Thu Oct 19th, 2006 at 02:01:54 PM EST
I've brought this up before, but a posting on Sam Harris's forum brought out so many comments (some even on the topic!) that I thought it might be worthwhile to post it here as well.
(Sam Harris is the author of the "End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" - both decrying the effects of organized religion on human history and behavior).
The original diary thread here:
I think much of the reason people turn to religion (and other ideologies) is in a quest for happiness.
Those societies which favored a steady-state existence (most of the pre-industrialized world) looked not at acquiring material possessions, but elsewhere as a way to organize their lives.
With the coming of the industrialized age and the rise of mercantilism and capitalism, religion adapted (see Calvin) so that work became a virtue. Max Weber did a good job of explaining this at the turn of the 20th Century: The Protestant Work Ethic.
We, in the industrialized west, are now starting to face the fact that there is not an unlimited supply of "stuff" and raw materials to support an acquisitive way of life. Many in the US have turned to organized religion. Some have turned to quasi-religions like Yoga, meditation and other new age disciplines.
This is an attempt to find meaning in one's life, now that materialism has become less satisfying and sustainable. This trend has not yet been picked up by our leading politicians and economists, who all promote "growth" as a solution to our problems.
A small minority of thinkers are looking at alternative measures of success. One of these is to maximize "happiness". Several countries in southeast Asia are now proposing to measure GNH (gross national happiness) instead of GDP.
One who has led the way in the US is the ecological economist Herman Daly. He proposed a happiness measure 30 years ago and continues to work on calling attention to the impossibility of continual growth in a finite world. He even collaborated with a religious thinker on one of his books in an effort to find a common ground.
As a good introduction to his ideas, read this short essay:
I also have several discussions on my web site about the need to design a sustainable economic system. Redirecting people's energies away from work and materialism could be a way to transition to a new form of society.
Perhaps we can extract some positive things from people's quest for the "meaning of life" from those who believe in the supernatural and turn it, instead, into some policy prescriptions which can be based upon reality instead. Suggestions welcome.