The mantra of the modern world. Belief in the supernatural is for children and fools. It is for the hayseed, the uninformed, the superstitious, and feeble. It is an opium for the masses, a crutch for the unimaginative and weak.. We're just far too intelligent and urbane to believe. We know that such an attitude does exist strongly in some sectors of the country. It is worn as a badge of honor, a trophy for coming of age as a species. Yeah, I am not buying it. I'm not buying it because at one time in my life I did. In my early twenties I was an agnostic. I could not buy the intellectual premise of atheism that all we see just spontaneously came into existence and so ordered itself to produce life as we know it. I did not buy that whatever created was personal in nature or gave a rat's behind about how certain of that creation fared. Hence, this post is not about ridiculing those who are in those situations now. Rather, this is directed at the consequences of these beliefs and how people got there.
The concept of God is as old as humanity itself. Every society from the ancients on showed some understanding that all they saw was not all there was. They looked for ways to fill this understanding. For many early societies, they looked at the natural order and saw the capricious nature sometimes of it, how the same weather that made agriculture possible also could bring death. The supernatural they built came from such observations. In these faiths, though, the gods were not interested in mankind's happiness, they were not disposed to humanity's good. No, they were to be appeased with sacrifices and kept at bay. In Judaeo-Christianity, you have one God who is disposed to his creation's good and keeps reaching out for his wayward creation like a husband for his wife. Sacrifice wasn't to appease God, but to restore a relationship lost through infidelity. All these religions had moral codes, expectations of behavior.
The arbiters of these moral codes, throughout history, were not so good at upholding the moral codes themselves. Corruption, simony and graft always seemed to rear its ugly head. For millennia, though, because of the intense fear most had of the natural world, very few strayed. Then came the rise of science. In this rise we changed a question that dominated humanity. Before, it was 'why are things they way they are?' which changed to 'how are things the way they are?' The corruption of the professional religious class became all the more an intolerable blight in this new light.
A shift from the supernatural to the natural occurred with an assumption that the two were mutually exclusive. The natural order we could measure, weigh, observe, and experiment with. The natural order seemingly had no moral code to it. The natural order could be manipulated. This wasn't always a bad thing. Cures were found for many ailments, the benefits of hygiene came into being once we understood how germs and viruses worked. But where it was bad...because of advances in warfare, for example, the 20th century was the bloodiest in history. Hundreds of millions died through warfare, revolutions, genocides, and abortion.
Humanity's modern vision rose out of these violent times numb. Increasingly, man was the problem. This started in the late 19th century and caught fire in the early 20th century with the eugenics movement. Humanity would have to weeded like an overgrown garden. As there was no creator anymore, there was no inherent dignity to respect anymore. We were livestock that could build our own homes. As western society grew further and further away from the supernatural, the natural order now was something to be manipulated so that the supernatural heaven could be replaced by a natural one. What arose? Well, one man's heaven is another man's hell. The focus on material wealth rose to absurd amounts, so absurd that only governments and revolutions against governments could restore balance. We see the rise of socialism, communism, and other forms of totalitarianism; forms that renounced the supernatural. So much of the global warming/ climate change philosophy arises from this philosophy that humanity is the enemy. Of course, only government can save us. In the order purged of the supernatural, government fills the void.
But governments can also be capricious gods. That yearning as old as humanity can not satiated by such entities. Our answer is to numb the pain from this emptiness. Is it any wonder that drug and alcohol abuse are as rampant as they are? The desire to decriminalize drugs comes from the 'they are going to do it anyway' belief. They are right. Life without the supernatural will demand something fill the void; whether that something is sex, drugs, gluttony, or wealth. However it is never enough, is it? Our being too smart to believe leads to frustration and emptiness. This is a dangerous place to be, because malignant earthly messiahs will rush into that void, promising all sorts of things if only we give them complete allegiance. It takes very little to understand why the western societies are so very angry. It takes very little to understand why so many (not all) atheists are angry people.
We created this monster. Once we dismissed the supernatural, we were going to replace it with something else. Why I moved from agnosticism to 'spiritual but not religious' for awhile, is that what I replaced the supernatural with didn't work at all. It was an exercise in futility that was leading to be a person I didn't want to be. The lure of no supernatural is that morality becomes a matter of opinion or mob rules. This is the opium of secularism. Life without discipline. The problem with this opium is that every decision has a consequence. Choice doesn't happen in a vacuum. Others are effected. Parties with different vested interest war until the society inevitably breaks down. Selfishness is the ultimate drug. Many can't break the habit.
I ended up moving from 'spiritual but not religious' to actively searching. I was in St Augustine's "our hearts are restless until they rest in thee" mode. It made more logical sense to me that whatever created us would have an intent than not have an intent. It made more sense that with intent came a positive interest in that creation. This led me back to Christianity. I looked elsewhere, trying to be my own locus of authority. I failed. God, as presented in Christianity, is so well disposed to humanity. Our problems aren't things he shields us from but that he helps us through. Because we are at the mercy of each others choices, bad things were going to happen. I moved back to Catholicism (not willingly at first) because it best understood the human condition and best presented how God does love us.
So why do our churches empty out in the west where in Africa they are expanding? Is it because the Africans are superstitious mental midgets who just don't get it their superstition? No. They didn't lose what we lost: an understanding of the supernatural. They understand that the transcendent God makes Himself visible through Jesus. Whereas ancient religions had the gods take on a human form (not become human mind you) it wasn't to save us but to cause trouble for us. God becomes flesh to save us. However, we in the west have replaced the supernatural with a much more malleable natural God. Our churches are social clubs and businesses. They have morphed into country clubs and entertainment extravaganzas with dry ice and effects appropriate to rock concerts. They are emptying out and well they should.
What we are seeing is unsettling to professional church types: where the supernatural and transcendent is focused upon, the numbers grow. For example, among many young Catholics in this country, interest in Eucharistic Adoration and extraordinary form Masses is growing. Congregations at these have a tendency to much younger than normal. Professional church types will dismiss this as a fluke, as people not appreciating or understanding the 'superior' product they offer. Do those going to these things do so because they inherently love Mass in another language? No, I don't think so. I believe it is because those rituals have a greater emphasis on God as transcendent, something they often do not see in their local parish. They have seen the moral ambiguity and the havoc it has wreaked. They want something else. It is not as if the Mass of Paul VI (Novus Ordo or ordinary rite) is absent of transcendence as written, but as practiced in many places.
At the end of the day, it isn't that the majority of the irreligious really believe that they are too smart to believe. They are searching. This is especially true of the millennial generation. They may not be able to put words to what they are searching for. Their conflict is going to be having to either give up a self-styled morality or a transcendent God. If we do not show them the latter (and in many churches we do not) they we adhere to the former. Our job is to help them see the transcendent.