The nation is littered with churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, a while edifices are plentiful; one might wonder if religion is still relevant. As many skeptics suggest, religion is dying out. Like the scales of Lady Justice’s hands, as the proverbial educational and scientific advances become weightier, then presumably the case for being religious will decrease.
Surprisingly, however, as the Washington Post suggests, the world is becoming more, not less religious. According to Eric Kaufmann in his book The Religious Shall Inherit the Earth, he argues that this is occurring for a few reasons: first, conservative religious bodies have a higher retention rate, converting significantly more than they lose compared to secularism, and religious people overwhelming have more children. Religion throughout the world isn’t dying out, as it turns out, inherited religion, the sort of ones that people are born into, is dying out as opposed to a religion they’ve chosen.
So why is religion growing amid secular opposition? One answer would be that people are imbeciles, but a more cogent explanation is that rationalism does not adjudicate emotions, such as love, meaning, and morality. Contemplating his fate, Harvard professor James Woods was haunted at night by the notion of becoming “cosmically irrelevant” at the end of his life, and Steve Jobs feared that “it’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience…then it just goes away.”
Is my search for transcendence and meaning meaningless “feelings”? Many secularists explain what we’d call “religious experiences” when they have been swept away with joy and wonder when observing works of art. However, it impoverishes the mind to think that the sensation simply as a chemical reaction that helped our ancestors find food and escape predators. As one philosopher states, “religion makes sense to many people because of a direct experience of the transcendent that goes beyond fainter intuitions of aesthetic experiences.”
Believing something simply based on empirical data, especially when teased to its logical end has a number of fallacies. As Christian philosopher Dr. Tim Keller points out, a move from religion to secularism (i.e. atheism, agnosticism, etc.) is not a so much of a loss of belief but a shift in belief into a new faith community.
Most secular people argue from the position of exclusive rationalism. Adherents of this position hold that the only arbiter of real facts and things that we can prove are the only things that we can call real facts. In other words, we should not believe things unless we can prove it. What, however, is the empirical proof of that statement? When we rely on empirical data alone we can get almost nowhere. How can we prove that the universe isn’t an optical illusion? How could we prove that anything exists outside of ourselves? Very few of the convictions that we hold are empirically verifiable.
While we may be able to determine that liquid X evaporates at temperature Y, but how can we prove what we believe about the intrinsic dignity of all people? What would be the methodology we use to prove our feeling that human trafficking, murder, extortion, and any other ethical issue is wrong? The only things we would be able to prove are in a laboratory. The reason is crucial to help us weigh truths, but it is impossible to claim that we should be religious because we cannot prove it, especially when believing things through a combination of rational, experimental, and social grounds. As a New Jersey pastor, I champion the rights to chose to adhere to any faith traditions, but we must be intellectually honest and stop demanding proof of religion, eternity, or God based upon a universally accepted standard of proofs that we don’t apply to many of our other commitments.