Perhaps there is nothing more controversial than religion. Deeply embedded in every culture on Earth with its multiplicity of cosmologies and texts, religion has been a point of contention through the ages. In our supposed modern, enlightened societies, nothing has really changed.

I hope I live to see a THEE inquiry into this, to see the seven-legged beast that is religion. (You know, because all THEE hierarchies have seven levels.) There are bits and pieces on the website now. For example, we know that organized religion sits at the very top of a hierarchy called Society’s Natural Moral Institutions right above Governance systems. These moral institutions are packed within the sixth level (which always seems to be particularly significant) of the seven Approaches to Identity, which is nested in the fourth level of the Root Hierarchy—Experience. See the picture if you’d like.

This alone sheds quite a bit of light on religion—a moral institution directly connected to identity. While this might only be validation for many of us, THEE paints religion as something social rather than an Earthly representative of a deity or deities.

The Pros

Nominally, religion serves some important personal and social functions. The pious see religion as their pathway to closeness with God, a tool for spirituality, and it certainly can be a useful tool. However, spirituality is possible without religion and religion is possible without spirituality.

Religion can be useful as a connection with others and history through ritual and tradition. It serves to preserve important cultural practices and artifacts as well as provide an anchor for a collective identity that transcends national borders, time, language differences, race, gender and class. It’s a community thing.

Finally—as the placement of organized religion within THEE indicates—religion gives billions of people a moral framework from which to draw guidance as they go through their lives, making decisions and interacting with others.

The Cons 

Religion becomes contentious on two levels. First, it’s often more about empire building than spirituality, community or morals. Power-centered leaders use religious belief to place themselves and their adherents above others, justifying enslavement, wars, genocides and a host of other atrocities. 

Second, it comes down to an epistemological stalemate. One claims the ultimate truth of their text, their revelation, their spiritual leader. Every other religion makes the same claims. None can prove that they are right and the others are wrong, so debates and disagreements devolve into pettiness, name-calling and violence.

The Opposition 

Religion has always had its naysayers. Perhaps they were much quieter in previous epochs, but there have always been those who only see “The Cons.”

Today, we are seeing the emergence of a particularly vocal and inflammatory group rallying under the banner of “New Atheism.”

There’s nothing particularly new about their movement, except that perhaps they are exceptionally rude. Their loose organization exhibits most, if not all, of the features of a religion. They’ve got their sense of community and are in the process of forming their rituals—which as far as I can tell involves seeking out the religious to tell them how stupid they are.

They make similarly baseless and improvable assertions, such as that God most certainly does not exist, and they refer to The Origin of Species or The God Delusion as their infallible texts. Their prophets and preachers are the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Their cosmology lies in scientific speculation like the Big Bang or that lightning struck the primordial soup and life emerged or some such thing. As Terence McKenna said: “Give us one free miracle and we [science] will explain the rest!” If there isn’t currently a scientific explanation for something, well, we have faith that science will find the answer.

They answer the question of morals in various ways. Either morals are somehow innate which, interestingly, is a common argument among theologians like St. Augustine and C.S. Lewis. Or perhaps morals are a function of neurons firing. This is, of course, absurd. Electric signals between cells have nothing to do with morals. Or, perhaps they rely on social institutions to provide morals for them, such as (gasp!) organized religion? More likely, they would count on Level 6 of the Hierarchy of Society’s Natural Moral Institutions—Governance systems.

(Quick side-note on that topic—some argue that government has become a religion in some circles, offering guidance and exerting ideological control.)

Personally, I’m not religious. I tend to be quite wary of anyone claiming knowledge of any absolute truth—scientists, evangelists and atheists alike. This is not me coming to the defense of religion as a whole. But I am pointing out that:

  • 1) Religion is an unmovable social institution. It has always been here, it will always be here, and it will certainly outlast the New Atheism movement. Its very existence in THEE solidifies it as an integral part of being human. 

  • 2) Religion is not useless or inherently harmful. Rather, it is of ultimate importance for some and serves some useful social functions despite lending itself to corrupt and ambitious leaders. 

  •  3) Organizations dealing in morality, community and cosmology are religious organizations, even if they are in name, anti-religious. 

  •  4) One of the main features of the 21st Century Enlightenment is accepting, respecting and empathizing with the multitude of viewpoints in our diverse and ever-evolving societies—not dedicating entire movements to tearing them down. 
Are you on board? I’d love to hear you readers weigh-in on this.

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