What Is the Future of Religion?
Science! It’s given us lasers and spaceships and explained the many great mysteries of life, like what is the sun, where does lightning come from, and what’s the deal with platypuses? Every day, the men in the lab coats tease out more secrets from this universe, and technology solves more of our problems (remember back in the day, when if you were lost in the woods, you couldn’t pull out your phone and quickly look up the filmography of the guy who played Balki in Perfect Strangers?).
So as we go into a future with robots and a greater knowledge of quantum physics, what exactly do we need thousands-of-years-old texts on morality for?
That’s my question: What is the future of religion?
As part of my novel, Superego, I take a look at religion hundreds of years in the future, when mankind has spread throughout the universe and interacted with numerous other sentient lifeforms. And this is all viewed through the lens of the protagonist, Rico, who is a coldly rational, conscienceless psychopath (though probably still not as irritating an atheist as Richard Dawkins). From his perspective, Rico finds faith to be a rather odd thing, as people can — and often do — just decide to believe in any nonsense they, for some reason, find appealing.
But as society advances in technology and knowledge, will we still hold on at all to what many consider superstitions of old? Frankly, I can’t remember ever seeing the Jetsons attend church. Plus, to many people science is increasingly replacing the need for religion. We can now understand the world through rational thought… and even people not that good at rational thought love science — there are things like the “I f-ing love science!” Facebook group basically turning science into a fetish of dumb people.
Science certainly seems more exciting than some ancient texts that don’t even mention T. rexes or black holes.
So maybe our future will be one where we only look to science for answers (“Oh, Men of the White Coat, tell us what to believe, and it shall be believed!”). We will be beings of pure logical thought with no need for the vagaries of religion.
The only problem is that people don’t work that way. Even as a child, I saw how the idea of a purely logical being like Spock (R.I.P.) was in fact illogical, because while logic is a great tool for solving problems, it never tells you what problems to solve.
From a purely detached standpoint, neither working hard at a career to be successful nor curling up in a hole to die is a more logical thing to do than the other until you add some values to the equation (for instance, how much you treasure money versus good old hole-sleeping). And values do not come from logic but from the irrational parts of our minds. And it’s that irrational drive that causes people to create and build things, and something purely logical like a computer is rather useless until one of us irrational idiots starts mashing its keyboard to either write some code or comment on a YouTube video.
Those who think science can replace religion don’t have a very good grasp of the scope of either.
While science can perhaps come up with some evolutionary explanation of where morality came from, it won’t ever answer whether or not you need to practice it.
Really, science is a great tool for using logic to find the answer to absolutely any question — as long as the question isn’t particularly important. Knowing how quasars are formed won’t comfort you through tragedy. Knowing what koalas evolved from won’t give you solace on your deathbed. Knowing how microwaves work won’t help you find purpose in life.
We now have comforts and technology that ancient people couldn’t even dream of, yet that doesn’t keep people from finding lots of ways to be angry and miserable (something the internet has helped expose and enhance rather than alleviate). And this will continue despite the new things we’ll invent and discover in the future, as logic is just incapable of answering the fundamental questions we truly desire answers for.
This is the problem the protagonist in Superego runs into when his simple world of being an intergalactic hitman is thrown out of whack. Despite being a psychopath, he wants purpose in life, but all logic will ever tell him is that no such thing exists. But that’s not an answer anyone can ever truly accept.
So, no matter how far in the future it is, still expect people to make the usual plans for Sunday morning. Yes, as times change, we can expect some changes to organized religion — or at least for them to add words like “space” and “laser” to old things to make them sound more futuristic, as is the custom (actually, “Space Laser Church” sounds awesome).
And if one day we encounter other intelligent life — all with their own religions — that will certainly lead to… a lot of think pieces, in the least (in Superego, one group that’s successfully united numerous religions is a terrorist organization).
But if a religion has been around a thousand years already, there are probably good odds it will last a thousand more. For religion will always fill a round hole that the square peg of logic and science will never fit in, and give us a continuity as a people that, no matter how things change or weird things get, our important values stay constant.
Religion might logically seem irrational, but it fits this universe.
A purely logical universe would be completely empty, with no matter, energy, or rules of physics. One would certainly need no gods or anything supernatural to explain that. But the universe we got instead is an infinitely more ridiculous one. And while mankind will always be drawn to go out and explore it and find out all we can about how it works, the answers we truly seek will never be out there.
At least that’s my view on the future of religion.
What do you think?
Frank J. Fleming is the author of the novel Superego and the humor book Punch Your Inner Hippie, has penned numerous political humor columns, blogs at IMAO.us, and is a writer for the creative agency Emergent Order.
Republished from PJMedia.