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IEET > Rights > Neuroethics > FreeThought > Life > Enablement > Health > Vision > Futurism > Contributors > Alex McGilvery

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Secular Gods and Sacred Machines


Alex McGilvery
Alex McGilvery
Ethical Technology

Posted: Apr 26, 2012

Not all religions are created equal. In past articles I have argued that religion can be a powerful force for the transformation of humans, both individually and collectively. This is not to say that religion is necessarily and always a tool for the improvement of the human species. Religion in many times and places has been anything but helpful. For example; the Roman Catholic Church in the medieval period deliberately suppressed new knowledge, oddly enough, in favour of pagan Greek philosophers.

The worst excesses of religion are most often found when religion becomes enmeshed with the ruling powers of the day and chooses to support the ideology of the ruling class. While religion is a useful pathway to transcendence, it makes a very poor force for effective government.

The reason that religion is a poor force for government is that their goals are different. Religion, for the most part, has the goal of creating or strengthening relationship with “God” however that is defined. There are secondary goals of transcending human frailties and advocating for a certain morality, often justice for the poor and marginalized. Tertiary goals include the continued existence and administration of the religion itself.

Government is primarily concerned with keeping order to allow its citizens to go about their lives mostly unaffected by negative forces. Taxes are collected and spent to create a greater or lesser amount of social safety net and to regulate forces that might be damaging to the community. When religion becomes government it flips the priorities of religion and continued existence becomes the primary goal. This flip means that the poor become even more marginalized and relationships are increasingly fractured.

The present day sees much of the world living in a secular society unconstrained by any one religion. Laws are set by the prevailing government within the context of global understanding of ethics and rights.  Most of the people in modern industrial nations would say that they do not live in a religiously run nation.

Most of them would be wrong.

There are powerful ideologies acting on both nations and individuals that are in everything but name, religions. We are taught from an early age that, in spite of anything you might hear to the contrary, you must buy happiness. Commercials start targeting children as young as two and continue until we die; even after we die, if you look at the sale of life insurance. Our entire existence is centered on what we own and what we want to own. The motivators for us to buy stuff are the promise of happiness or the guilt of not doing our part. Both of these motivators are common to religious thinking.

Studies on happiness show that after our basic needs have been met that income is irrelevant to our sense of wellbeing. Still we are told we must strive to earn more money because it will make us happier. The message of consumerism is directly opposed to what actually will make us happy, but we believe it anyway. It is a matter of faith. If we follow the tenets of the religions closely enough perhaps this beer, this car, this trip will save us.

The guilt is the corollary of the happiness. If we don’t buy our children the right clothes, then they will be laughed at. If we don’t get them the most modern technology they will fail at school. We have to give them vitamins to replace the vegetables they refuse to eat because they aren’t as cool as sugar coated cereal. We spend so much time earning the money to feed our addiction that we neglect our children, so we buy them more stuff to compensate. Again the emphasis on guilt has a religious aspect. We are told that children want stuff, and assuaging our guilt is as simple as taking them to McDonalds. It is atonement and penitence, consumerist style; and like the attempt to buy happiness, it is contrary to the reality of what children really need, which is present and involved parents.

This consumer message is flipped at the government level. Individuals must be free to spend as much money as possible in the marketplace, so higher taxes are anathema. Government regulations are also in the way of unlimited consumer spending so shrinking government becomes a goal. The belief is that with the minimum amount of government and lowest taxes that the economy will work to make everyone rich. People continue to try to sell this concept in austerity budgets even though experts say that it is exactly the wrong thing to do.

Government are producing austerity budgets and cutting taxes like someone running desperately from one faith healer to another trying to find the one that will cure them. The problem is that this faith will destroy us all, well not all, there are some who are doing very well with the economy working the way it is. The high priests of consumerism are getting fatter.

If we are going to put religion under the ethical microscope we need to ask whether this particular religion is going to offer good to the largest number of people. This consumerist faith only benefits a few very rich people at the top of the pile. The rest of the people are left with piles of junk that can’t bring happiness and a world that is starting to unravel. Consumerism is unethical in that it is built on a lie and continues to tell lie after lie to cover up the reality. Everybody on the planet, with the possible exception of the very few ultra-rich would be happier, healthier and safer if we simply started saying “enough” and concentrating on being happy rather than trying to buy it.

So how do we move past the short-lived ecstasy of buying the newest desire of our heart? The answer is to move away from consumerism and find more authentic ways of giving meaning to life.  Religion has for centuries preached the movement away from worldly possessions, but for many people the message is old and tired, and more importantly, does not connect with their understanding of life.

