I have often taken both sides on the debates over modernity and religion. We discuss ‘religion’ as an abstraction, but the real issue is the ‘Axial Age religions’ whose passing can be ‘predicted’ on the basis of my historical model of the ‘macro effect’. I always said as much, but was suddenly confronted with the confusing issue of the New Atheists who have produced a bizarre and flawed version of the secular in their mix of atheism, scientism, and darwinism. Those who are in a quandary over the issue of science and religion, and the usual bogus ‘Reason’ projects, should realize that while ‘religions’ may pass away there is a content that stands beyond the framework of religion as such. Harris, especially, falls in this trap by equating secularism with atheism, and ‘reason’ with the methods of scientism. But the reality is far more complex. Look at buddhism: the religion might pass away but the ‘path to enlightenment’ is not buddhist and has existed in many eras back to the Neolithic. Harris wishes to ‘fix’ this supposed delusion with a sterilized brand of ‘waking up’ pegged to neuroscience, and reduced to an ideology of scientism. The phenomenon of enlightenment is filtered out of the discussion. What on earth for? There may be a temporal limit to a given religion, but their content persists in a timeless state.
One of the problems with these narrow formulations is the failure to study the real complexity of modernity. We can see that atheism and scientism are deviations or oversimplifications. The issue of atheism is not intrinsically connected with ‘reason’ or the ‘secular’. The distortion of these terms simply confuses everyone.
In the same way the place of monotheistic religions may well be subject to a ‘passing away’ effect. But the issues of theism/atheism remain as central outside of the religions that carried the ideas.
Those who wish to embrace the secular should study the larger context of the early modern to see the breadth of its innovations, beside which the brands of atheism and scientism are merely offshoots. The question of ‘god’ is especially troubling for many. To me, the issue is beyond solution. It is easy to see problems with belief, but then you turn to atheism and find its foundation almost as problematical. This effect was clearly studied by Kant in his thinking on metaphysics, which encompasses not just one, but a set, of beliefs, and their opposites. These ‘antinomies’ show us why debates over ‘god’ and/or a new religion of atheism, as the New Atheists clearly intend, will suffer the same metaphysical liabilities.