“The Good,” “The God,” and the Demise of Secular Religion

Ideas are significant in defining human ingroups. Among intellectuals and academics, those ideas often relate to a common conception of “the good.” “The good” evolves and changes rather quickly, but, at any given time, it is perceived as an absolute. Such ideological constructs can be understood as secular religions. Traditional religions are characterized by belief in an imaginary god, and the secular religion is characterized by belief in an imaginary good. This good is perceived as a real thing, having an existence of its own transcending individual minds. See, for example, “The Moral Landscape,” by Sam Harris, one of the secular religion’s high priests.

It’s been interesting to watch the reactions of the secular true believers as the evidence for innate human behavior, including moral behavior, accumulated over the years until continued denial became untenable. At first, like the old behaviorists, they reacted with rage and fury, demonizing such ideas as heresies associated with racism, fascism, etc. When the intellectual dams finally began to break, acceptance of innate behavior was led by “liberal” clergymen of the secular religion, who assured the flock that it really didn’t challenge their most cherished beliefs at all. Why, the whole idea had been “invented” by E. O. Wilson and, after all, he was one of them.

Their rationalizations have been entirely similar to those of the liberal clergy of traditional religions, who have, for example, rationalized the contradiction between the Book of Genesis and scientific fact by claiming that the book is allegorical. According to their apologetics, the days in Genesis are really “eons” of time, the firmament is really the “sky,” etc. Similarly, the secular clergy hold forth about the exemplary behavior of bonobos and assure the flock that belief in “the good” isn’t threatened at all by the fact that morality is a manifestation of traits that evolved in the distant past.

In their way, the fundamentalist clergy are more rational than their liberal brethren. There can be no accommodation between scientific fact and religious faith. If there is a God, he would not have bamboozled his children with obscure allegories. If the Bible is not literally true and the inspired word of God, the basis for faith disappears. And in their way, the old behaviorists who fulminated against the original sin of innate morality were right, too. It is the iceberg against which the Titanic of secular religion has foundered. The academic apologists of the Steven Pinker school are merely rearranging the deck chairs. Like Christianity and Islam, the secular religion will continue to be with us as a force for obscurantism into the indefinite future. However, it has become every bit as irrational to believe in “the good” as it is to believe in “the god.”

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

4 thoughts on ““The Good,” “The God,” and the Demise of Secular Religion”

  1. Many threads here seem to try and disprove other people’s faith. I have no problem with the idea of faith – there are a few things that I take on faith that I have never seen myself with my own two eyes – such as the brain in the person next to me, and the theory of the atom etc. I have looked at the evidence and made a decision that it is probably true.

  2. I don’t see the connection between what you’ve written here and the contents of The Moral Landscape.

    “This good is perceived as a real thing, having an existence of its own transcending individual minds.” There is nothing that is explicitly transcendent about the philosophy that Harris promotes in the book. If there is something implicit, I wish you’d expound on it here or point to where you’ve clarified this.

    More to the point, I’d like to see your response to the comparison Harris makes between “flourishing” and “health”.

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