Jonathon Haidt and Alain de Botton both talk about the importance of transcendence in a non-religious context. They argue that it is not only possible, but necessary for humans to rediscover the transcendent for us to move forward. The transcendent is what lifts us above the selfish, survival centered being to be able to have compassion for others and be concerned for the global community. Haidt refers to this transcendent experience as entering the sacred mind.  He suggests that large crowds, music and art, and some geographic locations have the possibility of opening the door to the sacred mind.

I would suggest that it will be possible at some time in the future to artificially produce this experience through technology. Stanley Koren’s “God Helmet” used by Michael Persinger to produce religious experiences was a first attempt.  There was much controversy surrounding the helmet and some good stories that came out of it. Richard Dawkins tried it out and failed to find God. The difficulty with the God Helmet is that it attempts to activate a “god spot” in the brain, but research suggests that religious experience is a complex occurrence that uses many different areas of the brain. This is the prime argument of Mario Beauregard in The Spiritual Brain. 

As external stimulation of the brain to aid in learning improves, I think that we will also learn to stimulate more complex responses from the brain, including possibly a way to create the experience of Haidt’s sacred mind on demand. Given his claims for the sacred mind, it would be beneficial to have a way for people to experience it without needing to claim a religion or religious belief.  It isn’t that religion doesn’t work, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Having a way to stimulate selflessness and compassion would lead to people being able to cooperate more effectively and use diversity as a positive contribution to the health of the species. Ethically we can’t force people to experience transcendence but if the possibility is there a few will want to try it, either to improve themselves, or just for the new ‘high’. Even if only a small fraction of people are able to change their perception of what is truly of significance in the world it will produce a global change.

World religions will continue to offer enlightenment to people who desire the spiritual growth that is possible through religious discipline. Yet religion is being increasingly marginalized as people sell themselves to fulfill the tenets of consumerism. The ultimate irony may be that the most effective response to the secular gods of our time may not be classic religion but sacred machines built to try to prove or disprove the existence of God.


Alex McGilvery is currently living in Flin Flon, Manitoba, Canada. He is an author and serves as the minister of a thriving United Church congregation.
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COMMENTS


Spirituality + authoritarianism = religion.

Just subtract the authoritarianism.





I don’t think it is quite that simple iPan. I see spirituality, faith and religion as circles in a venn diagram that overlap but aren’t identical. While authoritarianism is important in some religions, I don’t think it is necessarily the defining characteristic of religion in general.

Still since you mention it, there is plenty of authoritarianism in consumerist ideology.





Thanks for the article, Alex. I agree with much of its spirit. However - I would like to point out a few problems I noticed.

“The reason that religion is a poor force for government is that their goals are different. Religion, for the most part, has the goal of creating or strengthening relationship with “God” however that is defined.”

I strongly disagree with this statement. Out there, we can find atheistic religions - like Buddhism, for example. So, developing the relation with one or more Gods cannot really be the essential goal of all religions. As I already wrote before, I believe that is much more accurate (and insightful) to see religion as the architectural, logical justification of the local ethical system. Since ethics, by itself cannot have a justification beyond sheer physical force - religion must step in to justify its moral principles. Consequently, religion itself - as a set of beliefs about certain entities related to our actions - will not have any justification whatsoever, like all other biological structures (yes, I consider religion a biological structure). Sure, it has a number of functions, some extremely important, but no ulterior justification - not differently from our hair, or the from the fact that we walk on two legs.
This is also why I agree so much with the spirit of your article. We cannot really get rid of the religious dimension in our lives - contrarily from what militant rationalists keep on repeating. You can substitute a traditional religion with another, functionally equivalent structure. This brand new structure, however, will still have its own irrational myths, its emotional attractors, its taboos, and so on. The point is - are the new religions any better than the old ones? Do they generate better ethical environments?

“Studies on happiness show that after our basic needs have been met that income is irrelevant to our sense of wellbeing.”
Also this statement is patently false. Mere survival is indeed worse than a life filled with material wealth. To understand this, try to see the problem from another perspective. Most people on this planet meet more or less their basic biotic needs : a certain, minimum caloric intake, some muddy water, an environment with acceptable physical parameters. Most wild animals live like that too, they merely survive. Most people from the poorest regions of our planet literally cannot get fat. I assure that such fact does not go well with happiness. In more developed nations, poor people, even homeless derelicts can put on some weight. It means they have more than what they need. This why an American bum can even be happier than a neurotic, stressed out CEO - they both live in a plentiful society. I defy anyone to show that a man who does not know weather or not his family will eat tomorrow can be happier than any chubby consumerist.

As a last note - I do not see consumerism as the natural enemy of traditional religions. Many religions, even ancient ones, praised pleasures and excesses. Christian tradition too - has a joyful side, the celebration of Easter and carnal resurrection. Christian theology does not condemn pleasures and consumption per se. So, we can indeed have a traditional, religious moral background, with a thriving, technological, and consumerist society. See Japan, for example.





