A: Religion will probably last forever, but only because it shamelessly promotes itself.
B: Huh? Where is it advertising? Its special promotion deals?
A: That’s not what I mean. Assume the university [we work at] promoted itself like religion does. We’d demand everyone gather together and kneel before the divinity of, say, the statue of the arrowhead and mark all the transitional and principle events in life (like birth and marriage and death) with ceremonies that had to reference the university. This would be pure nonsense, of course, but it’s nonsense no matter who demands it. Its dehumanizing to grovel in this way before anything.
B: Well, don’t we end up with this sort of blind devotion before the arrowhead? What about the football team?
A: That’s not the same at all. People criticize sports teams all the time, and we tolerate those who aren’t into it.
B: Well, there are pretty strong social pressures to like the team, rally around it uncritically, etc. We do tolerate those who don’ follow it, but we wouldn’t tolerate anyone who disparaged it as publicly as you disparage religion.
A: That’s all outlier phenomena. Maybe we have a little harmless groupthink that we don’t police to strictly. Imagine having an Inquisition or a fatwa or throwing people in pogroms over love of the football team, after all. But the general message of the University is entirely opposed to this. We want students to think for themselves.
B: Given all you said so far “thinking for yourself” means marking the events of life in a way you determine yourself, and not bowing uncritically before anything.
A: Exactly. What else could it possibly mean?