By HonestDiscussioner

Religion, Philosophy, Politics, and anything else I'd like to talk about


Monday, May 12, 2014

What's Your Anti-Religion?

Back in mid-2006, The National Youth Anti-War Media Campaign was authorized by Congress, and with it came a slew of advertisements discussing various people, places, and things of which their existence is responsible for preventing certain individuals from turning to or otherwise using illegal drugs. Things like music, sports, and even one's own parents were suggested as things to rely on to avoid using dangerous and addictive substances. It was a very exposed media campaign, with it's slogan still being used today in some circles, despite the specific campaign no longer receives any federal funding.

The premise was fairly straightforward: Challenge people to come up with something they love or otherwise appreciate and focus on that thing to avoid the temptations of illegal drugs and alcohol. The key to this is that each individual is asked to come up with their own anti-drug. They aren't simply informed "basketball is an anti-drug, so is long walks on the beach" because those who lack athletic skill and have sun-sensitive skin likely won't find much inspiration in those activities. In other words, people are a nuanced group who utilize things like drugs for various reasons. You can't put a violin in everyone's hand and expect drug use to crash down to zero.  However for some people, a good role model will prevent them from turning to drugs. For many people, a significant other will keep them on the straight and narrow. Still others, the camaraderie of a sports team. All of these things can replace the need for drugs in one's own life under certain contexts. That's what the ad campaign got right.

Many people can relate to this.

Religion, ironically given its purported status as an anti-drug, operates within our society in a very similar manner to drugs. While some people do accept religion mainly on intellectual grounds, the vast majority of people at least seem to believe in religion for the sake of utility. They need religion to fulfill something, be it to find purpose, structure, to alleviate fear or anxiety, or to provide a social outlet or sense of community, etc. At the very least it is these aspects which keep people coming back to the trough of religion when serious intellectual and moral problems arise within its doctrine. Much like drugs can provide their own unique social culture, alleviate pain or anxiety, and even treat legitimate diseases (or their symptoms\side effects of treatment), religion has associated with it a social and psychological dependency that can be both alluring and difficult to break away from.

It's long been held that education is essentially an anti-drug for religion. The more education you have, the less religion you will have. While not entirely going against that claim this article advocates for a slightly more nuanced view wherein education is only an antidote to some forms of religion but can actually increase religiosity in some limited contexts like religious participation, and in other contexts like belief in the afterlife it is allegedly neutral.

So is education an anti-religion? If the study is to be believed it's not, and I agree with this assessment. Education is not "an anti-religion", it's **my** anti-religion and the anti-religion for millions of people. It earned this status as something that fulfilled the only need that religion had fulfilled for me at the time: answers to life's questions about the complexity of life and the universe, answers I had previously turned to religion for and always just assumed were well established as factually accurate by the vast majority of experts (boy was I surprised!).

Education: My Anti-Religion

If, however, my entire identity had been wrapped up in religion instead of couched in the pursuit of truth and honesty then education would most likely not have been my anti-drug. If I had been gripped in the fear of my own mortality at the time of my education, that too may have prevented the anti-religious effects of college from taking hold. Or if I only had friends and relationships within the context of Christianity that too might have resulted in me never even questioning Christianity in the first place. The context of each individual will determine whether or not education will actually bring down their religiosity, which is why you see the overall effect of education resulting in a decrease worship. It's also why you don't see it working across the board, just like dropping off free sports equipment in the inner city isn't going to prevent 100% of drug use but it will significantly discourage it. 

It's also not surprising that people who are both educated and religious have a greater participation rate; people who have higher education likely don't work as many weekends and have a bit more free time than the working poor, those who overwhelmingly lack higher education. It's also not too surprising that people would still believe in the afterlife; being rich isn't going to make you immortal, at least not with current technology.

In the online forum in which I found this article, the poster took this information and drew the conclusion that religion will simply always be with us. To quote:
"Here the authors at once notice a steady decline of adherence from 1965 - 1993, but also notice a gigantic growth in evangelical churches around the same time, rising as high as +1,232%.These complexities show in reality that religion, chances are, will never go away, but ebbs and flows in complete cultural complexity. Over the course of several generations, many churches decline rapidly, but just as much others can rise just as rapidly."
This isn't quite supported by the data. Oh it's true that religious adherence has been in steady decline, and it's true that evangelical churches have been on the rise, but the more important statistic is the former: more people are leaving religion than are hitting the subscribe button on Evangelical church's metaphorical Youtube pages (do people still do that?).

Religion may never die, and could be with us until the extinction of our species, but it could also go away. How? Well, when everyone has found their anti-religion. When the reasons for religion's existence outlined earlier are either no longer needed or are grossly outweighed by alternative and more attractive measures. In the meantime various churches and theologies will spring up in order to take advantage of cultural and historical shifts, but they've been peddling the same products with the same benefits since time immemorial. Whereas earlier in our civilization's history it would have been almost unheard of to not have some form of religion nowadays many societies exist wherein the majority of people do not ascribe to a religious belief. This is due to either the removal of some of the needs for which religion provided or a competing and superior product that drew away customers from their religion dealers. Should society evolve to the point where the products of religion become entirely antiquated, should technology provide perfect prosperity and social outlet, should science provide more answers to the fundamental questions of what it means to be human and unlock a deeper understanding of the human mind, religion may very well go the way of the dodo.

When can we expect this to happen? I have no idea. As the old saying goes, atheism is a non-prophet organization.


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