There is a God–shaped vacuum in the heart of each man, which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ. Blaise Pascal. (more) In my recent efforts to study the sacred, I framed the question in this usual social science way:
Thank you, Robin.
I have long observed this same phenomenon, which makes sense because it really does exist. In a very unscientific and cursory way, I decided that it is an artifact of the “city state” era of human development, and the impact it had on our biological and social evolution.
City states were hard and cruel and difficult. The people who lived that way faced death constantly, and the only reason that this way of life persisted for thousands of years is, all the alternatives were even worse until better ways of living became available.
Most city states had similar social structures. Ruling class. Scribe class. Priest class. Military class. (With many variations on a common theme.) This way of life, along with a very small population sample yielded an almost eugenic effect.
The scribes kept track of crops, yields, water, what was necessary to survive. They reported to the ruling class. The priests, after conferring with the ruling class, informed the populace at large how “god” wanted them to act and address the problem. The people then obediently complied with gods will —- and those who didn’t do so we’re unceremoniously (or ceremoniously) introduced to the military caste, with the end result being that these persons were removed from the gene pool, by death or banishment.
Repeat this process for thousand of years, and you end up with a species descended from beings who are predisposed to submission to gods will — and who need that gods will in their life to feel fulfilled and happy. Those who did not have this disposition were bred out of the gene pool millennia ago.
Fast forward thousands of years, and enter the current cultural, largely secular, era where —at least to many people- God has been killed. (See Nietzsche). They have intellectually removed god from their identity and their value system… but they still have a god shaped hole in their brain, and a need to fill it. They fill it with various things. How fulfilled people are by what they fill this hole with (including if they fill it with the traditional god of their ancestors) is entirely dependent on their own unique combination of intellectual, emotional, environmental, and experiential traits.
You mentioned the extreme view of “the one thing” as sacred and the view of “nothing is sacred” but did not mention the other view that “everything is sacred,” which is not a holefilling exercise but rather a recognition of the miraculous and unlikely nature of life and the universe in an if itself.
Most native peoples had some version of this view which was not naive but well developed and experienced for thousands of years before city states and up to the present. Before organized religions or the idea of organized religions .
From the psychological perspective, the hole is caused by the lack of healthy attachment and the insecurity caused by that lack, so that we are always seeking what we missed in infancy.
In many spiritual (not religious) traditions, the hole is seen as the initial separation from God/Oneness when we incarnate into a body and experience amnesia about who we actually are, and our long painful journey to that original oneness. Which parallels the original biological/psychological wound of separation from the Mother.
Hard agree on everything right up to the "quickly and cheaply" bit re: data collection. All we can collect in this space is aggregated arguably-semi-conscious dishonesty. Anyone who would be answering questions about the sacred with responses relating to God already knows that "God" is supposed to fill that hole much better than anything else and will answer accordingly. Conversely, anyone answering "art" or "love" or "the free market" already knows that the baseline answer is God-calibrated, and will answer accordingly. There's no credibility to either, which is why the latter class views the former as a bunch of bitter hateful misfits lying about how well religion works for them (when really what they want is to oppress women) and the former class views the latter as a bunch of secretly-despairing guilt-ridden wretches who pretend that their carnal pleasures really satisfy.
Where "sacred truths" become especially harmful is when they close off rational debate. A Yale poll in 2017 found that 38% of Americans think climate change will likely cause the extinction of humankind. https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/climate-change-american-mind-may-2017/
To any rational observer "the extinction of humankind" is a drastic overstatement of any scenario the IPCC or other scientific bodies have ever put forward. But to the climate faithful this is sacred knowledge: We are doomed, end of story.
It's no wonder birthrates are declining across Western countries. If 38% of people believe that humanity has better than even odds of going extinct in the near future, why would you bring a child into that?
I think it's plausible there is not exactly a need for the sacred, but rather a sort of memetic virus that makes everyone *think* they have a need for the sacred or at the very least thinks they *should have* a need for the sacred and thus must act as if they do.
> prediction markets could reveal what thoughtful neutral spectators think on a key question (e.g., global warming), but neither side seems much motivated to create such markets
Speaking as someone who uses prediction markets, and knows prediction market whales, the reason nobody invests money in long term markets like this is because if you are investing in a question with a 100 year time horizon like climate change, you are locking your money up for 100 years, during which time it will lose most of its purchasing power due to inflation
You can invest in 100 year questions with fake money on e.g. Metaculus but it's just not same if you don't have serious skin in the game
Why investigate what you already know?
I think that is the attitude in religion and to some degree in politics. Investigating would require us to at least consider that we might not know already, and have to change our minds.
Doing this individually puts the skeptic’s status at risk. Is there an incentive to find a way to pursue the question collectively? The innovator who suggests it is a traitor, blasphemer, apostate.
I found the post interesting and helpful, Robin, although I can't say I fathomed the last couple of paragraphs.
God's being super-knowledgeable and universally benevolent suffuse all worthy things with godliness. I see this as a feature not a bug.
The post helps me to think about how leftists essentially see The Left Pole, or, in the US context, Dem Central, as a sort of god (they ritualistically read the holy daily). However, Dem Central is neither super-knowledgeable nor universally benevolent. In fact, it lacks the knowledge of Joe Six-Pack, as well as his decency. I go further: It is depraved. Thus, the stuff it sanctifies is usually depraved.
While the leftists make Dem Central a god in that sense, they don't explicitly in the many of the traditional attributes of "god," and even less, "God" (signifying the diety of monotheism), such as God as maker of the cosmos (which dovetails with his universal providence: Why create things if you don't love them?). So I'm ambivalent about calling leftism a religion.
Interesting idea. I guess there are two possibilities, not necessarily mutually exclusive here. Humans seem to constantly tell stories to themselves and each other. We seem to need to do this,, to explain the world to ourselves and to explain ourself to ourself. Some of these stories are a closer match for "reality" than other stories. The God story seems to be fairly universal to most cultures, in one form or another. So it may either be a story that reflects some underlying reality......that there is more to this physical world than we can perceive through our senses....... or it could be a story that has been useful in explaining heretowith otherwise unexplainable phenomena. Or some combination of the two.