Mankind is growing out of religion as out of its childhood clothes. Faith and knowledge do not go well together in the same head: they are like a wolf and a sheep together in the same cage – and knowledge is the wolf that threatens to eat up its companion. In its death throes, we see religion clinging to morality, whose mother it would like to pretend to be – in vain! Genuine morality is dependent on no religion, although religion sanctions and therefore sustains it.
Human beings have for thousands of years received a great deal of their morals and beliefs about ‘metaphysical’ things from religions – which in the West and elsewhere are in stark decline. America is behind the countries of Western Europe, but is hastening to close the gap ‘tween the two and may one day truly be European (to the extent Europe can be referred to or thought of as homogenous) in both politics and culture.
Regardless of the occurrence of such a day, the importance of art and philosophy is becoming ever-the-more invaluable to those who understand the is-ought distinction and wish for people to be more virtuous, ascetic and compassionate in their practices and perceptions of the world we (assumingly) share in common. For as Schopenhauer points out, religion is that which is born out of ignorance, and in the last century though wisdom has not increased much knowledge has illuminated the world and shown the revered shadow-of-God to be simply that – a shadow crated by the light of Man’s nature of mind (seeking eternal grounding metaphysically and ethically) and the obfuscation of ignorance.
However, the absence of religion through the introduction of knowledge does not equate necessarily to the introduction of wisdom. For knowledge of this empirical world that we seem to inhabit does not give us our morals or metaphysical grounding – it can only describe this Earthly plane, but can provide no ‘thing in itself’ nor can it give us any ultimate value judgements which we use to assess our empirical sense-data – in other worlds, it can provide us neither the Noumenal nor the Normative.
What should have replaced religion with its inevitable decline, and rightly so since the two are its natural superiors are art and philosophy. Art and philosophy respect (usually) their natural barriers and do not try to perform the others task. Religion is that which attempts to be both but never quite accomplishes the respective roles of either. Namely, art as allegorical truth and philosophy as literal truth. Religions attempt to be both (as Schopenhauer points out in his Essays and Aphorisms) through attempting to illuminate mankind of moral truths through allegory but claiming the allegory to be reality for the sake of the ignorant peasantry.
Art properly understands that its nature is to take the human individual with all its myriad forms and meaningless details and to encapsulate him and her into raw and essential types. It is when these types are created so wonderfully and competently that we (particularly in a well-written plot) see people that feel to us more ‘real’ than reality itself. Schopenhauer would argue that is because of the reality of ‘forms’ or other idealist proposals. I propose it is because human beings learn in a platonic fashion, that is, the mind is impressed upon by these ‘types’ or ‘forms’ and learn of them rather than of sheer particulars which if such was impressed upon them they could learn nothing of the general or universal character of objects and subjects. That is of the common qualities of things and people in the world which art represents through character tropes.
Philosophy is the only thing which in essence attempts to rationally and directly (without allegory) come to terms, or discover the nature of, the ‘thing-in-itself’ and the normative truths of the world as well. I make the Pragmatic/Noumenal distinction in my philosophy, which I have written on in past essays and it is this distinction that must be remembered when studying religion as well. Christianity is more a faith of the salvation of man than the nature of God or cosmos. All religions are anthropormorphic consructions which, due-to the epistemological and societal conditions of people in the ancient worlds, merge art and philosophy and create both a system of Realism and Man’s relation to this supposed reality. Religion’s decline is a necessary condition for humanities’ intellectual and cultural development, but is not sufficient to it. For while religion containing both good and ill in its essential matrix (and the particular goods and ills of particular faiths) gave people hope and taught compassion waned – due-to the Neo-Liberalism and Egoism of Western culture art and philosophy was not cultivated to tend the dying flower of human moral sentiments, intellectual development and virtuous activity.
In our Market-driven Neo-Liberal culture, all things have become increasingly for profit and therefore for entertainment or sensual arousal rather than for the cultivation of that which is not immediately pleasurable to the tongue, or eye or ear. People are not taught, or improved for virtues’ own sake, in a market-driven economy, they are offered delights in-exchange for cash-payment, and work service-industry or customer-service jobs to service the customer and immediately give him or her what he or she wants, give them more of it and give it to them more directly.
The Neo-Liberalism of our day has tainted art and closed down philosophy through lack of profitability. It has done so through apathy – which is more powerful and dangerous than the most severe ban from the most authoritarian despot. Someone fighting for virtue can rally others to fight against censorship from State or Church, but Man can never ally with an apathetic mass to give them what they need but do not want. Consumerism has done to the human soul what no other ill on this Earth can do from the aspect of the individual being complicit in the demoralization and weakening of his own soul. This is a truth provided in Brave New World and the writings of Foucault as he writes on the distinction between medieval and modern forms of punishment.
Though religion was perfectly adequate for many to live noble lives filled with a sense of meaning and purpose, ultimately philosophy is superior through its grounding on that which Man makes for himself (fostering his own philosophy through his own thoughts) and therefore the garden is far-more luscious and he understands and can utilize the latter more than the former. Many, if not most, Christians cannot understand the good of Christianity and it is for this exact reason. They were taught to have faith in the Lord, and we are to emulate the life of Christ, but being taught this does not mean the child will learn why Christ is a virtuous character and that compassion for our fellow sufferer is not only a virtue but one of the highest order (or of the ‘front rank’ as Schopenhauer would say).
Regardless of one’s attitude towards religion and faith, whether they are religious and decry the introduction of our Brave New World, have a nuanced position similar to myself, or are akin to the New Atheists who wrongly believe that science can replace philosophy – the fact remains that religion will continue to decline in the West. What has been done cannot be undone, therefore, we must, if we love virtue and the fruits of a good life (rather than the fruits of materialism and Hedonism – that which is mass-produced through the means of technology using the value system of Neo-Liberalism) cultivate art and philosophy to educate and shape people as religion had (but not as effectively – seen in the history of stealing and murder in Christendom).
Philosophy and art are two things which human beings cannot do without and need more than ever with the choices and freedoms people today have. Though things seem bleak we must remember that humans have a proclivity to virtue as well as to vice – we must simply be effective in bringing about societal changes both through politics and through cultural and personal means to encourage and heighten the former over the latter.