Can the Western civilisation survive without religion?
Introduction: The People of the Book
Last Summer, while living in Florence (Italy) I had the immense privilege to meet Pippo Zeffirelli. His father, Franco Zeffirelli, was one of the most magnificent Italian film directors and theatre costume designers the world has ever seen. One (very) hot day, while visiting the Zeffirelli Institute, I was gifted by Pippo an autobiography written by his father in the late 1980s. I finished the book in a few days: it was an enjoyable and easy read, full of detail about the difficult but exciting life that Franco Zeffirelli lived.
Despite his creative nature and tumultuous childhood, the maestro was a deeply religious person. Born and raised a Catholic, Zeffirelli cherished this Christian tradition which served as a source of inspiration for some of his worldwide successes that include Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna (a movie about the life of Saint Francisc, the founder of the Franciscan order) and Jesus of Nazareth (a film about the birth, death and resurrection of Christ).
Zeffirelli’s connection with the religious world – with that ghostly and sacred realm of the soul – was strong enough to have real world implications for him. In the chapter entitled “One Star”, Zeffirelli details the story behind Jesus of Nazareth which is one of impressive collaboration between a Catholic director (Franco Zeffirelli), a Jewish producer (Lew Grade) and Muslim communities, especially in Tunisia where the crucifixion was filmed, who came together in order to create something for the God of Abraham.
Such stories of respect and cooperation to get done a work that glorifies God are rare nowadays – or so it seems. But this is not because the three Abrahamic religions are so incompatible that Christians, Jews and Muslims are at each other’s throats. In fact, as Dr. Jordan Peterson pointed out in a discussion with Orthodox Muslim scholar Mohammed Hijab, these three religions are all “Western” in the sense that they are all People of the Book – what a wonderful realisation: we are all brothers after all.
The core reason for the disappearance of religion-related episodes from our cultural discourse is one that has to do with the disappearance of spirituality and therefore, of mystery from our lives. This development can be seen in various polls, many suggesting that people, especially the young, do not need God or religion.
Part I: The Fading Light
As Father Tryphon, an Orthodox priest located in the United States, observed in late 2021, “it seems that when polls are taking around the country, as to what religious affiliation people have, that for the first time in our nation’s history the common thread is ‘none’, ‘no religion’. […] This is extremely the opposite of what it was like say when I was in high school.” That was about four decades ago.
The numbers back Father Tryphon’s statement. In 2017, the Public Religion Research Institute found that a persistent, multi-decade trend has been the increase in the population with no religious affiliation: from less than 10% in 1976 to close to 25% in 2016. Most of those who say that they do not have any religious affiliation are young people aged between 18 and 29. In fact, the religious affiliation increases with age.
In the United Kingdom, similar trends have been observed by multiple polls and publications. In 2019, The Guardian reported “UK secularism on rise as more than half say they have no religion”. The British newspaper explained the findings of a 2018 survey of British Social Attitudes which found that only 1% of people aged between 18 – 24 identify as Church of England.
Meanwhile, 52% of the public stated that they do not belong to any religion (compared to 31% in 1983 when the survey began tracking religious believes). Also, the number of people identifying as Christians fell from 66% to 38% while the amount of individuals who said that they are “very of extremely non-religious” more than doubled from 14% in early 1980s to 33% in 2018. The article also remarked the following statistics, the essence of which we will discuss in more detail further below: “As religious adherence declines, trust in scientific institutions is increasing, says the report. University scientists have a higher trust rating (82%) than corporate scientists (67%).”
The Guardian article echoed earlier findings by a YouGov survey in 2012 which concluded that “when considering the part that religion plays in Britain, the majority think religion is in terminal decline”. This trend can be seen across the world, especially in developed nations.
Curiously, in a 2015 report entitled “The decline of religion in the West”, the BBC noted that although religion seems to fade in Western countries (rich nations with stable legal system many, if not all, of which were built on morality derived from religious teachings), in parts of the world like China (a place of oppression of religious believes as the Chinese Communist Party does not like its authority to be threatened by faith in God) the number of Christians increased to 67 million in 2010 up from around 1 million in 1949, the year when the communist rule was established.
Perhaps hardship and the threat of persecution for one’s own believes makes individuals even more determined to hang on to their faith? This certainly appeared to be the case across the ex-USSR Eastern European block where many people in countries like Romania and Poland maintained their Christian faith despite the risk of severe oppression that included anything from indefinite incarceration to death and torture.