Andre, my comment on income and wellbeing is not opinion. It is based on scientific study of human happiness. If you google income and happiness you will find a number of studies on the subject. The reality is that after sufficient food, shelter and clothes have been supplied, increased income creates increased anxiety, not increased happiness. Our problem is that consumerism has sold us on the need to buy happiness, so we refuse to believe the research. Exactly the point I was making.

Your point about religion and government is well taken, but would still argue with your definition of religion. I think religion is much more complex than the justification for the coercion of ethics. If that was the sole purpose of religion it would be much easier to replace. As for the biological justification for religion, the jury is still out on that one.





Alex, I probably did not make myself clear.

I really do not associate religion with government, social power, and coercion. Quite the opposite. I do not think that the coercive side of ethics depend on religion - I am more inclined to blame that on magistrates, cops, and bullies. I was trying to explain my belief in the radical and profound connection between religion and ethics.

Let me give you a concrete example. In my opinion, most men that do not murder, steal, or commit violent crimes are not just afraid of coercive punishments. Hobbes would say that men behave morally only because secular laws, jails, and death penalties keep them in line. I say that most people behave decently because they have some kind of religious respect for certain things, they indeed consider certain life expressions as something sacred. And it is not exactly like Freud said. They do not have some kind of inner cop, some superego that stops them. Many religious people would really have to be seriously reprogrammed and brainwashed to commit certain crimes, their morality is somehow deeply carved into their flesh, thier very identity.
For example, most people, in our contemporary societies, would feel rather uneasy to personally murder some familiar, innocent man, even if it was perfectly legal. Religions, and only religions, can provide the motivations for behaving in a certain, morally acceptable way. Physics, by itself, cannot motivate people, or draw certain ethical lines. Laws cannot work too, if people do not believe in the principles behind them. No matter how we try to justify our actions, it always all boils down to religious principles.

About consumerism, that study is everything but scientific - honestly. You cannot measure human happiness. For one simple reason. The only way to assess a “theory of happiness” is to rely on people’s verbal reports - which cannot be trusted by definition, in serious science. Nullius in Verba : “Take no one’s word for it”, that has always been the motto of Royal Society itself, in UK, the cradle of modern science.

About buying happiness, I do not “need to” buy it. But, usually I do buy some happiness. When I buy some mozzarella I like, I am literally buying happiness. That cheese really makes me happy - albeit briefly, because I eat it rather quickly. It’s not some conspiracy. Corporations and conteporary societies are not organizing some hidden plot to distract humans for important, religious experiences. It’s life. People are happy to get things they enjoy. Do people need to buy cars that go from 0 to 55 mph in less then 3 seconds? Of course not. But, hey, it’s really fun to feel that kind of acceleration, it’s exhilarating, it fills you with many powerful emotions. Would a Biami be happy to drive a Porsche 911. I think he would be. Are drivers of pointlessly fast luxury sport-cars somehow incapable of a religious experience? I really do not think so.





I don’t really agree with either Alex’s or André‘s definition of religion here. I agree with André‘s comment that religion doesn’t necessarily involve a concept of God (or even of “gods”), but as I’ve pointed before the idea of defining religion as “the architectural, logical justification of the local ethical system” seems to far removed from common usage to be accurate or insightful. How we use words isn’t really a matter of logical truth (or “accuracy”), but we should make an effort to align our usage with what most people understand, even when we are trying to be somewhat more precise. I still think the Wictionary definition works pretty well.

On the issue of income and happiness, I think the problem with the statement that André objected to is that it overstates what the scientific research actually says, if taken literally. What the research actually says is that happiness becomes uncorrelated with absolutely income after a certain level (which however is higher than mere subsistence). But this doesn’t mean that income becomes “irrelevant to our sense of well-being”, far from it. Relative, as opposed to absolute, income remains supremely relevant, essentially because it is associated with status.

Against this background I rather share André‘s sense that we need to be a bit careful about blaming quite so much on consumerism. It’s not that I don’t see the problem: many people are indeed addicted to superficial pleasures associated with economic activity, and our obsession with economic growth (as currently measured) clearly feeds that. And clearly there are some people that are getting very rich by feeding this “religion”, as Alex calls it (somewhat questionably in my view). But the roots of inequality and addiction go far deeper than society’s obsession with economic growth, which is as much a symptom of the problem as a cause. If we want to address these problems effectively then we need to dig deeper and find the (primarily psychological) factors that are driving them.

