Lurch to Religion?

 Posted by on 14 October 2008 at 7:31 am  Culture, Religion
Oct 142008

Rob Tarr recently posted the following warning on HBL about people turning to religion en masse in times of crisis. (He also sent it to me, as I don’t subscribe to that list. He gave me permission to post it here.)

From Rob Tarr

What about a turn to religion as a test?

I expressed in a Sep 18th post my fear that the coming severe recession/depression would cause a strong turn to religion:

“Tens of thousands of people working for Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns saw their jobs, careers, and life-savings wiped out this year. There will be millions more throughout the economy as we head into a very deep recession in the next 6 months. Times of crisis always lead people to reassess their lives and turn to whatever version of philosophy is at hand to explain the “true meaning of life”. Often this has been religion, and with the energized state of religion today, this will be true more than ever. The religious message will resonate more deeply than ever as many people watch their material wealth evaporate (wealth that in many cases they have worked decades to accumulate). Doesn’t this prove that pursuing material wealth is a “false god”, a “mirage”? That you shouldn’t be wasting time piling up “treasure on earth”; instead you should be piling up “treasure in heaven”?”

This week, the Pope stole my talking points, and started his “p.r. campaign” to take advantage of the crisis, in a widely reported story:

“Opening a Synod of Bishops in the Vatican the Pope referred to a passage from St Matthew’s Gospel on false prophets, saying ”He who builds only on visible and tangible things like success, career and money builds the house of his life on sand”.

”We are now seeing, in the collapse of major banks, that money vanishes, it is nothing. All these things that appear to be real are in fact secondary. Only God’s words are a solid reality”

Expect to see this times 100 over the next few years. I see this as the biggest danger by far. People will turn away from rational, this-worldly, long-term values en masse. Why work for decades long goals when you can lose it all in a few months? People will become *much* more short-term focused in their plans and values over the next few years, due to the crisis and the uncertainty; and much less interested in long-term material production as a goal. But that is a difficult place to be, psychologically. Religion will step in to fill the void.

This warning is important to my — and hopefully your — effects to advocate good principles in the culture. It underscores the urgency of the task, as well as the importance of advocating Objectivism as an alternative to the mysticism of the right and the nihilism of the left.

Personally, I’d thought about the possibility of a major economic crisis making people ripe for major lurch toward statism. In contrast, during good times, most people aren’t willing to knock over the apple cart of prosperity and comfort for the sake of ideology. However, in such times of crisis, a mass lurch to religion seems just as likely — and even more dangerous in the long run.

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