What Comes After Religion


Fewer and fewer people believe nowadays. It’s possible that in a generation, there simply won’t be religion across Europe and large sections of north America, Australia and Asia. That ‘s not necessarily a problem. But it’s worth thinking about why people made up religion in the first place and what we’re doing with the needs and longings that led them to do so. At one level, religions are about asking us to believe in something. And when people say they can’t believe, they tend to stop right there with the whole religion business. And often point out all the horrid things that religions have undoubtedly done and continue to do. But in this sense, belief is almost the least important and definitely the least interesting side of religion. What’s fascinating is all the other stuff religions get up to. For example, the way they regularly gather people around and, strikingly, tell them to be nice to one another. Or the way they create a sense of community, acting as hosts, making sure that granny and the child, the big chief and the little guy learn to see each other as human beings rather than abstract entities. Religions use rituals to point stuff out to us and lodge it in our fickle minds. For example, that the seasons are changing or that it’s the time to remember your ancestors. That the moon looks pretty or you can atone and make a fresh start. or that it’s rather amazing that there’s food on the table. Religions know we’re not just intellectual creatures so they carefully appeal to us via art and beauty We think of beauty in one category a frivolous and superficial thing, and truth and depth in an another Religions join them together. They build temples, cathedrals, and mosques that use beauty to lend depth to important ideas. They use the resources of art to remind us of what matters. Their art is didactic. It’s directed at making us feel things calm pity awe We may no longer believe, but the needs and longings that made us make up these stories go on. We’re lonely and violent We long for beauty, wisdom, and purpose. We want to live for something more than just ourselves. Society tells us to direct our hopes in two areas Romantic love and professional success. And it distracts us with news, movies, and consumption. It’s not enough, as we know. Especially at three in the morning. We need reminders to be good, places to reawaken awe, something to awaken our kinder, less selfish impulses. Universal things which need tending like delicate flowers and rituals that bring us together. The choice isn’t between religion and a secular world as it is now. The challenge is to learn from religions so we can fill the secular world with replacements for the things we long ago made up religion to provide. The challenge begins here.

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