May 24, 2014

The age of Atheists by Peter Watson

The age of Atheists by Peter Watson
How we have sought to live since the death of God.

After centuries of religious strife, after more than 200 years of deconstruction of the factual historical basis of the Bible, after a plethora of new gods has been emerged in the most unlikely, mundane and prosaic of ways and places. There is a website listing more than three thousand supreme beings - humans everywhere seem to have learned next to nothing.

It seems plain that improving conditions of existential security erode the importance of religious values but - and here is the rub - at the same time reduce the rates of population growth in postindustrial societies. So rich societies are becoming more secular in their values but shrinking in population. In contrast, poorer nations remain deeply religious in their values and will also have much higher fertility rates, producing ever larger populations (and therefore tending to remain poor). A core aim of virtually all traditional religions is to maintain the strength of the family, ‘to encourage people to have children, to encourage women to stay home and raise the children and to forbid abortion, divorce, or anything that interfere with high rates of reproduction.”

Transcendence vs. poverty:
In the first place, we can say that the original secularization theory was right all along but many societies did not follow the same industrialization/urbanization path as did the West. Second, and conceivable more important, we can now see that religion is best understood ‘as a sociological rather than a theological phenomenon.

We find, first that it is the established churches - those with the most elaborately worked out theologies, to be replaced by as often as not by transcendence- that are losing adherents, to be replaced by evangelicals, Pentecostals, ‘health-and wealth’ charismatic’s and fundamentalists of one kind or another. In 1900, 80% of the world’s Christians lived in Europe and the US; today, 6-% of them live in the developing world.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge wrote that: “One of the most striking results of the Pew Forum (research centre) is regular survey of happiness is that Americans who attend religious services once or more a week are happier (43% very happy) than those who attend monthly or less (31 %) or seldom or never (26%).

James Q. Wilson succinctly summarized a mountain of (social-scientific) evidence: “Religion, independent of social class, reduces deviance”.

Nietzsche famously insisted, “There are no facts, only interpretations”. In Nietzsche’s new world, without a beyond or a hereafter, life has no purpose other than to live in the grand style, using the will to power to achieve an intensity of experience such than we would like those intense moments to go on and on and on.

“We are youth. Our blood cries out for heaven and earth and not for cells and worms. We want to dream. We want ecstasy. We call on Dionysus and Ithaca”

[Gifford lecturers are one of the most distinguished lecture series in the world. They are the legacy of the Scottish judge Adam Gifford who died in 1887 and intended to encourage a perpetual lively debate on science and all questions about man’s conception of God or the Infinite.]

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