This is a fascinating and important area of inquiry. I used to think that disavowing religion was like denying your blind spot, not because I think that everyone secretly believes in God but rather that if they don’t, they’ll just find some other concept to irrationally venerate. Now my thinking’s a little different. A rational epistemology isn’t religion in disguise; it does quell the same anxieties that religion does but by different mechanisms, as pointed out in the article. However, it may also be more brittle for that purpose. If you contradict someone’s worldview, you will get them irrationally pissed off, no matter how science-minded they consider themselves. Liberals are no better than conservatives in this regard, and in my admittedly limited experience, I’ve found them worse, to my dismay.
I’ve said again and again that religion is not the problem; it’s literalism. But my thinking’s changed a bit very recently. Literalism’s certainly a mental defect, and a major problem when conflated with religion, but now I’m thinking it’s not just literalism that needs to be set in opposition to what I’d call “true religion” (that is, a humble life-affirming search for God, however you define “God”), no, it’s your worldview that needs to be considered apart from it. Religion and a worldview — as opposed to a spiritual view — often come packaged together, and the crimes of the latter therefore become attributed to the former.
We need space in our lives for the irrational, for fantasy and doubt and goofy rituals, and flat-out religious awe. When your worldview is all you have to rest on — whether morbidly literalist or merely rational — you’re going to experience a serious mental crisis sooner or later that you could have avoided.
I’m tagging this with Games and Dungeons & Dragons, because I think the applicability is obvious.
“I’ve said again and again that religion is not the problem; it’s literalism.”
Indeed. Instead of “literalism,” I think of it as absolutism or “ultimism.” Or one-true-wayism. Being “rational” means considering the “ratio” between things. It’s relativity. Absolutists are less rational because nothing can be compared to their absolute value or ultimate truth.
Consistent Biblical literalism would get you tied up in so many contradictions, you’d be paralyzed. So maybe I’d say “selective literalism,” if we have to be so rigorous. When I think of literalism, I think of the letter of the law rather than its spirit, and that’s anathema to religion, not to mention freedom and human dignity, since the real world is messy. Absolutism is the position from which cruelties are perpetrated, so I see your point there, but literalism has to stand by and watch, even if it wrings its hands, and given that there are more literalists than absolutists, they represent the bigger problem to me.