Monday, September 20, 2010

A World Without Religion?

Would the world be better off without any sort of religious or mystical practice? Many early enlightenment thinkers saw a world without religion as a rationalists utopia. At a point in my early times of agnosticism I shared this Utopian view of the ideal society. I have fraught the existential battle between rationality and mysticism for quite some time now and have come to my current thinking that religion and mysticism do have a valuable social purpose. Although religion has an extremely bloody past that has arguably caused more harm than good, the past does not need to be considered when considering its present social value. This idea of history bearing no weight on the present value of a system comes largely from the interdisciplinary thinker William James.

William James in The varieties of religious experience looked at people who described themselves as having transcendent experiences. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states the following about James's conclusions on the usefulness of religion:
James sets out a central distinction of the book in early chapters on “The Religion of Healthy-Mindedness” and “The Sick Soul.” The healthy-minded religious person — Walt Whitman is one of James's main examples — has a deep sense of “the goodness of life,” (V, 79) and a soul of “sky-blue tint” (V, 80). Healthy-mindedness can be involuntary, just natural to someone, but often comes in more willful forms. Liberal Christianity, for example, represents the triumph of a resolute devotion to healthy-mindedness over a morbid “old hell-fire theology” (V, 91).
James makes the distinction between a religion of harm and a religion of 'healthy-mindedness'. Looking at the 'healthy minded' views of Walt Whitman, one will find him to have accepted and adopted all religious texts, myths, and theories, while believing in none. He was a deist who believed the sole is imminent, transcendent (interestingly paradoxical), and immortal. His skeptical open-mindedness tended to the human spirit without belief in a specific theistic religious figure. William James asserted that all religious experience was the same at its core level. This illuminates the fact that it is not religion we should concern ourselves with, but with the core spiritual aspects that are universally shared amongst them.

I see great value in the way certain individuals view spirituality. It is too easy to cast out the idea of spirituality as a whole and dismiss it as irrational fluffy thinking; although, I agree that most religious practice (especially in highly conservative areas) it is just that. Instead, We must look closer at the positive aspects of spirituality found amongst the worlds religions. The great enlightenment value of pure rationality must be taken off the high and mighty throne to make room for other important aspects of human experience. We are thinking-beings just as much as we are feeling-beings. Cultivating rational thinkers is very important, although, this can and should be done alongside the cultivation of passion.


  1. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. -Sir Winston Churchill.

    This is why it's dangerous to declare it's okay to ignore the history (and present) of religious behavior, why I disapprove of ignoring the irrational fluffy side of religion. It ignores the consequence of following the irrational fluffy thinking to its logical stupidity, like invading nations of competing irrational fluffy thinking or flying planes into towers.

    We do not need religion or "spirituality" in order to appreciate our emotional nature. There's no mysticism required in embracing your feelings as well as your rationality. The danger comes in focusing on emotion to dictate your behavior rather than allowing it to advise us. This is what religion does: it focuses on emotional triggers to provoke behavior, and that alone makes it dangerous.

  2. Of course we should learn from history in order not to repeat its mistakes. Making a value judgment of the present in the present is far from saying the past is not significantly useful.

    Looking at the present value one will generally find very different forms of religion; one type of religion that inflicts harm and ignorance, and another that does not take the belief/ faith aspect nearly as seriously. This is the split James mentions in the above excerpt.

    As well, I believe religion is not necessary to appreciate our emotional nature, but a means by which some may choose to practice their spirituality. Spirituality not even necessary for us to appreciate our emotional nature, but again, it is an option for those who choose.

    I agree that emotion should not dictate our behavior since it completely takes out any hope for rationality. I am not advocating for the necessity of spirituality or religion, but advocating that we look deeper than the average 'militant atheist' when considering these subjects.

  3. How would one go about getting rid of religion, mysticism or spirituality? This will never happen. It's impossible. It cannot be banned. Some people will always search for something non-physical, to find meaning for certain experiences.

    We are ultimately talking about something that is deeply personal for a lot of people, and creating a society that "frowns upon" spiritual or religious views won't stop mystical experiences taking place in a personal level.

  4. I agree. The idea is absurd. Our task must not be to obliterate religion, but convince a myth infatuated world that love and curiosity are sufficient.

  5. Change your blog name... lol

  6. Most of killings were done in the name of religion, I think yes, it will be a peaceful world without religion

  7. The issue I take with religion is the monopoly it seems to have on concepts like "enlightenment" totally straightforward non-mystical concepts that religion has claimed and critically thinking has abandoned due to the enormous veil of mysticism that engulfs it