Stewart notes that a phrase in that Boston Globe article stands out.

Provocatively, Ruse argues that evolutionism has often constituted a ”religion” itself by offering ”a world picture, a story of origins, and a special place for humans,” while its proponents have been ”trying deliberately to do better than Christianity.”

Okay – and why not? Why not try to do better than Christianity? What does Christianity do well? What does it do better than anything else can? Is it even possible to decide or know that? On what grounds?

The one possibility I can think of is consolation. Religion – or Christianity, if you prefer – can do that better of its nature (as opposed to contingently, sociologically, because people already think it can, assume it can, have been told it can) because it is based on consoling fictions. That is the point – it is the fiction that is consoling. Without the fiction, there is no consolation, or it is much less effective. Personal immortality, heaven and reunion, a god who takes care of us. Other kinds of fictions on the whole don’t work that way because they’re not believed in the same way – they are recognized as fictions (except in the case of e.g. New Age, Wicca and the like, but in that case they are functioning as religions). There are two essential ingredients: belief (so novels don’t do it) and fictions (so philosophy and reflection don’t console in this particular way). Religion can console for those who believe it.

But what else? Motivation and commitment are often mentioned – and religion can work that way – but it has no monopoly there. Ideals, political hopes, loyalties, aspirations, dreams – many things can provide and strengthen motivation and commitment.

And there is nothing else. This gets to that overlapping magisteria nonsense that Steve Gould (in Ruseian vein) talked about – that ‘all is well if each sticks to its own territory’ idea. But religion doesn’t have a territory. It has no expertise – no expertise that is unique to religion rather than being held in common with other fields, as when bishops talk about ethics in ways that are obviously thoroughly influenced by contemporary, changing, secular ideas. There is no ‘special’ religious morality that’s different from secular morality. There are some ‘special’ religious rules and taboos, but they either find secular justification, or get widely and rightly ignored.

Some people like to claim that religion has a monopoly on ‘meaning.’ Well…there are two choices. Either that meaning relies on the same fictions that consolation relies on (the loving god, the afterlife), in which case religion does have a monopoly on that, but, again, on condition of believing fictions; or it doesn’t, it just relies on what we all rely on by way of meaning, in which case there is no monopoly.

We ought to draw up a little map of religious monopoly. There would be a blue patch for consolation and a purple patch for fiction-derived ‘meaning’ – and all the rest is open country.

In short the only territory religion gets to fence off and declare its own and off-limits is the fiction-illusion-supernatural-metaphysical area. If that aspect is not in play, then it has no special ‘religious’ expertise or authority or right to say hands off go away get out, at all.

8 Responses to “Territory”