05/28/2012: The Role of Religion as Existential Security

Unfortunate, ain’t it?

In Nietzsche’s, The Gay Science we are met with this famous trope:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

Nietzsche’s pronouncement seemed prophetic at the time when belief in European rationalism was at its zenith, but belief in God is still very much here with us.  However the fact remains that Religion, despite being the “opiate of the people” as Marx put it, still serves a crucial function: as a protector and a firewall against uncertainty and existential insecurity.

Not surprisingly, studies have found that atheism is more likely to appear within the industrial and post-industrial countries. In impoverished, less educated countries, belief in God predominates.

Religion of course not only provides relief from existential stress by supplying existential security, it also moderates human behavior within the socio-economic insecurity of the times. Religion thus helps keep failed states somewhat stable. It might seem obvious that there are no atheists in foxholes, or in the impoverished cities of India or in sub-Sahara Africa while there are plenty of atheists in post-industrial  countries that feature high education along with strong social safety nets (Yes, Virginia, Socialism indeed breeds atheists!). One country seems to invalidate this formula. The United States is the wealthiest of all industrial nations and yet the most religious – due to extensive income disparity.

This all but guarantees that religious fundamentalism is still going to be around for a very long time (especially in the impoverished Muslim and Asian countries where existential security is nonexistent. And here is where the behavioral moderation properties of religion come into play and will grant a longer life to belief in God. Atheists make a terrible mistake in their belief that the application of applied reason and positivism alone will change the world for the better without any kind of action plan. The stealth religion that is atheism is useless as a force of reason unless those proponents can put their logical prowess into practice and help produce existential security for all. But atheists don’t seem to be interested in doing anything for all of us. The Equal Money system is such a proposal that will give all more security through social and economic programs that will ultimately give everyone that existential security only those privileged few now enjoy. We need all people to buy into economic equality and security or else we will have to endure the consequence of allowing  the grizzled, intolerant specter of religious fundamentalism to destroy what’s left of the world for centuries to come. Such a fate is only as inevitable as our avoidance to the necessity of change.

Notes:

[1] Pippa Norris, Ronald Inglehart, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (Cambridge Studies in Social Theory, Religion and Politics), Cambridge University Press, 2004. The authors claim that their research shows that the world’s industrial nations are more secular while the third world remains religious due to economic insecurity. The birth rate in these impoverished countries have grown to numbers where there are far more people who hold religious views than ever before, while the birth rate among secular nations are dropping.  Implication: unless economic equality is installed to remove existential uncertainty, religious fundamentalism may never leave us, threatening to collapse civilization into the Dark Ages 2.0.

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