“Religion is the opium of the people.”
— Karl Marx
“I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
“Religion is like a pair of shoes…..Find one that fits for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.”
— George Carlin
“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”
— John Lennon
Thinking of a religion-free society automatically reminds me of John Lennon’s immortal “Imagine” where one stanza says: “Imagine there’s no countries / It isn’t hard to do / Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion, too.” Very idealistic indeed. Though I wouldn’t venture to opine at this initial moment that such is an impossibility. Neither David Hume would, had he been around armed with his theory of causality which distinguishes constant conjunction from necessary connection. In the realm of necessary connections–the technical field of logical analysis–impossibility is reckoned only in contradictory expressions, propositions and arguments. While in the realm of constant conjunctions–the world of human experiences–anything conceivable, i.e., imaginable, in the mental space that doesn’t violate its logical configuration is possible to be or to be made to exist in reality. Within the context of this Humean theoretical platform, it is not impossible under normal circumstances to conceive in one’s mind the being of a society where there is no religion at all.
Before proceeding further in the present discussion, let it be made clear at this point that I am using the term “religion” in its basic sociological sense as an institutional organization of faithful believers holding a set of doctrinal beliefs–virtues and values–and dogmas (or so-called “eternal principles”) as well as practising certain established rituals and observing fixed holy days (or holidays, if you will) of solemn importance, among other salient components exclusive to the organization’s systemic structure. Apparently, the meaning of religion, in this scope and limits, doesn’t include personal religion which particularly depends on the faith-experience or spiritual beliefs of an individual person which is a matter of subjective conviction. In other words, religion in the present context may not totally equate with individual spirituality. However, a deeper consideration of which could be of fundamental significance if viewed from the perspective that institutional religion basically emanates from such kind of individual subjective spirituality.
There seems to be a natural religious impulse within the mental constitution of every human being that is endowed with a consciousness capable to be aware not only of the phenomena of external realities but likewise of its own consciousness. Self-reflectiveness spontaneously draws the human individual to a realization of both her/his outer and inner strengths and limitations in a universe whose mysteries s/he seemingly can never comprehensively fathom and ultimately master even in several lifetimes. In this situation of givenness, s/he is not alone; the entire humanity is with her/him as s/he is in reality a part of that humanity. And in a myriad of pockets of humanity, like-minded individuals are drawn together and find themselves amazingly sharing similar ideals, wishes and hopes from the most microcosmic to the most macrocosmic levels of existence. From this point onward lies the trajectory that leads to consolidation where similar religious impulses that now converge as a unified form of higher spirituality evolves into a formidable institutional power called religion.
This trend has always been present since time immemorial in successive generations of practically all social formations on planet Earth. In this connection, it seems like thinking and imagining a religion-free society is by and large just a fanciful musing of idle dreamers who’d rather choose to be left alone in their schizophrenic fantasies. So that despite the robust efforts of the so-called freethinkers of modern or post-modern category to stamp out religions from the face of the Earth, the whole commitment is an exercise in futility and the more these freethinkers unite and push their agenda further as they organize into united fronts, the more it becomes obvious that they in the process are unwittingly on the way to the formation of a new kind of religion. With this in mind, what we could imagine at this point is the emergence of a religion that may not have the trappings of the old traditional ones but still an institutional organization whose members hold a set of non-negotiable beliefs and non-compromisable principles as well as practising certain ceremonies and observances of paramount importance, among other practices exclusive to the organization’s systemic structure.
Perhaps, the most realistic thing we could dare say at this juncture of humanity’s cultural evolution is the fading away of certain religious beliefs of ancient vintage that have been overwhelmingly subdued and swept away by science into the dustbin of impracticability and irrelevance. But in the light of the principle of evolution that has continually been operating in the world, religion will simply go through the process of mutation and transmutation depending on how it satisfies the physical, mental and spiritual longings of humanity. In the final analysis, a society that is free from religion will remain to be an unachievable ideal of romantics undyingly enthralled by John Lennon’s poetry.
(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 13 January 2015