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Chapter 8: Religion (21 Lessons for the 21st Century)

Chapter 8: Religion

God now serves the nation

Considering the failure of modern ideologies, governments, and scientific experts in creating a vision for the future, can religion play this role better? Secular people will ridicule this idea. Religious ideas may have served a purpose in the Middle Ages, but what answers can it give us in the age of artificial intelligence and bioengineering? While it provides people with solid identities, Religions are an unlikely solution to modern challenges.

Religious innovations such as divine calendars drove agriculture in premodern times. And when plagued by famine, drought or disease, people sought the advice of their religious leaders. Recently, biologists and surgeons have taken over these roles. The victory of science has caused our ideas about religion to change. Religion no longer serves as the solution to farming or medicine, and even though religious sympathizers may deny that religion ought to serve this role, it is apparent that it did serve this role in the past, and today has lost claim to a lot of its previous practical territory.

Religions were never really good at farming or healthcare anyway. What priests and gurus were really good at was interpretation, not rainmaking or magic. They knew how to justify the occurrence of tragedies, not the prevention of them, and this why science has been able to take over the latter role.

Muslim Economics

Economics also used to be a religious subject, particularly in Islam. But the Quran is no longer a source of economic knowledge, but rather a source of authority. To understand an economic problem, you will gain more insight by reading Marx or Hayek, not religious texts. Only after you formulate an answer can you turn to the Quran for justification. The same is true for Christianity – a Christian can either be a socialist or a capitalist. Nothing in the Bible can point people to choosing the appropriate economic system for their nation.

Identity Problems: The Lines in the Sand

Marx was wrong when he dismissed religion as a mere superstructure hiding powerful technological and economic forces. Religion is more than that, it is the birthplace of identity, and people’s identities are a critical force in history. In the 21st century, we still depend on religion to define people and previous attempts by Nazis and Communists to undercut religious influence by forging new identities ended in abject failure.

And religion has recently been incorporated into modern developments as the Japanese have shown us. In 1853, an American fleet forced Japan to open itself to the rest of the world. The Japanese then embarked on a rapid process of modernization and within a few decades became a powerful state that relies on science and capitalism. And they managed to use the most technologically advance military weapons to defeat China and Russia and destroy the U.S fleet in Pearl Harbor. But the Japanese didn’t adopt the Western formula entirely. They were determined to protect their identity, and wanted Japanese to be modern to their culture rather than to science, or anything else that may threaten their nationalistic identity.

The Japanese conserved their native religion, Shinto, as the cornerstone of Japanese identity. But really, they really invented it. Traditional Shinto involved belief in various spirits, deities, and ghosts. The new Shinto was fused with modern nationalistic and racial ideas, even elements of Buddhism and Confucianism were incorporated when they cemented further loyalty to the state. It appears odd to see the reconciliation of old and new, but it worked perfectly.

The Japanese modernized at blistering pace and remained fiercely loyal to the homeland. They were the first nation to create and deploy precision-guided missiles decades before the U.S used the smart bomb. These missiles were known as Kamikaze. Today, we think of precision-guided missiles as being controlled by technology, but the Japanese used human pilots to drive their explosive-loaded airplanes into their targets.

The kamikaze thus relied on combining state-of-the-art technology with state-of-the-art religious indoctrination.

Many governments follow the Japanese example today. They use modern tools while relying on traditional religion to preserve their old identities. Orthodox Christianity fulfills this role in Russia, Catholicism in Poland, and Shiite Islam in Iran. A religion that seems archaic, with imaginative interpretation, can provide the bulwark to the development of modern technology and institutions.

Read 21 Lessons For The 21st Century

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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