The co-opting of religion has gained tremendous momentum over the past 300—400 years. Humanism gave rise to the Enlightenment, when human beings realized that we could decrease suffering and increase happiness if we took control of both our lives and the world around us. We did not have to accept whatever came from human notions of a god who was either aloof to our suffering or was a goof, unable to fix the trouble with the world he set in motion. Human beings sought for and then took control of nature in order to recreate the world in our own image. Thus the age of industry began, where powerful men employed others to recast nature into things that would make our lives “better” and then sell those things back to the people employed to make them. These captains of industry used their power to exploit both nature and workers and, in so doing, become unimaginably wealthy—wealthy and powerful, like god (or even more so!).
This “ascent” of man was unquestionably progress and inspired modernism—the belief that man has the power to rid our lives of suffering and create the perfect world: a product of our intellect, industry, and most of all, our free will. The only problem with modern times of invented worlds is that those inventors or captains of industry were few and their economy made the way to the top a little steeper and room at the top a little narrower. Was everyone’s life actually getting better or were advances in some ways undermined by worse kinds of suffering in other ways?
Next week we will have a look at a progression of invented worlds that explain our situation today and prompt our thinking about a very different world view and that exceptional religion that is found there.