There is a light that never goes out

An article in yesterday’s Sunday Tribune got me thinking again about the persistence of religious belief. I’m not able to link the article directly because for some reason the webmaster saw fit to only copy four lines of it into a page here. In Ireland, as elsewhere in the developed world, thinking about our world and our own place in it has tended to separate subject and object, childhood from adulthood, fact from fiction, science from religion. In this world view, the parts of our lives collective and individual are made distinct, sealed from each other, without mutual influence.

It soaks our thinking about our world and the perception of ourselves as modern subjects. This way of thinking permeates almost every utterance and every concretised thought in our daily lives. The ontological conflict that can gnaw within us arises from an inability to cross the gulf that separates each part of this dualism. Hence we have men’s roles and women’s roles, what children do and what adults do and that science and religion are opposites. Anything that crosses this dualism can cause this conflict. Transgendered people, teenagers having sex, a physicist with a deep belief in a transcendent God.

As rational modern subjects, religion falls away like the husk of our primitive selves and we are enveloped by a scientific, detached and objective world view. In Ireland we are very good at this right now: there’s a view abroad that all we need to do is forget about this whole religion thing and democracy will be healthier, rationality will flourish and a new age of reason will emerge. It’s all a little too 19th century for me.

So questions remain for me about the place of religious belief in what is lazily called the public sphere. If being modern meant casting aside your religious belief as an appendix to your new free life, why does belief persist?