What I Really Think About Religion (Uh-Oh!)

Preface:  I debated internally about posting this at all, as religion is a hot potato item that I nearly always avoid discussing unless I am absolutely sure the other party will not take offense.  But I’m getting old and possibly a bit reckless.

These are J’s musings.  D is at least nominally religious and certainly believes in God.


Let me start with television.  I worked for about 40 years in & around the television business.  Based on that experience my view of TV as it now exists is that while it obviously fills various human needs or desires, and indeed there are good things that have come from it, on balance our species would very possibly have been better off without it. I place religion in the same category as television.  (We're already in trouble, right?  CLICK HERE  for a couple of good reasons why I shouldn't be doing this)


Lets turn now to religion.  One of the deepest needs in our collective psyche is the need for order, for certainty.  This need has driven us to gradually create for ourselves a world where a fairly high degree of order and control prevails. Yet as solid and comfortable as our society is, just a question away chaos and uncertainty always lurks. Where did it all come from?  Where is it going?  Why does it exist? Why do WE exist?  Howcome such-and-such happened?  Or didn't happen?  And of course, what will happen to "me" when my body dies? 


Good questions, all. Too bad there don't seem to be any immediately obvious (and/or pleasing) answers.  But not to worry, organized religion answers them all for us, no thought needed.  Which organized religion?  Why, all of them, of course. Religions offer us a variety of frequently contradictory answers for every question, yet each answer is absolutely and positively guaranteed to be the one true one. When you find the one you like best, you just switch off your brain and simply believe.  And right there is my personal problem.  I can't seem to find the "off" switch in my brain.

(Faith, the all purpose fixer. CLICK HERE  for a side-trip on that)


Technically speaking I don't consider myself an atheist, because to my way of thinking atheism is a belief structure just like any other religion.  The committed atheist holds the absolute belief that no supernatural deity/deities exist, but he bases this absolute belief upon the lack of evidence presented by the natural world in which we live. Although our natural world by definition offers no direct evidence for the existence of the supernatural, only in this lack of evidence does it offer support of the contrary.  So the atheist’s “religion”, just like all the others, requires one to hold an absolute belief that is not truly supported by direct evidence.


Personally, I am more comfortable with the basic line of thought held by the Agnostics.  They did not reject the possibility of supernatural beings (gods) out of hand, but they felt that since such beings were defined as being outside our natural universe then we "natural" beings could never know anything at all about them.  Having left myself a back door, I do admit my working hypothesis is that there is no "supernatural", or at least none that impinges upon our natural universe in any detectable way. And if it doesn’t impinge, then except for the intellectual exercise the concept provides, there is no practical difference between whether it does or does not exist. Could be wrong, of course, but this working hypothesis is supported by a lifetime of observation, during which I have never detected any hint of anything “beyond”.  As far as I can tell, everything is just as it seems.  No funny stuff.


How do I “explain” the “mysteries” of our universe? First, I toss out all those “If you don't believe, how do you explain all those people who were abducted by aliens?” type questions which come from people who cite  National Alien Magazine articles as “evidence”. Or, to twist the knife a bit, ditto the various miraculous tales contained in the Book of Scientology, the Quran, or the Bible. Quite simply, I don’t feel the slightest need or desire to deal with second (or ten-millionth) hand “documented mysteries” where the documentation's actual basis in fact can never be determined.  I rest upon the fact that in 75+ years I have never been presented directly and personally with any happenings or “mysteries” which appear to preclude explanation under natural laws. 


A lot of what people cite as mysteries, like how and why did life evolve as it has (assuming you are not one of those who take the religious shortcut of rejecting the very notion of evolving life), I do not consider mysterious at all.  We are rapidly learning how non-life components are assembled to produce life, and within this century (barring another religion-dictated dark age) we will almost certainly understand the processes well enough to assemble life forms ourselves.  We have established that evolution of life is a factual process, and that it favors reproductive advantage.  We have also established that stress in the environment (climate change, etc.) triggers bursts of evolutionary selection leading to alleviation or accommodation of that stress.  Mix in the natural randomness of our universe over a billion years of time and you have the biological world we see around us. I am quite comfortable with this. (2012 Addendum:  Note that every month we are hearing of more what can be termed "mash-up" life forms, which are not exactly assembled from scratch but are only a small step from it.  Cats & other critters that glow, engineered bacteria that do things like consume cellulose and secrete oil)


Certainly there are imponderables, like how did our universe and its natural laws initially come to be, and what (if anything) lies before/beyond/underneath, but I am pretty sure there are answers.  We just don’t know what these answers are….yet.  And of course it is possible we never will have these answers, as even the clues that might lead to them could well lie outside our “natural” universe.  Agnosticism again.  And of course it needs to be pointed out that if you propose a "creator" who exists "elsewhere", all you've done is push the question back one step to "OK, so who created the creator and his "elsewhere"?   This was condensed amusingly in the infinite regress expression "It's turtles all the way down".


I have grown used to living in a world containing vast numbers of people that I consider quite “normal” and even intelligent, yet who embrace what I view as bizarre and totally unsupported…or worse…ideas.  I view these people as holding tight to what I consider a “comfort belief structure”, and I don’t begrudge them their comfort as long as their beliefs do not impinge negatively upon me or upon society.  Unfortunately, every day we see that too often negative effects do flow from such beliefs.


I guess the net-net is that I am simply not one of those people who must have the certainty of belief at the expense of rational thought.  I am quite content to say  “gee, I guess we don’t really have the answer for that yet, do we?”