I’m also wondering whether there is a conflation going on between various concepts such as “spirituality”, “transcendence”, “selflessness” and “compassion”. This is understandable, given that these words are themselves somewhat imprecise, but it seems clear that it is possible to experience the transcendence of a “spiritual high”, whether in church or on the dance floor, without demonstrating much practical compassion in one’s daily life, and vice versa. In the best cases religion can stimulate both, but this is a long way from always being the case, so it is worth bearing in mind that these are indeed two different things.

Coming back to consumerism, another way in which the article blames too much on this is that it is held responsible for the decline of religion (“religion is being increasingly marginalized as people sell themselves to fulfill the tenets of consumerism”). I am not aware of any evidence for this. At a global level it is questionable whether religion is in decline at all, and while one can certainly imagine that those “superficial pleasures associated with economic activity” might distract us from the attractions of religion, again there seem to be deeper forces at work, not least the fact that the major religions have also sought to explain the world in ways that are now far better handled by science. While religious leaders seek to redefine themselves to ensure their continued relevance, much of the flock is drifting away, unconvinced. Once again, consumerism may be as much a symptom of the decline of religion as its cause.

Finally with regard to the issue of sacred machines, this reminds me somewhat of the discussion I had with Singularity Utopia on another thread recently. The idea there (paraphrasing somewhat) was that some kind of super AI would sort out all these issues for us in such a compelling way that we would all “see the light” and live together in peace and harmony. My contention was that a such a super AI would be wonderful, but that much more dystopic scenarios were possible so we had better take care how we design these. Now if we combine this with iPan’s recent observation that hyper intelligence is likely to emerge in a distributed way rather than being designed from scratch by humans, then that challenge becomes all the more complex. Much as I appreciate Alex’s willingness to consider technological solutions rather than merely telling us to be responsible, the responsibility point is nevertheless worth repeating. In an important sense, we really will get the future we deserve.





“While religious leaders seek to redefine themselves to ensure their continued relevance”

And continued dominance.. something Alex does not go into enough; would anyone go so far as to write the clergy is a meritocracy? the clergy is an aristocracy.. no more, no less.
Religious institutions are less consumeristic than the outside—yet such is comparable to a madam saying her cathouse smells better on Sunday morning than the cathouse down the block.





..you know how it is said be diplomatic, but don’t be all things to all people? we accept such contradictions as being part of interacting however it is walking a tightrope. I don’t want to be a sychophant to Pastor Alex by writing religion is necessary, because though it is necessary the reason it is 95 percent of our families and companions are stuck in the past or at best the present;
If it isn’t ‘live for now because no one know what tomorrow will bring’, then it is ‘I have seen the past- and it works!’
I have to be somewhat diplomatic to Alex, cannot say “religion is pleasant fluff”, as though I do appreciate religion, it is for a bad reason: escapism…. necessary but bad.
If one writes “religion has much to offer”, the actual message is probably really only that religion does great charity work (which it does). Yet that doesn’t sound correct, either; it is well-nigh a consumerist message: “po’ people need more stuff in their lives, and since government is too bureaucratised, the task falls by default to religious institutions.”
Religion is thus reduced to a pleasant venue for social services with a choir singing in the background.

I want to be honest with Alex, but cannot do so without writing that the reality is we are stuck with religion because the overwhelming majority of people are stuck in the past or present.. and such is not what IEET is about. We are naturally future-oriented. So it is quite difficult to be diplomatic concerning religion at IEET without practicing the use of smarm in a manner religion does—sucking up as it is put in the vernacular. I can’t write ‘to move ahead we would have to dump religion and start over from scratch’, as not only is it undiplomatic, also the future sells but very few are buying. We are firmly stuck in the past.





Live would be much easier for me if I lived in your world Intomorrow. The problem is that religious tendencies appear to be hard wired. We want answers and preferably answers that relieve us of any responsibility. That isn’t going to change. People are going to put their hope in God, communism or their new Volvo, and whichever it is, they won’t need to worry much about what to do next.

My job is to get people asking questions rather than positing answers. I want to create a divine discontent so that we are required to think. Unfortunately thinking is quite unpopular at the moment.

What I hope is that we, as a species, can get to the point where we think about what we need and consider the consequences before we act. If it takes machines to do that, then bring them on.





And btw, Alex, I happen to like religion a great deal- yet perhaps that makes me an even bigger fool than I would be if I were entirely secular? One can daresay the majority of secularists who write articles for IEET, and many of the bloggers, have the sense to merely state they are atheists/agnostics and leave it at that.. whereas I am torn between a religious past and the fear of kicking over the traces and starting anew. Sure, you are correct we (not just they, but also we) are going to put their hope in God, communism or their new Volvo, albeit not everyone; most are fools but not all are fools, some, such as the Ubermensch, can abandon the past.





