Far future religion

Some say religion’s going to be with mankind for ever, no matter how distant a future you imagine.

That would be incredibly depressing if it was true. I don’t think it is; and instead of “proof” I have excessively soporific blatherations below; maybe in the realm of sleep you will find a better way of showing why this must be so.

But first, what is a religion? It’s not an altogether easy thing to define, but as my opinion and for my present purposes I don’t think a clutch of values and principles alone make a religion. (Or capitalism, humanism and heavy metal would be religions.) Neither does a vague thirst to know the universe. Nor a set of symbolic statements that mean to describe a set of shadows that supposedly set off great reactions when set inside a human skull.

No. I think any sensible definition of religion includes it making some statements for the existence of “religious entities”: God, afterlife, heaven, hell, angels, miracles, resurrections, responses to prayers, something like that, usually quite massive claims. Something more than “God is fireworks inside my head”.

I think, too, that it’s quite clear such religious things don’t exist as they are claimed to exist nowadays — no gods, no answered prayers, no miracles — and I don’t think there’s any god of conventional religious form out there waiting for discovery. (Well, we can do crude resurrections and fly already; a technologically advanced civilization could replicate every miracle of, say, Jesus, but that’s not I-YAM-THAT-I-YAM.)

And thus I think it is a horrible thought that mankind would keep bowing at these shadows and blinding lights through all time, embracing these nonexistent lovers, clasping these helping hands that dissolve to nothing but statistics and placebo.

(Quite as horrible is the thought that someone could stand on a different planet and, without evoking jeers and boos, say the tiresome old lie that “you don’t have to understand religion. You just have to respect it.” (for source see endnote.) That’s a statement up there with “you don’t have to understand segregationism/dowsing/apocalyptic ravings/phlogiston/the Leader/the war plan/mud wrestling/cannibal cuisine/Sylvia Browne/France. You just have to respect it.” Tolerate, of course, to a certain extent, since everyone should in a non-nightmare society have the freedom to do with and to themselves whatever they will; but respect? No. Respect should always be earned, and the only thing membership in the category of “unsubstantiated, partially or wholly debunked self-indulgent supernatural beliefs” earns by and of itself is criticism, mockery and raised eyebrows. And even tolerance should end when you start pushing nonsense on other people, your own kids included.)

Human stupidity won’t ever be cured, because it is such a fundamental part of us: selfishness, shortsightedness, failures to think clearly, and similar faults are, I think, a part of us until we can take our minds apart, since though nature is a great designer, she does not guarantee her designs work perfectly in other uses. Savannah ape bodies and minds aren’t perfect for the converse and governance of millions and millions.

But religion?

Religions are a particular expression of human stupidity: an antiquated expression, originally the first round of explaining the world. They were wild guesses that speculated where rainbows and animal species came from — from God — and evolved to systems that told why a king had to rule and a woman had to serve — because God had set it so.

But we’re beyond the need for such selfish little explanations now, aren’t we? We know better. Rainbows are optics and meteorology, animal species rise out of evolution and ultimately out of chemistry; kings are no more since we have designed governments based on reason, and keep the right to better them; and women have noticed they don’t need to serve anyone because we weren’t made as servants or slaves, or as cogs in a celestial machine: we came into being without creators, and are under no obligation to do anything except whatever we want to.

To me there’s something profoundly depressing in the thought that in a future, with a still better grasp of the world, with more insight into the origins of life, the birth of the universe, and the workings of human minds, with (hopefully) more people with more leisure and more scientific knowledge and literacy, and more opportunities to behold the glory and the workings of the universe, there would still be a significant fraction of people falling for the mistake called religion. That’s just as depressing as actually positing a stellar stronghold with slaves and emperors, or a starfleet with homeopaths and acupuncturists as doctors. For such retro-futuristic things to really be, something awful would have had to happen. Human stupidity as such won’t ever be cured, I guess — unless we’re replaced by machine brains vast, cool and unsympathetic — but is it too much to hope that certain infantile mistakes would fall by the wayside, or at the very least be marginalized to become the laughingstocks they deserve to be?

