Some Notes on Religion


Obviously religion is a huge topic and controversy is innate when criticizing it. I debated long and hard with myself as to whether I wanted to write about religion just yet. I came to the conclusion it would be harmless to jot down some observations but I will do my best to refrain from making any hard-driven hypotheses for now.

Of course I am biased on the topic as an atheist but I figure this is a better predilection as opposed to being of a particular faith.

My first “observation” (and note I’ll use observation as opposed to words like “argument”) is that religion is a heavily dated institution. All mainstream religions that aren’t classified as cults (aside from a few that tread closely to that line) are thousands of years old. With this arises ignorance. Thousands of years ago, people had no idea what was going on. You might have heard of the eminent subscription to flat Earth cosmography during the Iron Age which, the time period part of the Bible was written in.

I don’t have a problem with ignorance. In fact, what we now know today might also be considered highly ignorant in a thousand years to come. But relevance supersedes all of this. I think the Bible could have been a highly relevant and even reasonable document thousands of years ago. Why then, has religion and religious dogma not evolved with the times? As people get smarter and learn more about the world around them, why hasn’t religious dogma caught up? The answer is because religious doctrines make absolute claims about the nature of the universe, existence, and other extremely fundamental topics that cannot be supplanted ever. Islam also states that its dogma is god’s final word.

Why then does it seem we cannot con a felicitous religion that imposes dynamic values suited to the development and change of culture? The answer is really simple. And it’s because we don’t need religion anymore.

In ancient times, religion was there to explain the unknown. It explained how the world came about, what happens after death, how to behave, etc. Today, we still don’t have the answers to many of these things. But instead of clinging to some incessant need for understanding, today we’re more open to embracing the unknown. We understand morality and know how to treat others. We certainly don’t reference ancient scripture to do this – it’s build into our nature.

The biggest reason, many think, for religion still having a place in today’s society is a single mystery. It’s the mystery of death. All religions have this in common. They all explain what happens when you die, which is ironic since no one actually knows! But you see people want to know they’re going to heaven to experience eternal bliss after they die. It’s a pleasant thought. Without religion, people fear death and see it as a scary proposition. People need not be frightened of death but do anyway. If people weren’t worried about death, they would have no need for religion. But this post isn’t about death, I already have plenty on that subject.

People will also argue the intelligent design argument. This world, this existence, everything is too miraculous to have spontaneously arisen from nothing. It’s a worldly truth that any complex object has to have a designer. This is where the god of the gaps reasoning occurs. It couldn’t have happened by itself, so god had to make it.

But let’s just take a step back here for a moment. If we agree the world really is so complicated and exquisite and bizarre, there are two options we can now choose from. We can either remain in a perpetual state of wonder, of not knowing, or we can theorise that god did it. One involves, essentially, making up a simply unbelievable story and yet brainwashing followers into believing it so that we’ll be rid of this wonder, as though it’s a disease. I would like to know what’s wrong with remaining in awe of everything. Maybe people just really like knowing. Which is fine. Okay so god did it.

If there is a divine creator, why can’t we just leave it at that? As an atheist, I think it’s a completely logical and reasonable hypothesis to have that something created all of this. It may even be irrefutable. I want to know why religious people were unsatisfied with this alone? To say god created the universe should be the end of it, shouldn’t it? They now have the closure they need, right? So why do they also subscribe to the bundles of associated ideas that go with this? Why do they participate in the doctrine? Are they not satisfied knowing that a very vague, omnipotent deity had to have created it all? Why do they personify this entity? I don’t know.

Another point I’d like to make stems from my first observation about the outmoded nature of religion. It has to do with the horrific nature contained within some of the sacred scripture. It may have been customary to stone people to death or to kill people for seemingly unobtrusive crimes or acts during the relevant time period, but it is certainly not so today. In Western society, murder is being punished by death less and less. Clearly, scripture like the Old Testament are not fitting in today’s society and we’re truly lucky it is ignored for the most part.

We’re all aware, however, of the extremist groups who truly do “play by the book”. Fundamentalism and jihadism are two examples of this. This is why religion has recently been branded as bad, or at least bad enough to not ever be received as necessary or good.

People say their belief in god gives their life meaning. I’m not sure this is any different to the death complex. People will mistakenly contemplate eternal nothingness as the only alternative to eternity in paradise that god promises them. This, in tern, is said to give their lives meaning. But this really just stems from ignorance of death.

I’m sure I’ll be making more deliberate posts on religion in the near future, but I just wanted to gather some thoughts I have on religion at this moment. This post was probably more for personal benefit but feel free to have your say in the comment section.

2 Comments

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  1. Beau

    Really interesting! I really like the way you verbally describe your thoughts!
    What do you think of the idea of not identifying with a particular religion, but simply engaging in a relationship with God? Should that have a place in today’s culture? Many followers of Jesus Christ claim to not follow or conform to a religion, but just to be living a life in communion with God. This would give reason for personifying God because he becomes someone you can tangibly interact with rather than being just some dude in the sky you think about when you’ve been naughty.

    • Harvey Meale

      G’day, Beau!

      It’s interesting, this proposition about non-identification with a religion yet maintaining a personal relationship with god. Personally, I struggle to see the benefit of such a relationship. Religion itself offers people massive utility and can benefit people in a myriad of ways. One of the more notable and praiseworthy is the notion of community. I think if we were to abandon any formal allegiance to a particular religion in order to pursue only an intimate relationship with god, we lose this sense of community and all that comes with it.

      But clearly, if faith were a personal, subjective, and sequestered thing we practiced in private, we’d lose a lot of the negative aspects that come with religious enterprises and networking. So I can certainly entertain this notion.

      My question would then become, what benefit to us is this private interchange with god? We don’t need to personify god in order to answer our metaphysical questions about the cosmic nature of the universe. All of that can be explained by simply saying there is a creator that is incomprehensible to us who had/has the faculty to create the universe. And we leave it at that.

      When we talk about Jesus as a prophet or express god in a particular way (i.e. as benevolent or forgiving), we’re then subscribing to the teachings of a particular religion, in this case Islam or Christianity perhaps. Anything dictated by divine revelation can be considered participating in the doctrine of a religion.

      I’m not entirely sure what it would look like to maintain a personal propinquity to this creator if we did so outside the bounds of religious teaching. I suggest, one would thereby consider themselves spiritual and not religious. Something like a secular non-materialist. But I believe if someone attempts to commit to this notion, without any subscription to a particular religion, they lose interest in having a relationship with an ambiguous and vague creator. It’d be like having an imaginary friend that is a doormat: completely banal.

      So I think when someone truly lets go of any attachment to a religion or its teachings in order to pursue a private relationship with god, which, in our new state of secular idealism, this god is actually reduced to “non-personified creator”, we are forced to rely on our intuition and logic to dictate its nature. This means we cannot talk to it, we cannot interact with it, pray to it, etc. But we just say it exists because it makes sense for a creator to exist.

      I think anyone who does this for a while (myself included), eventually finds the creator’s dormancy and personal frigidness not a worthwhile thing to maintain and this eventually gives way to agnosticism which, if frustrated, becomes atheism.

      Cheers for the comment!
      H

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