In his Nov. 11 NRO column, Survival of the Most Pious?, John Derbyshire reviews Nicholas Wade's new book, The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures.
While most of Derbyshire's column is "chloroform in print," the ending is worth sharing...
Religion will presumably survive as long as we are recognizably human. What will it look like, though?
In a thoughtful closing chapter Wade peers forward into the possible future of religion. He thinks that traditional religion has lost too many of its bouts against modernity and rationality, and needs some radical reworking if it is to fulfill human religious yearnings as it used to. He asks: "Is there not some way of transforming religion into versions better suited for a modern age?" If there is, can we discern the shape of whatever rough beast is slouching towards Bethlehem?…
The various attempts to establish "ethical religions," from Emerson's Transcendentalism to Scientific Buddhism, have in any case fallen flat, offering only cold temples to their followers. A transformed religion, Wade tells us, must "touch all the senses and lift the mind … find a way to be equally true to emotion and to reason, to our need to belong to one another …" The transformation, he says, needs to be similar in scope to the transition from hunter gatherer religion to that of settled societies.
What may actually happen, it seems to me, will be a partial reversion to Paleolithic styles. The dissolution of the power relations that prevailed until just a generation or two ago — hierarchies of class, race, sex, age, and behavioral inclinations — has returned us to the egalitarianism of our remotest ancestors. Perhaps our religion will likewise regress.
Such a regression, if it occurs, will only be approximate. We are not now what we were then.