On post-religion

February 9, 2014 by Lucian Mogosanu

This article works under the assumption that religions in general have slowly evolved into mashups of ancient philosophical concepts and cultural habits that are presented as timeless but which are in fact terribly outdated. The relevance of the centerpiece of religion (i.e. the all-knowing God) will largely be ignored here, although I will not fully discard it. Thus we will take Merriam-Webster and use the definition of religion as a starting point:

re·li·gion - the belief in a god or in a group of gods - an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods - an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group

Note that I lean more on the third definition than on the former two, since I believe that while a religion may be founded on the belief in a supernatural being, it is at least as important to consider the cultural and habitual aspects of religion. In other words, I can personally take the all-powerful and supernatural out of "God says that X" or "We do Y to please God" without depriving said sentences of meaning. I admit that I could be wrong in my assumption, but ignoring it would involve ignoring my own beliefs, something which no person of integrity would find acceptable. I shall thus proceed to the subject.

My previous research on what I call "post-religion" has so far yielded nothing, or at least nothing that I would find interesting. In any case, I hope that I'm not reinventing the wheel, or that I'm doing it through an approach that people will find relevant, to say the least. Either way, my main challenge is to define post-religion and illustrate it with examples.

I ended one of my previous posts called "Religion and the closed world assumption" on the following note:

Then again, in our mystical/spiritualistic conception of religion, we've deprived the concept of God of its worship-related semantics, or it's just that we're worshiping our own gods without calling them "God". But this is another story.

This idea stems from deep, philosophical questions such as "what is God?" or "what is it that we are worshiping?". If we consider for example Christianity, it is intuitively clear that it was the main focus of the cultural and social life during the fall of the Roman Empire(s) and later during the Dark Ages, though we might not be able to provide much historical backing on the latter. Thus books were mainly focused on telling tales of Christ and God and whatnot, while social activities, e.g. music, were focused on praising some form of God. I wouldn't go as far as to speculate that secular activities were rare, but once again, it's pretty clear that religious activities were commonplace.

This is one aspect of religion that has changed during our modern and post-modern times. Activities are now equivalent to little boxes: when we pursue something, we take a box, open it, enjoy its contents, then put them back into the box for later consumption1. Religion becomes thus but a box in this context, but a brick in the wall, but something people turn to in their time of need. This doesn't apply at all to fundamentalist religions, which are very much like Christianity was a millennium ago. It however applies fully to the Western civilization, the same civilization that in the 20th century embraced this "box-based" thinking along with something called the pop culture. This is essentially what I call post-religion.

In other words I define post-religion as the worship or religious attachment to things other than an omniscient, supernatural God. Said things come to define our (sub-)culture and our habits, defining our selves as post-religious persons.

The definition is as simple as it is outrageous. Let us then attempt to apply it to some real-life examples:

Hollywood, TV shows, books and the music industry: The term "fan" has become widely used in the last few decades. It's somehow fairly normal to be "a fan of X", where X is a music band or an author, book, movie, genre or whatever other product of pop culture. Little do people realize, although they know it, that the word comes from "fanatic", which fanaticism can be indeed observed amongst admirers2.

As an exception, some people have been known to die over their favourite X. As a common occurrence, people gather in groups to worship their X, be it at conventions, concerts or in smaller gatherings. This is not dissimilar to Sunday masses, same as christening is not dissimilar to various rites happening in so-called "fraternities". I don't feel it necessary to expand the example further.

Sports: Interestingly, what started out as a play on war now ends up as a kind of adoration. Seen from a distant perspective, it is a strange ritual where people lazily get fat by eating junk and watching the war instead of actively participating in it. In reality it's no big deal, as the vulgus were fed the same "bread and circus" shortly before the fall of the Roman Empire.

On the opposite extreme, there are those who religiously practice otherwise innocent hobbies such as skiing, working out or running.

Eating habits: It's one thing to struggle keeping oneself from the clutches of food corporations, i.e. the post-religion of McDonaldism, and another to be a "vegetarian", or better, a "raw vegan". Traditionally, people have consumed whatever food they could, given their geographical position. This would reinforce the idea that post-religions arise out of modern constructs such as the free market.

