X-Message-Number: 20023
Date: Tue, 10 Sep 2002 00:33:52 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Religion and Secularism

This message is (another of mine) in response to recent discussions by Jeff 
Dee, Dani and Eytan Kollin and others earlier on religion versus secularism.

Atheists (and I am one myself) may be inclined to discount *any* claimed 
benefit or good features of religion qua religion, that is, to assume that 
any good properties are borrowings from secular philosophies. However, I do 
think that historically religions accomplished one positive thing that 
secular philosophies did not, which was to give people a sense of meaning 
and purpose in life that otherwise was lacking. How? By providing assurance 
of immortality or an afterlife, along with an associated cosmic order in 
which good would prevail in a way that was impossible if one's life simply 
ended after running its brief, natural course. If this was a delusion, then 
it still seems that many people found life more tolerable and enjoyable 
because of it. Today, with cryonics and the advances of modern technology, 
we begin to glimpse possibilities of life beyond the usual limits that do 
not depend on religion as traditionally understood. A case, in fact, can be 
made that the whole problem of death is solvable scientifically. (I do this 
in my book, *Forever for All*, following the lead of Frank Tipler and the 
nineteenth century philosopher Fedorov.) If this holds up it would, of 
course, be a magnificent triumph for secularism and may finally bring about 
its victory over the alternatives (or their final transformation to 
scientific respectability). In any case we live in exciting times when 
secular philosophies can offer hopes they previously could not.

As for good versus evil, I find a lot of both in both secular and religious 
movements. Both are earnestly rationalized in the various contexts in which 
they occur. It depends a great deal on the individual in question, and what 
it is he/she wants to do and to find reasons to justify. For what it's 
worth, though, the most all-around, ideologically evil movement I can think 
of, Nazism, was primarily secular in nature, even if Hitler did pay some 
lip service to religion (as you'd expect him to, when it suited his aims). 
Nazism was primarily justified on Darwinian grounds, that is, survival of 
"the fittest" or the "master race," which does not require any religious 
beliefs. Yet I will not dispute that here, too, there were good people 
caught up in the movement, who tried to do the right things and may have 
succeeded to an extent (Olaf Henny's father comes to mind, taking remarks 
of a few months ago at face value).

As for Tom Paine and other founding fathers, some of the most prominent, 
including Washington, Jefferson, and Paine himself, were not atheists but 
Deists, while I'm not aware of any who could be said to be atheist or 
non-religious. As Paine makes clear in *The Age of Reason*, he believed in 
no revealed scripture (hence his opposition to the Bible) but did believe 
in a God, and also a resurrection and an afterlife.

Mike Perry

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