...plus aside from the ‘Ubermensch’, there are many who want to get away from being trapped in the past yet cannot do so because they allow their families and companions to drag them back into the past. Frankly, I think you and I, Alex, are both torn between the past/present, and the future. Me because I am vacillating; you because you want it all; you want the past (religion, spirituality) on one hand, and the future on the other—perhaps at one time (e.g. the ‘50s) one could have the best of both past and future worlds.. today it does not appear such is the case, today IMO you have to choose between the two:
straddling the past and the future doesn’t cut it anymore. William F. Buckley wrote a topnotch book titled ‘The Jewelers Eye’ (unfortunately, as many excellent books, it is now out of print) ; in it he compared a conservative to a jeweler who examines the jewels of the past and carefully decides which ones to retain and which to discard.
Eventually, though, a housecleaning of the jewel inventory has to be made and an entire lot of the jewels thrown into the dumpster. This is something braver people than you and I are willing to do.

However, if what you are writing is it is not only your job to do what you do, but also your career, your niche, then it all makes sense, you are just ‘doing your Thing’, you are making a living and helping others whether or not you actually know what it is you are aiming for; as the great majority of us, you are playing it by ear—making it up as you go along.





“I want to create a divine discontent so that we are required to think. Unfortunately thinking is quite unpopular at the moment.”

We’ve discussed this before, Alex. I don’t believe the problem is that people don’t want to think. The problem is what we think, and how we think. The problem is the false sense of urgency created by consumerism and its underlying causes.

And honestly, I don’t think you should be aiming to create discontent. There’s enough of it around already. Rather try to create clarity of purpose around altruistic goals.





Great article Alex. I will write more comments about religion later.

One comment now, re “Government is primarily concerned with keeping order to allow its citizens to go about their lives mostly unaffected by negative forces. Taxes are collected and spent to create a greater or lesser amount of social safety net…”

This is what a good</a> government is concerned with, but we don’t have many examples of good government in history and in today’s world. What <b>real governments are concerned with, is a) stealing as much public money for personal use as they can, and b) indulging their predilection for sadistic control freakery. Of course some politicians are good persons, but most of them are weeded out of the system and never reach the top.





Hank, Marcelo, please implement an edit system for comments like everywhere else. The difference between “a” and “b” should not be so dramatic…





Alex has me nonplussed: don’t know what he wants exactly. One question arising is, why be a Christian if one doesn’t believe in Heaven, in the resurrection of Jesus- or even necessarily in the divinity of Christ? such is comparable to being an Islamic without believing in Allah, Mohammad, or Mecca. Some purpose but not a great deal—it isn’t genuine.
However, if one promotes Christianity as lingua franca, a way to communicate with those who have had Jesus-buttons placed in them for other Christians to press (in service of both positive and negative intentions), then it is no mystery. And as I wrote, Christianity and all religion make abundant sense—yet that may be only because I’m backward-looking.
IEET isn’t about looking backwards!
Pete, perhaps the next decade will be an improvement over this one.. as the last decade, 2001- ‘09, there is a promising glimpse of tech to come; unfortunately we are dragged so far back into the past by our rancid anachronisms, it is quite discouraging… contrary to what Alex thinks, people do think, they just think towards the past rather than towards the future- or they live for the present, which is admittedly tempting albeit ultimately futile..
I don’t want to be too harsh on Alex, he may be right our secular neoliberal consumerist worldview is mystical in many ways yet then this brings us back around to what is the purpose in Christianity w/ out Heaven, Resurrection, and Divinity? if Alex does not appreciate neoliberalism, why ought we appreciate pro forma, watered-down Christianity?
Question is, why is consumerist neoliberalism any more inauthentic than pro forma Christianity?





“governments are concerned with, is a) stealing as much public money for personal use as they can, and b) indulging their predilection for sadistic control freakery.”


You are correct; yet the private sector isn’t much better than the public- and in some ways worse. Maybe this decade control freaks can vent their aggression until they are exhausted.  Say merely for example if Romney is elected president, for eight years he can vent all the authoritarianism that was injected into him- and in 2020 or thereabouts the situation might improve smile





@Intomorrow

You’ve put your finger on why I have tended to find liberal/progressive versions of Christianity unconvincing. As you say, why bother being a Christian if one doesn’t actually believe in the core doctrine?

I don’t think I really know enough about Alex’s biography to be able to answer the question in his case. What I can say is that in my case, once I decided I didn’t believe the traditional/evangelical version, I didn’t see much point in continuing with it at all. Then again, by then most of my closest friends, including my future wife, were not active church-goers, so that doubtless played a role in my decision smile

On why consumerist neoliberalism is any more inauthentic than “pro forma Christianity”, I think the correct answer is that it isn’t, but it probably is more harmful. As you say, watered down Christianity perhaps plays a valuable role in communicating with those brought up that way (at least they have an alternative to fundamentalism that doesn’t involve leaving the church altogether). On the whole I think it’s probably a force for good, even though I sometimes get annoyed with the obfuscation.





