“Belief without evidence” is a popular definition of faith. For atheists, this shows that faith is irrational. The problem is that everyone believes things they can’t prove.
Statistically, our universe shouldn’t exist. Why is it so finely tuned to support life? Maybe there are multiple universes—trillions upon trillions—making the almost impossible inevitable. The only problem is that something must be testable to be scientific. But the multiverse isn’t testable, so with no evidence for the multiverse one must believe without evidence.
This doesn’t mean it’s irrational to believe in the multiverse. Faith isn’t irrational, and belief against the evidence is different from belief without evidence. There are good reasons to believe in the multiverse, and there are good reasons to believe in God. There are also reasons for doubt in each case. Faith must acknowledge uncertainty.
What’s your story?
Religion, however, is more than faith. But religion is hard to define—you know it when you see it. Some people say that Trumpism or being woke are religions, but others disagree. Few would disagree, however, that Islam or Wicca are religions.
Writer Mary Harrington notes that calling wokeness a religion is meant as an insult. She describes these political movements as focusing on the “religious impulse.” I think of the religious impulse as the need for a comprehensive, and usually moral, worldview.
Although postmodernists claim to be skeptical of all “metanarratives,” postmodernism is self-refuting because it has become, in practice, just another metanarrative. We can’t understand the world without a metanarrative. And metanarratives are something you believe—they are based on faith.
Trying to denigrate wokeness or Trumpism by calling them religions is a mistake because everyone has a big story through which they understand the world. Full fledged religions also have regular meetings where rituals are practiced, and wokesters and Trumpists, with their rallies and protests, have something similar. Unlike most religions, however, they don’t have a focus beyond the material world. Still, “secular religion” is a good description for politics filling the religion-shaped corner of the human psyche.
Know your religion
Cynical Theories co-author James Lindsay argues on his blog that wokeness should enjoy the same legal protections as religion, and the principle of separation of church and state should apply too. This would limit the teaching of Critical Theory in public schools. Just as the Bible can be taught in schools as literature, but theology cannot be taught, Critical Theory could be taught descriptively but not prescriptively. And just as your boss can’t fire you just because you’re a Christian, she can’t fire you just because you’re woke. But I’m no legal expert, and neither is Lindsay, so I can’t say how valid his argument is.
I can say that denigrating belief systems by calling them religions is something we should jettison. We should recognize the important place—inescapable for most of us—that religion (secular or supernatural) plays in our lives.
Despite offering itself as an alternative to religion, however, secular humanism never took off in the way the wokeness and Trumpism have. I think this is because secular humanism offers ethics but no grand narrative. The big bang and evolution are scientific theories rather than emotionally compelling stories.
But when I think about my time as an atheist from the late 1990s to the late 2010s, I realize that most atheists I met were religious but lacked self-awareness—myself especially. I’ve met libertarian atheists who believe that the free market’s invisible hand will make everything right. I’ve met communist atheists who believe that Marx’s grand vision will come true, if only we can try it once more and do it right this time. And I remember when Atheism+ appeared around 2010 or so. I watched a video with Richard Carrier saying he’ll denounce atheists who aren’t onboard with progressive social justice. The religious overtones are unmistakable.
Almost everyone believes in a story that explains why the world is the way it is, and what we should we about it. That’s the religious impulse. We might have a derogatory view of other people’s religious stories, but we can’t take a derogatory view of the religious impulse itself without denigrating our own beliefs.