Why We Don’t Need Religion to Give Life Mystery

Sweet mystery of life “What does Dr. Bloody Bronowski know about it?”

“He knows everything!”

“Oh, I wouldn’t like that. It’d take all the mystery out of life.”

It takes all the mystery out of life. This is an argument that sometimes gets made against the atheist/ materialist/ naturalist view of life. Naturalism is too reductionist, the argument goes. By seeking to explain the universe in terms of physical cause and effect, and in seeking to understand that physical cause and effect in increasingly greater breadth and detail, naturalism ultimately seeks to explain and understand everything. And that would be bad. We need some mystery. Mystery — unanswered and unanswerable questions — are a central part of what makes us human. Without it, our life would be bleak and empty, with a yearning that can never be satisfied… because there’s nothing left out there to satisfy it.

And religion, supposedly, offers that mystery. The belief in that which cannot be perceived by the senses; the belief in immaterial entities or forces that somehow affect the world but that nobody perceives in the same way; the belief in a life after this one that that nobody’s ever returned from and nobody really knows anything about… all of this fills the human need for mystery, the need for questions we don’t know the answer to.

Okay. Deep breath.


Thus begins my new piece on AlterNet, Why We Don’t Need Religion to Give Life Mystery. To find out how we can still experience a sense of mystery with an entirely materialist viewpoint — and how, in fact, religion merely punts the question of the mystery of life rather than addressing it — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!