It strikes me that some the most valid critiques that atheists and humanists level at mainstream religions, in some sense, collapse when you look at the Diaspora traditions such Ocha, Vodou, Hoodoo, Umbanda, Quimbanda etc. Sure, atheists might point to the preponderance of seemingly irrational or superstitious beliefs that are found in the ATRs - beliefs which seem all the more more fantastical, bizarre or sometimes even down right insane to the mechanistic gaze of scientific materialism.
However, when compared to mainstream religions the Diaspora traditions demonstrate a nimble, remarkably robust application to human experience that not only gives meaning to particpants, but more importantly, transcends the dualism and deadening dogma of mainstream exoteric religion. Dogma which has had a tyrannical strangle hold on the planet so toxic and undeniably destructive that humanist/atheist movements have made an entirely legitimate case that religion should be removed from the public sector entirely.
That it harms.
This then is where Diaspora traditions differ in my opinion. Where mainstream religion wants to impose a rigid moral order on society - one that is founded on the promise of reward or punishment in some idealised afterlife - Diaspora faiths focus in great part on ways of improving the quality and enjoyment of this life. This is done in various ways; the most distinct being the magico-religious interaction with the spirit world with the aim influencing the material world tangibly.
More than that, the preoccupation with some idealised after-life in which all meaning and hope is vested is almost entirely absent from the main thrust of these paths. Instead direct experience of the spirit world in meaningful lived relationship to this life and body; it's connection with the natural world, the community, wealth, health and well-being are all of central importance; domains which are understood to profoundly interconnected and above all rooted in the present life. Similarly, notions pertaining to an afterlife are rooted in the present with pervasive emphasis of ancestral veneration. Death and the dead are interconnected with life and living rather than being sublimated into a strange necrotic obsession with the consequences for your own soul after death. As such these traditions maintain pragmatic and sophisticated technologies for relating to the manifest world, and human mind and soul which are all understood as being a direct expression of the spiritual dimension rather than being at odds with it.
Instead of having a passive religious experience mediated, interpreted and codified by a textual dogma of some sort; spiritual meaning and revelation is grounded in the demand and indeed, expectancy, for direct ecstatic experience for each participant. This then taking various forms such as; trance possession, divination or mediumship. Instead of being at mercy of an uncompromising, distant and inflexible exoteric expression of Godhead - one which demands total submission and obedience - participants are able to negotiate and communicate directly with the Divine forces.
These forces might become befriended, rewarded or even punished based on their influence and performance in the devotee's life. Now that's what I call a personal relationship with Jesus.
Most importantly these traditions maintain an unbroken chain of initiatic teaching; older ways of knowing and being in the world that might prove vital if the human race is to grow up and develop in ways that avoid self-annihilation. A downward spiralling global economy, impending environmental collapse and political turmoil pervades our planet as the gears of the scientific materialistic project revolves to its final deadly conclusion. Looking forward to science's next cold wonder to improve us, reward us and ultimately save us from ourselves has clearly proven to be a failed strategy. Yet, that seems to be the only thing we can do when operating from that broken world view.
Instead of looking at new technology, just perhaps, it is the technology that preserved in these older ways of being with the planet, each other, and fundamentally, the universe itself that holds the key to moving forward with any scrap of hope.