There have been a number of theories provide by social scientists of why the role of religion has been declining. Three of the most notable theorists were Weber, Durkheim and Marx, each presenting their own views on the matter.
For Weber it was primarily about the rise of scientific knowledge and about the application of rational standards. Although he also highlighted that bureaucracy might also detract from the appeal of religion. In my view, this is related to the role of the State which replaced God during the twentieth century. More on this below. Meanwhile, Durkheim pointed out that although religion binds society together, this bond can only hold if the community is small – as urbanisation and progress gathered pace, the fundamental link that religion helped create in communities was broken. In other words, globalisation is not beneficial for religious life. Finally, Marx argued that religion was an oppressive force and would die out as socialism triumphs. We are all familiar with what this has meant.
As David G. Robertson pointed out, all these theories are “revolutionary or progressive” and can be traced back to the same development which cannot be revealed by data but by an analysis of history, philosophy and theology. Indeed, although surveys offer data on a few decades, the shift away from religion has been in motion for centuries.
Part II: The Mistakes of Man
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe and America, a profound intellectual and philosophical movement known as the Enlightenment was ushering in the Age of Reason.
Building upon the scientific revolution carried out by the discoveries and studies of individuals like Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Boyle and Newton and which unfolded across Europe through the 16th and 17th centuries, the collective works of the thinkers of the Enlightenment emphasised “the exercise of critical reason as opposed to religious dogmatism or unthinking faith. It [the Enlightenment] developed along with the rise of scientific thinking independent of religious thought and stressed the importance of nature and the natural order as a source of knowledge”.
However, this process of rational, scientific and technical thinking has had some disastrous consequences for humanity as it narrowed down more and more aspects of our nature to these mechanical cognitive processes. As Roger Kimball in The Fortunes of Permanence pointed out the tendency to believe that “all human problems have a technical solution is an unfortunate inheritance from the Enlightenment”. Kimball then quotes Polish philosopher, Leszek Kalakowski, who also observed this to be the case despite “the best aspects of the Enlightenment: from its struggle against intolerance, self-complacency, superstitions, and uncritical worship of tradition”.
The misstep described above with regards to how we approach nature – be it that of our own selves or that of the material world around us – comes from our tendency to tear down too much when we attempt to reform. As such, the Enlightenment was not just a process of removing the bad habits recognised by Kalakowski. It went further and became a metaphysical revolution which aimed to remove the place of God and religion in the affairs of men and placing reason as the source from which to draw tools to explain the nature of man, the ways of society and the manners in which the universe worked. This metaphysical dethronement was profoundly captured by Friedrich Nietzsche in “The Parable of the Madman”, published in “The Gay Science”:
“We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. […] God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”
As God and religion were removed as the primary sources from which laws and virtues were derived, man with his cognitive faculties was from now on responsible for creating justice, unity and order. However, this was a task far greater than any philosopher, scientist of artist could ever fathom.
In Man Does Not Live By Reason Alone, Kalakowski noted that “with the disappearance of the sacred, which imposed limits to perfection that could be attained by the profane, arises one of the most dangerous illusions of our civilisations – the illusion that there are no limits to the changes that human life can undergo, that society is “in principle” an endlessly flexible thing, and that to deny this flexibility and this perfectibility is to deny man’s total autonomy and thus to deny man himself.”
The attempt to remodel society in the absence of the sacred was on full display during the French Revolution – regarded by many as the first socialist revolution, with the events behind and during the revolution often being described from the perspective of class struggle.
However, as François Furet showed in his work, “Interpreting the French Revolution” released in 1981, a far more powerful force behind the revolution was the intellectual constructions of educated people, like the Swiss Jean-Jacques Rousseau, coupled with power dynamics among the high levels of the French society which were hostile to the monarchy and were eventually embodied by the lawyer and statesman Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre who would later become the face of a terrorising regime.
Indeed, behind the emotionally charged slogan, “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”, terror and blood was the way in which man, in the absence of God, that is in a new secular world, would begin to deliver justice. As Edmund Burke noted in Reflections on the French Revolution, part of the process to “liberate” the French people was to destroy the clergy. The church was a primary target of the revolutionists.
Such a profound moment was the French Revolution of 1789 that Albert Camus, in his study, The Rebel, in the chapter entitled “The Regicides” wrote:
“Seventeen eighty-nine is the starting-point of modern times, because the men of that period whished, among other things, to overthrow the principle of divine right and to introduce to the historical scene the forces of negation and rebellion which had become the essence of intellectual discussion in the previous centuries.
