Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Problem With Modern Religion

“For of the fast stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: ‘Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart’” – Max Weber


Why keep talking about religion? Well, I think it has something to offer. There is something to be said about a regular collective gatherings which encourage states of intoxication. That’s right, states of group intoxication – and I’m not talking about the bar! This doesn't sound like the religion you know? Well that’s because modern religion has been sterilized, sanitized, and stripped away all the fun stuff – the bliss.

Max Weber’s quote appears in his book Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1908). It was written in response to a dramatic rise of modern ‘work ethic’. Basically, this ‘ethic’ consists of working as hard as you can to please God; but there’s a catch (there’s alllways a catch with God): you can’t enjoy any of the profit you earn from your work; it must be strictly invested and never used for pleasure. This is the modern ‘ascetic ideal’ – the same ideal Nietzsche hated. This ideal boils down to one thing: being completely rational and disciplined all the time wile avoiding any kind of pleasures.

So what’s wrong with being rational? Well, this is not you’re ordinary type of ‘rational’, this is extreme rationality where every action must be reflected upon for its instrumental utility. In pushing ones self so far in this direction one grossly neglects some of the most important things: passion, sensation, and emotion.

Now I’m not trying to get all ‘new agey’ here. I really think we need to start paying more attention to these other parts of the human experience. The protestant ethic did not disappear; it is alive and well in almost all religious and corporate institutions. The difference is that we no longer place God at the top (Nietzsche was right when he said God is dead). Money is our new object of worship.

So now what. How can we bring back passion to institutions that have been hollowed out? How can we bring meaning back to a sterilized zombie religion and a psychopathic corporate world? We don’t need a new God to save us; we need passion. We can learn a thing or two from the pre-modern world. We once thought of them an unhappy ‘primitive’ world which needed happy civilizing. I’m starting to wonder if we had it backwards.

Here are some clips to consider. Enjoy!

Human Planet:

Gross National Happiness:


  1. Thank you for the post and for highlighting this topic. You cannot bring back passion to institutions that have been hollowed out just like you cannot revive a dead body. Once the spirit has left it, the body is useless. Spirit must find a new body.

  2. Thank you for you comment. I really like your metaphor.