Editor’s note: this post was originally published more than five years ago on a now defunct blog. It was originally published pseudonymously. I have done some editing to clean up the bits that I wanted to keep anonymous. I’ve also updated it a bit to reflect how my thinking has evolved over five years. But the vast majority of this text is untouched.
In Part 1 I detailed my falling out with Christianity as a young man. So how and why did I decide, from a position of agnosticism, that religion is important?
First and foremost, despite my disillusionment with religion, I’ve always maintained a belief in morality. Specifically, I’ve maintained two distinct beliefs about morality. First, society as a whole is far better off with some kind of code of morality than without one. We can argue about the specifics of which code of morality, but I think it’s pretty hard to argue that society is better off without morality. Indeed, I think it’s quite likely that civilization as we know it simply can’t exist without a shared moral code [Editor’s note: I believe this even more strongly now than I did then]. Second, I believe the overwhelming majority of individuals are better off following a code of morality, especially if others in society are doing the same. But they’re also better off even if nobody else is following such a code. There are some clear exceptions to this rule. Kings, rock stars, and a few others might be materially better off ignoring the rules – but even here, that’s not entirely clear. A king who pushes the boundaries too far often won’t remain king for very long.
It’s a hard point to argue that individuals are better off following a code of morality even if others around them don’t, and it’s something I’d have had a hard time explaining even just a few years ago. The benefits aren’t always immediate and obvious. But the short answer is that a clear code of morality makes it easier for others to interact with you and trust you, even if they don’t follow your code of morality. All they have to do is understand your code. If they understand it, and know you’re serious about it, it gives them a clear understanding of exactly how far and in what ways they can trust you. Being too trusting is a good way to get taken advantage of, sure. But being very trustworthy is a good way to build up social capital. Trust is a huge bit of grease that makes the mechanics of socialization go more smoothly, and we need other people (if only to serve as minions in our evil overlord schemes). Even pagan societies pushed men to be trustworthy, and they benefited from it. Our modern hedonistic culture often loses sight of this.
I’ve always had a strong sense of this, and as an adult I haven’t really felt like I needed a church to tell me about it. I also very firmly believe that you don’t need religion to have morality. But my marriage brought with it a new challenge. When the kids eventually come, how do you teach them to be moral? Sure, I can lead by example. But frankly, religion is very valuable as a teaching tool for this. I know from my own experience growing up that church, for all its flaws, helped teach me what it meant to be a good and moral person.
Religion also plays another role in society that we should all recognize by now: it tempers the worst sexual impulses of both men and women. The emphasis on faithful marriages that all religions traditionally have keeps both female hypergamy and male promiscuity in check, and that’s good for everybody – especially children. Oh, and there’s convincing research that married couples that regularly attend church together are quite a bit more likely to stay married.
Also, over the years I’ve come to believe something about human beings: we’re not the rational creatures that we pretend we are. Of particular relevance to the topic at hand, people need religion. I think it’s biological. A more devout Christian would argue that God gave us that need. An anthropologist might argue that we’ve somehow evolved it. I don’t think it much matters which is the case. We need religion. In the absence of anything else, we’ll start to Worship the Thunder God [Editor’s note: this was a reference to a comment left on the original posting of part 1]. We can’t help it. It’s part of who we are. The most striking modern version of this is the modern west’s cult of liberalism. Make no mistake, it’s every bit as much a religion as fundamentalist evangelicalism. Indeed, the two faiths are more alike than they are different.
George Lucas of all people once made a comment in an interview in Time magazine that has always stuck with me. I tried to track it down, but Time appears to have taken it offline. Paraphrased, he explained that we could think of the old cave man days as being a 1 on the religious scale. Things like pagan mythology could be considered a 3 or a 4. Modern religions could be viewed as somewhere around a 7 or an 8, and we’re pretty proud of ourselves for that. The thing most of us don’t realize is, the scale goes to a million.
For all of the man’s pompous asshattery (and there’s kind of a lot of it), I think he had a pretty valid point here. Not only is there a lot we don’t understand, but we don’t even have a good idea what it is we don’t understand. But there’s another good point buried in here as well, and it’s one that he probably didn’t even intend to make. Indeed, it’s a point that most of the modern educated elite seems to completely miss as well. It’s a simple and clear point, but it’s completely and utterly politically incorrect. If you even try to utter it the multiculturalists will jump down your throat for it. But if you study them abstractly for any length of time you’ll come to the inescapable conclusion that the dominant religions of the modern world are more advanced than other, older religions. And I don’t mean that in a tribalistic, “we’re better than you, neener neener” kind of way. I mean in some clear and distinct ways.
But that will be part 3.
The Whole Series
- My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 1
- My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 2
- My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 3
- My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 4
- My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 5
- My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 6
- My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 7