This is part 2 of a series, and I think it would be best to read the first post first, or else you might have no idea what I’m talking about. Also, sorry if this one jumps around a bit.
Religion. There, I said it. You better man your battle stations, put your earplugs in, your blinders on, and close your mind at once; because I just mentioned religion on the interwebs. Of course if you read the first post, you’d know that I’m going to be exploring religion from the human perspective, not a Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, Pagan, Pantheist, Wiccan, Hindu or any other perspective.
So, from the human standpoint, why religion? Why did we begin turning to religion in the first place? Some will tell you that it was a way to assign meaning to the seasons, lightning, floods, earthquakes, the moon; to explain all of the natural phenomenon that early man took notice of. I don’t believe this to be valid. As I see it, religion was based out of a response to living as a human. To life and death on this planet. This is where the seed of religion was planted and cultivated.
So what? Big deal, right? No, not so much. If religion is based out of a response to living life as a human, and experiencing death as a human, we must evaluate our present belief systems on that criteria first and foremost. In essence, is your religion (or lack thereof) a valid response to living life as a human? Does it fit with everything we now know about life on this planet?
A little background on me. Once upon a time, I was a Lutheran. Good church, nice people, wonderful pastor. A very laid back congregation. None of the fire and brimstone fear mongering. I went to Sunday Bible School and such as a youth. I even sang in the youth choir. I went through all the motions, did my best to believe. But even from a young age I remember something nagging at me about it all. For a brief time, I went to a Baptist church because my ex-stepmother pretty much forced us to. This was the fire and brimstone, brainwash ’em when they’re young brand of Christianity. I hated it. I also hated how they made me feel as an outsider. Thankfully, that didn’t last too long. We went back to my former church, and things were better. Mind you, we only went maybe twice a month or so. Religion wasn’t a huge thing in my family.
Well, somewhere around 13-16 or so (can’t remember, too many raging hormones) I really started to take a look at the whole God thing. It started making less and less sense to me. In fact, it started to become quite ridiculous. The creation story, the flood story, angels, devils, the plagues. I looked at the myths of ancient Greece and Egypt, looked at the Bible, and then it hit me. I had been punk’d. It was all a sham. It was a bunch of silly nonsense that people spoon fed me and forced me to believe in. So, I stopped going. I suppose this was my atheist/agnostic period.
Later, I fell in love with a beautiful and wonderful debil worshipping (at least that’s what the fundies would say) pagan/Buddhist spiritual woman and it really all started to go down hill ;) yadda yadda yadda fast forward to today. Today, I consider myself a non-traditional pantheist and umm… dare I actually say it…. a Buddhist. I suppose that’s something I’ll have to get used to. Weird.
So back to the response. Why do I feel that Christianity is no longer a valid response to life as a human? Well, part of it has to do with Science. Science provides conclusions based on evidence. Science is not static. It admits when it is wrong, and changes in conclusions happen when new evidence is presented. Science has explained our evolution into homo sapiens. Science has explained what makes the stars glow, the planets go ’round, the birds sing and the floods rise. The more we learn about this emergent universe, the fewer places there are for God to hide. When we start to realize this, we can begin to realize that it isn’t any god that controls our lives and deaths, and in fact we have been in control the whole time. And if we are in control of our lives and our deaths, what use do we have for God?
If we seek God out of comfort, what does that say about our relationship with each other? Have we become that distant, that separated from our human nature that we can’t find comfort in each other? Again, God is not needed, nor warranted in this situation. We should be looking toward each other for comfort, for help. We should find solace in our interconnectedness, but we have forgotten that we are connected at all. We should be able to ask our neighbor to borrow a wrench, but we don’t. And when we are asked by that neighbor for a favor, we tend not to trust him. The reasons for this are mainly fear based, and I feel that’s another post altogether.
There is of course, death and the great unknown. We all like to believe that we live on after death. But that’s all that it is, a belief. A wish in the wind. Because everything we know about organic matter says that we cease to be when brain function stops. Now, I’d like to believe that some part of me lives on after this point, that what I am right now is just a brief splash in the eternal river that is me, that there is no end to the flow, and that I’ll continue on in another direction. But who knows? And what good does it do to speculate? Again, does it matter to how you live your life right now?
So we construct a God that gives us a concrete choice of heaven or hell. Believe or don’t believe. Weird. So, in order to get an eternal afterlife of bliss, all I have to do is have blind faith in something? Sweet! Sign me up! ….. Actually, I gave up fairy tales a long time ago. The truth is there is no heaven or hell. Heaven and hell are merely a reward and punishment system set up to further a belief system that is no longer valid in this emergent universe. My only guess as to why it keeps on perpetuating itself in the face of a mountain of evidence that contradicts it’s history and origins and existence is that comfort example I talked about earlier.
It’s comforting to know that those around you believe the same as you. People of like mind tend to flock together. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with with this. Some people like mint chocolate chip ice cream, and some don’t. No biggie. But what’s different about a flock of Christians is that when confronted with the fact that their God is no where to be found in this Universe, they have their group and their group mentality to support them. No one wants to be wrong. The ego can’t handle being wrong. The ego has set up a specific reality for you, and anything that shakes that reality off it’s hinges could mean the death of the ego. So it finds solace in being surrounded by those that believe as you do. Call it mob syndrome, mass hysteria or whatever. When there is a mob of people together, they (in their minds) can do no wrong. And if the mob is right, the ego can be stroked into complicity.
There is also that whole “fear of the unknown” thing as well. Though I think that ties in more nicely with the inability of most to admit that they are wrong, or that they don’t know. Curiosity didn’t just kill the cat. Curiosity unchecked has killed plenty of humans as well. We have this need, this hunger to know everything. We are terrible at keeping secrets, and even worse at letting others keep theirs. We must know everything, and we must know it now! I’m not sure why it is that we can’t leave things as simply “I don’t know”. As far as the origins of the Universe are concerned, I’m happy saying “I don’t know”. As far as what happens in the afterlife, I’m also happy saying “I don’t know”. Because in the end, all of that has nothing to do with what happens in the now.
If you were given absolute proof that Thor or Allah or Zeus or any of the other 2500+ gods out there existed, how would it change your life? How would your day change? Would you order a different $5 foot long for lunch today? Would you love your spouse more or less? Would you quit your job? Would it change how you suffer?
Of course not. It really wouldn’t change much of anything. It would have little to no impact on day to day life, and have very little impact on this moment. And that is all we have. And that is why I feel that monotheistic religions (especially Christianity- from my experience) are no longer valid responses to life as a human here on this beautiful planet Earth.
So why do I feel that Buddhism is a valid response? That can be found in the major doctrine of Buddhism; The Four Noble Truths. They are –and this is paraphrased, probably badly–
1. That as a result of being born, you will encounter suffering.
2. Suffering is caused by our craving/attachments, delusion, and greed.
3. That there is a way to end suffering by ending our attachments, delusion and greed.
4. The way to end suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path (which I’ve already covered)
There are plenty of translations on the 4 Noble Truths, so I tried to keep them as general as possible. If I really screwed them up, let me know. But don’t nitpick.
So that’s all I have to say on this for now. Sorry it’s been so long since my last post, but I really wanted to give this one a little time. I hope that when you read this, you’ll re-evaluate your belief system, and really try and discover whether or not it is a valid response to life as a human. Until then, cheers.
*As always, I fully admit I could be wrong about any of this. The Buddha also advised against divisive speech. I realize this, and if this does cause any suffering, I apologize. I’m not calling your world view invalid. Just that for me, I believe that this particular world view is no longer valid when we take into account present knowledge.