So Alex doesn’t think we are picking on religion, aside from neoliberalism, Communism was active for seven decades; let’s briefly examine the religious aspects: the mirage of “withering away of the state”; classless Utopianism; the fact that Communists paid lip service to peasants and technicians, yet only really cared about workers. This is similar to how Christians pay lip service to the poor, when they quote the Bible’s “love of money is the root of all evil”, they usually cross their fingers and think “lack of money is the root of all evil.”
Alex for instance is no fool, no vow of poverty for he. This recalls what Noam Chomsky said to me when I met him in 1987. I asked him if the bourgeoisie disliked him and he replied no, they liked him because he is rich. Same goes for priests; don’t know about Canada, but in America one is considered a fool if one is poor, and though of course a person of means may not necessarily be liked, they are often respected, even admired merely for being well-off. Which is why the televangelists of the ‘80s were not only admired but also idolized for being well-heeled and confident.
“Tricky as priest.”
No matter what they did or said they Were only ever crazy if being a fox is considered being crazy.
Cf celebrity culture of today. As moviegoers eighty years ago often wanted to vicariously live through Edward G. Robinson as Rico, today a cocaine addled Charlie Sheen is not disliked for appearing with porn stars and announcing he has “tiger blood” flowing in his veins. Admiration, not dislike or even envy, is the prevalent sentiment.
A televangelist was asked in the ‘80s why it was money was so important to him; his answer was,

“because I’m not stupid”,

which just about says it all.





Provided that (1) Alex is perfectly able to defend himself, (2) anyone else can express politely any kind of concept here - I wonder why do discussions about Alex’s pieces always have to turn into investigations about his personal motives, his beliefs, and his biography? Maybe we can all just stick to the content of what he wrote wink

@Peter
“How we use words isn’t really a matter of logical truth (or “accuracy”), but we should make an effort to align our usage with what most people understand, even when we are trying to be somewhat more precise. I still think the Wictionary definition works pretty well.”

Imagine two different definitions of the word “sun” : (1) that bright thing that moves and crosses the sky everyday, (2) that bright thing in the sky around which we move. In both cases I used only everyday words, and the first definition mirrors quite closely what most people used to understand a few centuries ago. However, the heliocentric definition of word “sun” provided to be extremely insightful. We might even say that, somehow, our modern, western science was born especially thanks to an odd redefinition of what most people used to understand with the word “sun”.

Now, of course I am not Copernicus, and you are right in pointing out how often discussing about words and their proper definition does not take us anywhere. But - since our definitions of a concept determine how that concept relates to other concepts - a rearrangement of our conceptual net sometimes can be insightful indeed, especially because it can crash a traditional, inaccurate mental Gestalt, and generate many important corollaries.

An important logical consequence of my definition is that every human group must adhere at least to one, single, common religion. Heterogeneous groups can coexist, but only as long as their different religions generate similar moral principles. Another consequence - and I often stress this fact - is that it is absolutely impossible to surrogate religion with science or literature. Religions create moral principles thanks to a rather specific mechanism. This mechanism involve the creation of a “sacred space”, which can be logical, behavioral, or even physical. A sacred space is space that quiets actions, promotes stillness, contemplation, respect, meditation. The etymological study of the word “sacred” (that Wikictionary employs defining religion) suggests that is has to do with some kind of restriction, a barrier, a place where nobody should go. That place is - the sacred space that determines our behavioral limits, and therefore our moral principles. Anthropologists analyzed in details the function of the many declination of this “sacred space”, they examined all the tribal taboos, and in particular nearly-universal taboos.

Consumerism is not a doctrine, and our contemporary love for consumption is something really universal, and not only between human organisms. Do anyone know a life-form that does not have, between its priorities, the consumption of external resources? I believe that consumerism might even be considered fundamentally inherent to all biotic mechanisms. So, I cannot see how it could be seen as a religion - and especially a religion antithetic to all traditional ones.
Consider the most disgusting, shallow consumer. A white, chubby, half-bald western computer geek. He follows a whole lot of moral principles - moral principles that come from somewhere, and certainly not from his passionate love for ephemeral consumption. First, he is paying for his stuff. That seems trivial, but he might do otherwise. Stealing, for example, allows occasional consumption, but not hardcore consumerism. This is important. It means that the average consumerist must have a certain sense of honesty and decency. I might go on with other examples, showing how moral is

My point is that religion and consumerism are very, very natural phenomena. I might add, the more the better. And, as a last note, I personally tend not to trust those who want to eliminate, or even compress, any of those two pillars. At what cost? And what would be the consequence?





