Symbolic Immortality

From: Carlo Strenger’s article You’d better believe it: Daniel Dennett argues that many religious people don’t truly believe. But though I sympathise, it’s a case of wishful thinking Hopefully enough of a clipping to understand where I’m going with my thoughts.

What is Dennett’s problem, then? Why can’t he accept the facts, even though he professes to be guided by science? The reason for Dennett’s disbelief in belief is that, like Dawkins, he does not want to give up on the Enlightenment narrative that says that humanity inevitably evolves towards higher rationality. He can simply not let go of the idea that if humans have access to education and knowledge, they will inevitably move towards being secular atheists like himself – and like me, for that matter.

I identify with Dennett in that I’m also struck by the recalcitrance of religious belief to the enormous advances of science. I wonder how people who are brilliant and have access to as much information as I have, have beliefs that seem utterly irrational to me. And, like Dennett, I cannot let go of the Enlightenment narrative, in spite of evidence to the contrary. In fact, I don’t want to let go of it for two reasons: first, because it gives me some hope for humanity (and I live in an area of the world where hope is a pretty scarce commodity these days). Second, because fighting for Enlightenment values is a form of life that I’m deeply engaged in and gives my life meaning.

The findings of existential psychology show that humans need a cultural framework that provides them with symbolic immortality, or what is generally called meaning. This is the feeling that we are part of a larger whole, a religion, culture or movement that will survive our personal death. By contributing to this larger whole, we feel that we will not disappear without a trace. This is one of the major functions of cultural belief systems, and humans will often defend these belief systems with their lives; meaning and symbolic immortality, paradoxically, matter more to us than our individual lives.

Full article here.

My thoughts on belief in belief have been so PC lately I almost make myself sick. Anyways its still interesting to me. While this general idea that we need religion or any belief system so we can feel part of something is just a wee bit over simplfied for my tastes. The thought is also in this other article about Dorothy Rowe’s book. (another book for my ever growing reading list….)

At the launch of her new book, psychologist Dorothy Rowe said she intended it to act as a sequel to The God Delusion. Dawkins, she said, had posed the question: “Why do intelligent people believe this garbage?” In What Should I Believe?, Rowe gives an answer, though with less of a blanket judgment as to the rubbishness or otherwise of the religious outlook. In fact, her explanation could be used to understand any form of belief, Dawkins’ included.

She starts from the premise that our greatest fear is annihilation, not physical death, necessarily, but annihilation as a person. It is the desire to avoid this that motivates us throughout our lives. For some, religion is the answer, because it tends to suggest quite straightforwardly that life carries on after death.

To me this is not why I pursue the thought of God, or the creation of the universe. For me it is to understand my existence, and the world around me. I am open to all ideas in science and religion. Even if an idea is immediately discarded by me, I still feel I am closer to understanding something just by trying to understand someone else’s point of view.

The second article goes on to how its possible for bad things to happen even if there wasn’t religion. While religion seems to be the biggest excuse train these days, there are other excuse trains in the station.

Comments and arguments welcome.

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3 thoughts on “Symbolic Immortality

  1. Ivan Ukiwah says:

    Hi,
    The reason for Dennett’s disbelief in belief is that, like Dawkins, the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ who hath reconciled us to God and the unstoppable force of heaven is hid from them that are lost.
    First Corinthians 1: 18-19 sums up their delusion.

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