My tribe, your tribe

  (26 March 10)
  by Greg Spearritt

If religion is not, at base, tribalism writ large, it is at least one of the handiest tools in the box for reinforcing group identity. The vigorous assertion of identity through religious violence seems to be characteristic of our age, and now even the Buddhists are at it.


If Australia is not so beset by these religious ructions, perhaps that underlines the connection between religion and tribalism. The bitter sectarianism of an earlier, more religious Australia - with Catholics and Protestants energetically harassing and excluding each other everywhere from the schoolyard to big business - should not be forgotten. Our growing secularism has largely put paid to that reprehensible phase of our national life.


Maybe our innate need to form groups and protect them from outsiders has found new expressions. It’s doubtful, however, that there are many mechanisms more powerful for indulging that propensity than religion.


I have sincere respect for the enlightened thought and ritual that goes on in some liberal and progressive religious communities. This is what some people mean when they use the term ‘religion’ (or ‘true religion’), but it seems to me that it’s very much a minority expression. It’s laudable, but is it enough to save ‘religion’ from the dark side?  





On the other hand, the most notorious examples of ‘secular religion’ are Nationalism, Fascism and Communism. All of these give an imagined assurance of superiority to the in-group, be it based on nationality, race or class. And they often express intense blind hatred towards the out-groups.
Racism, for example, is a secular religion. The fervour with which racism is believed in by some of its adherents can be described as ‘fundamentalist’. It totally distorts the believer’s assessment of any relevant evidence.
I have come to the conclusion that if humans are not adherents of a supernatural religion, then they are quite likely to be adherents of a secular religion.
I find that many of my fellow Atheists do not like this concept of ‘secular religion’. They claim that secular religion is a contradiction in terms. They want to reserve the use of the word ‘religion’ for supernatural belief systems only.

Posted by David Miller

David Miller comments further:

My post above was utilized as the latter section of the abstract heading the email Program of Lectures sent out at Easter by Melbourne SoFiA to publicize my forthcoming lecture on ‘Secular Religion: Non-Supernatural Spirituality’.
Here is the former section:

"I have been attempting to construct a non-theist, naturalist, explanatory model within which to deal with religion, spirituality and the gods (See ‘God, gods and spirituality’ in the Blog Archives).
I am now asserting that spirituality equates with the human spirit. Our 'greatest principles', the positive aspects of the human spirit, comprise our highest values, our loftiest ideals, our peak experiences and our areas of ultimate concern. These principles are symbolized by a metaphorical personification with supernatural powers added on, and called God.
Religion, at base, is the means of venerating, apprehending and manifesting our greatest principles.”

Melbourne SoFiA received the following response from Dr. Robert de Caen:

“Horrified! I am frankly horrified at what I read of the symposium of the April talk. Non-theistic!! As an experienced psychotherapist and spiritual director for many years, this hopeless rubbish shows a complete lack of understanding of the human psych. It is a pity that we are constantly having intruded into our regular talks on attitudes of spirituality, never its denial!! - Dr. Robert de Caen”

I apologise for omitting ‘psychology’ as a further example of a secular religion. There are almost as many varieties of psycho-babble offering psychological salvation as there are psychotherapists. The Freudians seem to be in the grip of a full-on belief system. On the other hand, the Jungians rate as adherents of a supernatural belief system. And I have only mentioned two of the ‘denominations’!

Posted by David Miller

And more from David Miller:

Melbourne SoFiA received the following response from Peter Plane, the former Secretary of the now-defunct Victorian Secular Society. Peter was also Editor of the 'Secular Review'.

"Easter Friday! An excellent day to launch an Atheist Promotion. The material generally is worthy of support. However, some of it is a little politically offline. A study of the principles of communism and socialism reveal they can be important elements of modus vivendi which should be a step to general social altruism. Altruism is a selfish process of existence but in essence, exercises peaceful co-operation between all populations and what is called civilised behaviour. In principle, what other social system is superior to social altruism?

It is the administration of communism and the manner of its application under a so-called nomenclature of democracy that appears to be the problem. This problem mainly lies within the evolved human condition which has the dominating survival attributes of greed, the alpha factor, estrangement and xenophobia etc.

Until humanity generally becomes educated to accept the values of modus avendi and altruism, and learns to adopt new political processes to live successfully within these systems, it is doubtful humanity will exuviate from the embrace of global Capitalism that promotes and thrives on greed, the alpha factor and sociological schisms, aided and abetted by superstition and myth based religions.

History reveals global populations are controlled and manipulated by the “Unholy Trinity” (The global economic elitist class, political systems and organised religions). For many decades, the “Unholy Trinity” has been manoeuvring for a “New World Order” and therefore, eventually, a “One World Government” that may introduce a single world currency. Some USA and European leaders have occasionally mentioned the term “New World Order” over the last few years.


To keep Australians reasonably so-called civilised, they are controlled and manipulated by thousands of Federal, State and Local Government laws, also many private laws and regulations and various International Laws of which Australia is officially signatory to over 2400. These laws bring into question what is the real meaning of civilization?

Where has civilisation appeared and where does civilisation exist now as we witness humanity existing under the "sword of Damocles" i.e. nuclear weapons of mass destruction that are capable of killing millions of people in seconds. Civilisation has many connotations used in different ways. History reveals human behaviour leaves much to be desired. As Phillip Adams said a few years back: “Humans are not very nice animals.” He is not wrong. They always appear willing to harm and kill each other.

Idealists unfortunately, have an extremely difficult task ahead to change en mass the mind sets of populations indoctrinated from birth with self deception, invented deities that represent certainty and the essentialness of using greed and aggression for solving humanity’s problems.


The ancient Latin word “spiritus” (breath) is now used ad lib in many descriptive instances dealing with an individual or a whole population and in religions. It seems everyone has an idea of what is meant by it, albeit, many find it difficult to explain.

The English word “spirit” has many differing meanings and connotations, all of them relating to a non-corporeal substance contrasted with the material body. The spirit of a human being is thus a sensitive or vital principle in that individual, similar to the word soul also taken to be the seat of the mental, intellectual and emotional powers. The notion of a person's "spirit" or "soul" often also overlap, as both contrast with material body and both are imagined as surviving the bodily death in religious doctrine and occultism. Spirit can also have the sense of a "ghost" (apparition) or “demon” or zeitgeist. The important word anima is used metaphorically and cannot be ignored in discussions about spirit -souls ghost etc. So anything goes with its numerous uses. That's the spirit!


For millenniums, humanity worshipped thousands of “Natural World” deities before inventing the notion of countless human form deities. All can be referred to with the word god. The Judaic gods, the Christian gods (Christianity is a polytheist religion), the Islam god, his god, their god etc. Gods should be identified. The use of the word god with a capita “G” is unnecessary as I mentioned to P.Z. Myers."

Peter Plane (Former Secretary, Victorian Secular Society)

Posted by David Miller

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