Andre, I like much of what you said, but I don’t agree that consumerism is a natural phenomenon as we practice it today. There are some animals that collect things that they don’t need, and of course all animals seek what they do need. What animals don’t do is act like the stuff they collect, necessary or not, will substantially change their lives.

We buy stuff we don’t need because we are convinced that it is necessary to do so to be “good” people. We buy the cheapest stuff we can find so we can buy more. We do this even as we know that we are destroying the planet by doing so. The consumerist religion goes far beyond the filling of basic needs, or even luxuries.

Consumerism also fits your definition of religion providing ethical explanation in that your fat, white bald guy knows stealing is bad because it hurts “the economy”. Murder is bad for the same reason. etc.

Intomorrow, I am not a post-theist, nor so progressive that I don’t believe in the reality of Jesus of Nazareth, heaven or the resurrection. I certainly believe that there was a Jesus of Nazareth and that he was crucified. Simple lack of evidence does not prove that he didn’t exist however much someone might like to suggest it does.

Something occurred to create the Christian sect. That something was the resurrection. We only have stories of people’s experience overlaid with what that experience meant to them, so we can’t unpack the “historical truth” of the resurrection to say that “This is what happened on that day.” That doesn’t mean that something significant didn’t happen that continues to have meaning today. It has particular meaning in the context of the consumerist empire in which we now live.

As for heaven, it was never a big part of Jesus’ teaching. He talked about the Kingdom of God, and Matthew changed it to Kingdom of Heaven since writing the word God was seen as disrespectful. It is not heaven as we generally picture it today, but rather a concept of inclusiveness and justice. Later thinkers expanded heaven to be a place of rest for the righteous dead. Mythology built up around it, particularly due to Revelations. Heaven gained in importance as Christianity was taken over by empire. It was a useful tool to placate the poor masses by saying they would get theirs when they died as long as they were good, obedient people in life.

Since I am much more concerned with our activity in this world, heaven is not a big issue for me. I know that relationship continues after death, but other than that, I don’t care.





Forgive my poor spelling and lack of understanding about punctuation, I am self educated. smile

Is not religion just the natural out cropping of a social mechanism?  Like we don’t “F” our sister because wen we do she gives birth to a monster, so that while there seems to be nothing wrong with the act, the outcome is nonetheless an abomination. So that a rule comes about prohibiting such relationships. 

So the rule then becomes institutionalized and inculcated into our social understanding… is this really morality? Or do we simply employ restraints as a means of social cohesion?

God can mean many things to different people, but at it’s core is it not just a label for that which we do not fully understand?

When you get past dogma most modern spiritual paths are rooted in institutionalized conservation of novelty. So today we know were sexually transmuted disease comes from and how to prevent it, so that a gay couple is now socially acceptable whereas in the past such a thing was a danger to the community even if people did not know why it was dangerous they knew God would cure such a thing with disease.. In this case God is seen in the consequence of the action smile 
Thus IMO it is not a mater of ethics or morality but one of sociology, consumerism to my mind has nothing to do with religion at all, but is more along the lines of programming. Advertisement continually pushes crap no one needs, yet it is marketed in such a way as to lead you to believe in its value, even wen it is clear that the product has no value at all.  I think folks find they feel unsatisfied with life wen they begin to look at the piles of useless crap they are living in.





Andre, I like much of what you said, but I don’t agree that consumerism is a natural phenomenon as we practice it today. There are some animals that collect things that they don’t need, and of course all animals seek what they do need. What animals don’t do is act like the stuff they collect, necessary or not, will substantially change their lives.

We buy stuff we don’t need because we are convinced that it is necessary to do so to be “good” people. We buy the cheapest stuff we can find so we can buy more. We do this even as we know that we are destroying the planet by doing so. The consumerist religion goes far beyond the filling of basic needs, or even luxuries.

Consumerism also fits your definition of religion providing ethical explanation in that your fat, white bald guy knows stealing is bad because it hurts “the economy”. Murder is bad for the same reason. etc.

Intomorrow, I am not a post-theist, nor so progressive that I don’t believe in the reality of Jesus of Nazareth, heaven or the resurrection. I certainly believe that there was a Jesus of Nazareth and that he was crucified. Simple lack of evidence does not prove that he didn’t exist however much someone might like to suggest it does.

Something occurred to create the Christian sect. That something was the resurrection. We only have stories of people’s experience overlaid with what that experience meant to them, so we can’t unpack the “historical truth” of the resurrection to say that “This is what happened on that day.” That doesn’t mean that something significant didn’t happen that continues to have meaning today. It has particular meaning in the context of the consumerist empire in which we now live.

