< Home

The Impulse to Believe

The Impulse to Believe
Published on Apr 17, 2023.

Religion is the fundamental basis for a community. Its deep worldview binds the members together. They are linked by how they see the world, and they can trust each other to look at it the same way.

This isn’t a new fact. Over 100 years ago, in the early 1900s, a Frenchman named Emile Durkheim decided to investigate what religion was all about. To do this, he picked the most primitive religion anthropologists had found in the modern world – the religion of the native aboriginal people in the Australian outback.

From there, he drew the conclusion that religion is ultimately a social construct. It is a “collective delusion”, a state of living delirium that all the members of a community partake in. This religions is not just a set of metaphysical axioms, purporting to describe some higher plane of reality. It has deep psychological ramifications. It shapes the entire perspective of its members – from the way they see the physical world around them to the social rules and structures that govern their relationships with others.

From the perspective of better-developed, more advanced religions, the religion of the early 20th century Australians doesn’t look like a religion at all. There’s no explicit concept of a god, there is no written text, there are few moral rules. But religions have a habit that when they evolve, they tend to disregard the ancestors that they evolved from. Christianity took a strong stance against pagan ritualism, even though it was originally a pagan religion itself.

The Industrial Religion is no different. We don’t think of it as a religion, because it doesn’t have the obvious characteristics of one. Where is its god? Its metaphysics? Its moral prognostications? In fact, this modern worldview explicitly stands apart from traditional religions, discounting them as superstitions and the practices of the ignorant. This is not a religion, we’re told. It’s science.

But human beings are human beings. The same impulse that drove thousands of generations of our ancestors into the arms of such superstitious beliefs lives in us too. We, like them, have the religious impulse.

All religions come from the same place – from a fear of the unknown and a desire to control it. The biggest unknown of them all is the purpose of our life, a small flame flickering in the immense shadow of Death. We sense the presence of that enormous shadow, we know we will one day be no more, and in the face of that deep uncertainty, we want to make sure we are living life the way we should.

That question – of how we should be living our life – is not a purely individual one. We live our lives in communities, and asking how we should live is equal to asking what role we should play in our communities.

All of this depends on the perspective we bring to it. And that perspective – which ultimately rests on faith in a set of assumptions – is a religion.

The Religion of the modern world is nothing less than a deep perspective on life and the way it should be lived. It is a set of unquestioned axioms guiding the lives of millions who adopt its cause – knowingly or unknowingly.

Like all religions, it has institutions that serve key roles in the advancement, protection, and structure of its ideas and social norms. It has Temples that indoctrinate new generations of believers into the main tenets of the faith. It has Priests who sit at the top of the pecking order and command large swaths of influence around the interpretation of those tenets into actions. And it has Prophets who propound on the implications of the religion on new developments.

This idea that our modern lives are shaped by this new type of religion is not meant simply as a metaphor. I mean it literally. There is a social role that religions have played in human history, there are certain commonalities in how they function, and this new paradigm checks all the boxes. It doesn’t look like a religion on the surface – but by the way it functions, it undeniably is one.