March 06, 2018
Second, religious transformation subverts our base instinct into one of self-sacrifice. Animals are known to exhibit occasional flashes of altruism, pulling each other out of raging torrents or busy roads. Yet such moments are an exception to the rule. In a supercharged animal like a human being, the same will to survive is quickly corrupted into a will to dominate. The accumulation of sex, money, and power is so irresistible that it becomes the litmus test of faith itself. Whereas true religion subverts these instincts, false religion co-opts and entrenches them. Scientology and Freemasonry are prominent examples: Both engage in good works as window dressing for the mutual advancement of their members in society. They are temporal power structures masquerading as faiths. Britain’s former Chief Rabbi levels a similar observation: that whereas Moses and Jesus ended their lives in exile and execution, Muhammad ended as a king.
Third, religious transformation brings us peace with our physical existence. Whereas people of faith tend to accept the natural world, those who profess a material view often go to war with it. Such discontent has proved of great value to successive political movements that have promised to transform everything, from society to gender. The old Marx joke—that “there is no God and I am his prophet”—belies the fact that such discontent is by definition metaphysical; after all, what could be more metaphysical than a man competing in a sporting event for women? Such zealots are more unreasonable than religious zealots for the simple reason that they have not been apprised of their own religiosity. Instead of advancing rationalist apologetics—for which, look no further than this article—they offer shout-downs, walkouts, and, ultimately, violence.
True religion, by contrast, is highly resistant to radicalization—even religious radicalization—because it starts from within, seeing social transformation as rooted in the self. The difficulty of manipulating individual faith is also what makes it so inimical to modern corporatism. Although religion is caricatured as conformist, its true upshot is self-realization; whereas the true upshot of corporatism is conformity. The promises of true religion are impossible to co-opt to material ends (unlike the promises of false religion). The localized morality of faith—let alone family life—is similarly impossible to supplant with the institutional morality of the state. The real crime of religion in the modern world is that it empowers people with control of their own lives. Such continence is an unacceptable roadblock to modern economic and political goals, which require consumers to be out of control and voters to feel their powerlessness as individuals. Here we come to the real goal of the thousand cuts to religious practice: that by chipping away at the bark of religious life, the sap will not only leak out—but other things will leak in.
Daily updates with TM’s latest