The cultural function of religion has always been to provide a set of principals to organize society. It is a necessary function and one that despite its obvious shortcomings and history of over-reach, is an innate part of the human psyche. The religious impulse will not be jettisoned from the human psyche simply because empiricism’s explanatory and utilitarian power has proven its worth. Nor will the outer vestiges of ritual, dogmatism, rites of passage, the commemoration of the passing of time, or its priesthoods of gate keepers be undone simply because we have rejected a numinous narrative. It will, as it always has, merely change form. As paganism was over taken by Abrahamism, so has Abrahamism been over taken by Scientism. Yet the tribalism and collectivism that belie the religious impulse has remained fully intact.
Religion etymologically means: to bring the many together to re: Legion
Or from relegere “go through again” (in reading or in thought), from re- “again” + legere “read” (as in lecture). Meaning to think again. It has been connected also with religare “to bind fast” (as in rely on), via the notion of “place an obligation on,” or “a bond between humans and gods.” indicating the social bond and obligation placed on us by a higher order understanding.
Religion serves the function of binding culture to a set of principals that standardizes the moral and ideological basis for all human activity. Doing away with the mythopoetic narrative of the Nazarene or the after-life has not fundamentally altered the basic procedures of the new religion of Scientism.
We still have the priesthood of intermediaries “experts” on whose interpretation of the doctrine or ‘data’ we must rely as a result of our own inadequate capability. We still have the doctrine of the subordination of the individual to a higher authority on whose judgement we must rely for protection against death and darkness (damnation). We still have the basic rhetorical practices of religion, chanting tropes to coordinate behavioral conformity under its tenets. “Trust the science”. The evangelical practices of converting “non-believers”, through appeals to authority, and the excommunication or castigation of those who question its assertions. The use of fear and guilt as persuasive means to induce compliance. And the assertion of a reality, and forgone conclusions for which there is no visible proof, but only weak evidence interpreted through its own paradigmatic lens.
The function of science then is enlisted in the shaping of the culture’s consensus reality, and is brought in to the service of the aristocracy for the exercise of power. Where before the religious impulse had allied with power in the “divide right of Kings”, providing for the ideological basis for the Monarch’s authority, in modernity it props up the authority of big tech and big pharma, WHO, FDA, & CDC, who currently sit on the thrown of power.
Where before we gave our hearts and souls to the clergy’s authority for the promise of eternal salvation, now we give them up for the promise of merely not dying an early death. We would take communion for the purification of our sin, because the Lord told us to, and we obey his commands. As it is written, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:24
In observing Communion we are remembering Christ and all that He has done for us in his life, death and resurrection. Now we take the “jab” because the “experts” told us to, remembering the fear of death and the science which will cleanse us of an invisible virus. “Do this in remembrance of technology”, not that you may have eternal life, but that you may not have an early death or be the cause of someone else’s.
Science is a powerful tool. It is a method of inquiry that has dramatically improved our quality of life and given us near god-like powers over the forces of chaos. It is a means of gradually helping us to be less wrong about the mechanisms of natural law, and to harness those laws for the betterment of humanity. But as history has recorded, its errors and abominations have been ever present “bugs” throughout its slow evolution. Its priests have harnessed electricity to light up the dark, and built motor vehicles to shrink the globe, and will soon put a “literal dogecoin on the literal moon”, but they have also created the means to destroy humanity multiple times over, mindlessly committed the Earth’s resources to monetary gains ravaging the ecosystem, and have penetrated the depths of the human psyche for its manipulation and control.
“Science is true” or “trust the science” as he says is as raucous a shriek of religiosity as ever there was. Akin in type (however different in degree) to “have faith in Allah”. Or “Accept Christ Jesus as your lord and savior”. Without reasons’ tempering calculations and well formed justifications constantly revised, these sentiments have fatefully descended at times into “burn the which”, and “kill the infidel”.
No don’t trust the science. Examine the science. Scrutinize the conclusions its experiments propose. Scrutinize how the experiments have been set up to find if or where its blind spots and limitations lie. Consider the sample size, the factors it has accounted for in its models and experiments and the ones it left out. Consider the contradictory data, and the circumstances that likely contributed to the discrepancies.
And where discrepancies exist, consider also that the biases of political and economic incentive may be among them.
There are many things deserving of your faith. Have faith in your ability to learn to understand the research papers when you work at it diligently. Have faith that your reasoning capacity can be greatly improved by the practice of discrimination. As history would attest, humans are fallible, and no scientific theory to date has been free from the need for revision. Trust that the knowledge the smartest among us yet lack, is likely more extensive than the knowledge we have so far gained, and that paradigms of new thought yet exist beyond our current capacity to envision.
Certainly the best available knowledge is what we must use to make thoroughly informed decisions about our health and safety. But don’t simply BELIEVE that the priesthood of intermediaries, the appointed heads of the gated scientific institutions are in full possession of the best available knowledge. They are in possession of the most widely understood and most effectively monetized knowledge. The best knowledge has always been and will always be among the outliers, the heterodoxy at the tip of the spear of scientific evolution.
Maybe you don’t have the time to dedicate to studying the current research, but I would submit that our investment should remain commensurate with the significance of our decisions. The more consequential our choices are to our health and to the health of our society, the greater our investment of time should be. Out-sourcing the thinking to the scientific priesthood is irresponsible. Muffling the voices of the scientific heterodoxy under the pillow of scientism’s slogans until it stops breathing, is about as unscientific as it gets.
If scientism avoids degenerating further into a political tool for our indoctrination into a new social order, or becoming the blunt instrument for stratifying the social caste of the 21st century, or becoming a suicide cult whose members leap to their deaths by their uncritical obedience to its billionaire corporate priests, it will only be because a sufficient number of us have become competent in the exercise of critical thinking. It will only be because we parishioners worshiping immortality at the church of empiricism have become learned priests ourselves.
Image: From the embarrassingly unscientific and infantilizing trope of the high priest Neil Degrassi Tyson’s recent FB post.