“[…] the condemnation of the king is the crux of our contemporary history. It symbolizes the secularization of our history and the dematerialization of the Christian God. Up to now God played a part in history through the medium of the kings. But His representative in history has been killed, for there is no longer a king. Therefore there is nothing but a semblance of God, relegated to the heaven of principles.”
The ideas of the Enlightenment, as well as the aftermath of the French Revolution, produced a widening gap in the soul of the European man and woman: a widening spiritual abyss as the role of religion has continued to diminish. This process is known as secularisation.
Politically, secularisation means the separation of state and church. However, as the title of the article written by Tamás Nyirkos, associate professor at Pázmány Péter Catholic University, for the Hungarian Conservative in November 2021 suggests, The Myth of the Secular State, this separation is only on paper because “a state devoid of any religious foundations, as presumed by the narrative of separation” is a fantasy of the modern era:
“A ‘secular state’, if we mean by this a state with a neutral worldview, based on purely rational foundations, has never existed, has never wanted to exist, and—to risk a forecast—will never come into existence. If one wants to fight, one will not have to fight against an ‘irreligious’ or ‘secular’ state, but—as Tocqueville pointed out—against a new religion […].”
Culturally however, secularisation represents a “transition in which religious values are gradually replaced with nonreligious values. In the process, religious figureheads such as church leaders lose their authority and influence over society.”
The fact that religion does not play an important role in Western societies can be seen through various aspects. For example, The Spectator reported in December 2021 that in the United Kingdom “more than 2,000 church closures over the past decade — a period in which weekly church attendance decreased by a fifth”. Additionally, the article, which is one of those rare stories of unity between people of Abrahamic faiths, went on to point that some of these churches are converted into mosques. However, this is not a bad thing because “Muslims would rather churches resound with Christian worship (praised for its sincerity in the Quran) than see so many in the pitiful state that secular trends have left them, with developers eyeing them up for profitable ends. Churches are being turned into luxury flats, nightclubs and — in one case I’ve seen — a Tesco Express. That’s if they’re not erased altogether, as many were during the 1960s when town planners demolished countless 19th-century churches, replacing them with car parks and shopping centres.”
However, despite the growth of nonreligious affiliations in the West, religion cannot die out. The religious impulse is part of human nature. As long as we exist, we shall need religion. Kalakowski observed this fact very clearly when he wrote: “mankind can never get rid of the need for religious self-identification: who am I, where did I come from, where do I fit in, why am I responsible, what does my life mean, how will I face death? Religion is a paramount aspect of human culture. Religious need cannot be ex-communicated from culture by rationalist incantation. Man does not live by reason alone.”
The fact that man cannot live by reason alone can be seen in the history of the twentieth century when socialism was adopted as a manmade religion across Europe and other parts off the world and in our day when the worship of nature and science are trying to fulfil the religious need.
Part III: The Religions of Today?
The decline of religion and the rise of secularism was highly praised by the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism – Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Sam Harris (The End of Faith), Daniel Dennett (Consciousness Explained) and Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great). However, contrary to their enthusiasm for a less religious world, the spiritual gap left by the death of God is not necessarily a positive thing.
Romanian thinker Petre Tutea stated in one of his final interviews: “Without God, without faith, man becomes a rational animal that comes from nowhere and goes nowhere.” This seemingly complex phrase is actually quite simple: without the divine hierarchy that places God above the world of man, including the state, human affairs become confused, nihilistic and, ultimately, self-destructive as the absence of objective truth and order collapses into subjectivism that leads to a perpetual chaos from which the human being cannot get out.
One can find the same essence of Tutea’s words, although in a more agnostic fashion, in the words of F. Dostoyevsky, through the words of Ivan Karamazov: “[…] what’s amazing is not that God actually exist; what’s amazing is that such an idea – the idea of the necessity of God – could enter the head of such a savage and evil creature as man, an idea so holy, so moving, so wise, and which does so much honour to man.”
Because the religious impulse cannot die out, as observed by Lezsek Kalakowski, Nishida Kitarô, Mircea Eliade and by many other scholars and philosophers, alternative bodies of ideas (ideologies) have been attempting to replace God and faith. Some of these alternatives have been utterly disastrous while others have failed to deal with the core issues that have resulted in the aftermath of the death of God, such as the dissolvement of moral order and the disappearance of the mystery. Below is a discussion on a few mainstream examples.
Although socialism is often thought of as an economic system or a political way of looking at society, at its core, socialism is a theological construction which is secular in nature. It promises a manmade heaven on earth, a utopia, but whenever it was put in practice, socialism resulted in hell. As psychologist Carl Jung wrote in The Undiscovered Self: “The State takes the place of God […] the socialist dictatorships are religions and the State slavery is a form of worship”.
