This response to Loyal Rue's Religion is Not About God was adapted from an assignment for TR771: What is Religion? taught by Dr. Demian Wheeler in Fall 2018.
Loyal Rue’s Religion is Not About God presents the evolutionary pathways from the Big Bang to human religion and beyond. His main themes are evolutionary psychology and human-generated apocalypse. Rue sees guiding myths at play in every culture and posits that our guiding myths are leading to our destruction and cannot be overcome in time to stop climate change from destroying us.
One of the common threads in the course What is Religion? has been the mechanistic aspects of religion, that religions operate like machines when analyzed from a scientific perspective. This does not get at the internal experience of the religious themselves, but it does illuminate how religions operate, which can be helpful for the religious by showing us what we do and what that does to us. This machinic analogy locates religion as a repetitious endeavor, something which thrives on the repeated nature of the rituals. Religion needs to instill common languages into people in order that the religious can communicate with each other. Ritualized behaviors and language are the best way to do so:
[Rituals] revitalize the myth by bringing it to life in dramatic form. When individual participants engage actively in ritual performances, they are more likely to recognize how the vicissitudes of their own lives and their community are reflected in the timeless themes of the drama. This mapping of the local and the particular onto the cosmic and universal enhances self-understanding and compels individuals to claim ownership of the myth. (Rue 2005, 136)
Rue does not shy away from the mechanistic in his understanding of religion, but he does not attempt to explain religion away because it is mechanistic. He says, as the quote above indicates, that ritual (i.e. mechanism) is necessary for individuals and communities to locate themselves within the divine drama. Without the rituals people would feel lost and scatterbrained in terms of how they find themselves in the world. Therefore, mechanism is a grounding technique that is used by every religion to secure identity.
The modern world must be something which is disorienting. Rue suggests that the modern world does have rituals and myths which would ground meaning, but these modern rituals are also destructive not only of the planet but of the older rituals themselves. Modernity has been a fight between the forces of modernization and the forces of traditionalism. I wonder if they can merge together to create a new religion, a modern religion. Not deism, but something which takes ritual and sacredness and mixes it, blends it with technology and science. To get rid of consumerism maybe we need a cyborg religion.
Cyborg religion is the idea that human beings, as beings, are of a type which interfaces with other beings through technology, the prime example of which is language. These apparatuses facilitate the interactions between humans-as-machines as well. Cyborg religion presents a way of explaining how humans can use new linguistic registers (myths) to adapt to our new reality. It also is simply the idea that humans may need to physically interface with emerging digital and nano-technologies in order to survive. Maybe a cyborg myth is already being created through ideas like a human/machine interface. We are already doing such in beta fashion by constantly interacting with our digital selves through the ubiquity of computers.
Cyborg religion is something that appeals to human-technology hybrids but which confronts death in a meaningful way. We should not try to escape death, as it is cosmically inevitable. A cyborg religion would harmonize science with myth, taking ecology seriously while not discarding technology.
I think Rue would be interested in this. My question for him would be something like: can humans create such a myth? We have been creating myths for such a long time. It seems like this might be achievable. However, our cyborg myth might be predicated upon a fall, the fall of consumerist humanity, those who killed the planet. I suppose I would be an “Adam” in this story, buying the planet into oblivion. Rue agrees that future myths will be made, and he also thinks they may be better than what we have now. However, can we blend science and technology, the prerequisites for consumerism, in such a fashion that includes naturalistic myths? I am hopeful for this and, I think, he would be too.