If man is hopelessly religious, what happens when society’s scientific elites teach that religion is groundless?  G. K. Chesterton once said, “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.”  The new atheists claim to base their beliefs on scientific evidence.  They have no need for religious teachings or rituals.  Is it not strange, then, to see the attraction of secularists to movements that give the appearance of new religious forms?  Is there something innate in human nature that cries out for the sense of ultimate purpose and connection to the divine that religions have traditionally provided?  Three recent examples of near-cult experiences may be illuminating.

Church of TED:  On the BBC News, Jane Wakefield talked about a new cult emerging around the popular technology show, TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design), “a non-profit organisation dedicated to ideas worth spreading.”  In “Worshiping at the Church of TED,” Wakefield said that the TEDGlobal Conference “has become something of a cult for its followers – appropriately known as TEDsters.”  One idea felt worth spreading was to clothe the dead in mushroom suits as “an altogether more organic way of dying.”

TEDGlobal conferences are an eclectic mix of speeches, hi-tech demonstrations, performance art and calls for fixing society.  “Meanwhile philosopher Alain de Botton talked about the need for religion 2.0 – with one particularly enthusiastic Tedster suggesting later that TED itself could be the new church.”   Wakefield criticized the closed nature of the conferences, then said, “But TEDsters, as befits members of a cult, hold little truck with criticism. They embrace the week-long event as an oasis of intellectual and emotionally stimulation [sic].”

The “mix of intellect and emotion” TED offers seems to satisfy a basic need in some people: “There is also a sense of being part of a huge social experiment.”  Participants wear badges in colors that reflect their mood, whether challenged, inspired, or bored.

Church of Wildness:  New Scientist reported on the “Wilderness Festival 2011” that ended last weekend.  Cathy Tollet described it as “an event promising to feed all the senses with theatre, debates, parties, music and good food.”  While held outdoors, Wilderness Festival 2011 was not so much about wilderness as wildness: “the festival aims to reconnect revellers with all things wild….

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