There are several reasons for why socialism results in what Jung described above and one of them is that in the absence of the morality that comes from God, man makes himself the rules of power and justice which inevitably lead to peril.
Although viewing socialism as a manmade religion would seem odd at first, especially given that many of its most radical advocates have been self-declared atheists with a passionate hatred for anything religious, the true nature of this utopia has been pointed out countless times by people who have lived through it. Quoting Kalakowski once more:
“Marxism is a doctrine of blind confidence that a paradise of universal satisfaction is awaiting us just around the corner. Almost all the prophecies of Marx and his followers have already proved to be false, but this does not disturb the spiritual certainty of the faithful, any more than it did in the case of chiliastic sects…In this sense Marxism performs the function of a religion, and its efficacy is of a religious character. But it is a bogus form of religion, since it presents its temporal eschatology as a scientific system which religious mythologies do not purport to be.”
Although Marxism and socialism are not the same (Marxism is a set of ideological tools that, when applied by the faithful, hopefully lead to socialism, which is the state of utopia), when put into practice, the theoretical differences die out and one can read the above paragraph with “socialism” instead of “Marxism” and reach the same conclusion.
Once the ideas of socialism were pursued, or, to state it differently, once the notion of a manmade Paradise was followed with action, it created hell on earth. In 2017, Harvard student Laura M. Nicolae, a Romanian who knows all too well where socialism leads to, wrote in The Harvard Crimson an article called “100 Years. 100 Million lives. Think Twice”. The article was written to draw attention towards the conflict between the attractiveness of socialism’s pledges and the dire reality that ensues once these promises are pursued.
The reason for this discrepancy between what men promise and what they deliver in terms of a perfect world is that utopias are incompatible with human nature. Perhaps not coincidentally the word “utopia” comes from Greek and means “nowhere”. There is a reason that, at least in the religions of Abraham, it is stated that the kingdom of God is not of this world: it is necessary for the sake of human nature that Divinity transcends the world of man.
However, socialism and its unveiling totalitarian nature once put into motion is not the only godless religion that has been trying to fill the spiritual abyss described above. The worship of nature, humanism (which advocates for secular morality, among other things) and longetermism are all theologically inclined philosophies that people have been embracing to different extents in order to fulfil the religious impulse.
The Worship of Nature
As modern philosopher Chantal Delsol highlighted in The End of Christianity, “at the start of the twenty-first century, the most established and most promising philosophical current is a form of cosmotheism linked to the defence of nature.” That is, the most “promising philosophical current” to replace Christianity as the West’s religious basis.
Cosmotheism is, according to Collins Dictionary, another term for pantheism. In turn, pantheism, according to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at its most basic is “the view that God is identical with the cosmos, the view that there exists nothing which is outside of God, or else negatively as the rejection of any view that considers God as distinct from the universe”.
To my mind, Delsol is certainly onto something: what we are witnessing with the discourse around the environment goes beyond the conservationism of, say, John Muir.
“Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.” Such wrote Michael Crichton in 2003.
Conservationism, although related, is different than environmentalism – the latter seems to involve eschatological predictions which often go along the lines of “if we do not collectively perform this action then the Earth will die out”. Until now however, all the different alarms rang about the inevitable end within a set time frame proved false.
Cosmotheism centres around the idea that Nature – Cosmos – is the birthplace of all things and is all things (i.e. Cosmos is God as a sum of energies, if you wish), and Nature is being talked to and, importantly, expected to reply back through various signs or symbols like rain or good crop yield. As such, pantheism takes away the idea of transcendence: the kingdom of God is no longer out of this world.
However, as Tutea puts it, “Nature is mute”. Therefore, the question remains whether pantheism can successfully deal with the core issues that metastasised with the death of God: the disappearance of the moral order and the eradication of the mystery (which, as Tutea wrote in Intre Dumnezeu si Neamul Meu (Between God and My People), is supranatural in essence and thus transcends nature and, because of this, mysteries can provide the cure for that type of evil for which education and science have no remedy, as William James suggested in The Varieties of Religious Experience).
In fact, one of the oldest and strongest objections to pantheism is how it deals with the variety of positive and negative values within humanity. This has been summarised by Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy likewise: “[…] if God includes everything and God is perfect or good, then everything which exists ought to be perfect or good; a conclusion which seems wholly counter to our common experience that much in the world is very far from being so. […] if we wish to hold on to the difference between what is good and what is bad, would seem to be equally unattractive claim that a universe containing both values, in itself possesses neither; the pantheistic deity in its own being lies beyond good and evil.”
