor their counselors, nor most of the adults who have long since accepted these teachings will be able to successfully challenge. But there is a bigger problem.

Reason vs. Faith

Resigning your religion doesn’t mean that you no longer exercise faith. Your faith is simply less complex, making fewer unprovable assumptions. This concept may be difficult to grasp.

One cannot be inclined to reason without first postulating by faith. The two ideas actually work succinctly with each other to produce cognitive evolution. If there was no faith, no reason would ever evolve. For why would you reason about that which you did not first have faith? Is not faith by itself useless? Even the Bible seems to generally agree with this idea.

Even though scientists can mostly prove what they know to be true, it is only true so far. They must have faith that the laws of physics for example, will remain exactly the same everywhere in the universe — something they will use reason to validate. Their faith will continue to hold so long as their reasoning continues validate it. Faith starts the process. Reason completes it.

I am not only suggesting that faith and reason are compatible, I’m also suggesting that they are inextricably linked. There is no reason without faith. Faith is what predicates reason, which in turn modifies faith. The problem with religion is that it holds to the faith, but only capriciously relies on reason, thereby propagating the age old fallacy that the two are thus incompatible.

This is a religious fallacy — not one inherent to science. The tenets of Science are founded on the very opposite premise — that we first have faith (usually expressed as a theory) and then comes reason to validate that faith (in the form of investigation and discovery) at which point that faith is either verified (thus becoming a theorem) or is consequently discarded altogether.

Religion doesn’t like the last part, because it believes its theory to be dogmatically infallible — irrespective of what reason discovers. However, even when we prove something to be true, we can only verify that it is true thus far. Scientists discovered this the hard way when they quickly realized that the laws of physics tend to breakdown towards the big bang singularity.

This is proof that faith is inherently fallible and requires reason for validation. However, we will never get to the point of reason without first expressing an idea that we hold to by faith.

Ultimately, this is not unique to science. If you had faith in Bible Prophecy, you’ll eventually use reasoning to justify it. If you believe that Jesus saves, you will quote Biblical reasoning (or extrapolate from several Biblical anecdotes) to validate why you believe that Jesus saves. So even religious faith thrives on reason, even though it is confined within the context of dogma.

…and that’s where the problem begins.

Thinking Inside the Dogmatic Box

This is consequently why there’s no way to prove religious belief to be true. You must have faith for almost all of it because the core ideas are not based on reasonable evidence. So while  you can justify religious faith with reason, you can only do so within the context of the religion. If this level of thought is suitable for you, then there is no need to search any further.

But what if you wanted to practically apply your faith to reality? That’s where the problem lies. While a great deal of your faith can be practically applied within reason (love your neighbours, do good to all men, etc.) there are also portions of it that are culturally impractical (subverting women, killing infidels, heretics, disobedient children and homosexuals) yet while others don’t appear to have any useful, practical purpose at all (prayer, worship and reverence of dogma).

What truly exacerbates this dilemma is that the portions of your faith that are usable are not indigenous to your faith. Those ideas have been around as long as man has walked the earth and were likely championed by faiths far older than any of those you currently use. In fact, if you’re not Hindi, then your religion is quite likely an inherited hybrid of other long dead myths.

…not that Hinduism is any different.

That is why, as curious human beings, we will be tempted to reconcile our discoveries with our faith or query elements of our faith that fail to stand up to reason — for there is no feeling that is quite like certainty. Whenever faith becomes inconsistent with reason, we could either:

  1. Modify our faith to coincide with our reason, or
  2. Reject either the reason or the faith to serve the other.

The latter is usually resorted to when the former fails. This tends to be more true the longer one has been subscribed to a faith. This is because they have long since developed such a powerful emotional attachment to their faith, that they can no longer recognize that they are thinking inside the dogmatic box. You can tell by the fact that they always seek to modify the reason to fit the dogma, instead of the dogma to fit the reason. To them, faith can be enough.

That is why you will get circular answers. That is why you will be told that it is “because he is God“. That is why they will say that we should not query God. That is why they will say that God moves in mysterious ways. That is why they will do everything but answer the question you have asked. Such a mind is only willing to articulate by thinking inside the dogmatic box.

There is little point trying to reason with it.

