I can see and appreciate some of the arguments from both sides of this thing, but I have to say the amount of misconceptions getting thrown around re: religion here is astounding, and given the centrality of “religion”/a “religious” role for literature in Noah Cicero’s argument, fixing them might make some of this a good deal less contentious. While Cicero’s ex cathedra listing of specific books everyone “has” to read in order to “even write” seems “douchey”, being well-read is generally a good thing and so is having a consistent frame of reference to debate other people in, so while acknowledging that I have no absolute frame of reference from which to do this, please allow me to borrow his tack here and suggest that if you’re going to bring religion into your argument, you should read:
1) at least one or two original holy texts (the Bible, Quran, Torah, Bhagavad Gita etc.)
2) at least one or two classic/ancient works of religious exegesis (St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, medieval Islamic theologians etc.)
3) at least one or two modern scholarly histories/overviews of religion (Karen Armstrong’s A History of God comes to mind specifically, it’s fucking brilliant) and/or mythology (anything by Joseph Campbell?)
For starters, Noah Cicero, while this is a bit of a quibble, the way your point re: Asian and Native American cultures vs. the West seems to imply that those cultures need or use literature less is weird. Not only is the basic premise not true - a lot of Asian countries have become pretty secularized, and Native Americans had their spirituality violently uprooted by white people like us - both of these cultures have non-religious literary traditions every bit as vibrant as ours. I agree that literature and religion play similar roles but the significance of literature in the West today isn’t based solely on the decline (to the extent that there is one) of organized religion. Literature could play a part in healing certain cultural wounds left by secularization, as could any number of other things; it’s one of many different ways societies can try to connect with the mysteries at the heart of life, often at once. Our path, like that of the rest of the world, is guided by literature and the arts, religion, philosophy, politics, science and the instincts of our own hearts.
critique-manque person though, holy shit.
>75% of Americans identify as
You have a point there, but a lot of people will argue that however many people nominally go to church, or subscribe to x religion, religion has lost a power and a significance in people’s lives. People aren’t certain what they believe in, and aren’t getting the spiritual fulfilment from religion, certain or not, that they were before. That isn’t true in all cases, for sure, but it may have something to do with why mainline Christian denominations, for instance, are like hemorrhaging people right now.
>15-20% of people are a lot more likely to look to science or film/television to tell them how their world works
The reason I gave a Cicero-style reading list is I’m not sure if I’m competent to explain this here, but “telling” people “how their world works” isn’t the primary goal of religion. That’s the goal of science, or maybe ideology, both of which have assumed such an oversized role in our society - see my last point - that people have become incapable of recognizing any other, parallel goals as legitimate or real. Religion is about engaging a sense of wonder and a moral imagination and comforting people in the face of things that they may never understand. Sometimes it did/does that by claiming to understand them, but read the great religious thinkers from any tradition and you’ll find admissions that the Scriptures can only explain so much, or even have contradictions in them, and that one has to somehow balance faith in something with an admission of the mystery of it all, that this faith in the face of the mystery is the only way really to confront it.
>A religion without all the answers to life’s questions is basically pointless.
>Literature doesn’t have that limitation. A novelist can raise questions and then admit to not knowing the answers. He/she can write something just to express and alleviate pain, or even just to get a laugh.
But religion doesn’t have that limitation either. Again, don’t take my word for it: go read some important religious texts, go read Job, go read the Zen masters, go read Augustine’s Confessions - half of these are counted as important texts, by the way, in the history of literature and not just of religion because they do exactly these things, and very well. Which is another reason why the substitutionary thing w/ literature and religion from Noah Cicero doesn’t work - there isn’t a hard and fast boundary. Literature and religion aren’t separate ways of achieving a goal, they’re practically different frameworks for looking at the same way of achieving a goal, ones that often bleed into each other, as opposed to being switched in and out like spells in an RPG. The scientific mindset can drain the spiritual meaning from literature too - check out the New fucking Criticism, or any high school/university-level English class that tries to reduce literary texts to a single “meaning” or “message” like they’re just codes to be cracked. And yet even science itself doesn’t have to be like this - a lot of theoretical physics these days has taken flak for blurring the lines between itself and literature, or philosophy, or religion.
My mom is a painter, and likes to describe what she does as creating “frameworks for wondering”. That’s what I sort of see literature and religion as - frameworks for wondering. In that sense, creating literature that fulfils the role of religion - anywhere, at any time, regardless of how important or powerful “religion” remains - is a wonderful goal, and not nearly as limiting as /r/atheism might make it out to be.