In Sunday’s New York Times I wrote about the influence of the Puritans on modern American culture and morality, but there’s more to the story than could fit in the article... Read More
It's fascinating to see how the outer trappings of our culture can change so profoundly over the years and yet many of the core beliefs that drive us have persisted since its earliest days. I've often seen the "Devil finds work for idle hands" mantra played out in my own life, as I fall into patterns of 'proving' my worth with pain, deprivation, over-work. Puritanical ideas have thrown their roots deep into the fabric of our society, and it can require a lot of soul-searching and self-awareness to disentangle one's self from them.
While ordinary people have begun recognition that the explanatory power of religion is a vestigial artifact from our pre-science days, they do not seem to realize how much of their culturally programmed reactions, fears, anxieties, shaping mechanisms like shame and guilt, work ethic, coupling arrangements, child rearing, and so on, have been directly constructed by religions. There are many people that believe themselves to be secular in both thought and action, while at the same time treasuring their cultural institutions as objective and amystical. Society is still very much bound by these ancient religious constraints, and we are only at the very beginning of the long path to humanism and self-recognition.
If we even make it that far: the god-fearing appear to have control over nuclear, biological and chemical weapons all over the world, with so far only a toe-dip of usage (just enough to whet the appetite). Just wait until their backs are against the wall. This life is only a transitory phase for them, and their gods will be their judges, not their lowly human peers. This is the antithesis of humanism and, unfortunately, all the most deadly destructive powers (indeed "god-like") in the world appear to be controlled by cultures that are still [largely] controlled by these deeply embedded, extant religious influences.
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Matthew Hutson is a science journalist in New York City.
When and how should we open up to loved ones?