I have this idea that in order to reach a better future, a massive and profound change of our values throughout civilisation is necessary. In order to stop humans from exploiting each other and the planet, we need to establish a value system that holds the integrity of nature in highest esteem, while considering the human as what it is: an animal - with all shortcomings this entails (evolutionary deficiencies such as “fight-or-flight”). This value system should value rationality as our most powerful tool for both truth-finding and decision-making, love as the feeling that connects us with each other and our cohabiting species in a positive, mutually beneficial way and beauty (in nature, art, maths, character and anything else...) as the thing that gives our lives meaning. Beside these central values, another thing I find extremely valuable and which in my perception quite sadly – it actually seems a little unfair to me – is mostly owned by religious people, is faith.
My understanding of faith
What I understand faith to be at the fundamental level is an unconditional, unwavering trust in something (usually a god or metaphysical concept). From my experience it seems that this basic trust is something very positive that can be helpful in many life situations and is overall beneficial towards mental health – it affords a religious person a safe space a non-religious person simply does not have. The problem is that belief in something without evidence, i.e. good epistemic reason, is irrational and hence any rational person will find it hard to adopt religious assumptions about the world. And luckily so: belief in religious concepts such as creationism or rebirth is not merely irrational but has played out extremely harmful for humanity. It would certainly be better for people in general to only believe things with a degree of confidence aligned with the degree of certainty afforded for it by evidence – this IS rationality. Still, the fact that only religious people should benefit from the positive effects of faith seems sad to me.
The solution ought to be quite simple, however, I believe. If we free belief from its object (god, metaphysical concept etc.), turning “believing in XYZ (without rational epistemic reason to do so)” into simply “believing”, we arrive at what I would call the highest, purest form of faith – that is truly unconditional trust in the world without making it depend on the truth of any fixed set of assumptions, such as the existence of god or any other religious concepts. We can set this trust as an axiom of our worldview in the sense that we choose to simply have it, simply “believe”, i.e. trust in the world and thus we may benefit from the positive effects of faith without being forced to hold irrational beliefs in order to unlock them. This kind of “object-free” faith should, I think, be another central value for our civilisation to adopt in the future. Freeing faith from an object of belief should make it accessible even to materialist people who don’t find any kind of spiritualism appealing. These people in particular seem, from my point of view, to often lack a sense of meaning in life and don’t have an inner safe space to come back to. By simply experiencing profound beauty, such as can be found in nature or music just to name some examples, this basic trust should be possibly developed by anybody, I think, without necessitating any kind of esotericism.
Speculative epistemic reasons for assuming faith
Beside the pragmatic reason of emotional safety it affords, there are also epistemic reasons to assume faith. The one that seems the most convincing to me - though maybe not to others? - is the point of maths being beautiful. Logic and maths are essentially unavoidable consequences of rational thinking and the truths they describe MUST be true in any thinkable world. They thus describe a real kind of metaphysics, a structure that is absolutely necessary and which all things in the universe can’t help but obey – and at least a tiny fraction of it is accessible to human understanding. This metaphysical ANS (absolutely necessary structure) that is described by logic and maths is in many places where it is known to us beautiful, which has been a central motivator historically for many mathematicians and physicists to pursue its uncovering. The fact that something actually metaphysical that underlies the fabric of all existence is, at least in part, beautiful and therefore possible to be thought of in a positive way suggests to me that we can think of existence as fundamentally positive. Of course, you may argue our perception of beauty is merely an evolutionary artifact, a meaningless by-product of our pattern recognition abilities and hence beauty is not an attribute of the ANS itself, but merely of our cognitive representation of the part of it we can understand. But even then, this doesn’t change the fact that it’s thus a posteriori proven that it is possible for a cognitive representation of at least part of the ANS to be perceived as beautiful. However mundane the reasons for our ability to perceive things as beautiful may be, within our cognition it is still true that representations of some things are beautiful. Since the only thing ultimately limiting possibility is the ANS by prescribing what is logically consistent (i.e. fundamentally possible) and what is inconsistent (i.e. absolutely impossible), the fact that beauty is possible as an attribute of perception means it is, in a sense, already contained in the ANS, just as anything else that is or could be. Now one may argue that among the things that are and could be there is a lot of bullshit which is, then, in the same sense already contained in the ANS. However, if we think of beauty fundamentally as the concept of something being represented positively in our mind and therefore as something we value, it does not follow that we have to “unvalue” its opposite, i.e. “ugliness” or negative representation, in a symmetric way. That is to say, only because we value one thing we do not need to think of the existence of its opposite as devaluating that thing/neutralising its value. We may instead consider beauty, i.e. positive representation, as meaningful whereas we consider ugliness as meaningless and therefore as something that does not matter. Thus, the beauty of a beautiful perception can never be negated, not even by millions of ugly things, because we choose to simply not care about ugly things but instead only about beautiful things, which seems like a sensible pragmatic solution. Then if beauty is contained as a possibility in the ANS this can afford us faith in the world even when ugly things are equally contained or even outnumbering the beautiful aspects by vast amounts.
