Mini-Feature: Will Religion Become Obsolete?

Will religion ever become obsolete?

No. Because religion is a natural virtue, as the likes of Cicero to St. Thomas Aquinas argued. Here’s a great dissertation on the topic that can lead you to all manner of wise original writings. But the point is that human nature finds itself in a position that requires us to ask of there is anything higher than us in the universe, and what our relation is to it. Most of the billions of people who walk and have walked the earth have answered the question in the affirmative for a reason. But read Aquinas for yourself and wrestle with what “religion” means.

-Matthew Peterson, founding editor of The American Mind

Religion, says Tocqueville, is the permanent state of mankind. Girard, Calvin, and many others observe that we, individually and as a whole, are idol-making factories. The secret desire for utter subservience and surrender runs deep, too deep to root out and destroy, no matter what Nietzsche says or seems to say. You’ve got to serve somebody, as Dylan put it, and as a higher authority put it, you cannot serve two masters. Religion will never be obsolete so long as our humanity and our souls are not destroyed. The only question is how disfigured, malformed, and destructive our particular religions may be—a question replete with answers lo these many years, with no end in sight—until the final End, which comes at a time and place beyond our seeing no less than our choosing.

-James Poulos, executive editor of The American Mind

The stirrings of our soul and the longing we feel for a defined place in the universe will, as long as we remain humanly-constituted, never depart. What or to whom we pray or follow is a different story. Sometimes in Zeus, sometimes it’s Christ, sometimes it’s Steve Jobs. Better figure it out while you can. 

-David Bahr, managing editor of The American Mind

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There will always be worship. We will always have some highest good that we serve, some final end, some ultimate purpose in all we do. That's just how it is—otherwise we wouldn't do anything. Those who deny this are always smuggling in a highest good—“humanity,” for example, or “social justice,” or even something so insipid as “kindness”—without realizing.  

This brings me to the actual question, which is not about worship but about religion. It may surprise readers to learn that I suspect the notion of “religion” per se as we currently think of it could easily die out, if Christianity does at last lose its grip on our society. For, as Tom Holland argues quite expertly in Dominion, the practice of dividing of the world into “secular” and “religious” spheres is a curiously Christian innovation. 

Older societies—ancient Athenian society, for example—viewed all human undertakings as “religious” in the sense we mean now. Even a sophisticate like Euripides demonstrates in his plays that he considers all aspects of public life beholden to questions of higher moral order and ultimately answerable to cosmic forces beyond our control. 

This is actually an accurate vision of the world, though the Church is right to sanctify certain spaces and practices as uniquely divinized. If, however, we continue as we are currently doing to lose all cultural self-awareness whatsoever, we will proceed to re-religionize everything without realizing we are doing it. That is simply the natural state of man. 

Hence the constant invocations of the god “Science,” hence the demands to kneel and recite woke dogma, hence the hallowing of December 24 as Anthony Fauci day. There is nothing unusual, in the scope of human affairs, about these prostrate ministrations. They are just the sort of thing we do. We are worshipping beings, and religion is the set of rituals in which we codify our worship.  

So, having abandoned the self-conscious forms of worship that Christianity teaches, we are codifying new forms of worship without realizing it. Our old mode of doing religion—so ubiquitous that it’s invisible unless you know where to look—is reasserting itself. And we’ve forgotten where to look. 

-Spencer Klavan, associate editor of The American Mind