In response to the article headlined "Dialectical view of the social role of religion" published in your newspaper, let me add this:
If there were no Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, China as a civilization, society and state would not exist.
If Indians had not worshipped Vedic and Hindu gods and philosophers, there would not be any India worth speaking about. There would be no Buddhism and hence neither Chinese Buddhism.
If the Greeks and Romans had not worshiped their gods, there would probably not be any Greek philosophers either, nor the Roman Empire, nor Roman Law.
If there had been no Jewish monotheism, there would be no Christianity and Islam. If there had been neither Greek and Roman gods and philosophers nor monotheism, there would not be a Western world.
The religions of the human species have molded civilizations worldwide. If they had not existed, we would not be here posting on the internet. Or we would be very different beings, not what we currently are.
The question arising from the observation is: can there be a society without religion in the future? Or without an ideology that opens perspectives allowing human beings and societies to project themselves in the future beyond the death of individuals while satisfying both their emotional and intellectual needs.
The first religion was probably that of Nature, then of the family, then of the national and international gods.
Each of these answered the needs that societies met at different stages of their evolution.
The prospect facing our globalized world is now to find a religion, a rational religion capable of taking up the many challenges facing our world: global warming, growing world demographics, rising sea levels, automation, artificial intelligence, growing gap between the richest 1 percent and the rest, unemployment, terrorism, wars, and last but not least the seemingly irresolvable hostility between the two branches of the Abrahamic family, the Jews and the Arabs, of which the feud has taken the world hostage for the last 50 years (most of my life time).
The most pressing issue, as China rightly foresaw, is that of demographics, global warming and rising sea levels.
Going back to the beginning of the loop or cycle that brought us where we are, how can we impress on human minds a new respect for Nature?
perhaps a Temple to Heaven, Earth, Sun, Moon and Sea should be erected on one of those islands threatened by rising seas, in the pacific or Atlantic Ocean, or in one of the seas off China.
A revamped version of the UN should commit to the conservation of our planet as its first and most sacred priority. The General Secretary of that new global international authority would annually celebrate rites to Nature, Heaven, Earth, Sea just as the ancient Chinese Emperors used to.
For, as you rightly observe, religions are not only narratives. To impress on human minds, they also involve manipulation of symbols, and performance of ritual.
Just as the Chinese Emperor was the pontifex Maximus of Heaven on Earth, the representative of a global state could be the high priest of a new religion of Nature.
The Chinese considered the State sacred, so did the Romans. Hegel, from whom Marx drew inspiration, considered the State as the incarnation of the Spirit (of culture/civilization). French sociologist Emile Durkheim defined religion as "society worshipping itself."
Such a State would not need to be exclusive. It could act as an umbrella protecting different confessions, large and small, as long as all would submit to the pursuit of the Common Good.
My hope is that China, faithful to its centuries-long tradition, could be instrumental in restoring natural priorities. Adding to the other tools - AIIB, OBOR - it formed to use in search of global integration, this would surely expand its cultural influence and so-called soft power.
For humans are moved not only by survival needs and the pursuit of material comfort. They also have emotional needs which are best satisfied by myths, narratives and rituals. That is the handling of symbols.