FORWARD BASE B

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A Modern Religion Must Be Based In Reality

Theological arguments can somewhat convincingly reason there could be a higher intent in the universe but it’s still easier to attribute everything around us to unguided natural forces.
I think guys like Spinoza approached this the best way:  The universe is sacred because if there is a creative intent, everything that exists is a direct manifestation of God.  This way, we can treat the universe and the natural forces that animate it as God itself.  Laws of physics are the laws of God.
Christian learning inspired by the Ancient Greek philosophy led to science by espousing some attitudes very like this but remained bound to trying to reconcile this mode of reasoning with the teachings of Christ and the traditions of the church.
Since around the time of St. Paul, Christianity incorporated the pagan Greek idea of ideal forms to describe the perfection of heaven.  This meant that everything we see on earth is a pale shadow of a higher reality.  This concept was combined with the Zoroastrian cosmology of earth as a battleground between dualistic forces of good and evil.  The material universe became an illusory and temporary testing ground for our souls.  What started as a Greek-influenced offshoot of a Semitic world view evolved into an ethereal doctrine that possibly shared more in common with Buddhism than a Judaism or Islam that treated God as an unknowable abstraction while dealing with earthly life in legalistic detail.  This made Christianity incompatible with a materialistic world view.
The result was that science coupled with revolutionary Enlightenment values ended up becoming its own nascent religion rather than developing as a school of theology within the church.
Western thought has been bizarrely split ever since, looking for the sacred in a heaven that cannot co-exist with a “dead” physical plane.
The way out of this trap of course is to simply see there is no conflict between the sacred and the material, natural world.
This is perhaps why science has not been as direct a challenge to Islam and Judaism that spend most of their energy dealing with life on earth.  Even the Indian world views of Hinduism and Buddhism seem not to wilt so badly under the scrutiny of science because they do not require the natural world to be governed by supernatural forces.  A Buddhist may see reality as an illusion, but is not beholden to an elaborate theoretical true reality as a matter of faith.  The need for a legalistically defined ethereal realm creates a unique chemistry in Christianity.
Ironically, having reasons to apply legalistic reasoning outside of human social life may have led Christians to discover the laws of reality itself.  The tragedy is they could not embrace the system of natural laws they discovered as the divine expression of God they were looking for all along.  Christians could have developed science into a Sharia law of nature and avoided the great schism between flesh and spirit.

Environmentalism is a school of the Enlightenment science religion that attempts to treat the natural world as holy.  It’s an attempt to move in the right direction, to assign sacred values to the natural world, but it proves inconsistent when one minute we’re told it’s a tragedy if the whales go extinct and the next that our world is an insignificant speck of dust in an enormous universe.  Secular preachers like Carl Sagan could never resist showing off pictures of earth as a blue dot from afar to hammer in their point even as they simultaneously say how wonderful it all is.  Try as they might secular doctrine just can’t quite move past “dead matter” Christian attitude towards the natural world.
The really fatal flaw though is the split between religion and science renders environmentalists unable to deal with human affairs.  So environmentalism begins as a genuine attempt to capture the sacredness and wonder of nature, but ends up by portraying humans as the anti-natural force that must be countered.  The hypocrisy of environmentalism is that it is anti-human because in the secular religion, humans are oddly considered apart from the natural world in stark defiance of their own scientific knowledge.
Even were environmentalism able to incorporate humans as a natural element, it would still mean embracing worship of nature for its own sake seeing meaning in everything.  This would mean a throwback to animistic forms of spirituality typical of the stone age.  As the shallow fads of “New Age” have revealed, this means wandering into yet another trap.

The key for a successful post-Secular religion is to adopt an attitude of a holy universe in the Spinozan sense but to do so with a purpose and a mission.  The trouble with environmentalism is it proposes we should save the whales but offers no reason why it matters.
If we include humans with all the rest of nature we first have to ask, “What makes humans so special?  Why is a human any different than a pebble on Mars or a floating micro-organism?”  The answer is our conscious awareness.  That’s why we’d rank a lizard over a mushroom and a dog over a lizard.  Awareness is existence, without which the universe is empty.  There may be whole planets of fantastic landscapes covered in gardens of iridescent lichen but nothing to “witness” them.
Environmentalists insist on the intrinsic beauty of nature but miss out on the need for beauty to be perceived, or else it is wasted.
Because we see the intrinsic value of conscious awareness itself, it makes a pretty good foundation.  Furthermore it sets humans apart from inanimate matter or lesser living things without having to lie to ourselves that humans and human affairs are separate from the rest of nature.  By the same principle we also reason smarter humans of higher consciousness are more valuable than simpletons.  This paves the way for both eugenics and a meritocracy of intellect promoted by the state religion itself.  We have a reason to try to preserve and spread the human species.  It has potential to inspire us to be our best and then become better than we are.
Such doctrines would lead eventually to trans-humanism and practical immortality—to the rise of awareness that transcends humans as we transcend pets and livestock.
In a poetic way of thinking, those of awareness form the organ by which the universe knows itself, in other words—to become the mind God.

