So lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about religion and the notion of God. Some of it is research for the novel-in-progress, but most of it is just my own curiosity. It seems to me that most forms of religion originate with the central question of meaning. Why are we here? What is our purpose? And what will happen to us when we die? The universe, science keeps telling us, just keeps getting larger and larger, and humankind’s place in it smaller and smaller. I’ll be the first to admit that the prospect of human existence being just a random event in a seething Cosmos that cares little for our daily agitations on this little blue orb quite frightening. It’s much more comforting to believe that there is some grand purpose in human existence, and some meaning behind all the cycles of suffering we humans have to endure. (The tragedy unfolding in Japan is one such example.) I’ll admit that such a belief is not based on any evidence other than my own subjective experience, and therefore by all scientific methods, useless.
But I’ve also been exploring Atheism. I was raised in a Conservative Jewish household that kept kosher and lit candles and said prayers on Friday night. My father still wraps himself in tefillin (ritual phylacterites) every morning. I fast on Yom Kippur and have, with the exception of perhaps two years, abstained from leavened bread during Passover. There was one time, during a particularly intense Yom Kippur, where a troublesome problem I was having vanished after praying about it; perhaps it was placebo, but it has not returned.
There were times in my childhood where I spoke to God regularly (though I never heard him speak back to me with words.) And I did believe he answered some of my prayers. That sounds kind of kooky as I write this. I remember a girl I met during my freshman year of college who told me that Jesus had unlocked her front door when she forgot her key and prayed to him. I thought she was wacko. But I suppose then how different am I if I think that God saved my dog from death after he’d ingested a splintered bone?
As I got older I started to question my religious assumptions, the assumptions of the faith of my upbringing, and tried to reconcile the contradictions and inherent illogical ideologies. (There are many.) I moved East (metaphorically) and found in some of those traditions a more rational exploration of the human condition. (The mind-exploration of Buddhist deep-meditators comes to mind.) I’m not sure I can fully wrap my heart around the notion of renunciation, the total acceptance that all things are transient and therefore not worth the attachment we give them. I accept transience as a course of life, but I still believe that emotional attachments allow us to experience joy, love and — yes — sadness. I don’t wish to disconnect myself from the vagaries of life. That is where life IS.
But this is partly besides my point. One thing occurred to me the other day while thinking about these things, and atheism in particular. (For those who may think this is some sort of apologist screed in defense of religion, I would say that right now I’m probably closest to a Deist with atheistic leanings, and have no intention of convincing anyone, but, anyway–)
We thought that earth was the center of the universe, and then along came Copernicus.
We thought that our Sun was unique, but telescopes revealed it’s just one of trillions.
We thought our Milky Way was the only galaxy, but Hubble discovered it’s one of countless billions.
And even as a species on this earth, we’re finding that many animals share our capacity for higher reasoning and tool making.
Over and over again we find that we do not reside at the center of the Cosmos. So, my question is, why should we assume that we are the highest form of consciousness in the Cosmos? If we are to use the past as a guide, we should see that our notions of superiority and uniqueness are always flawed. I’m not suggesting that this is “proof” of any creator god (I don’t think such a thing is possible) but only that perhaps this universe is filled with minds we can scarcely imagine. We do not reside at the top.
So what’s above us?