This issue risks returning man to a secular religion, like socialism or humanism. Unless we acknowledge the transcendental element of God’s kingdom (i.e. that it exists outside of this world), then we are left with what the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued in Beyond Good and Evil: in the wake of God’s death and thus following the decay of objective morality, man should go beyond these spiritual ruins and construct a new religion based on the “will to power” – but this “will to power” is again putting man on the throne of God and in charge or morality, similarly to what happened during the French Revolution and in many socialist dictatorships.
The body of work of the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism, all highly respectable thinkers, is vast and diverse, as each of them has a main field of expertise (Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist, Harris is a neuroscientist, Dennett is a philosopher of the mind and Hitchens was a journalist). However, pertinent to our discussion here are two points made by these Four Horsemen, which seem to be natural conclusions that one can draw from the philosophical movements discussed above.
Firstly, that religion has done more harm than good to human progress, almost always defined materialistically (i.e. from the perspective of living standards and of scientific developments) and secondly, that morality can be decoupled from religion and reason coupled with other principles of the humanist school of thought can provide the necessary moral basis for civilisation.
The two points are secular in nature and interconnected, resting on the belief that scientific enquiry and rational judgment can result in philosophical and technological tools that liberate man from the authority of religious institutions and even from the religious impulse. This mix of believes is in part rooted in the humanist school of thought.
Nobody can dispute that man in the name of God has waged wars and caused atrocities and devastation. But the actions of man must never be confused with the word and will of God nor ought to be blurred the lines between religion (which deals with the soul) and personal interests (which often focus solely on material and intellectual gains rather than spiritual enlightenment). Therefore, as it is not the place here to refute in detail the claim that religion should be eliminated because of the so-called “holy” wars, what we shall state is this: do not blame God for the folly and hatred of man. Man killed man and so man must be held accountable. Now, let’s return to humanism as an alternative to religious life.
Humanism aims to provide an alternative to religious-based morality that is universally applicable. “One of the motivations that humanist organizations have had in providing the existing statements of humanist values has presumably been a hope or an intention that such statements could be universally accepted,” read a paper published in the Australian Humanist in 2003. We are told that this aim is noble because it offers another option to religion which “does not serve the best interests of humanity” when it comes to morality.
But what is humanism? The genealogy of the word reveals that “humanism” has meant different, yet related, things throughout the centuries. Thankfully however, Humanists UK, an organisation founded in 1896 to further the idea of humanism, has distilled the complexity of what this notion means.
At the core, a humanist means someone who “trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is therefore an atheist or agnostic), makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals [and] believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same.”
There are other definitions, including “rejection of religion in favour of the advancement of humanity by its own efforts” (Collins Concise Dictionary), or “a non-religious philosophy, based on liberal human values” (Little Oxford Dictionary). However, the fullest definition can be found in the 2002 Amsterdam Declaration of Humanists International, but it is too long to have it here – the ones already provided capture its essence quite alright.
Even if humanism rejects the existence of God, the moral tenets of humanism overlap in some respects with those of Abrahamic religions. However, as a secular movement, humanism falls short on multiple fronts that religion fulfils. One of them is dealing with the inexplicable, i.e. with mysteries. Humanists claim that the applications of reason, in time, shall reveal the entire universe and its workings.
Reason therefore is king – it is the source of moral judgments and of progress. In theory, this can be true. But it is an aberration when put into practice.
Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals proposed the idea that the moral imperative based on reason alone is the Categorical Imperative which works like this: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”. The Categorical Imperative is universal and unconditional, according to Kant (similar to the view of religious morality – universal and unconditional, as it is given by Divine word).
However, the Categorical Imperative is an unattainable standard of action, as Kant himself demonstrated in the Critique of Pure Reason that reason fails to offer knowledge of a “transcendental” world, that is, a world beyond that revealed by the senses. In other words, reason itself is in practice limited by the senses and therefore the morality based on reason alone is limited by the senses. As such, we arrive at a moral subjectivism which resulted from the dethronement of God.
To quote from Dostoyevsky’s Karamazov Brothers:
“[…] have they not distorted the image of God and his truth? They have science, but a science wholly subservient to the senses”.
