A Post-Religion World

Ah, Facebook. A place to share photos, silly photos of cats, and bash religion. While the Dalai Lama wasn’t necessarily “bashing” religion, his status update last week raised a few eyebrows and prompted this excellent io9 article, “Dalai Lama tells his Facebook friends that religion ‘is no longer adequate’.” When I shared the article on my Facebook, I garnered quite a few likes as well (though, admittedly, I have a lot of non-religious friends). The specific words of the Dalai Lama were, to be clear:

All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.

As io9 (who, if you are not aware, are basically the futuristic/sci-fi/transhumanist wing of Gawker/Gizmodo/Lifehacker) points out, this is sounds an awful lot like Sam Harris with his morality-should-be-decided-by-science approach. Hear, hear!

As the Alaska Dispatch (yeah, huh?) points out, tweets from the spiritual leader mirror this sentiment:

(Side note: WordPress did a damn good job of those tweet embeds! More on that here.)

So where do we go from here? Comments from my friend circle find the Dalai Lama’s remarks not altogether surprising, but I think that’s also because many of us in America typically look at him as a source good quotes, not a spiritual leader like millions of other Buddhists around the world. And at the same time, is Buddhism not a religion? By some counts, sure, by others it’s merely a philosophical practice, or a way of living. As The Onion so succinctly put, “No One Was Murdered Because Of This Image” which indeed includes the Buddha being “violated.” Sadly we cannot say the same for satire of Muhammed.

In light of the recent outrage about a mere comedic film, which included mass rioting, injuries, and death, how much longer can we tolerate extreme faith? Or any faith, for that matter; the moment we begin to criticize irrational, god-first-and-foremost, “praise be to him” thinking, the moment we can speak clearly about much of this violence, be it from an Islamic or other religious basis. From the NY Times article:

Raising banners with Islamic slogans and denouncing the United States and Israel, Iraqis called for the expulsion of American diplomats from the country and demanded that the American government apologize for the incendiary film and take legal action against it’s creators.

This is simply ridiculous, and highlights the continuing issue with Islamic politics and their faith-crazed viewpoints. Trying to be as unbiased as possible here: holding an entire country accountable for the offensive film created by a few within it, is just ludicrous.

At least some Libyans disagree, as evinced by these photos. And I think many of us see these events unfold as evidence that a portion of Muslims are just wacky, deluded into violence by some promise that it will bring them salvation in the end if they live up to the creed of following the Quran as they interpret it. But I think we need a broader picture: the same faith that they use to fuel these attacks is the faith that causes irrational belief in any god, be it Allah, Yahweh, or Jesus. We have to confront the source: that faith, and religion, are no basis to make these moral and real-world decisions when the teachings inscribed within their books are from an archaic time long ago.

Sam Harris puts it well in his TED Talk from 2010, where he drives home the point that we don’t tolerate “differences of opinion” in other areas of science, where facts are facts and bullshit is bullshit. So why should we do it with morality?

[T]here are right and wrong answers to questions of human flourishing. And morality relates to that domain of facts. It is possible for individuals and even for whole cultures, to care about the wrong things. Which is to say, it’s possible for them to have beliefs and desires that reliable lead to needless human suffering. Just admitting this will transform our discourse about human morality. […]

We can no more respect and tolerate vast difference in notions of human wellbeing than we can tolerate vast differences in the notions of how disease spreads, or the safety standards of buildings and airplanes. We simply must converge on the answers we give on the most important questions in human life. And to do that, we have to admit that these questions have answers.

Photo: Wikipedia