What Do We Replace God With?
Modern society has embraced secularism, irony, and existentialism. What exactly are we replacing God with?
“The Scream” by Edvard Munch
I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase “God is dead, and we killed him.” It derives from Fredrick Nietzsche’s philosophies on society’s need for God, and why evolution lies in the abandonment of that idea. He argued that humanity had developed faith to cope with the suffering, unfairness, and horrors of the world, and that the humanity must turn away from God, and learn from suffering and atrocity to improve, adapt, and eventually become a stronger and more evolved entity than before.
Today, Nietzsche’s ideas on the decline of faith are flourishing. Atheism, existentialism, and our postmodern ideas have dominated our ideas on how the world runs. Today, we hold authority accountable, consider it our fault if things are bad, and consider it our responsibility to improve them. We believe in the validity of all thoughts and perspectives. Overall, we believe we must forge our own purpose. Of course, religion is still a prominent part of many people’s lives, but there is no denying that its dominance in the different aspects of people’s lives, in governance, in science, and future building has diminished. Our criteria as a society on deciding things is not how God might perceive our choices.
However, how many of us are actually happier in our cynical, modern society? Does having faith not give us purpose? Was humanity truly ready for the replacement of theism? What have we replaced the divine with? Have we found purpose? Have we found the ability to stay moral and unselfish without the fear of God? Are we really ready, as Nietzsche said, to grow from our misery without a faith to help us, intellectually?
Today, many people go through life, and struggle with purpose. Unsatisfied, discontent, agitated in a sense that lies beyond our full awareness but still touches us from a day-to-day basis. Sometimes, the lack of purpose and comfort in hardship drives one to panic and depression. The absence of moral guidelines that were so well-established by religion have led to a moral abstractedness; people go astray due to lack of those guiderails; what was once absolutely moral and absolutely immoral have all fallen into a gray area that leaves one confused and cynical.
Partially these symptoms are those of the postmodern movement of ubiquitous cynicism about the world, the denial in absolute intellectual truth. A general, subtle paranoia of the world around us that stems from the absence of a belief in a deeper meaning and purpose behind our existence, a distrust of the world and underlying sense of being lost.
Today, worldly philosophy — our dominant liberal ideology of human rights, natural rights, and the individual expression and ambition — rests on the noble ideas of making the human experience as positive and just as possible. And certainly this philosophy has seen the explosion of growth and the growth of basic human dignity and quality of life. However, one must also consider if the individual living in this society is truly happier without the presence of the divine. We must consider how our flexibility on what exactly is moral, such as greed, has permitted extreme inequality and the prosperity of ideas conventionally considered “bad” for the majority and the soul of the individual.