Here therefore lies the biggest and, if you wish, highest hurdle of humanism: the limits of reason, which border at the metaphysics of man. It simply does not solve the problem of morality but puts all its hope in the hands of man, a fate which, if history tends to echo with lessons, is bound to be tragic. Consequently, to my mind, the problems found in the spiritual abyss that has dominated Western civilisation for over two centuries remain unremedied by humanism.
There is also the issue of how humanism handles mystery and miracle. As F. Dostoyevsky so acutely observed, although “mankind as a whole has always striven towards universal organization above all”, man is ruled by three forces – “these forces are miracle, mystery, and authority”. The latter – authority – cannot hold its justifiable position in the absence of the former two forces. Such rebellion eventually turns to blasphemy and, as Dostoyevsky once more pointed out, “human nature cannot endure blasphemy and in the end always avenges it”.
Therefore, the humanist dream of a godless religion based on reason and science as the sources of morality and order is, to my mind, just that: a dream.
This is a relatively new school of thought, but it is based on many of the currents discussed previously in this essay. At its core, longtermism advocates that “[…] people – you and I – are nothing more than means to an end. We don’t matter in ourselves; we have no inherent value of our own. Instead, people are understood as the ‘containers’ of value, and hence we matter only insofar as we ‘contain’ value, and therefore contribute to the overall net amount of value in the Universe between the Big Bang and the heat death.”
According to Phil Torres, a PhD candidate in philosophy at Leibniz Universität Hannover in Germany, longermism combines transhumanism with “space expansionism, and a moral view closely associated with what philosophers call ‘total utilitarianism’.” The central believe of this school of thought is that nothing matters more, ethically speaking, than to fulfil our potential as a species.
This secular school of thought elevates “humanity’s potential” above all else. In a sense therefore our potential transcends us (although, not reaching the world of spirit) and we should forever aspire to reach that potential regardless of the costs. Perhaps ironically, this view is backed by an obsession, if not fear, of existential extermination. Bostrom, one of the founders of longtermism, wrote that “priority number one, two, three and four should … be to reduce existential risk.”
As such, this philosophy seems to be born out of fear of death – total death – which religion alleviated with the revelation of the afterlife. Nevertheless, longtermism remains one alternative to replace God.
As I see it, the notions promoted by the longtermists are based on an impersonal application of science to conquer nature by revealing its secrets and, in doing so, by assuring the human species’ survival. It therefore has a collectivist component that completely disregards the value of the individual: the monad in which the religious impulse and the cradle of civilisation rest.
Conclusion: And the corpse of God hangs over us, still
As Delsol wrote in The End of Christianity, whether the West is moving away from its Abrahamic teachings may not be the end of the world. That might be true, but it may mean a long period of large scale tragedies as men play God.
Intellect alone is not enough. As Holocaust survivor Tova Friedman explained, education without morals is useless, even dangerous: many of the Nazis officers and of those who supported the Nazi party were intelligent people with respectable jobs like lawyers and doctors. The twentieth century, with its totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, like the national socialists, the communists and the fascists, was, probably, the peak of nihilism – the absence of God from man’s life.
Whether we like it or not, religion plays a crucial role for the development of the individual and of civilisation. As Bishop Barron pointed out in his recent speech to the Knights of Malta, a key role of religion is one of providing objective grounds for morality, opposed to the moral relativism that dominates and devastates the West today.
Despite the lessons from history, today, the trend is still away from God, as the polls suggest. Indeed, in our society, the subject of God or of religion is more tabu than pornography or any other destructive vice. If you openly admit that you believe in God or that you attend a church, there are good chances that nowadays people look at you with a mocking expression or with a gaze that says “poor fellow, he is still trapped in fantasy”. But if you make a comment about last night’s heavy drinking, the purchase of another item that you do not need or what sexual adventures one engaged in lately, chances are that you may even get an empathic pat on the shoulder. Why is it so when all the great works that man ever produced were related to God – some for God, while others against God, but nevertheless all related to God.
Although there is scepticism as to how long secularism can prevail, as Professor Sumantra Bose explained in a recent Theos podcast, and some may be eager to point at other alternatives (as Delsol does in the article quoted several times in the essay), the difference between manmade religions and the Divine will endure and, for as long as we remain with our faces turned away from the Divine, no alternative will suffice for nothing can replace God’s realm, the transcendental kingdom which is not of this world.
The Truth may have many paths leading to It, but they lead to the Truth. What man makes cannot lead to the Truth, no matter how noble our desires are. Accepting the need for and the role of religion in building, maintaining and reforming civilisation is the greatest urgency of our time.
For now however, the corpse of God still hangs over us, Westerners.