In ridding religion of its irrational (and other negative) aspects while preserving its positive ones, I think we would be utilising existing resources in an efficient way – that is to say instead of abolishing religion altogether because of its apparent conflict with science and rationality and its inherent indulgence towards abuse of power, we could just update it to better serve humanity’s purposes. This is what I would call secularising religion. The main positive things I see in religion, besides my already mentioned understanding of faith, are: community, culture and wisdom (by which I mean ideas like “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” or “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him” and other good ideas). And I think each of these points is extremely important and valuable to humanity. The way to plausibly achieve this “conservative riddance” is to my mind to stop taking things which are said or written in religious contexts literally and instead conceive of them as symbolic or allegorical stories that may be interpreted to express something meaningful but don’t describe any specific actual facts. In fact, it seems to me that this is already a trend among religious people – for example in non-Catholic Northwest European Christianity, where the bible is nowadays read with a much higher level of critical reflection and abstraction than used to be the case in earlier times. If you think of “god” as an abstract concept, somethings that is simply too high to be understood (yet?) by humans or as some entity that existed before the big bang and was somehow able to fine-tune the natural constants of our universe so as to enable life – rather than as a wizard-in-the-clouds like in medieval times – I think your faith is already quite close to this abstract form I describe – namely detached from stipulations about the actual circumstances of the physical world such as human origin or the “proper” role of women. Maybe the “object-free” faith I’m describing is in fact where religion is ultimately headed for anyway given sufficient time for reflection and abstraction to take place and thus, secularising religion would be just a matter of accelerating an already ongoing process rather than inventing something completely new.
How to realistically achieve this, I have no clue. I’m hoping that presenting a good enough argument to the right people might do the trick, but then institutionalised power structures like those of large religions are not easily overcome and I doubt the people in power have much interest in secularising their religion even if they were to agree with the arguments in favour of it, since for them religion is primarily about power. If you have any ideas regarding this, please tell me. On a different note, I want to use story-telling media as a means of propagating the values briefly described above (rationality, love and beauty – among others not yet mentioned – with or without the additional aspect of “object-free” faith). Therefore, I’m planning to found a media company pursuing the goal of creating media content such as video games, anime, (graphic) novels, audiobooks, movies, etc. etc. to inspire people towards these values and in order to critically reflect on many pressing social issues of our time, such as gender roles and patriarchy, sexuality and relationship norms, racism and speciesism, the value of culture and cultural diversity, personal growth and perfectionism, nature and sustainability and philosophical questions like the meaning of life, morality and the nature of aesthetics. Somewhat similar to the studio Ghibli, I want to make these works both morally and aesthetically compelling and not mere pieces of entertainment to earn money by wasting people’s precious time, like most fiction IMO does. If anybody here has a good idea how to achieve any of those goals, or you want to collaborate UwU, please reach out! Also of course, if you find these ideas interesting or alternatively think what I’m saying is complete, utter bullshit, please feel free to comment and/or talk to me! I’d be happy to update or overwrite my ideas with better ones before wasting time trying to propagate false ideas any further.
Thanks for reading and caring