Updated 10/18 to emphasis that secular institutions can possibly provide better alternatives.
I am an Atheist but I agree with Charles Murray. I don’t think secular humanism can produce the same long game institutions and culture that religion provides. However it could replace them with something different and better.
In yesterday’s post I noted how long game institutions are under attack by the US government and the possible downsides. The same thing is happening in religion. First, what do I consider long game religions? From my consideration, the Catholic church is long game, but Baptists and Evangelicals are not. Jews are long game. I’m on the fence on whether Muslims are. Mormons are long game. Most Pagan religions are not.
Note: well long game does not mean “been around for a long time.” It means that it sprouts secondary institutions, has a culture and it’s followers children are likely to adhere to the rituals and the culture of the religion, even if they are not strict in their practice.
Here are the necessary qualities that a religion needs to be long game:
Must have barriers to entry. This could be a series of rituals and education in order to convert, such as the case for the Catholic Church. The Jews have a barrier in that you usually need to be related to a Jew in order to be in the religion. There are other ways to convert to Judaism, but they are not easy. There really are no barriers for Evangelicals. You simply have to profess that Jesus is your Savior. The same is true for Muslims, which is part of the reason I am on the fence about them.
Why are barriers to entry important? Because it filters out those who are flaky, not truly serious, and serves as proof that the convert will contribute to the religious community.
As an aside it seems to me that the Evangelical and Muslim faiths spread more like memes or viruses; they might burn out in the long run. There will always be a core group but their number might dwindle. Islam is the fastest growing religion right now, but if I am correct, then it might spread and burn out.
Unique ritual. Actually, most religions have this. The exception would probably be Evangelical Christians. I think what separates long game religions is that these rituals are closer to the core of belief and act to reinforce it. They also mark milestones as a believer progresses through life. Pagans have unique rituals but do not seem to have a big picture or reinforce other aspects of the religion.
They create secondary institutions which mutually reinforce each other and the religion. They create schools for children, colleges, hospitals, seminaries, volunteer organizations, lobbying groups, community outreach, and charities etc… Islam does this well which is why I am on the fence regarding whether it is long game or not. Clearly the Catholic church and Mormons do this the best.
A recognition that we are part animal and gives the believer a way to transcend the animal. Christians refer to this as original sin and there are various ways to deal with it. This is another area in which I’m not sure Muslims are long game. Judging by their actions around the world they don’t seem to have effective ways of dealing with the inner animal. Of course, if you go back a couple of centuries you could argue that Christians didn’t have effective ways to deal with this inner animal either. That is a fair criticism, but modern Christians don’t seem to have this problem.
I am an Atheist and a product of Western Civilization. Unlike most Atheists, I don’t see myself as a refutation of Christian values but rather step in the evolution of those values. Honestly even if I tried to refute Christianity, it is such a part of Western Civilization that it influences me in ways I probably don’t even realize.
Right now everything is in flux and this is a time for experimentation. I do think there is a vacuum left by secular humanism. How do we fill it? You cannot engineer a religion, but if I could, here is an outline of what I think it should look like based on the characteristics of long game institutions given above.
Unique ritual: There should be daily rituals centered around meditation that would involve the whole family. There would also have to be rituals based on life events. I would also borrow the use of psychedelics from Paganism and create rituals around them. It could utilize known psychological states such as lucid dreaming and deep meditation. These rituals could easily be incorporated in secular thought as inner and outer discovery of the mysteries of the universe.
They create secondary institutions which mutually reinforce each other and the religion. There is a definite need for this right now. A huge vacuum could be filled by Atheists. The problem is that we lack a cohesive structure and authority to bring us together. I think the place to start would be with private schools and charities. Private schools based on the tenants of Western Civilization with emphasis on humanist values. Imagine the Sagan school. I see some humanist charities popping up, but clearly more could be done.
A recognition that we are part animal and give the believer a way to transcend the animal. Secular humanists or whatever replaces them could shine here. You could create a system based on scientific understanding of our moral minds and game theory to explain and re-engineer ourselves into better humans.
Must have barriers to entry. Not really sure what this would look like. Maybe leave some ideas in the comments.
Here is the part where I will lose both religious people and Atheists. If there is a next step after secular humanism, then it also must incorporate the human need to try to comprehend the mysteries of the universe and recognize a bigger picture. It must do this in lock-step with science. This cannot be simply intellectual. It would have to speak to the whole human. It would also have to have room for altered states without contradiction. I am convinced we will see an evolution of secular humanism.
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