Recently I was discussing the place of religion in society with a friend(?) from another country who's very leftist (By our standards, anyway, I have no idea how he measures up in his own country), and has absolutely no use for religion, apart from a tool to manipulate society, and a tool he finds it unseemly to use.
This got me to thinking why the Left beats that particular dead horse so often.
I think what the super-rational guys on the other side are missing here is that all this "Religion" business isn't just about God, who may or may not exist. It's a neurological function that's wired into our brains for whatever reason. (one of many examples http://delontin1.wordpress.com/2008/01/20/religion-merely-a-brain-function/ ) Religion is merely a manifestation of this hardwiring. Why? I don't know. Maybe God put it there. Maybe it's a side-effect of our sapience - a kind of echo, if you will. Maybe it's simply a survival mechanism. This doesn't mean that God doesn't exist, mind you - I'm absolutely convinced He does - but, merely that we're genetically predisposed to look for Him. The Bible says as much, it now turns out that the Bible was right about that.
Whatever the reason, religion has popped up in all cultures at all times, as independent as music and language. It's not an example of a 'bad viral idea that needs to be extinguished,' which is the impression I occasionally get from a lot on the left, or something odious to be tolerated and quarantined at best, like the clap. It's part and parcel of who we are, it's a basic chunk of how our minds work. Even Nietzsche - High Lord Priest of the 19th Century Atheists - recognized this, and realized that you can't just say 'no more of this,' you need to provide something that fulfills that role in people's minds and hearts. You can't simply turn off three million years of evolution because it's inconvenient, can you? And once that goes, what comes next? Because there's always something on the chopping block. Once thing X is gone, and life continues to suck, it's time for thing Y to become the scapegoat, and once that's gone, it's time to blame Z...
Put it another way: any attempt to change society by completely ignoring human nature is doomed to fail. Invariably, they all end up as variations on Chairman Mao.
Sure, sure, the obvious reply is "well, I don't think like that. You're making generalizations, I've never felt compelled by religion." Ok, so you don't. One of the fundamental logical fallacies is "Since this means nothing to me, it means nothing to anyone," which, when proved false (How much of America is Atheist again? Less than ten percent? And most of those are Easter Sunday Atheists, aka "Agnostics?"), it's generally replaced with "Since this means nothing to me, it *shouldn't* mean anything to anyone else. Then comes the anger, and the intolerance, and the chopping block and we're right back to the X-Y-Z scapegoating again.
'So why doesn't it matter to you if it's inherent in humanity?' A good illustration is music. I'm obnoxiously musical. I'm always singing, I'm usually in several bands, I whistle constantly, annoying everyone around me, I write songs and play guitar (Badly), I've been this way my whole life. My dad, on the other hand, couldn't care less. Given the choice between a concert and football game and a nice ham sandwich, he's going for the football or the sandwich. It just doesn't matter to him, it never did. Music was just a background to being social, and since he's not terribly social anymore, it serves no function for him. He just doesn't care. He's a practical guy. I would suggest that people who simply don't care about religion are predisposed to be practical. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself, though practicality in a vacuum tends rather notoriously towards intolerance and treating people/society like machines.
As Joe Straczynski (Atheist) said, "Faith and Reason are the shoes on your feet. You'll go further with both than you ever will with only one alone." I think that's a valid point. I think we need to recognize that humans are neither rational nor irrational, but an occasionally uncomfortable mix of the two (This is, by the way, one of those things that Religion has long been aware of and commented on - the obvious discord between the body/emotions and the spirit/mind).
We're this way because our base code says we have to be this way, and ultimately our basecode says that because it's the way we evolved.