Religion is the Most Powerful Social Technology
30 March 2014 (updated 28 August 2020)
Religion is a social technology – the most powerful social technology. Like all powerful technologies, it can be used for good and evil. And it clearly has been used for both historically.
Focusing on the evil uses, as the antireligious do, demonstrates an unfamiliarity with the religious phenomenon, and its manifestations presently and historically. And it propagates sociopathic attitudes and behaviors toward religious persons. To the extent that such attitudes and behaviors themselves attain strenuous levels, now or in the future, they constitute their own religion and demonstrate yet again, in a most ironic way, the power of religion for evil.
Alternatively, we can catch ourselves before engaging in such thought and behavior. We can study history more thoroughly, recognize both the risks and opportunities associated with religion, and proceed with mitigating the risks while promoting the opportunities of its power.
Religion is not a particular proposition or set of propositions. Religion is any practice that provokes a communal strenuous mood. The practice may be overt ritual like reading and sharing scripture, prayer, meditation, esoteric ceremonies, wearing long robes when receiving degrees, and placing hands over hearts while national symbols are displayed. Or the practice may be subtle like sitting around a table for meals, and deferring activity sequence to a respected guest. To the extent these practices provoke more than an easy-going mood, a strenuous mood, they become religion, independent of any particular set of propositions associated with them.
There’s no reason why we must be dogmatic or superstitious to be religious. There’s no reason why we must maintain anti-scientific or irrational positions to be religious. Are some or even many religious persons dogmatic, superstitious, anti-scientific, and irrational? Yes. Too bad. We should help them change, not by ridiculing or shaming them, but with compassion. They might also have some things to teach us or otherwise help us with, after all.
Among the secular, the view I’m sharing here is not popular – or is even ridiculous. I recognize that, but I also suggest that’s changing. It appears to me that the experts are moving on from the secularization hypothesis to the post-secularization hypothesis, and popularity is lagging as usual.