[T]he intellectuals of the West have, since the Renaissance, progressed through three stages: they have hoped for redemption first from God, then from philosophy, and now from literature. Monotheistic religion offers hope for redemption through entering into a new relation to a supremely powerful non-human person. Belief—as in belief in the articles of a creed—may be only incidental to such a relationship. For philosophy, however, beliefs are of the essence. Redemption by philosophy is through the acquisition of a set of beliefs which represent things in the one way they really are. Literature, finally, offers redemption through making the acquaintance of as great a variety of human beings as possible. Here again, as in religion, true belief may be of little importance.
From within a literary culture, religion and philosophy appear as literary genres. As such, they are optional. Just as an intellectual may opt to read many poems but few novels, or many novels but few poems, so he or she may read much philosophy, or much religious writing, but relatively few poems or novels. The difference between the literary intellectuals’ readings of all these books and other readings of them is that the inhabitant of a literary culture treats books as human attempts to meet human needs, rather than as acknowledgements of the power of a being that is what it is apart from any such needs. God and Truth, are, respectively the religious and the philosophical names for that sort of being. --The Decline of Redemptive Truth and the Rise of a Literary Culture, by Richard Rorty
As I've progressed in my journey away from Orthodox Judaism, I've found that neither philosophy nor empiricism have been able to replace it.
In my mind, philosophy suffers from the same problem as religion. As F. H. Bradley wrote (and Rorty quotes) "Metaphysics is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe upon instinct." Historically, philosophers have begun with their conclusions in mind (God exists, or doesn't, goodness exists, or doesn't, truth exists, or doesn't, etc.) and struggled to erect foundations to support their conclusions.
I was tempted to turn towards empiricism, or science. Science is alluring because it tirelessly roots out falsehoods, leaving only what is our best guess at the truth, becoming more correct as time progresses. As Rorty continues,
By the middle of the nineteenth century, it had become clear that mathematics and empirical science were going to be the only areas of culture in which one might conceivably hope to get unanimous, rational agreement—the only disciplines able to provide beliefs which would not be overturned as history rolls along. They were the only sources of cumulative results, and of propositions which were plausible candidates for the status of insight into the way things are in themselves, independent of the contingencies of human history. Unified natural science still seems to many intellectuals to be the answer to Socrates’ prayers.
The problem, though, is that while science may explain the physical universe more accurately than any philosophy ever created, it doesn't address the question of how to live one's life. Rorty:
Modern science, in short, has helped us see that if you want a metaphysics, then a materialistic metaphysics is the only one to have. But it has not given us any reason to think that we need a metaphysics. The need for metaphysics lasted only as long as the hope for redemptive truth lasted. But by the time that materialism triumphed over idealism, this hope had waned...
The literary culture’s attitude toward materialist metaphysics is, and should be, something like this: whereas both Plato’s and Hegel’s attempts to give us something more interesting than physics were laudable attempts to find a redemptive discipline to put in the place of religion, a materialist metaphysics is just physics getting above itself. Modern science is a gloriously imaginative way of describing things, brilliantly successful for the purpose for which it was developed—namely, predicting and controlling phenomena. But it should not pretend to have the sort of redemptive power claimed by its defeated rival, idealist metaphysics.
So if religion's out, philosophy's out, and even science is out, where does that leave us?
For the Socratic idea of self-examination and self-knowledge, the literary intellectual substitutes the idea of enlarging the self by becoming acquainted with still more ways of being human. For the religious idea that a certain book or tradition might connect you up with a supremely powerful or supremely lovable non-human person, the literary intellectual substitutes the Bloomian thought that the more books you read, the more ways of being human you have considered, the more human you become—the less tempted by dreams of an escape from time and chance, the more convinced that we humans have nothing to rely on save one another.
In another essay, Redemption from Egotism: James and Proust as Spiritual Exercises, Rorty writes that:
the best way to achieve Heideggerian authenticity—the best way, as Nietzsche said, to "become who you are" —is not to ask "what is the truth?" but rather to ask “what sorts of people are there in the world, and how do they fare?"
Answers to this question are provided by novels like Steinbeck’s, Zola’s and Stowe’s—novels that tell you about the wretchedly poor. They are also provided by novels like James’ and Proust’s that tell you about rich people expanding their horizons. Reading either sort of novel may help the reader to transcend the parents, teachers, customs, and institutions that have blinkered her imagination, and thereby permit her to achieve greater individuality and greater self-reliance...
The work in question is that of enlarging oneself. That requires being ready to be bowled over by tomorrow’s experiences—to remain open to the possibility that the next book you read, or the next person you meet, will change your life. Increased rationality—increased coherence of belief and desire—cannot close itself off from this possibility of disruption without falling victim to cant. You are such a victim insofar as you believe that you already possess criteria for judging the value of any books or people you may encounter—criteria that will provide you with good and sufficient reasons for tucking each of them into some familiar pigeonhole. To avoid such victimization, you must give up one of the dreams of philosophy—the dream of completeness, of the imperturbability attributed by the wise, of the mastery supposedly possessed by those who have, once and for all, achieved completion by achieving enlightenment...
[W]hat novels do for us is to let us know how people quite unlike ourselves think of themselves, how they contrive to put actions that appall us in a good light, how they give their lives meaning. The problem of how to live our own lives then becomes a problem of how to balance our needs against theirs, and their self-descriptions against ours. To have a more educated, developed and sophisticated moral outlook is to be able to grasp more of these needs, and to understand more of these self-descriptions...
Novel-reading often increases tolerance for strange, and initially repellent, sorts of people. But the motto of the novel is not "to understand all is to forgive all." Rather, it is "Before you decide that an action was unforgivable, make sure that you know how it looked to the agent." You may well conclude that it was indeed unforgivable, but the knowledge of why it was done may help you avoid committing actions that you yourself will later find unforgivable. That is why reading a great many novels is the process by which young intellectuals of our time hope to become wise. This hope is the same that drove young intellectuals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to read a great many religious and philosophical treatises.
I've been a fiction reader since I was three. I've lived a thousand different lifetimes, lived as people from countless cultures, real and imagined, people with philosophies similar to mine and those who were completely alien. It may be that access to this multitude of personalities is what made me feel that Orthodox Judaism was too small for me even before I read Hawking and Dawkins. Hawking and Dawkins may have convinced me that Orthodox Judaism isn't true in a literal sense, but it was fiction that made it seem insufficient in a broader and perhaps more important sense.
I agree with Rorty that there will never be an end to the questions, that no religion, no metaphysics, and no grand scientific theory of everything will ever, ever satisfy our thirst for "redemptive truth." The best we can do is to broaden our experience as much as possible, always growing, always assimilating other people's wisdom.
I suggest reading both essays if you're interested. I've only excerpted small parts.