It’s a great question, not an easy one to answer.
Yesterday Bret Stephens asked: “How do religions die?”
Stephens tells us that we are watching the religion of global warming die.
It is dying, he observes, for good reasons: “Religions are sustained in the long run by the consolations of their teachings and the charisma of their leaders. With global warming, we have a religion whose leaders are prone to spasms of anger and whose followers are beginning to twitch with boredom.”
Global warmism, as it is called, presents its dogmas as hard science. Yet, the more we read emails of its lead researchers the more we see that claiming to be science was a ruse to trick the gullible.
Of course, global warmism adds an apocalyptic vision of the earth’s future that fits perfectly the template of religious prophecy.
Global warmism is not the only modernist religion. It does belong to a unique class of religions: the secular variety.
Stephens mentions Marx and Freud, both of whom founded modernist, secular religions.
Secular religions are a reaction to the Enlightenment.It is commonly believed that the Enlightenment substituted the authority of Reason for that of religion.
People have failed to notice that worshipping at the altar of Reason is roughly equivalent to worshipping at the altar of Apollo.
Making decisions rationally is surely a good thing. Worshipping the god of Reason is pagan idolatry.
Similarly, global warmism is a cult to the Nature goddess. It, like other secular religions, tries to provide a religious experience for unbelievers.
Still, the question remains: how and why do they fail? How and why do some religions die out?
To answer the question, we should define what religions do. It is insufficient to say that religions provide access to divine or metaphysical realities.
Religions also form communities and congregations. They produce social cohesion.
If the purpose of religion, be it secular or metaphysical, is community, then, one can infer that religions fail when the communities that they form become radically dysfunctional and even self-destructive.
A religion can also disappear when the community that practices it is conquered by an alien army. If the invaders destroy the religion, it will cease to exist. The inability of a community to defend itself counts as a basic failure.
Or else, a community can implode; it can destroy itself from within.
Communism never produced harmonious human societies. It produced famine, desolation, and destruction. Based on atheist principles, communism demonstrated that a religion that believes in nothing is only capable of producing nothing.
Refusing to accept any divine authority, Communist leaders suffered from a notable absence of humility. The secular religion of Communism was destroyed because a series of leaders took themselves to be gods.
If the leader’s Ego is the ultimate authority, people were likely to want to emulate his example. If they did they would produce anarchy. To forestall that result, Communists were obliged to practice the worst forms of oppression.
But, does the religion of global warming try to produce a new human community? I think it does. It promises that people will not only develop a new relationship with nature but will return to a more natural, pre-industrial, form of human community.
Perhaps not explicitly, but global warmism promises a return to a prelapsarian state, a state of community life that preceded the advent of factories, steel mills, steam engines, and cotton gins.
In truth, global warmism traffics in reactionary fantasies. It pretends to be ushering in a brave new world filled with children frolicking around windmill farms, where electricity will be supplied by solar panels, and where we will all live happy, healthy, long lives eating organic fruits and vegetables.
The more people understand that global warmism produces rolling and extended blackouts, higher carbon taxes, higher corn prices, and an avian holocaust, the less they are tempted to follow its high priests.
Religions die when they fail to produce what they are in the business of producing: effective human communities.
Modernist secular religions attract people who want to be part of a vanguard leading human beings to a brighter future. They die when their adherents start feeling like gullible fools.