Towards A Post-Secular Religion

Religion remains widespread but we can’t pretend it exerts the same power over human imagination and behavior as it used to.   No one takes it quite seriously.  There are many who still go to church but with the notable exception of Muslims it would be difficult to find more than a handful of zealots who would kill or die for their religion.  And this is probably because Islam is not just made of airy ideas of God and heaven but is at least as heavily concerned with governing earthly culture, law, and politics.  By this comparison we can readily see that separation of church and state is a death blow for traditional religions.  A serious religion cannot be excluded from the state any more than gravity or magnetism could be excluded from the purview of science.  So a modern religion must encompass the entire spectrum of humanity and human endeavor and not linger as a weak, de-fanged figurehead.

We have discovered through hard trial and error that a society without a sense of larger purpose drifts into nihilism and despair.  Ever since the Enlightenment gave rise to the “separation of church and state” leaders have looked for a convincing tofu substitute for meat.  From Lenin and Hitler to Lincoln, leaders all over the world have tried to create the sacred from the secular.  Of all the secular ideologies, Nazi-ism may have come closest to generating real religious zeal but it burnt out in a few short years.  The American faith of individual and national Exceptionalism also has shown potential to inspire, but only when the going was good.  It’s easy to cheer for a home team that’s winning, so it doesn’t really count.  It’s a weak religion that can be killed by a slow economy when Judaism survived repeated conquest and exile.  All attempts at Enlightenment secular faith have ultimately failed at the thankless task of cultivating vigor and cohesion from barren soil.  No matter how it gets re-packaged, a society that is for everyone is for no-one.

The first step is to have some sort of core identity.  Islam requires enough hard-to-fake signalling that it actually means something to be part of the in-group.  Meanwhile, most Christian denominations welcome any warm body that shows up and aren’t too much more than a weekend social club for adults.  Some kind of ethnic and cultural identification helps form the core, even if it just applies to the founders.

Next, a core group has to have a grand mission to fulfill, usually to help the in-group against the out-group.  For Judaism it was the imperative to preserve and pursue the interests of the chosen people against every conceivable obstacle.
A successful mission has the ability to inspire from the top to the bottom.  A religion requires a mainstream version that addresses the needs of most people but it also needs loftier schools of philosophy, scholasticism, and mysticism to satisfy the intellects of smart and educated people.  One thing I admire about Catholicism is its scholarly tradition.  It has lasted as long as it has because it had roles for outliers.
This is a major failing of Protestant Christianity.  Because it was a reaction against Catholicism all emphasis was on the needs of the common man while neglecting the intellectual traditions.  Like most reactions, including the Enlightenment, it overcompensated in the opposite direction rather than finding a golden mean.  I was stunned when I opened a catholic bible for the first time as a teenager and saw archaeological explanations of the origins of each book with an analysis of the time and place.  To this day, many Protestant strains offer up a bible of texts from thousands of years ago without any interpretation.  It’s a mind-numbingly stupid approach for anyone who likes to think.  Protestantism as a newer experiment in religion hasn’t yet developed the traditions of exegesis that provide endless hours of entertainment for nerds and shore up the philosophical foundations of the faith.
Meanwhile, more estoteric schools of Buddhism like Zen might be examples of ideologies that favor the intellectual side with little to offer to ordinary people, but there’s mass market versions of Buddhism out there too.
The modern religion of secularism backed by holy science fails completely, though, because it offers no mission to anyone, really.  We’re just here on this rock in space, everyone’s interchangeable, and there’s a faith-based doctrine of eternal progress that inevitably gets discredited with time.  A real religion has to have answers during down times if it wants to last, not just when things are going forward as planned.  People have to have a reason to keep going even when the home team loses.  The insipid gruel of modernity has never yet succeeded in sustaining a people.  We need something better.

The chaos of impending neo-tribalism will give us plenty of new groups all looking for their own answers to the big questions within the secular vacuum.  Those that come up with the best formulas will become the ruling tribes and the lesser tribes will be placed in castes beneath until a new order eventually emerges from our modern dark ages.

Social Engineering Should Be Tested First

The best intentioned reformers often make things even worse.  But so would anyone trying to solve massive, complicated problems on the first try. It’s actually more surprising anything ever goes right.
It amazes me looking back over history to see how reformers and revolutionaries try to apply their ideologies without ever having tested them. Imagine a tech company releasing a new device without extensively testing it first or a computer programmer writing code for an entire program without ever trying to compile it. Ridiculous, yet that’s what people try to do all the time. Too often the result is disaster.
The higher castes have greater agency through which they deal with greater responsibilities. They can’t just say “oops” when there’s a big logistical screwup and a couple million people starve to death.
Any responsible sentient being in power naturally has a system to test new ways of organization before implementing them on a large scale.
Observing differences between local governments and the study of history provides lots of fertile material for hypotheses, but the devil is in the details.

