Religion and Stuff

David Galbraith has some interesting commentary about a little back and forth between Dylan Evans and Salman Rushdie. This is something that has been on my mind A LOT recently. Extremism is currently a heavy burden on religion, and one that may change the way we interact with religion in general.

The other day as I was driving home, I was flipping through radio stations looking for something interesting. I hit on a religious station with a pastor explaining why missionaries and people spreading the word shouldn’t listen to other people’s religious views. Their leadership was rightly afraid that the missionaries themselves could be cast into doubt about their views. This is a good indication of how religion is currently taught and held. Not something to be examined, even superficially, but instead blindly held on to.

In an age where access to information is plentiful and convenient, how can this attitude prevail? I know that many people still interact with religion in this way, but I also know there are a lot of smart christians who are watching shows that investigate things like the Da Vinci Code and are willing to explore notions about the history of Christianity and Christ himself that the church would never encourage.

I sometimes wonder if a large part of humanity faces the void of our mortality and retreats into the comfort of Religion despite little logical reason to do so. I know that when I was crazy sick for 6 months with some unknown illness, it greatly tweaked my brain chemistry and it had definite consequences in my self-reflection. Understanding quite clearly how much of our selfhood is based in proper chemical composition of our brains is a sobering wake up call to the reality of our animal nature and leads to uncomfortable questions about how much of our “self” is actually a property of our body.

Confronted with my own mortality in a way that I am quite keen on staying away from in the future lead to a lot of questioning on my part, much of which is ongoing. Nothing terribly new mind you, but of renewed meaning to me. It is all too possible that every mystical or divine experience we may have is a product of certain neurons firing in specific ways that some of us are more prone to than others. Those experiences and feelings that prop up our beliefs in something other may only be a survival mechanism of the psyche long ago perfected by natural selection as those too paralyzed by their fear of mortality to breed (or convinced of life’s futility) inevitably proved that fear well founded.

Unfortunately our means of proving or disproving life after death or even the existence of the divine are so far inadequate to the task. While there is plenty of incredibly weird stuff taking place in our universe that we have objectively observed, little of it points to an organizing intelligence without a little dose of faith or fudging of the numbers.

Of course my own uneasiness with this state of things is a product of self-preservation mechanisms in my psyche, perhaps the key trait passed on by our evolution to this magnificent state. Our desire to continue on existing, both as individuals and a species is of unquestionable value, but I wonder how much this feeling could serve us if it wasn’t pushed off into a belief in an after life.

Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses. Perhaps in this case it is true. Religion soothes this burning instinctual desire to remain with promises that even beyond our deaths we as individuals will continue.

It’s often said that we would live our lives differently if we knew we would die in a year, or a week or a day, or whatever timeframe you choose. I wonder how we would act given an ultimate end to our existences, both as individuals and as a species. Would we treat the environment differently? Strive to establish space colonization? Or perhaps we would just do more to assure that we are remembered by those who come after us, as many already do.

While I have had more than my fair share of experiences that I would characterize as mystical, many of them which seem irrefutable, I also remain aware of the immense faculty of self-deception which all humans possess. The brain is incredibly powerful, and barely understood. Much like our understanding of Demonic possession changed once we began to grasp psychology and schizophrenia, as our knowledge of ourselves increases, so will our understanding of the outside world.

Anyway.. done with ruminating for now.

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