There are many juicy topics in today’s discourse where a commonly occurring one is the “loss of religiosity” we’re seeing today. While this isn’t something conceptually new (Nietzsche was ahead of us by more than a hundred years!), there is a grave misinterpretation about what’s actually happening today; we’re becoming more religious.
To get at the root of what modern religiosity looks like (and to take a quick swing at the neo-trad evangelizing of traditional religion), there may be no better place to start than the death of Christ.
Prior to his crucifixion, the Hebrew God was understood as a truly omnipotent figure that regarded everything that was happening. To exemplify this with the Book of Job (a story about a man who loses everything and is taught by God that his suffering isn’t some miserable coincidence but something with deeper meaning), looking at a negative aspect of life is similar to staring closely at a flaw in a painting, only when you step back to appreciate the painting as a whole do you see the harmony the artist put together.
Now, getting to Christ’s death, it’s helpful to understand why it’s regarded as such an important story in human history. When you think of other fables and myths, there is a clear denotation of who’s the “good guy” and who’s the “bad guy” where there’s no questioning of someone’s death (you don’t feel pity when Hercules slays the hydra). However, the story of Christ is the first one where you actually question the punishment of the victim.
Regardless if you see this as being a message from God or more as a lesson to be learned from perceiving a martyr, the lesson remains the same, we are given responsibility in our own hands. This then becomes an origin story of the Holy Spirit (understood as tao in eastern philosophies or, in other words, an open individualism stemming from God) as a result of a humanist worldview being necessary.
What this leads to is an acknowledgment of self-interpretation of the world while retaining an affinity for your fellow man. However, after centuries of numerous religions being formed and today’s multiple grand narratives, where we’ve ended up is not with a loss of religion but a reflexivity of religion where it is affected by the ideology itself, one’s interpretation of that ideology, and one’s intuitive direction for the ideology’s development.
You can see many people who feel politically homeless as a result of this circumstance. A person shall have their personal notions of how they view the world as well as a notion of the label/party they delegate away their viewpoints to (ie supposing whatever is “democrat” is good and reading off the provided script for answers [e.g. being in favor of abolishing student debt because it’s the stance of the blue party]) and then having notions about the way in which the provided narratives are changing (ie seeing democrats pivot entirely on whether or not to take the covid vaccine when Trump was no longer in office). With such foundational ideas and scaffolds constantly in flux, how does one regard the world without going insane!
Here, in a paradox of sorts, we must recognize that what really matters beneath it all are the unknown knowns (things we know but don’t know that we know them). Someone with faith believes in God not by consciously actively reminding themselves that God exists but by believing that the existence of Him is not some axiom but a question that shouldn’t be asked or thought.
For a funny joke to showcase this effect, suppose Stalin’s giving a speech and, upon finishing, someone in the crowd stands up and criticizes Stalin for his decision making or such. Of course (like a tennis player in China), that person will disappear the next day. But, now suppose another person in the crowd stands up and yells at the first saying that one shouldn’t criticize Stalin. The second person would be eliminated quicker than the first one. Why’s that? Because the second person broke the unknown known that Stalin shouldn’t be criticized.
Religion (or ideology if you prefer) isn’t about having some ancient texts that people follow, it’s about having unconceived preconceptions of how the world comes together. With this in mind, the veracity of things like wokeness or klanman-ship can be better understood. So how does that make us seemingly more religious today? Whether you’re revisiting the experience economy or extrapolating on the effects of media on detribalization, it’s clear we’re becoming increasingly tethered to technology at a deeper level.
Consider how some foundational aspects of life are now dependent on an app counterpart. Are you really friends with someone if you’re not following each other on Twitter? Are you really a couple if you haven’t posted about it on Facebook? Are you really a working professional if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile?
At a more individual level, we’re already interfacing with the world in a Solipsism-as-a-Service (SaaS for short) model with highly tailored TikTok feeds or echo chambers in your preferred social platforms. This isn’t seemingly significant on its own, people are already in echo chambers with their local communities and cities. What gives it a sinister effect is that people unknowingly interact with these apps (or the ‘metaverse’) while assuming that what they’re seeing is more objective or truthful without paying any thought to how it might not be the case.
Without giving any hint of skepticism, people scroll through cute slideshows on Instagram written by astrology-loving college girls in order to form their opinions on economics as though what they’re reading on the internet must be true. Being in the middle of a “cancel mob” feeds one with an animosity to participate in the ruining of someone’s life as though it’s a precious obligation.
One doesn’t need to play a side or ascribe goodness/badness to these happenings to see that, simply, one’s usage of technology supplants a new religiosity.
To take this techno-piety further, one’s outlooks are greatly determined by their experiences and memories. How has social media changed the way we preserve or reference our personal experiences? In a way, we’ve offloaded our empiricism to the things we hold online and this gives technology the feeling of being an objective extension of our ordinary thinking.
As a result of recommendation engines and techno-kings, our media consumption plays out less like a memex and more like Soma usurping our thoughts with the way others want us to actually think.
Justifiably, one can have a normative view on this or judgement about whether or not it ought to be the way it is. However, unless the progress of society were to suddenly retract as a whole, this is merely the way things are and are tending toward. Instead of becoming dreary about it, I implore you to explore the idea of how you, the individual, can take advantage of this. For personal goals like building an exercise habit, you can modify your feedback loops to reward you with the thoughts you want to induce.
Or, to circle back to the “religion is dying” discourse and how it relates to conversations like the global fertility decline, let’s win the system from within the system itself. Without an alien invasion or plague, people aren’t going to sporadically return to traditional religion so then we must reframe the zealousness of technology to induce the thinking we’d like people to have.
A proliferation of posts and hashtags brought billions of people to change their thinking of covid being the worst thing in the world to the situation in Ukraine being the worst thing in the world, all in a matter of a day. In the same way, technology companies can bring back an inspiration to start families.
Searching for a solution to our population crisis isn’t an economic problem; nobody’s going to be on the fence on having kids or not, hear the government will give them money, and then change their mind to start a family. Instead, a la inception, these ideas need to be religiously introduced.
However, if you’re a luddite or an anti-natalist and are just watching the world burn then this all doesn’t matter but is fun to muse about anyways.