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Loosing (and saving?) your faith
Religion-dominated societies are an appealing, ineffective alternative to the chaotic, messy world we see today.
Religion-dominated societies are an appealing alternative to the chaotic, messy world we see today. We need to defend our right to religion (and faith in general) as a feature of humanity while reenforcing the need and value of impartial democratic institutions that serve people of all faiths, gurus, influencers and swifties.
Note: This is a reflection based on a series of readings and observations during the last few weeks. I’ll take you along my journey. If you are more interested in the outcomes, skip midway down past the links.
A Marginal Revolution post started me on this journey. The post mentions a new book “All the Kingdoms of the World” which covers a topic I’d not even known existed: “Integralism” (I’m somewhat reassured that spellcheck also insists this isn’t a word). *All the Kingdoms of the World**. *Read through the link and the Kindle sample for the book if the topic is new to you as well.
While reflecting on this book and the topics around religious belief systems and social trends/topics, I also read this article which profiles a politician in the USA whose platform seems to appeal to themes of Integralism and similar contradictions applied within a climate-wrapper. It is all this flavour of ‘our institutions have it all wrong, we need to fix it’.
This article Ethics and IQ talks about how IQ can / does influence performance and success. This topic also plays into this challenging narrative of ‘how do I get what is right for me from life?’ This kind of dialogue clearly adds to the frustration of this generation and the perceived injustice and inequality of the world.
This other article profiles some of the fertility issues with signalling. Seen through this same lens, Integralism starts to look appealing for someone already full of faith. Clearly, you can argue, letting people decide their morals is leading to negative outcomes.
Unpacking the sex / young people / tech / values topic further, this post hit on similar themes to me. These same topics of moral flexibility, uncertainty and young people (and many older people as well) being uncomfortable with the way-things-are.
While things are, by so many metrics and perspectives, dramatically better now than any other point in the past, we increasingly do not feel that way. For someone safe and secure in their own belief system, it can be easy to see how they will pick up on these themes. It’s a short logical jump to see control of democratic institutions as the only way to “save the world”.
There are many articles and books describing a general decline in region The decline of religion, and the rise of deaths of despair and The God Delusion - Wikipedia yet we, as a society, seem rapt in our faith to mega stars, gurus and influencers. I’m increasingly of the view that we are simply replacing / supplementing organised religions with unorganised ones. Disney's Taylor Swift Era.
People today model their values, beliefs and fulfilment off of influencers more than organised religions. We will see continued renewal of organised religions leveraging the same digital tools of the influencer generation. I’m doubtful religious faith will ever disappear. Losing My Religion | No Mercy / No Malice covers a similar thread to this topic but with a more extreme conclusion.
Faith at Both Ends
This speaks to a cultural-moral-faith spectrum. People shift their beliefs based on practical realities. Established, organised religions will ebb and flow along with other targets-for-faith. Companies compete for our ‘wallet-share’, and belief-systems compete for our ‘faith-share’.
The complexity, awareness of mental illness, struggles that people have with tech addiction, decline of sex, marriage, child-birth all can be easily mixed and cooked into a crisis cake. We mistake the pre-tech history as this stable almost-utopia of society and religion where small communities had it “figured out” and were wonderful places of support and care. That certainly was true for some places and is true today in some places. It is also true that many of those small religion-aligned communities of the past (and present) were horrible repressive places where people conformed for fear of exclusion or direct punishment. Just as we had to come to terms with religions role in civil, democratic society, we need to do this again with tech, religion and global society.
As many of these commentators highlight and as anyone with a mobile device can speak to - much of present-day approaches are inherently, explicitly individualistic. The guru’s, influencers, celebrities that are augmenting or supplementing organised religions play to the same themes. Both provide for a faith that is focused on your own experience and the relationship with the deity.
The technology enhances and enables this relationship and focus on your connection with the celebrity. All religious texts speak of your personal connection with god(s). The importance of your individual faith, habits and sacrifices. Established religions have been around longer and have more traditions and communities. It’s all a celebration of self. We have a real, human need to be recognised and religion helps with that in a world of anonymity. Religion, faith says clearly - ‘you matter to me. I care about you. I will take care of you. Just give me your faith.’ Isn’t this the same offer of an influencer?
This is similar to how people perceive their faith in organised religions as a personal connection with god cultivated through various habits, routines, rituals. There seems a superficial difference as we perceive organised religions as group activities since there are traditional activities around locational constructs (family, neighbours). Digital platforms have enabled influencers to leverage all the same constructs virtually. While many digital experiences today are hyper-individualistic, this too will fluctuate. We gain considerable value from group interactions, in-person and virtually. The tech will certainly evolve as our awareness improves.
Imagining myself as someone with a strong belief in an organised traditional faith, I will see this moral fragmentation as a shocking issue. I would consider the need for more muscle to help people reenforce their moral compass and get back on track. Since my faith is being supplemented by ‘false idols and profets’. Similarly I find myself agreeing with the author of ‘All the Kingdoms of the World’ in that these influences will not decline or fade away. Even if more formal organised religions were to fade away (which I strongly doubt will happen given how sticky such religions are historically and how humanity clearly has a desire/need/tendency towards faith) there will continue to be faith-like structures that emerge and supplement those same needs.
I wonder how much of a correlation exists between the societal ills we perceive, with the decline or formal religions, the increasing availability of personalised technology, and with real societal issues. I suspect the underlying issue is the behaviour that personalised technology encourages rather than a decline in organised religious attendance or some other factor. Yet, perceptions shape movements; not realities.
All Faiths, All Shapes, All Sizes
We cannot participate in society pretending that the majority beliefs don’t exist or are unreasonable. We need to find ways to engage across belief systems and appeal to our common desire and need for civil society.
Considering these articles, books, positions and thoughts, I increasingly agree that we do find ourselves in a generational crisis of faith and morals. This is positive. Our world is reshaping and with it our moral compass needs to evolve. I can imagine the struggles of young people secure in their faith being frustrated and even angry at the chaotic world around them. They live in a world seemingly lacking in moral judgement and lost in technology and self-obsession. Like any generation, the passions of the young will drive social discussion and potentially change. The appeal of taking over democratic institutions and mobilising them to secure the moral foundation of society can certainly seem appealing. Just as a dictator who seeks power and control to fix the ills they see in society (or simply because they desire power and control), religions that seek to dominate democratic institutions to save the morals of society do so in a selfish and self-serving manner which will result in a society far removed from the utopia they aim to create.
The Generation of Faith
This is an important period that will shape how we engage with society into the future. As we have seen across industries, faith is too being decoupled and made available in multiple different forms. This makes pursuit of a ‘good life’ more complicated: define ‘good’? We can no longer subscribe to a faith that the majority of our community endorses and take comfort in our relationship with a deity. Instead, we have a wide range of options, many appealing in their tech, sex and vibe. Just as Christianity was likely once seen as an alluring new faith, so are the gurus, influencers and celebrity clubs and cults of today.
This also means that organised religions will feel under pressure to preserve the moral fabric of society that is being visibly torn by political, technological, societal strife. Within such a place, it can be appealing to look to countries where organised faith remains dominate. And for any country struggling with self identity, mobilising organised religion via state action is an appealing way to exercise control over an unruly population.
As the author argues in ‘All the Kingdoms of the World’, this thought experiment also gives me ‘faith’ that there is another way that we can all agree to take (and I believe that we will end up there eventually). We can agree that faith is a fundamental human ‘feature’ and find ways for people with all kinds of belief systems to agree on the need for democratic, principled, institutions.