Religions and beliefs aren’t about truth, they’re about social cohesion
After reading the past couple of posts on yours about religion, I'm coming to the conclusion that what atheists/non-theists/etc. want isn't exactly a world without belief systems, per se, but a world with belief systems that a.) are both metaphorically AND literally true, and b.) create useful and long-lasting social cohesion without requiring people in those groups to believe wacky things. I think what attracts some people (like myself) to atheism is because we tend to be extremely literal-minded people who don't prioritize social approval as heavily as others, so we reject religion as nothing but wacky beliefs that inevitably lead to mass graves, genocide, etc. But of course, being an intellectual "lone wolf" of this kind is only possible in a prosperous and developed society as ours, where you don't have to be as reliant on the people around you for your own mere survival. Not to mention that atheists tend to fall into the same trap as everyone else of believing the world would be so much better if everyone believes the same things they do.
None of this is going to stop me from being an atheist, though, or wanting a belief system that meets both criteria above (while realizing that atheism fulfills neither). Just because the current limits of human nature means religion-style beliefs are unavoidable now doesn't mean it must always be thus -- right?
Does self-awareness of “wacky beliefs” make belief itself, impossible? If you are aware a set a beliefs are crazy and non-rational is it possible to truly believe them, recognizing the additional value they bring?
Solid points in this series of essays about the value of religion in promoting group loyalty regardless of the factual reality of the doctrine. (As an aside, I also quite enjoyed the Noah Smith discussion.)
The ideas in these essays reminds me of a related 2016 Scott Alexander essay, “The Ideology is Not the Movement”, https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/04/04/the-ideology-is-not-the-movement/
He uses various examples to demonstrate human’s strong drive towards tribalism. This includes forming new groups as well as group fracturing and at times dissolution. Of particular importance are rallying flags; the “explicit purpose of the tribe.” Yet we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking individuals join their tribe primarily to advance these stated goals. Instead, rallying flags simply provide the ideological scaffolding for constructing tribal identities, and it is the group membership that actually matters to the members.
Scott’s conclusion gets at the challenges of maintaining these rallying flags and durable tribes in our modern world.
> But in order to talk about tribes coherently, we need to talk about rallying flags. And that involves admitting that a lot of rallying flags are based on ideologies (which are sometimes wrong), holy books (which are always wrong), nationality (which we can’t define), race (which is racist), and works of art (which some people inconveniently want to enjoy just as normal art without any connotations).
> My title for this post is also my preferred summary: the ideology is not the movement. Or, more jargonishly – the rallying flag is not the tribe. People are just trying to find a tribe for themselves and keep it intact. This often involves defending an ideology they might not be tempted to defend for any other reason. This doesn’t make them bad, and it may not even necessarily mean their tribe deserves to go extinct. I’m reluctant to say for sure whether I think it’s okay to maintain a tribe based on a faulty ideology, but I think it’s at least important to understand that these people are in a crappy situation with no good choices, and they deserve some pity.
> Some vital aspects of modern society – freedom of speech, freedom of criticism, access to multiple viewpoints, the existence of entryist tribes with explicit goals of invading and destroying competing tribes as problematic, and the overwhelming pressure to dissolve into the Generic Identity Of Modern Secular Consumerism – make maintaining tribal identities really hard these days. I think some of the most interesting sociological questions revolve around whether there are any ways around the practical and moral difficulties with tribalism, what social phenomena are explicable as the struggle of tribes to maintain themselves in the face of pressure, and whether tribalism continues to be a worthwhile or even a possible project at all.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about this idea of wacky beliefs and the importance of community, & this article articulates it well. I have sent my kids to faith-based schools and, after reflection, realize this is about the community of the school and the common values I aspire to follow & want my kids to follow ... largely because I've seen the act of following these (largely traditional) values increase the odds of creating a happy life. My kids are still in school but a bit older & I feel like it has been a good decision, meaning they seem to be happy people that are "good kids" and have largely surrounded themselves with other kids that are ambitious and seem generally happy. It hasn't always been easy and certainly far from perfect, but I feel like the community of people with wacky beliefs with whom we've aligned ourselves has generally had a positive impact on our whole family. https://johnfarrall.substack.com/p/faith-based-schools
Todays PVK commentary on JBP-Konstantinos Kisin pairs well with this and your previous article