Roberto Mangabeira Unger offers an in-depth analysis of religion's failed attempt at confronting the world. Unger is a philosopher and professor at Harvard Law School. His latest book is The Religion of the Future (http://goo.gl/v4sSCy).
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Transcript - For over 200 years the world has been set on fire by a revolutionary message. The message is that every individual human being is divine. That all of us despite the constraints and humiliations that surround us can share in a greater life and share even in the attributes that we ascribe to God. Nevertheless the ordinary experience of human beings remains an experience of belittlement. This revolutionary message can only be made real through a series of transformations. Transformations in how we organize society, in how we live and in how we understand the world. It is not enough to innovate in our politics. We must also innovate in our basic ideas about who we are. Unless we innovate in these ideas as well as in the arrangements of society, we cannot turn the message of our divinity into a real experience. And thus the need today for a spiritual revolution as well as for a social transformation. The focus of my thinking expressed in this book, The Religion of the Future, lies precisely there. In the relation between the transformation of personal experience and the reorganization of social life.
All the major religions and philosophies that have exerted the greatest influence over the last 2,000 years arose from a series of religious revolutions that took place around 2,000 years ago. And these religions took three main directions. One direction one might call overcoming the world and an example is Buddhism and the philosophies that prevailed in ancient India. But it is a position also represented in modern Western thought, for example, by Schopenhauer. According to this view all the distinctions and changes that surround us are illusory. Our task if we are to escape from suffering is to communicate with the hidden and unified being and to escape this nightmare of the apparent world. A second orientation, one might call the humanization of the world, and it teaches us that in a meaningless world we can create meaning. We can open a clearing space, a social order that bears the imprint of our humanity. And in particular we can do so by creating a society that conforms to a model of what we owe to one another by virtue of occupying certain roles.
The most important example of this position in the history of religion and of philosophy has been Confucianism. The third direction is the direction that I call in this book, The Religion of the Future, the struggle with the world. It tells us that there is a trajectory of ascent by which through changes in how we live and in how we organize society we can rise to a greater life and share in the attributes that we ascribe to God. And thus this ascent requires a struggle and so I call it the struggle with the world. Now this third direction has had two main faces in history. A sacred face and a profane face. The sacred face is represented in the semitic monotheisms - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And the profane face in the political projects of liberalism, socialism and democracy and in the project of personal liberation that has been represented by romanticism, both the original romantic movement and the worldwide popular romantic culture.
The third direction teaches us that each of us is bigger than he seems to be. That each of us is called to share in the greater life and to participate in this divinity that we sometimes treat as a separate entity that created the world and that intervenes in history. It is this third direction that has exerted the greatest influence on humanity over the last couple of centuries in forming a series of revolutionary projects in politics and in culture that have set the whole world on fire. But all of these religions in each of these three directions that I have just described – despite their immense differences share certain common characteristics. One of these characteristics is that they have represented as it were a kind of two sided ticket. One side of the ticket is a license to escape the world. A second side of the ticket is an invitation to change the world. And this ambivalence has never been fully resolved. [transcript truncated].
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