Religion has become a dirty word – and it has become a dirty word in great part due to the untiring efforts of people who are themselves increasingly lost, spiritually vacuous, in a downward ethical spiral, and perhaps more ironically, increasingly prone to being recruited by movements which resemble religions in almost every way, except in the provision of true wisdom and guidance. Just like one of the most notorious Muslims of recent times, Malcolm X reminded us, “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” It seems like modern times have proven him right.
The worst illiterate is the religious illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the religious debate. He doesn’t know that people’s view on the meaning of life, their guiding principles, their ideology, their views on virtually everything, their very ethics, their existential doubts, the purpose of their life, all depend on religious discussion. The religious illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates religion. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his religious ignorance is born the cult, the terrorist, and the worst criminals of all, the corrupt clergy, corrupt agents of the national and multinational religious criminals.
Does this quote sound familiar? It is because it is an adaptation of this famous quote by Bertold Brecht:
“The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”
Brecht exposes a great paradox- the politically illiterate, by hating politics, ends up being alienated from political thought and action, hence not only alienating himself, but also failing to truly address the issues that plague society as well as failing to address those things which make him hate politics in the first place. Today it is fairly common knowledge that turning our backs to politics is not only foolish; it’s counter-productive. Pericles once said: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
A contemporary philosopher, Slavoj Zizek also quite repeatedly and brilliantly argues in his critique of ideology and its ability to slant our worldview without us noticing it, that paradoxically, the more you think you are free from ideology, the more you find yourself within its grasp. However, this critique has not thus far been sufficiently made in regards to religious ignorance, and to be more specific, the way in which the growth of atheism and the disdain that atheist increasingly shows towards religion, both as a phenomenon and as an area of study, makes people all the more susceptible to fall within the grasp of religious bigotry without them even noticing it. We could also say that ‘just because you do not take an interest in religion doesn’t mean religion won’t take an interest in you.’ But the way in which religion affects us, or should we say, takes an interest in us, is much more subtle, and yet at the same time more profound, than the way in which politics does.
One critique that does take this into account, albeit only partially, can be found in a critique that permeates the term scientism, which is the corruption of the scientific method that occurs when one takes it to the extreme, thereafter making it into a sort of religion itself. Scientism is one of the most fascinating examples of allegedly atheistic people becoming religious bigots without them noticing it. After all, if they knew it, they would not be bigots – much like your average religious bigot.
Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, in an age of political doubt and spiritual confusion, you would think that the common knowledge would be that studying religion is more important today, not less, for our individual and collective well-being. But the whole world, spearheaded by the West’s increasingly arrogant atheistic cynicism, seems to be convinced that the correct answer to this problem is to double down and to neglect religious study and thought even more.
There is a direct relationship between the absolute disdain that the new atheism has for religion and the growth of religious illiteracy, even among the supposedly more educated sectors of the population. Paradoxically, instead of promoting an intelligent criticism of religion, new atheism ends up generating hordes of theologically and spiritually alienated people who are even more likely to be recruited by cults and religions, and who will thereafter vehemently deny that they are so much as a little bit influenced by religion. They simultaneously refuse to study religion, whilst denying that they may be under the influence of underlying religious ideas. But how can you know, if you don’t even care to study how religion truly works? The mere thought that they might be influenced by religion is seen as an insult. But the real insult is the one we direct at ourselves by acting arrogantly enough to think that we are beyond any such dynamics.
One can give a thousand examples, each more ironic and strange than the next, beginning with strict atheists who believe in what horoscopes tell them and will then try to convince others of the scientific foundations of astrology. You may also remember the followers of the USA’s Democratic Party who constantly make fun of the Republican Party’s voters’ religiosity but then in 2008 promoted Barack Obama in messianic terms without realising it, only to be completely let down by their would-be saviour. There is also my personal favourites, atheist or even anti-theist Communists who simply do not know, deny or bear to face the fact that the Communist Manifesto was written on behalf an organization which had at its founding core a proto-Christian organization called the ‘League of the Just,’ whose main purpose was to build the Kingdom of God on Earth, guided by the principles of brotherly love and equality.
Does that sound like religion at all? It does, simply because it is. Now there is one fact that the Politburo has not been able to erase from history. Not yet, at least.