Monday, February 21, 2011

Religion 101

In a recent post I used the God question as a comparison point. A friend commented that all speculation about God is a waste of time. Mostly I agree with him, but really it’s kind of fun sometimes and it’s not as difficult as people make it out to be. The problem for most people is that the answers are not what we would have them be. That’s why they labor over the questions, instead of accepting the obvious answers. They’re looking for better answers.

I’m only thinking of this subject now because I’m reading Huston Smith’s “The World’s Religions.” It’s the real “Religion 101,” with lively writing and an admirably neutral tone. He seems very impressed with the awe and mystery of religion, and all of them.

He describes at one point the “speculative” feature of religions. We are encouraged to speculate, he says, about questions like “where do we come from? where do we go? why are we here?” I hate to tell you, these are the easy questions.

Here’s what I think.

Where do we come from? We come from our parents, and so forth, and all of us, every living one of us, have been here pretty much forever, an endless chain of procreation, all the way back to the first cell that became “alive” as opposed to “inanimate,” uninterrupted by death. Obviously, duh! or else we wouldn’t be here.

Don’t like that answer? Maybe you prefer what I call “the Myth of Individuality.” You may think that you are unique, but really you’re not that special. Even if you don’t know them, they’re out there, the people just like you, sharing your genes and blood, looking like you, sharing your DNA. There’s nothing at all unique about you. Get over it. Two plus two is four, whether you write it in pen, pencil or crayon.

Where do we go? When we die, he means, when we get old, get sick, and finally just up and die. We don’t go anywhere, we stay right where we were, or where they put us, whether it’s in the ground or up the chimney. But what about our precious consciousness? That’s still here too, in the form of other people from whom we are indistinguishable. I know, that individuality thing is a compelling illusion, but like I said, give it up.

Why are we here? This one is deceptively easy. We are here totally by accident, there’s no reason at all! And nothing that we ever do means anything! Nothing at all! Does that upset you? Are you worried about right and wrong? The often predicted breakdown of order? Don’t worry, there are other, better reasons to keep order in the world. Order makes things more pleasant, and less dangerous, and everybody that was ever born loved pleasant, and shied away from dangerous. We’ll be fine without meaning.

Notice that I have answered these questions as they relate to us, we mere human beings. If these questions are applied to the universe as a whole, or whatever the ultimate sum of everything is being called these days, they become unanswerable, and shall probably remain so far, far into the future, if not forever. That’s a real mystery right there, an impenetrable mystery that you may join me in referring to as “God.” No further discussion or speculation is required.

So there it is! I am happy to have provided this service for you, finally making all of this clear. And in 604 words too! How’s that for economy! Don’t thank me. Just make a donation to the charity of your choice.


Anonymous said...

Re individuality: maybe we're not unique as you think of it, but consider the amazing combination of the trillions of events, and the impossible odds, that brought each of us into this state called "alive" on Earth and you have to be a little impressed that it happened at all, and that there is something instead of nothing. It boggles my mind a little bit.
So maybe we're not unique, but extremely, ridiculously, improbable.

Of course, all beings living and dead are purely coincidental.


fred c said...

Consider me boggled. I'm very impressed by the success of life on earth. I think it'll be a long, long time, on the order of thousands of years, before we find something similar out there. At least I hope so.

nanute said...

This might help.

fred c said...

Seen that one, and others too, and I love them. Great stuff, low-key, effective. Really, this stuff isn't so hard, is it?