We are swimming in paradox. If you are honest and logical and really think it out as well as you can you can’t honestly come up with certainty. Our moral confusion is a result of constantly meeting contradictory information which, at some point causes us to just arbitrarily pick something that feels good and stick with it. So it is very rational to just ignore Biblical scholarship, historical Christianity, the entire field of theology and just “believe” that Jesus is your Savior and that the Bible is literally true even if it makes no sense. Intuitively this feels right because a clearly logical approach one followed by the meticulously logical Ludwig Wittgenstein leads you to precisely that point. If we pursue logic very hard we come up with uncertainty. Most of life is a mystery—the deeper you look the stranger it is. A prime example is the search for elementary particles—it seems to never stop, the particles are always smaller and more paradoxical in nature as we do more elaborate and ever more expensive research on the subject. In fact the more intensely we look at nature the more complicated our picture grows.
Fortunately we have a method to arrive at some semblance of certainty that even takes into account the world of paradox. Descartes, who confronted in the 17th century some of the questions that confront us, made history by adopting a radical measure of rejecting all received knowledge and attempting to find the most basic bit of knowledge he could assert for certain. Thus he came up with his idea to start with “I think, therefore, I am” which symbolized the profound change that would grip Western Civilization for centuries and that we call the Modern Era. What makes it “modern” is the ideal that no received knowledge can be totally trusted—we must all think for ourselves, come to our own view of life through our experiences. If our experiences show us that something in the Bible is not true then, the logic holds, we will trust our senses and, later, the collective efforts of science. Not all people in the middle part of the 17th century lose faith in religion—they went on as they were before but the thinking at the top of society had changed greatly and did what they could to lessen the influence of religious authorities though it was a long-drawn-out struggle since the aristocracy learned to use religion to soothe, “educate”, and pacify the population but the power was solidly with the developing modern State.
It was only in the late 18th century that men could have had the temerity to suggest they could create a modern State from scratch from the ruins of the old State. The Founders of the United States created a country from their experience as leavened by their reading of Locke, Montesquieu and other thinkers who influenced their time. They actually completely separated Church and State so that each locality and individual could, theoretically (though often not practically) pursue his or her own religious interests. This notion was not even known in the Roman Empire where religious observance was deeply connected to the State. I suggest that this factor which nearly all other countries in the West followed and that is the bedrock of modern society. We allow each other to believe what we want to believe as long as we don’t break secular laws—but here is the radical part—secular laws are recognized by religious and non-religious as superior to any kind of religious rule although there is a minority that always disagrees and often wishes that the rules of their church ought to be followed by everybody, for their own good, of course. But still, secularism is making slow and gradual progress in most of the West such that religion plays little part in the life of most countries other than being one among many lifestyles even in the USA.
I believe the modernist sentiment on the split between secular society and religion has actually become a problem because it is completely natural for human beings living in society to have religious sentiments—I think it’s part of our psychic make-up. We will find religion where we can. In the West, generally, popular culture, its temples and rituals has taken over the role of religion—we had to have something that brings us all together. Just as the mass culture in Medieval Europe knew all the names of the Saints, were obsessed with relics and visited grand and wondrous Cathedrals we enter into the world of show business and celebrities. There’s something for everyone—we have the usual celebrities everyone knows that cater to different people and cultural groupings mediated by the mass-media and the internet. We now have our own private chapels, the TV/Entertainment room. We have our holy book, our portable devices and this is where we really go to church and it is where we focus our dreams and aspirations even those who regularly attend real church. So, for good or ill and there doesn’t seem any turning back from this save major disaster, our future religion has already been laid out—the question now is what will be the values and rules that will emerge.
Part of the problem we are faced with paradox is that nothing is really how it seems. Our real religion that we mainly follow often without thinking is not labelled “religion” so that it thrives and focuses our attention and living out values that have not been clearly asserted in some kind of doctrine but exist in some vague area we sometimes call “memes.” We claim to be a society that follows the rules of logic and science yet we act in almost cartoonish ways and consciously reject logic and science—even those who consider themselves logicians and scientists. Science follows empiricism except where it encounters ideas and phenomena that exist outside the conceptual framework formed around a century or more ago. Politicians call themselves public servants but they increasingly and almost always serving elite. A century ago pro-business politicians were almost honest in their pronouncements about being just who they were. Almost every institution and organization we have in American society at least is false in some major way. The domination of PR, lobbying and advertising/marketing has made every entity become, at a basic level, dishonest. We almost expect it and enjoy the skill of the professional liars who work day in day out to sway our minds in their direction through, often, the medium of our true religion—the entertainment media.