Wednesday 21 August 2019

Are there secular ideological 'substitutes' for religion? No, not Really

The main point about so-called substitutes for religion that are not actual religions, that that They Don't Work. That is, secular 'substitutes' for religion are not really substitutes; because they do not perform the same function.

After Christianity began to decline in The West, in the early 1800s, the first ideological substitutes included pacifism, abolition (i.e. of slavery), nationalism and socialism. Nowadays, when there are very few self-identified Christians (and even fewer real Christians) it is often said that ideologies such as feminism, antiracism, sexual subversion and revolution, and environmentalism (i.e. the spectrum of post-sixties New Left-ism) have become substitute religions; imposing increasingly elaborate and extensive rituals, and requiring frequent pious affirmations and ejaculations.

But although there are superficial similarities, modern ideologies are not genuine substitutes for religion because they are materialist and this-worldly; which means that their bottom line is merely the temporary and contingent state of human psychological gratification.

Because modern ideologies exclude God, gods, the spiritual world, the soul, existence beyond biological death and all the rest of it; ideologies do not provide any deep or lasting basis for human motivation.

Aside from family love; religion was the single most powerful long-term motivator of Men. The ability of religion to motivate powerfully was based upon its 'supernatural' aspects; and when these were discarded, so was the power to motivate.

Some of the secular ideologies in the first generation after real-religion was abandoned did retain a residual power to motivate; especially among those who were brought-up religiously. Strong motivation was (in effect) carried-over from the childhood religious environment.

For example the first generation of Soviet Communists included some highly motivated (and therefore self-sacrificing) individuals, with a religious level of devotion to the cause. But this rapidly faded as genuine atheism and materialism took a grip, and the later USSR suffered profound - indeed fatal - nihilism and despair.

The immediately post-Christian Nationalists were also sometimes highly motivated, to the level of great courage and personal self-sacrifice. But the example of German National Socialism shows that this seemed also to require a strongly mystical and supernaturalist quality. In other words, an element of real religion.

In sum; at a personal level, then, there is no ideological substitute for real religion. Confirmation is that the absence of a real religion is invariably associated with significant sub-fertility (i.e. average fertility rate significantly less than two children per woman).

Self-chosen extinction is the ultimate evidence for grossly deficient motivation at the population level.

In a social sense, the Mass Media has become the main substitute religion, in terms of being the centre of general social attention.

For all known historical societies; 'religion' (broadly defined, but always 'supernaturalist') was the primary agent of social cohesion. These were the beliefs and practices that united societies. Nowadays, the nearest equivalent are the Mass (and social) Media; that provide the common subject matter and perspectives of conversations and policies.

So, the Mass Media construct and shape reality for modern societies in a broadly similar way that religions used to.Are they then the new religion?

No, because there is a fundamental and decisive difference; which is that religions are cohesive, while the modern Mass Media are fissile. Modern Mass Media are negative, not positive; they are against, not for.

Of course the Mass Media are chaotic, multi-perspectival and self-contradicting at the micro-level; but overall and in the long-term they are organised by hostility to The Good and to God; by their subversion, destruction and inversion of all that was held true, beautiful and virtuous; by their erosion of all taboos and exclusions.

In other words, (real) religions hold things together; while the Media breaks things apart.

So there is no substitute for religion; but only partial and superficially-similar analogies to religion. Some aspects of real religion can be substituted by secular alternatives, but not all; and not the most important.

The socially-visible defect of the modern ideologies and Media is that they fail to provide motivation and fail to provide positive grounds for cohesion. Thus we get societies of demotivated and isolated, increasingly mutually-hostile, individuals.

It is therefore misleading to talk about substitutes for religion. The stark fact is that there is no substitute for religion, and it is lack of religion - specifically Christianity - that is the prime cause of our condition.

If ever we want The West to become motivated and positively purposeful, and to sustain itself rather than committing slow-suicide; there must first be religion.


Adil said...

Ideally speaking the west should've continued as a monocentric, formally Christian civilisation, in the same way we still today refer to 'the Muslim world'. Instead the western world became 'privatized' and sealed inwards, like a flower closing-off. This formalistic and faceless secularism has effectively suffocated public life and civil society; that is - the west has become cold and uncivilized. The flower doesn't get any water. In Eastern Europe, I believe religious life and consensus still permeates public life, leading to a gentler and more alive civil society in general. So it seems to me that Christianity itself in the west has suffered from 'materialist-ification' and secular entryism, thus we are talking about a failure of Christianity in general. Of course we can say the same about islam - it is 'calcified' albeit in a different kind of way. Perhaps the esoteric challenge of modern Christians then is to 'cast off' this 'wornout' superstructure and try to initiate a collective suface-level response through independent individual faith and grassroots networking - or 'Surfing the Kali Yuga'. Which seems to be your own preferred 'medical procedure'.

Adil said...

I should add that the Christian narrative itself is Not 'wornout' by any means, but is rather built-in to the west, and has simply morphed into 'climate hysteria' in heneral, reflecting the deep-seated desire for religion in a political manner. Of course the better side of a public Christianity would be the precise shield against the same expedient trends. Private, secular second-hand Christianity on the other hand, seems to have perverting effects on religion in general.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ERic - My understanding is that (from approx 1770, with Romanticism; and onwards) the West went through a spiritual adolescence which was inevitable and - indeed - hoped to be a prelude to grown-up adulthood. But by a complex of wrong choices, the civilization got stuck in adolescence - which includes alienation, materialism, despair etc.

There is no going back to apiritual childhood, for the West; but if we stay where we are we have chosen self-extinction. We can only go forwards - which is in some senses a cyclical return to pre-civilisational animism, in another sense a new level of (Christian) greater consciousness, choice, individualism etc.

William Wildblood said...

You're absolutely right that none of the things you mention are substitutes for religion. They are merely substitute focuses for attention for a soul that has rejected the proper focus of attention and wants to something to feel self-righteous about.

"The flower doesn't get any water' is a great phase, Eric. That's why it's gradually wilting.

Adil said...

@ Bruce

I think you've made more or less the right diagnosis. It is not just intended destiny, but an element of unfortunate error as well. I envisage the West right now as a fragile house of glass built from our perceptions, mistaking the tangible glass for the reality behind.

@ William

Somehow the image of a sealed flower came to mind when I thought of the word 'secularism'. Indeed the flower is lacking both of Light and water, trying to live of that which is left on the ground.