Being I’m neither new nor a scientist, it could well be that I’m spending too much time reading New Scientist these days. I know the story about wind farms suggesting wind and waves are not renewable resources confused the shit out of me, and if anyone bothering to click on that link and read could please explain the content I’d be grateful.
There’s no doubt I like a challenge and trying to wrap my head around sciency stuff is a pastime I enjoy whether that be grasping toward black holes in efforts to understand dense gravity or trying to incorporate an inner clock to include time travel.
Something I did not expect to run across in my daily perusal of Stuff Science, however, was this article on religion.
What form would the ideal religion take? Some might argue that instead of redesigning religion, we should get rid of it. But it is good for some things: religious people are happier and healthier, and religion offers community. Besides, secularism has passed its zenith, according to Jon Lanman, who studies atheism at the University of Oxford. In a globalised world, he says, migrations and economic instability breed fear, and when people’s values feel under threat, religion thrives.
For starters, the unsubstantiated “information” contained in the piece feels decidedly un-sciency for New Science with few links and no backup. Attribution given to Mr. Lanman … who “studies” atheism … doesn’t cover the postulation that “religious people are happier and healthier and religion offers community”, so is therefor “good”.
A bowling league offers community fercryinoutloud, and manages to do so without prompting any genocides I’ve heard of. As for the “happier and healthier” … well, someone’s obviously never seen the impact of Catholic guilt.
I do get that this article is fluff even though quoted sources apparently attend Oxford … ooooooh! …
Today’s religions come in four flavours, according to Harvey Whitehouse, also at Oxford. First, the “sacred party”, such as incense burning, bell ringing and celestial choral music in Catholicism. Second, “therapy”: for example, the practices of healing and casting out devils among some evangelical Christians. Third, “mystical quest”, such as the Buddhist quest for nirvana. And finally, “school”: detailed study of the Koran in Islam or reading the Torah in Judaism.
Okay … a “sacred party” where all but a few are relegated to the sidelines, “therapy” that encourages people to grow even wackier, a “mystical quest” that could just as easily mean a search for Atlantis, and “school” where the only study is some really old books.
On what level does that make any sense, except perhaps to an undergrad needing to fill pages? The fact that the piece gets even more graphic lets down the side even more discouragingly:
Numerous festivals, holidays and rituals would keep followers hooked. “Rites of terror” such as body mutilation are out – although they bind people together very intensely, they are not usually compatible with world religions (New Scientist, 19 December 2009, p 62). Still, highly rousing, traumatic rituals might still feature as initiation ceremonies, because people tend to be more committed to a religion and tolerant of its failings after paying a high price for entry.
The everyday rituals will focus on rhythmic dancing and chanting to stimulate the release of endorphins, which Robin Dunbar, also at Oxford, says are key to social cohesion. To keep people coming back, he also prescribes “some myths that break the laws of physics, but not too much”, and no extreme mysticism, as it tends to lead to schisms.
So, body mutilation is out, but dancing and chanting lead to social cohesion? Can’t help but wonder what’s going on at parties at Oxford these days, but whatever is happening seems to have the effect of leading attendees to assume their thoughts have more merit than they do.
With many gods and great tolerance of idiosyncratic local practices, the new religion will be highly adaptable to the needs of different congregations without losing its unifying identity. The religion will also emphasise worldly affairs – it would promote the use of contraceptives and small families and be big on environmental issues, philanthropy, pacifism and cooperation.
Yeah … that’ll do it.
Of course, there are those fiddly bits concerning money and power that root religions before they flower, tax-free status and a whole bunch of non-negotiable rules, but if you attend Oxford and get your papers published in New Scientist, coming up with “Utopianity” must seem an accomplishment.
The thought that humans need a new religion is, in itself, an excuse not to have to think much further than the end of the block … upon which stands a church most likely … as developing more effective ways of fostering the human in humanity would take a lot more creativity.
Since science should be all about creativity, I will be sending a link to this post along with my subscription cancellation.
(Apologies: this post was slapped together during infrequent minutes of Internet access and while babying my computer. Conducive to good writing? Not so much …)