There would have to be some sort of R and D department for trying out new social technologies. Perhaps there could even be reality shows of a sort where in the first round groups of maybe 150 or so live under a hypothetical social model then those groups that make it past the elimination get expanded up to 1000 and so on. There would be rules to keep it ethical. People who “die” in the experiment would just be “voted off the island” and sent home. Not being “real” would of course distort the data, but perhaps money or other incentives could make the results worthwhile. Someone who “dies” might lose all their prize money, representing a total loss.

Or to make this simpler maybe a reform simply gets tried first in a small town or a single city first and upvoted or nexted based on results. Perhaps there might be an actual experimental province set aside with discrete zones. Those who chose to live there would simply vote with their feet. In the absence of any Berlin walls, it would quickly become evident which zones people like and which they avoid and what type of people or demographics prefer different systems. Of course, the experimental province might give unrepresentative data if they attracted outliers of the population, but it could be a start. Not to mention, there would probably have to be incentives to get people to choose to live in experimental land.  Perhaps they’d sign contracts to stick around in experimentland for a year or two or else they lose all their bonuses.
As enough information was amassed from real life experiments maybe computer simulations would become more effective at projecting results and maybe programs could be written to project hypotheses for ideal social organizations taking every aspect of human nature into account that maximize both raw competitiveness and creativity/adaptability to new stressors.

Throughout history, groups have settled on something that works for the time period and then try to perpetuate it ad nauseum across milennia.  Talmudic Judaism was a brilliant way to coordinate a particular Semite tribe over 2000 years ago.  Islam turned out to be the right solution for quarreling Arab city states about 1300 years ago.  But one of the things we immediately notice is that all these systems buy a professional suite of anti-virus software to prevent change to that successful formula, even if it’s a thousand years later.
Sadly, social technologies tend to stagnate because they only ascend to apotheosis in the first place because they have serious protection against change.
The challenge before us then is how to design a society to be both resilient and highly adaptable to new stressors, so that when the next big asteroid hits, we aren’t among the dinosaurs.

Rational People Are Inimical To Social Cohesion

Functional societies so far require people to have weak powers of reason and to adopt starkly irrational beliefs.  Groups that can trick their members into acting against their individual best interests are those that thrive.

A typical man’s biological interests are best served by impregnating as many women as possible and providing as few resources as he can to each so long as the offspring survive, so he can continue to search for more.
The tradition of marriage harnesses his sexual energies into productive tasks that harm his own immediate interests but help the society.
Going to war is completely inimical to his interests.  As far as he’s concerned he loses all if he dies.  His death may preserve his society, but that serves him little solace if he is no longer alive.
Or take voting in elections, walking into stores without stealing, or any other activity inspired by moral imperatives.  If he thinks completely rationally, he understands that his life does infinitesimally little to win a war or his vote to win an election.  It is irrational for him to participate in these affairs.
His fear comes from moral imperatives—that if he doesn’t fight the invaders millions of other men will also stay home and everyone loses.  However, if he sees millions of other men willingly go to war it pays handsomely to defect and dodge the draft, ready to snatch up all the widows when the war is over.  The motto of all social relations is “Don’t be that guy.”
In the American Civil War, there were professional draft dodgers who made a living by snatching up money incentives to join then disappearing and doing the same thing again under another assumed identity.
In a strictly rational sense these guys were the winners.  The guys who cooperated and went to die or become cripples were losers.
Of course, war is a gentleman’s gamble, the survivors return bedecked with honors to a land less competitive than before.
But no one who takes those odds seems at first to think they’ll be the ones to lose the bet.
At the end of every war there’s cities erected for honorable men built grandly with marble whiter than bone and the door of every abode adorned with plaques emblazoned with soothing platitudes in all caps.  All to disguise the ugly fact that within lies a teenager who was torn to shreds by a landmine, sent to take the risks pulling chestnuts out of the fire for the dominant older men.  It speaks loudly that across the ages, we have to try so hard to make ourselves believe.  But if social norms are strong enough and everyone imbued with dogma from birth, most people gladly subsume their inner dissonance to fit in.

The trouble is that this trickery becomes much harder in a world where most people are literate and access to the internet is widespread.  People are pretty well bred for obedience to social norms, but given enough sources, a vocal minority begins to question and deviate, undermining the unity of the rest.
I have encountered inquisitive minds on the internet that perceive many of the same problems I do in modern societies.  But the proposed solution I most often hear is to bring back old religions or at least adapt them somehow to modern conditions.  I do not see how this can be so except by fundamentalist peoples demographically displacing technocrats over time.  And then the problem is not solved.  Either their society stays in the safety of stagnation or at length the new theocratic rulers are likewise corrupted as they advance and the cycle repeats as their creed too is unable to cope with the needs of an inquisitive and informed populace.  I see many merits in the arguments to bring back old creeds as a deliberate social strategy, but the need for people to be ignorant of their best interests for these systems to work suggests to me we must formulate an altogether new sort of system that makes use of game theory and takes informed, discerning people into account.

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