The Jewish Pantheon

My reasons for relinquishing my religious faith are probably identical to those of the early Greek philosophers who also rejected Zeus and company. I got to a stage where I could finally see it for what it really was — another form of mythology featuring god like beings behaving like men, invented by men to answer life’s ultimate questions. In fact, recall your classic knowledge of Greek myth learned in high school and compare these Biblical anecdotes:

  • An all powerful God created everything, but he didn’t create or lacks control over evil (or is himself evil).
  • An omniscient God apparently regretted creating man, (insinuating that he made a mistake). So he destroyed man with a great flood.
  • Even after doing so, evil still persisted after the flood, rendering the whole point of the flood questionable at best.
  • He repeatedly uses natural disasters (earthquakes, fire, volcanoes, etc.) or war to punish men.
  • When God gets mad with one person, he has their entire family lineage exterminated. (Forget the logical mess of humans being able to piss off God in the first place).
  • Even though God created man without evil, he in his infinite knowledge and wisdom, created a being he didn’t know would become evil that would eventually cause us to be evil. His solution? He destroys us before considering destroying the being.
  • He gets jealous when when people create idols and worship them instead of him.
  • He is all powerful, but somehow, we have a choice — eternal death if we reject him, but eternal bliss in Olympus err… heaven if we do.
  • God repeatedly tells us that if we don’t serve him, he will cast us into a lake of fire — but he loves us.
  • Doctors have studied science for years and committed their lives to saving ours every single day, but it is God who gets the credit (even though if we didn’t go to the hospital, we’d die).
  • When scientists discover something that validates religion, it was revealed to them by God — except when it doesn’t validate religion.
  • It is bad if you kill someone because they believe something different from you, but it’s not bad if God tells you to do it.
  • Love your neighbours and do good to all men — unless they are from a competing monotheistic faith.
  • The inception of Jesus’ birth is almost identical to that of Horus, Krishna and Hercules — but Jesus is real, while the others are not (even if the story carries the same themes).
  • A modern day Shaman, (whether you call him a priest, pastor, prophet or pope) interprets God’s word for you because for the most part, you are not allowed to have your own opinion. Even though their existence is condescending in its own right, lemmings don’t seem to mind.
  • …I could go on, but I think you see my point.

When I reread this post for the umpteenth time, this particular section started to feel more and more like I was talking about the ancient Greek or Roman Pantheons. But that’s what it really is, isn’t it? This age belongs to the Jewish pantheon and this is their 2,000 year cycle of fame, just as how the Greek and Roman Pantheons had their respective cycles of dominance.

Each pantheon had their time to rise and their time to fall. Each one had its heyday, its many adherents and detractors. To speak against Zeus at one time was considered blasphemy.  The Roman gods had similar cycles. But eventually, as men got wiser, each receded into antiquity and became myths of a future age, ultimately replaced by a more intelligent religion.

Now Islam is competing against Christianity in the same way. But while Islam is considerably more resilient to intellectual scrutiny, it is still fundamentally flawed. Both religions are under fire because modern societies cannot tolerate their intolerance. Thus the future of religion will probably no longer be based on dogma, but on the scientific postulation of natural phenomena.

Conclusively

I won’t get into a debate about String Theory vs. Quantum Gravity for all of the same reasons I won’t debate Allah vs. Jehovah. This is because there’s positively no way to objectively decide preference. Even so, the latter is far less interesting than the former. The conversation topic is now changing because our preference is shifting from a static to a dynamic mythology.

Hasn’t it ever struck you as being a little odd that by the time we were teenagers, we’ve heard almost every possible Saturday/Sunday sermon that could be rendered from the pulpit? Why is it that so many people get to that point in their lives at around that age? Is it that it takes roughly 12 – 17 years to exhaust all the fundamental ideologies of our religious beliefs?

Our preference is shifting because while there is nothing new that we can learn from religion, there’s so much more we can learn from science. Religion didn’t lend itself to flexibility when it was first conceived because that would threaten the power of its instigators. Now that we are driven by the insatiable quest for new knowledge, religion will eventually become extinct.


E-mail: accordingtoxen[at]gmail[dot]com

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  1. January 29, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    As crazy as this might sound, I’m going to have to disagree with you, Xen.

    I don’t believe that religion will die. Mythical beliefs might slightly disintegrate into the oblivion, but religion won’t die.

    This is why: Have you ever noticed how many people are falling for con artists named “Self-Help Gurus?” People (not necessarily religious people in the first place) pay ridiculous amounts of money to go in the middle of a desert only to die in the extreme heat while a madman on steroids leaves with wads of cash and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    People will always live a life of dispair in which they want to cast their burdens on someone/something else. This is why the strongest believers are always the poorest, most retched people, while wealthier, better-off people are usually void of faith. I guess what you meant in this article was mythical, magic-like faith. But once you think about it anything can become a religion. Look at the followers of Scientology, for example.

    If we don’t believe in a talking snake in the middle of a garden, we’ll eventually believe in a dashing young man in a pinstripe suit telling you how he can make your life wonderful.

    • January 29, 2011 at 8:28 pm

      You’re right. Religion won’t actually die. The mythologies however, will or at least will be replaced by something more pragmatic. However, when I used the term “religion”, I’m really referring to the existing establishments.

  2. Big A
    January 27, 2011 at 3:57 am

    Brilliant stuff friend. I also feel like religion is biting, scratching, and clawing to stay relevant in this Information age. I hope the “Jewish Pantheon,” dies very soon, I absolutely hate it’s grip over people’s minds and the conflict that arises because of this. Take care.

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