Idea for a novel religion (Philosophism)
This was Swena's brainstorming document for Philosophism, written at around 1-2am EDT on 2020-03-30.
We live in an era of science, and this has led to conflicts between empirical reality and theology. People find great meaning in theology, but must at some level reject reality to follow it -- this necessarily is a sort of epistemological dissonance. There must be another way. Instead of trying to find salvation through the supernatural, what if we tried to find salvation through philosophy? I don't mean "ivory tower" or stereotypical "philosopher" philosophy (or even partial philosophies): I mean holistic life philosophies, the kind where people figure out how to live their best, moral, fulfilled lives. For some, it might be Buddhist philosophy; for others, Epicureanism. If we do it right, we can create a kind of environment capable of fostering novel life philosophies, like what existed in Classical Greece. These philosophies would be living philosophies, and also often have centuries of debate and conjecture for people to think through, just like theologies.
How would we organize this movement? We could opt for the liberal religion model of Unitarian Universalism -- one Big Tent that is reiterated in every congregation. Preachers would discuss different philosophies on different days, and guests would come in to speak on their philosophies. However, if we were to do this, it would create problems. Many (if not most) people practice religion and go to church to find meaning, fulfillment, and community. Big-Tent churches have a lot of difficulty galvanizing their members in the ways that more-focused churches can, and this can be seen in Unitarian Universalism's consistently poor conversion rate and strong political bent (to an extent replacing religion with politics). As it happens, it can be quite difficult to convert people to a religion without explicit beliefs. Additionally, if someone is wishing to focus on a coherent, consistent philosophy and share that with like-minded individuals, endlessly switching philosophies behind the pulpit will work against their goals. Likewise, for the un-intellectually-inclined, such hithering and tithering may leave them confused and unfulfilled, which will leave them more-likely to join a religious congregation than a Philosophist one. There's also the issue that, while cherry-picking from religions and philosophies may work on an individual level, attempting this at a communal one inevitably leads to down-watering and inconsistency. Many have said that UU loses the soul of religion in this way. Syncretism is fine, but it helps to have clear systems to syncretize, rather than having everything be in a state of anomy. While liberal religion is an admirable thought, it just has too many shortcomings.
How, then, do we foster an environment of philosophical pluralism while still being able to galvanize people via belief? One way would be to have each congregation explicitly adopt a school of thought. We could have a school of thought for syncretism, and congregations following this might work similarly to liberal religion. Congregations following other schools of thought would work differently: Each school would be governed by their own councils, and the entire "religion" of Philosophism would be governed by a grand council. Allowing for dedicated schools and themed congregations will allow for unifying dogmas, create competition, and encourage schools and congregations to seek new converts. It will give practitioners companions and communities with similar values, and avoid overly confusing the masses. This means it should be far-more-able to compete with illiberal religions than liberal religions are.
The next question is how do we keep these different schools unified under one Philosophist banner, when each has different dogmas? One way in which they can be kept "Philosophist" is by virtue of the fact that they came from this movement, just like how Lutherans and Presbyterians are both Protestants, despite major theological differences. We can, however, seek more-substantial integration than this. One way is by having grand councils between all schools, as mentioned before; but we can also take additional measures, like creating a clear definition of what makes Philosophism Philosophism, and creating shared rituals/ceremonies/holidays. For the former, we can start with an initial definition of "Philosophist schools must only purport philosophies -- that is, logically consistent dogmas that do not conflict with established science." (As for what "established science" is, that can be left to the councils (and to Theodia's technocrats) to determine.). For the latter, we can start by just wholesale adopting the pomp and circumstance of Unitarian Universalism and Mainstream Humanism. Additional such practices can be decided in great councils, and of course additional ones can be determined by schools (So, a Buddhist school might practice certain Buddhist ceremonies / observe certain Buddhist festivals.).