The Edge annual question — 2007: “What Are You Optimistic About? Why?”

December 31, 2006 | By | 1 Reply More

I have already read about 15 of these short essays published by Edge.  It’s hard to stop, because the answers are especially thoughtful and well-articulated.

Daniel Dennett’s response is representative of the quality of these responses.  Here is an excerpt from Dennett’s response, entitled: “The Evaporation of the Powerful Mystique of Religion.”

I’m so optimistic that I expect to live to see the evaporation of the powerful mystique of religion. I think that in about twenty-five years almost all religions will have evolved into very different phenomena, so much so that in most quarters religion will no longer command the awe it does today.

Why am I confident that this will happen?  Mainly because of the asymmetry in the information explosion.  With the worldwide spread of information technology (not just the internet, but cell phones and portable radios and television), it is no longer feasible for guardians of religious traditions to protect their young from exposure to the kinds of facts (and, yes, of course, misinformation and junk of every genre) that gently, irresistibly undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance. The religious fervor of today is a last, desperate attempt by our generation to block the eyes and ears of the coming generations, and it isn’t working. For every well-publicized victory–the inundation of the Bush administration with evangelicals, the growing number of home schoolers in the USA, the rise of radical Islam, the much exaggerated “rebound” of religion in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, to take the most obvious cases–there are many less dramatic defeats, as young people quietly walk away from the faith of their parents and grandparents.  That trend will continue, especially when young people come to know how many of their peers are making this low-profile choice.  Around the world, the category of “not religious” is growing faster than the Mormons, faster than the evangelicals, faster even than Islam, whose growth is due almost entirely to fecundity, not conversion, and is bound to level off soon…

I think the main problem we face today is overreaction, making martyrs out of people who desperately want to become martyrs.  What it will take is patience, good information, and a steady demand for universal education about the world’s religions.  This will favor the evolution of avirulent forms of religion, which we can all welcome as continuing parts of our planet’s cultural heritage. 

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Category: Meaning of Life, Psychology Cognition, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Ben says:

    I recommend this wonderful reading for anyone who is a fan of human rights and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The reading is MANDATORY for anyone who is not. I was "forced" to read it in English class, but afterward was changed for the better and am forever thankful that my teacher made the class read it. It is a few pages long, so read it at your leisure. The good reverend was one of the greatest promoters of Human Rights, but certainly not the *Christian Rights*. Here is the text…

    http://almaz.com/nobel/peace/MLK-jail.html

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