Why does there not exist individuals who deeply believes in certain Gods, with a complete mythology around it about creation, traits, morality and so on, that is completely detached from the beliefs of any other person on earth? Religion does not exist without society.
Viewing religion only as the belief in a supernatural being begs the question why all religions say something about why’s and what’s. Christianity is not the belief “God exists and Jesus is his son”, and Islam is much more than “There is only one God, and Muhammed is his prophet”; they are ways of life and ways of thinking; they are law, philosophy and community.
Why has christianity changed so much over the years? Because society changed, and a religion separated from society is like a foetus taken from the womb. It dies. When a human dies, the body remains, but we can all agree – the essence of person is gone. When religion is separated from society, its essence is gone. One can never get to know a person by studying the body, and one can never get to know religion by studying it separated from society. One can never understand why one is loved by one’s mother and cherished by one’s friends by looking at the body, and likewise one can never understand why people would believe in religion when looking at it separated from society.
Greek mythology is today looked on as a historical curiosity; a collection of interesting stories. It is inconceivable that someone should read the ancient writings and be convinced by it. We do not consider the greeks to be any different from us by nature, so to justify their belief, in order to justify ourselves, we make claims about lack of scientific understanding. But greek mythology is more than explaining thunder by a guy called Zeus. It covers all aspects of living and life – and this is why we view it as a curiosity the truth of which is inconceivable: we do not live in ancient Greece.
Christianity will suffer the same fate when all christian communities disappear. We are all already seeing it; all the criticism of christianity on the basis that it does not make logical sense; all the atheist who cannot comprehend how anyone can believe in it. They cannot comprehend it because while they live in a society with christians, they do not, themselves, exist in christian society – society is multifaceted.
A society is characterized by shared way of thinking and shared views at some basic level; shared convictions and shared ideas. Human always asks why? – and the answer is provided by mythology. Society needs and demands that there is an answer to this question. Why honour your parents; why not steal; why not lie; why help others. Society can allow different explanations to why only inasmuch as they agree on whether or not something should/should not be done.
The criticism of religion is that since the answer to why is seemingly arbitrary, the what can be equally arbitrary. If “because God says so” is a valid answer to the why, then the what can be anything; murder, genocide and other undesirabilities. The religious why’s to scientific questions (e.g. thunder) has invariably turned out to be false, so why should not the moral why’s be equally false?
Science has answered the why of thunder, but does there exist, from science, any right answer to the moral why’s?
Without God, everything is allowed – F. M. Dostoevsky
The philosophers Singer and MacMahan has argued from the perspective of harm and well-being that the only moral issue with painlessly killing new-born babies is the effect it may have on other, fully developed people, implying that it is ok if it does not affect anyone. In general, killing any person nobody cares about is ok from this line of reasoning. From a scientific point of view they are correct: no one experiences harm.
And of course, the question is open: is it harm and well-being that should be the basis of morality? How does one, scientifically and logically, prove what should be the basis of morality? Indeed, science can only answer “what is”, not what “ought to be” – and logic, does it not always need its axioms?
Many of the common cornerstones of social morality find theirs existence in doubt when scrutinized by logic and science. For instance the concept of deserve that social morality relies so much on has been laid wasted, as science and logic both point to the non-existence of free will. As far as these sources go, one is to blame for one’s actions as much as a tree for swaying in the wind.
Despite all this we can in modern secular society observe that Dostoevsky was not correct; society has not crumbled. We consider murder to be wrong in general, and hold people accountable for their actions. Even if the “why-God” has disappeared, we do not allow ourselves everything; some answer to why is still in place. It is a classical critique of atheism that there is nothing keeping atheists from doing immoral acts. However, there still is some sense of shared morality in society, even among the atheists. Is this shared morality rooted in science and logic, or is it at its essence religious?
The answer to why killing people nobody cares about is wrong cannot be considerations of harm and well-being. Often we refer to the concept of the value or sanctity of human life, but, this is not logical or scientific – it is a belief. Value and sanctity are purely intuitive concepts. Are not they the essence of religion, and is the supernatural not simply an abstraction, explanation, embodiment and justification of these?
All societies have such concepts of sanctity and value – from this follows morality and norms – and stories and explanations around them. This as a collection can be called mythology since the whole conception has the same root as religion, but does not necessarily have supernatural elements.
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him – Voltaire
The intuitive and emotional concepts of value and sanctity are a necessity for society. More correctly, it is a necessity that they are of similar nature among the people and shared throughout society. In other words, society needs its members to have a mythology.
Philosophical ethical theories can never cover the whole of morality as existing in and needed by society. Many of the ethical theories are just post-hoc reasonings to justify some of these intuitive concepts that we have and admit we need. In assuming their foundations they are playing in the field of religion, replacing God by artificial “duty”, “justice” or “intrinsic value”. They seek to replace mythology, but are either empty or have a mythological basis.
Never do they match the actual, inner morality in its intuitive form, which is the proper source of our actions. They fail at this because they make what only exists in separate, particular cases into something general, and want to represent what is as something that also should be – and argue why that is so. They try to argue that rocks should exist for some absolute purpose, but all we can do is to admit that they exist and build our houses of them.
Those of the theories which do not use the religious toolset, suggest only consequences to justify their morality, relying on the human’s innate drives towards pleasure and avoid suffering. These consequences are not convincing enough to inspire appropriate behaviour. Handing over the moral directives to the realm of “pure” reason, these theories condemn them to erosion, for reason is extremely flexible and can justify almost any action of its owner in terms of consequences.
We simply need a shared intuitive emotional drive and conviction in order to have a common morality to hold society together, and no philosophical theory has been able to replace this. “Justice”, “intrinsic values” and “duty” existing only by and for themselves have a hard time competing against super-natural beings and forces as objects of belief and source of morality.
The mythological morality that is the glue of society is far wider-reaching than the common, philosophical concept of morality. We are convinced in the philosophical theories only inasmuch the conclusion of the theories matches the mythology of society, but then the mythology is the source of our conviction and not the reasoning behind. It is in our nature to live according to mythology, and we are what we are.
Religion is but an instance of mythology. It is very well that the sought after logical-machine “human” does not exist, for if we were always to demand a logical and scientific answer to why, Dostoevsky would be right. We can even observe the increase in disunity achieved by scrutinizing the answers to why.
The common answer to why is still mythological. Without mythology, everything is allowed.
Society cannot exist without mythology.