The Secularization Project; Rejecting Dogma and Retaining Spirituality
The Evolutionary Roots of Religion
There can be an extremely cogent case that religion served to supply a body of beliefs around which larger groups could form during the transitional period in Homo Sapiens history when nomadic hunter gatherer cultures were moving toward agriculturally based cultures. Religions reduce the world orientations of humans to easily distinguishable in-groups and out-groups. The ability to form these cohesive in-groups is an imperative that religious belief fulfilled efficaciously and in turn allowed for productive symbiotic relationships amongst humans as they settled in a single place and pulled together for survival.
To take this hypothesis one step further, in a time when little was understood about the world and everything within a primitive community depended upon a bountiful harvest, the abatement of disease, or a favorable outcome in a conflict with a neighboring out-group religions served a vital psychological role. Religious superstition further engendered a pernicious means of reinforcement. If religious propitiations were made and the harvest was plentiful, the community illness abated, or a favorable outcome was attained in the bellicose dealings with another group then it would seem that religious propitiation had worked. If on the other hand the crop was deficient, the illness turned into a pandemic, or the tribe suffered great loss in conflict with another tribe then perhaps the gods that govern such things were not pleased with the frequency or complexity of the worship being offered. Thus the deduction was made that increased ritual was needed to ensure better outcomes in the future. What this mode of thinking betrays is a desire to control the unknown and uncontrollable and it further resembles a socially acceptable form of Obsessive Compulsive disorder complete with ritual and superstitious thinking.
In an age of globalization, modern medicine, and agricultural sciences religion is no longer needed to fulfill these anachronistic imperatives. And still there is no doubt that religion still satisfies our need for congregation and social cohesion, our aesthetic desire for ceremony and ritual, and our need to feel as if we have a comprehendible purpose that is benevolently directed.
My contention is that all these goals can be attained within a secular paradigm divorced from the superstitious dogmas that obfuscate the true moral dilemmas of the 21st century and further serve to slow the societal progress that is the human endeavor with which we should be most concerned.
Offering Secular Alternatives
Social cohesion has and does form around many things. We tend to feel inclined toward letting religion serve this primary function merely because it is what we have always done. We find ourselves within the looming shadow of immigrant history in the U.S. in which your religion could be inferred from your ethnicity and in which our very close ancestors settled in accordance with these sectarian divisions. We our very much used to identifying ourselves with our parents' and grandparents' cultural and religious traditions and thus stay divided by them. But this historical strangle hold is losing it's grip on us and we now find ourselves uniting and intermixing through higher education, world-travel, and political affiliations. With some decreased economic disparity I can see us uniting around common denominators more intrinsically personal such as career field, extra-vocational interests and hobbies, and the like. Surely the walls of religious division are susceptible to being torn down by modernity.
The desire for ritual and Aesthetics also seems to be a rather uniform human need. I believe secular art and music, as well as scientific awe can provide these things in a much deeper and profound way. One need only contemplate Relativity, Evolution, or the Cosmos to find instances of awe much more profound than those on offer from religion. The fact that transformative spiritual experiences are found throughout the world amongst every religious creed demonstrates that what we are identifying as a experience that intrinsically relies upon a particular brand of faith is actually something that runs at a greatly deeper level common to all of humanity, and though they may presently be more consistently encountered through particular religious ritual and prayer, it is possible to attain these experiences with the use of secular meditation and Aesthetic appreciation.
Is the need for direction and existential comfort in life really dependent on religious dictate to be meaningful? I find the freedom to make my own meaning and to live with uncertainties that can be explored with our amazing cognitive faculties, to supply me with perfectly adequate existential succor. Simply because we are coming to know more about the states of consciousness that are important to us, such as love, empathy, and a sense of self-transcendence this does not have to at all diminish these experiences.
Why Do Away with Religion
But the proverbial question arises, but why try to fix something that is not broke; if religions are fulfilling these roles than why make a change. Because the superfluous appendix that is religion is doing real harm with it's continual ruptures. From being anti-birth control in impoverished countries, ant- condoms in sub-Saharan Africa, to preventing the funding for stem cell researched. Religious dogmas have us teaching our children pseudoscience, impinging on a woman's right to choose what happens to her own body, and defaming the humanity of those in the LGBTQ community.
So if we can fulfill our previously discussed needs without any of these doctrines, it is incumbent upon us to realize and develop other means of doing so. Only with the casting off of the pretense of knowing things we cannot possibly know will man reach something like his true height.