As for heaven, it was never a big part of Jesus’ teaching. He talked about the Kingdom of God, and Matthew changed it to Kingdom of Heaven since writing the word God was seen as disrespectful. It is not heaven as we generally picture it today, but rather a concept of inclusiveness and justice. Later thinkers expanded heaven to be a place of rest for the righteous dead. Mythology built up around it, particularly due to Revelations. Heaven gained in importance as Christianity was taken over by empire. It was a useful tool to placate the poor masses by saying they would get theirs when they died as long as they were good, obedient people in life.

Since I am much more concerned with our activity in this world, heaven is not a big issue for me. I know that relationship continues after death, but other than that, I don’t care.





When you write, “...consumerism to my mind has nothing to do with religion at all…”, it depends where, loclynn—not merely what and how.
In America at the very least consumerism has something to do with religion. A Pat Robertson (or a secular celebrity for that matter) is a product one buys into; similar to the computerized film rentals you now see in many venues. If one watches Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, one is renting an hour or so of his religious product.





@Alex

I concede that consumerism could become a religion, in certain, extreme cases. So, yes, you might be right. But I still do not think that it is a macroscopic social problem. Maybe there are indeed people who base their moral judgment solely on economical, Keynesian utilitarianism - and therefore, they are indeed religiously devoted to consumerism. However I think that they represent a small minority of all consumers. Only shallow, professional economists might pervert their moral judgment to that point. Most people consume what they can, possibly in excess, but - in the meantime - they keep on living their lives within a normal ethical framework, almost never incompatible with traditional religious horizons.





No, Andre’, everywhere you look what we call consumerism, and the Bible might have deemed ‘idolatry’, exists. Alex doesn’t know how right he is on this matter of neoliberal consumerism. Reason you don’t notice it more is: many take great care to hide their ‘idolatry’; their liking (sometimes worship) of fancy cars and so forth- all sorts of things.





Thanks +Intomorrow, I see what you mean.. That is true in one sense. I guess we might have to pin down what one means by religion….To me religion is in the strictest sense habit, whereas in my mind spirituality is seeking to know the as yet unknown. It seems to me that if we pick a brand, such as +Pastor Alex has then we become emerged in a debate over dogma. As I had said I don’t think ethics or morality is really at the heart of religious habit, but that it is rather sociology.
And in this way modern sociology dose seem patterned on consuming, keeping up with the Jones’s is a type of commercial sermon.





Main point coming to mind: religious habit can be judged—and if judged is too strong a word, then substitute handled.. as in getting a handle on religious habit—by its own lights; merely for starters the Christian scripture quotes Jesus as saying how hard it is for a rich man to go to Heaven, as difficult as it would be for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle—which is an unambiguous refutation of Prosperity Christianity,
Prosperity Christianity being the notion Christians ought to become wealthy.
Eventually, if Christians revise the Bible to an cetain degree then the original purpose of Christianity is obscured or even obliterated altogether; in such an eventuality, one might better call oneself a unitarian (e.g. small case ‘u’) or an ecumenicist, for example.





You are quite right Intomorrow that some forms of Christianity are not supportable by scripture. The prosperity gospel is a good example. Jesus’ overall attitude toward wealth was that it got in the way of the proper relationship with God. You do need to follow up the scripture you quote with the next couple of verse noting that with God all things are possible, including presumably a rich Christian.

It isn’t that Christians revise the Bible, but we revise the way that we interpret the Bible. Everybody brings to scripture, as to any experience in their lives, their own unique context. That context will determine much of what a person sees in scripture. As I have argue previously, scripture acts like a spiritual and ethical mirror to help us see who and what we have become and aid us in consideration of where we are going to go next. It is NOT a holy rule book, a code book, or a science text. In a very real sense it is comparable to the Rorschach Blot Test with the difference that we score ourselves.





“You do need to follow up the scripture you quote with the next couple of verse noting that with God all things are possible, including presumably a rich Christian.”


That’s where “Your Religion Is A Joke” kicks in,
if all things are merely possible with God but not probable, it isn’t such a good deal.
The rest of what you write above is correct, scripture is in fact comparable to the Rorschach Blot Test.. the people who wrote the Bible were no fools, yet the overwhelming majority of Christians I meet are as Hank P. described them: imbeciles—Hank is no fool himself (Ninety five percent of the people I meet in the Midwest are dopes, five percent are wizards. Alex, cynicism which has basis in fact is not cynicism, it is skepticism, and I’m so tired of being with dopes—the five percent of wizards are not enough to go around—that now I tell dopes to politely go away.
Depending on the dope in question, better to be honest with them than to be rather falsely diplomatic). My hunch is ‘bots are the best to associate with, ‘bots and the five percenters.

 





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