The suggestion that the human race is lost and absolutely hapless when it comes to understanding their place in the world has been expressed many times. In the mid 1600’s the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza wrote that people find themselves with needs and desires without understanding the reasons why they want and act as they do. Lacking this knowledge about themselves and their place in the world creates the illusion that they can do as they please, and which is a source of much grief in the world when they act against their own interest because they simply don’t know any better.
And when it comes to that, I’m sure we will all agree that more than a little guidance is required to prevent the human race from finding new ways to harm itself. As even primitive ape colonies appear to have hierarchies and moral codes to govern their members interaction, it was likely in the interest of self-preservation that our ancestors came up with the idea to legitimize their tribal laws and institutions by invoking authorization from a higher source, e.g., a deity of sorts. This could be (at one time) the sun-god Ra, the King of all Gods and mortals, or further varieties on that theme, unseen yet almighty entities with a supposed interest to keep us on the straight and narrow, and that we better do as we’re told, or else there would be hell to pay! And heaven would be our reward …
Enter religion – and until the eventual uncoupling of Church and State – the self-proclaimed owners of whatever moral framework was seen as being necessary for a society to function with some degree of success towards a tenable future. I know I have simplified this premise greatly, but it merely introduces the idea that religion is about placing the seat of moral authority off-planet and hence beyond the ability to scrutinize it, question it or challenge it.
Of course, the problem was that not everyone one had the same idea about this, and so religious conflict was born. While this notion of all-powerful metaphysical beings helped to stabilize our species at the individual tribal level for certain periods of time, it also appears to have been one of the main reasons for people to slaughter each other in order to establish the primacy of their particular brand of religious beliefs.
Regarding the latter, it is the nature of religious beliefs to be unsubstantiated, and examining them is like peeling an onion: after stripping layer after layer there is absolutely nothing at their core. Although some folks simply claim that they “know” that such beliefs are absolutely true – e.g., that a God exists – we can do little but take their word for it as they are unable to clarify what they mean by this assumption. This is at the core of every religious edifice – rationality has no place here – and as Nietzsche put it once “Faith means not wanting to know the truth”.
Without a doubt religion has confused a lot of people into various stages of existential despair, the inevitable outcome of trying to believe in something that is entirely without substance regardless of what spiritual or ontological argument one wishes to root for it. The attempt to make the leap of faith required in order to embrace some variety of eschatological mythology at the core of existence leaves one stranded at the dark abyss of irrationally because all reason must be abandoned beforehand.
Religion has no future, only a deadly present and a deadly past – it is the poisonous worm that, in the abandonment of reason, burrows itself deeply into the minds of those who find comfort in the kinds of beliefs that appear to let them off the hook for having to take any kind of responsibility for the moral character of our species, as this will have been decided “elsewhere”. This reminds me of a line from a poem by Nietzsche’s favourite poet Holderlin which, loosely translated from German, goes something like this: “While here on earth we mortals toil, elsewhere a God decides …”
Truly, in today’s language, God is vaporware, and at most an unsubstantiated rumour. But while the belief in imaginary entities might be deemed a juvenile condition by any other name, collectively our species should have grown out of this by now, and in the process have prepared the intellect to be immune from similar afflictions. This as we attempt to extract ourselves from the quagmire of religious superstition into a more enlightened future free from the self-denial featured by such beliefs. Hopefully we will then want to embrace the idea that we are accountable for our all our actions to ourselves only, and not to some entirely imaginary third party.