Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The World is Stranger Than Religion Can Imagine

 That we make the cut and have evolved to be human is miracle enough. Usually I don't land the plane first.

I refer to the last two paragraphs from Ross Douthat, the rightwing Catholic columist for the NYTimes, in a piece entitled "Where Does Religion Come From?" Unsurprisingly, Douthat argues for supernaturalism as if it's there to be found, like UFOs. I could go on here about how he confuses different forms of the imagination and our needs but he does concede that people conjure divinity for the purposes of inidividual consolation (aka the existential crisis) for fear of death and because they seek to share a social narrative that locates them in support communities. What's interesting to me about this piece isn't Douthat's utterly lame argument for the supernatural, it's that he buys into his own need it to make himself feel better about death and community narratives. The irony is pours like motor oil off the page.
He writes also, “[T]he world is much stranger than the secular imagination thinks.”

Douthat is confused: the world is much stranger than the religious imagination can think. Religious imagination reduces reality to narrative fantasies without necessary regard for logic. We'll tell ourselves nearly anything, including conspiracies and fact denial, because it feels better. Why not prefer our imperfect human understandings of reality that demystifies as better methods and more evidence emerges.
He concludes:
"Given the existence and influence of Christianity, it makes sense that some intellectuals in a decadent post-Christian society would be drawn back toward its consolations. But why were we given Christianity in the first place? Why are we being given whatever we’re being given in the U.F.O. phenomenon?
The only definite answer is that the world is much stranger than the secular imagination thinks."
Here is what I wrote in reply in public:
People need personal consolation because mortality and death are real and they need each other for support because, well, life is hard. All of the narratives of religion about divinity are factual nonsense but at least Douthat acknowledges that people use nonsense because they need consolation. Once you dispense with the supernaturalism, you can get on with loving a life that ends with death. I'm not thrilled with extinct because I've gratitude for the miracle of experiencing mortal consciousness. I still like living. It's a "miracle" not because science and humans can't explain it but because we can.

Chop wood, fetch water as the Zen adage puts it.
Here's the Douthat link: