Ascending toward a Secular Now

The oth­er day, I described what it is to ascend Olym­pus, to explore the holy places to deter­mine whether the gods are there. It’s a form of active skep­ti­cism — a response to vocal reli­gious apol­o­gists with end­less claims that God is here and here’s why — and is a form which is not only nec­es­sary but also sore­ly lack­ing in society.

Oh, sure, you’ll find a hand­ful of celebri­ty skep­tics who’ll ascend Olym­pus pub­licly (you may rec­og­nize the names Krauss, Tyson, Nye, and Dawkins), and there are cer­tain­ly a grow­ing num­ber of online per­son­al­i­ties doing their part to ascend Olym­pus (Friend­ly Athe­ist, Christi­na Rad, Jaclyn Glenn, The Amaz­ing Athe­ist, and so on).

If I were to guess from what I’ve read or seen of their mate­r­i­al, we all have one goal, to sort of reclaim soci­ety from reli­gion, to make free­dom from reli­gion as main­stream as the free­dom of reli­gion, such that any­one from any reli­gion (or non-reli­gion) can live life civil­ly, based upon laws & moral­i­ty which are agreed upon for every­one’s ben­e­fit, and not for the ben­e­fit of mem­bers of a cer­tain reli­gion or in def­er­ence to the laws of a par­tic­u­lar religion. 

You might think that such a soci­ety is a pipe dream, that a major­i­ty Chris­t­ian cul­ture will always vote for laws which favor Chris­t­ian ideals — restric­tions on abor­tion, for exam­ple — and that a major­i­ty Mus­lim cul­ture will always vote for laws which favor Mus­lim ideals — restric­tions on what women may wear, for example.

And of course, you’re right. Reli­gions are ill-suit­ed for guid­ing human civ­i­liza­tion if the pur­pose of civ­i­liza­tion is to fos­ter civ­il and peace­ful liv­ing among all of its mem­bers, with­out regard to beliefs. We’ve seen this borne out through­out his­to­ries, as reli­gions rise and fall, often adapt­ing through­out their eras to the chang­ing needs of societies.

What if, instead of bend­ing ancient reli­gions to fit con­tem­po­rary soci­eties, why not focus on soci­ety direct­ly, remov­ing reli­gion from the equa­tion entire­ly? Why not, for exam­ple, instead of vot­ing against so-called “alter­na­tive” mar­riages because a few holy books call them “abom­i­na­tions,” we instead vote for mar­riage equal­i­ty on the basis of there being no quan­tifi­able harm but plen­ty of quan­tifi­able ben­e­fits? It’s this harm vs. ben­e­fits mind­set which ought to be at the cen­ter of civ­il moral­i­ty, and I’ll dis­cuss that in greater length in a future post; reli­gion, how­ev­er, does not focus on harm. Its “morality”[ref]“Morality” isn’t a good term for what reli­gion offers; its sin/righteousness, evil/good, ungodly/godly dual­i­ty rarely takes harm into con­sid­er­a­tion but instead cen­ters around “thus says the Lord.”[/ref] con­demns homo­sex­u­al­i­ty for being “unnat­ur­al,” but offers no real, quan­tifi­able rea­son for why it should be prohibited.

It is this peo­ple-first atti­tude which I believe is key to improv­ing our soci­eties, for mov­ing us toward what I call a sec­u­lar now — a new age of human­i­ty which will be marked by a lack of rule by reli­gion. A sec­u­lar now will be an age where we cease killing each oth­er because it’s the right thing to do — because we would­n’t want some­one to kill us, not because an unver­i­fi­able deity com­mands it. A sec­u­lar now will be an age where we can have unprece­dent­ed lib­er­ty to do the things which do not harm each oth­er because we don’t want to be harmed ourselves.

If ascend­ing Olym­pus is the sys­tem­at­ic rev­e­la­tion of reli­gion’s incon­sis­ten­cies with real­i­ty, then it should be seen as but one tool in a tool­box put togeth­er to ush­er in a sec­u­lar now. All of those celebri­ty & online skep­tics I men­tioned ear­li­er? I don’t think it’s too large a leap to say that they would love to see a sec­u­lar now, and that’s why I coined the phrase: Because no mat­ter what your con­tri­bu­tion to end­ing reli­gion’s grasp on soci­ety, whether you’re tag­ging #athe­ism, #human­ism, #agnos­ti­cism, #skep­ti­cism, or any of thou­sands of oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ties, they all fit under one large umbrel­la: #Sec­u­larNow.

Ascend­ing Olym­pus is my small con­tri­bu­tion toward a #Sec­u­larNow. It joins far more impres­sive works.[ref]Such as Carl Sagan’s must-read The Demon-Haunt­ed World: Sci­ence as a Can­dle in the Dark.[/ref] Once the gods are shown to be a farce, per­haps we can focus our col­lec­tive atten­tion on each oth­er, for the bet­ter­ment of all.

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Rick Beckman