A few more words on Wikipedia’s “Secular Religion”

As I said before, Wikipedia’s definition of “secular religion” is problematic in itself:

“A secular religion is a communal  belief system that often rejects or neglects the metaphysical aspects of the supernatural, commonly associated with traditional religion, instead placing typical religious qualities in earthly entities.”

But the bigger problem is that the initial list of secular religions already contradicts this definition:

“Among systems that have been characterized as secular religions are capitalism, communism, Juche, anarchism, fascism, nationalism, democracy, liberalism, progressivism, transhumanism, Auguste Comte’s Religion of Humanity, and the Cults of Reason and Supreme Being that developed after the French Revolution.”

On this somewhat chaotic list the most obvious mistake is, of course, the reference to the Cult of the Supreme Being. The Supreme Being is certainly not an “earthly entity” but a transcendent deity. The name was chosen only in order to distinguish it from the idea of the Christian God. This shows already the most typical presupposition of secular religion discourse: that everything that is similar to Christianity but not identical with it; and has a secular purpose as well, must be a secular (or quasi-, or pseudo-) religion, even if it has an evidently supernatural, personal Absolute. I would understand, to be sure, if a (fundamentalist?) Christian theologian made such a move. If one thinks that there is only one true, revealed religion, namely Christianity, then everything else will look very secular. And even more dangerously so if it in some way imitates Christianity. What I don’t understand is how anyone else can make a similar distinction between “secular” and “genuine” religions.

All in all, let’s face it that the Cult of the Supreme Being was exactly what the name says: a cult (a worship, or a “religion”, if you like) of a personal God. Even the immortality of the soul (another not very secular idea) was added:

File:Le peuple français reconnaît l'être suprême.jpg
“The French People recognize the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul.” Anonymous print from France, 1794. Source: Gallica Digital Library.

All in all: there was nothing secular here, except the moral, social, and political purposes that the cult of the Supreme Being certainly aimed to serve. But are “genuine” religions totally devoid of such purposes? Are there any “transcendent” religions that are “fully” transcendent?

But this is only the most obviously problematic example. By a closer look, the Cult of Reason also implies belief in a transcendent Absolute. The “Reason” mentioned here is not the mind of any individual person, but an imagined universal principle of rationality, so not a personal deity, but a transcendent something all the same.

It could also be asked whether the new, transhuman (sometimes literally “immortal”) creations of transhumanism, the imagined “People” of democracy, the idealized “Proletariat” of Communism, or the “invisible hand” of the market are any more “secular” than the Supreme Being of the French Revolution. Or even any more impersonal, for formulas like the “will”, the “wisdom”, or the “actions” of the people, the proletariat, the market, etc. keep reappearing all the time. Are all these metaphors only? Maybe so, but the question still remains to be answered: why do we use exactly these kinds of metaphors? Does the fact that we cannot get rid of them points to a more profound issue? Or is it just a sign of our basic irrationality?

By the way, it seems that even Reason is impossible to worship without some divine personification.

File:Fête de la Raison 1793.jpg
The Feast of Reason in the former Notre Dame in 1793. Source: Gallica Digital Library.