Here at the Daily Evolver we’ve been tracking the rise of science and secular humanism (and even transhumanism) in popular culture with interest. Atheism has become respectable , even fashionable as the modern, rational stage of development becomes the true center of gravity in the Western world. Traditional religious people and their beliefs have become targets for the secular humanists. Exhibit A is this collection of ten video clips on Salon, “From Colbert and Oliver to Sarah Silverman and Louis CK, comedians are torching anti-science activists with aplomb.”
Which brings me to the recent article in HuffPost Politics by Zoltan Istvan, philosopher and author of the novel The Transhumanist Wager. Istvan makes a case for outlawing the religious indoctrination of children. Installing these beliefs at an early age may handicap their ability to rationally choose a religious path (or not choose one) for themselves later in life, he says.
From a modernist perspective its not hard to see how this would make sense. To them, religion is a collection of myths, and “we go to war to defend these myths,” he writes. Perhaps if we stop instilling this stuff at an early age it will die out, right? After all, what rational person would choose to believe such things? (Indeed. Traditional religious beliefs are pre-rational, which is why you will never win an argument with a fundamentalist based on logic).
But Istvan is lacking a developmental perspective.
He writes that religion would be okay if it didn’t meaningfully interfere with the world…
“The problem is that it does meaningfully interfere with the world. 911 was a religious-inspired event. So was the evil of the Catholic Inquisition. And so is the quintessential conflict between Palestine and Israel. If you take “God” and “religion” out of all these happenings, you would likely find that they would not have happened at all. Instead, what you’d probably find is peaceful people and communities dedicated to preserving and improving life through reason, science, and technology–which is the essence of transhumanism and the outcome of evolution.”
He is looking at the world through the lens of his modern (rational) sensibility and seems sure that if people just thought like him, we would be living in a peaceful utopia. This is one of the defining aspects of first tier structures of consciousness — they are exclusionary, and they each believe that they have the answer to humankind’s salvation. For traditionalists, we all need to be saved by God. For modernists, we all just need to become rational.
Istvan has more in common with first tier religious fundamentalists than he would ever like to believe. Technologist and philosopher Lincoln Cannon picked up on this irony in a post on his blog:
“…for many Transhumanists, Transhumanism is functioning as a religion. No. I’m not saying that Transhumanism is inherently a religion. In itself, the advocacy of ethical use of technology to extend human abilities need not be religious. However, it nonetheless ends up functioning as religion for many persons that adopt and identify with the ideology.”
Istvan is not wrong about the violence and intolerance of traditional religious groups. But taking religion out of the equation would not make them peaceful. Religion is not the cause of intolerance. Religious intolerance is the effect of an absolutistic structure of consciousness that organizes the world in terms of good and evil; A fundamentalist belief system is a reflection of this consciousness, not the other way around. (And, we should note, it represents a huge leap up from the impulsive, egocentric tribal stage that came before). We all make God in our own image — or unmake him, as is the case in modernity.
Without this perspective we are also likely to make the mistake of conflating postmodern and premodern religious belief (the classic pre/trans fallacy). To a modernist, any mention of God brings to mind premodern structures because he can’t yet identify postmodern structures.
I like Istvan’s article though. He’s a smart guy and I’ll take his transhumanist-atheistic proselytizing over that of a religious fundamentalist any day.