I've never read Arthur Koestler, so I can't bring my own interpretations to the works that Orwell reviews in this section, however within one of Orwell's reviews is an exchange that represents a larger issue than the specific plot of the novels at hand.
Three questions come to mind: Can life improve? What's the basis of that improvement? What causes bad things to happen? Religion answers these from an "ultimate" perspective, looking not just into the future but upward toward the heavens for answers, and secularity answers this in a more present time frame, ranging in perspective from pessimism all the way to optimism.
Since western religion bestows an entitlement and special purpose upon the human species, the general delineators between the secular approach and the religious approach to understanding the three questions above are as follows: 1) In western religion, this life is payment for the next, which is a utopia, unlike a secular approach, 2) In western religion, man's means of happiness and morality are religious maxims, also unlike the secular approach, and 3) In western religion, man's mistakes are due to his inherent fallibility, unlike the secular approach, which chalks mistakes up to a myriad of reasons, but not because he's naturally "damaged goods." These are not the answers to the questions, yet simply the orientation which provides a framework to how people answer these questions. In other words, it's what colors the meaning of the questions.
Who cares? What difference does it make if western religion bestows special status upon humans and secularity doesn't? Well, the issue is this: Reconciliation with reality. Religion and secularism are vastly different when it comes their responses to the vastness and meaninglessness of reality. Reality is risk, reality is pain, reality is unpredictable (so far western religion is in agreeance), but reality--most importantly--doesn't care about humans specifically because we're just a small part of something that can and will march on after we're all dead. Yes, I'm talking about nature. This is something western religions cannot reconcile so they remain in denial about, despite all the evidence. At the root of any "ultimate" religion is a promise that the afterlife will provide something even better than the world that was already made for them to experience. To learn on. To convert. The world becomes consumable and disposable, therefore religion is a natural un-balancer.
Secularity, which spans many different approaches, does not rely upon "ultimate" maxims, yet upon premises humans derive from within. This sounds ridiculously idealistic. Well, it kind of is ridiculous; just look throughout history at how often we've went to war with one another and destroyed the planet underneath our feet, in search of more land claims, more money, and more power. Secularity does not mean sanity, it just means our thoughts and actions are our own responsibility. We still have to do the work. Humans have clearly not reconciled our own ability to answer the questions above, which gives religion undeserving legitimacy. Yet, the key difference is that the secular approaches chalk up these destructive misalignments to human issues, and the religious approach chalks up misalignments to nasty non-believers, dissidents, and infidels. Since secularity doesn't presuppose entitlement or purpose, reality is allowed to be dark and grim at times, but also equally as bright and happy at times. And unlike religion, it doesn't prescribe that the overarching object of life is to find happiness and affirmation in the coerced conversion to its beliefs.
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