Special mention: pseudo-scientism.

I note here that the space of post-religions is too big to explore exhaustively and these examples fulfill their role of illustrative objects very well. Basically post-religions have become a cornerstone for our contemporary civilization. In fact we could argue that post-religion itself has become such a cornerstone. One might wonder whether or not this foundation is not too shallow and/or fragile to sustain it. Either way, it would seem that we all need our gods to worship.

  1. This point on how people generally view "activities" could be argued. An example that stands out in its favour is Facebook, which organizes such concepts into "life events". Another trivial one is "work" versus "leisure". There are probably a million others. Either way, I am fully aware that "activities" might be an oversimplification. 

  2. Also called "beliebers" in one particular case. 

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16 Responses to “On post-religion”

  1. [...] Although that was also one of the more important uses, despite the Christians' cognitive dissonance that it wasn't. Also much to their desperation, in time it's become at least as important as religion itself. ↩ [...]

  2. [...] problem with new-style churches is that their ritualisms differ from the old-style ones merely in form: there is no fundamental [...]

  3. [...] ouroboros is also a metaphor for fields becoming some sort of bubbles, more akin to (post)-religion than to the earthly trades that we sane humans are used to. While the classical education used a [...]

  4. [...] You most likely call it "science", while I, from consistently correct observations, call it post-religion. Here we may agree to disagree, but we may not wage a debate on the truthfulness of this matter, [...]

  5. [...] which is yet worse than 2017. You'll have less of everything, and by 2029 you'd better pray to your Gods that you're left with something, anything at [...]

  6. [...] in their group "use", the problem of usage being just half of it, the other half being the sheer post-religiousness of being a "user [...]

  7. [...] one of Bertrand Russell's overquoted pop-sayings. God knows it ain't the man's fault for the pop-ization of his quote, he only said it and the multitudes took it out of context and turned it into a [...]

  8. [...] 2022 consists mostly of well-preserved ruins of those times long gone, covered in a thick layer of post-civilization. On a first look, its main problem is that it is susceptible to the same network [...]

  9. [...] has a very clear, unambiguous meaning. However, this meaning has been lost through the workings of post-modern corruption, which leaves us under the imperative of tracing back the original sense... well, [...]

  10. [...] take the latest decision to integrate with Rust in the 6.x branch to be an ideological, that is, a post-religious choice. Before you ask, I am more than accustomed to the so-called functional style of programming [...]

  11. [...] I am indeed using "ideological" pejoratively, for reasons mentioned in the previous article in this series, or elsewhere, or elsewhere. ↩ [...]

  12. [...] as the mentioned flight is a reference to Nietzsche's remark about God, I don't necessarily agree. I'd say that this flight is rather a peculiar sort of degradation of the notion of [...]

  13. [...] religious one as well, but this is perhaps a discussion for another [...]

  14. [...] older folks, are incurable hipsters. This particular demographic openly adheres to all postmodern religions: they collect their garbage in a conscious way, they ride the "green" bus, they believe in science, [...]

  15. [...] That is not to say that metaphysics is not worth pursuing as an activity of the mind -- if anything, the systematically applied study of metaphysics is necessary if one desires to form a coherent view of the world. If there's any problem with the worldview-as-a-lie, it's that the "world view" and more generally all thought is derived, as all life is, from environmental conditions. In other words, just as plants are incapable of thriving in the lack of water, sun and a rich soil, thought is incapable of thriving in a sterile environment devoid of adequate representation -- which is a problem only inasmuch as through its reliance on empty forms, it generates animals in lieu of educated folks, to take but one example. As for the so-called "adequate" representation, I suppose its determination is somewhat of an art, which yet again is how you got all the various priesthoods. [...]

  16. [...] piles of simulacra, sprinkled with whatever fashionable nonsense is spawned out of today's various subcults. By and large, kids today go through the same steps as we did back in the day, with slight [...]

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