There is a particular virtue to organised religion that seems very desirable: the ability to motivate people for goals that will not be accomplished in our lifetimes. Europe is spotted with cathedral buildings that, with the limited tools available at the time of their construction, took a century, or more to complete. Chartres
is a good example, but there are many more. Artisans, builders and donors were all more than happy to dedicate a significant part of their lives to a cause that they knew they would never see completed within their lifespans.
And there's nothing really like that today. Whatever freedom atheism gives us, it gives us one
life to care about things. In some abstract sense, we may wonder what the world will be like for our grandkids, but that's it.
And when you think about it, there are many causes that, intentionally or by virtue of their ability to select believers
, adopt some of the trappings of religion. People who campaign for social equality, global warming activists(*)
Sociologist William Sims Bainbridge has argued that if Space colonization is to be accomplished, we need to establish a Church of the God Galactic
to encourage the current generations to make sacrifices on behalf of the future ones who will get to live on other worlds.(**)
I'm not sure if this
kind of utilitarian mutation of religion is what Frank Herbert had in mind when he wrote about the way space travel shook the great human faiths. I think he saw space travel as something that happened to
the great religions, not as something that happened because
I believe these two to be worthwhile causes, and it is beyond plausible that global warming is a destructive, man-made phenomenon. But at the same time, it is hard to ignore the religious overtones in both this message and the proposed solution.(**)
There's an updated version
of his essay that refines the argument, but the original one is much shorter and easier to read.