To those that say mankind has always had religion, I’d comment that mankind has in quite equally broad measures always hated its neighbors, enslaved its women, believed in the rightness of tyrannic leaders, and suffered from smallpox and a host of other incurable diseases. Well, until recently. Smallpox is gone; feminism is rising. Why couldn’t religion be just one more thing upheld by ignorance, poverty and our tendency to believe the boss and ask no questions, and destroyed by knowledge, plenty and personal choice?

Nowadays, religion is much faded already, and all some variants of it have left is a pack of comforting lies — He watches over you, there is a meaning in all this, there is life after death, and maybe answers to prayers — but as always those sweet sounds turn sour if you but think a bit: If he watches, why doesn’t he interfere? What meaning could justify Darfur and Passchendaele, and what callous designer would work through such means? What kind of a Heaven, and for whom, and why a Hell? Why don’t these “revelations” and “answers” agree, and why don’t they seem to have any superhuman knowledge behind them, or any evidence in support?

If there is a God, why is the universe so very godless in its every detail?

There are “answers” and retorts to these, of course; that’s what theologians do, but their works seem to be little but sterile cases of semantic rape nowadays, more designed to confuse than to elucidate.

Religion is dying and modern theology is just the last whisper of its delirium; good riddance.

I guess it all comes down to the suspension of disbelief; but if you turn a religion into nothing but inspirational fiction it’s not a religion anymore in my books; and if you keep believing things that aren’t true, and refusing to face reality… well, cut out your eyes and wander out to behold the glory of the universe and all there is. The possibility is terrifying.

People grow up; I hope species can do the same and, even while retaining some of our childish bickering, foolishness and greed, even while retaining our occasional liars, delusionals and lunatics, still cast aside some of the destructive and unfounded prejudices and superstitions left over from an ignorant past: racism, nationalism, sensationalism, emotional overexcitement, sexism… and religion.

I don’t know, can’t know, but I hope. Because the future, the cosmos, is pretty enough without adding fairies and jesus-figures between the stars.

* * *

Endnote: The quote of “You don’t have to understand religion. You just have to respect it.” is very close to something said in John Scalzi’s the Last Colony, a sci-fi novel which I quite enjoyed. There weren’t enough details given about the religious community in question (Mennonites in space, actually) to say if they had a genuinely supernatural religion or, to quote myself, “a set of symbolic statements that mean to describe a set of shadows that supposedly set off great reactions when set inside a human skull”.

(Since the Last Colony is a novel, that universe could also be — though this is extremely unlikely, given the general nature of the series — written to be one where some traditional-ish God-belief is true! That could lead me to a lengthy tangent on “but since the real world is godless, a world with an active god in it would be really different — unless the god was a dick.” — but this is not the post for that.)

Just so that you don’t get me wrong, the comment was said by a character in the novel and it’s always a fool’s business to think anything the characters say indicates anything about what the author thinks. Otherwise, well, wouldn’t want to meet Thomas “Lecter” Harris.

Also, to my best knowledge John Scalzi has never written a single bad book; he has Hugo awards and nominations up, out and around the wazoo (whatever that might be and mean) and I recommend all his writings most enthusiastically, including his blog Whatever, one of the three I tend to read every single day.

One Response to “Far future religion”

  1. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi Says:

    Gravitation Force is the Ultimate Creator, this paper I presented at the 1st Int. Conf. on Revival of Traditional Yoga, held at The Lonavla Yoga Institute (India), Lonavla, Pune in 2006. The Abstract of this paper is given below:

    The Universe includes everything that exists. In the Universe there are billions and billions of stars. These stars are distributed in the space in huge clusters. They are held together by gravitation and are known as galaxies. Sun is also a star. Various members of the solar system are bound to it by gravitation force. Gravitation force is the ultimate cause of birth and death of galaxy, star and planets etc. Gravitation can be considered as the cause of various forms of animate and inanimate existence. Human form is superior to all other forms. Withdrawal of gravitational wave from some plane of action is called the death of that form. It can be assumed that gravitation force is ultimate creator. Source of it is ‘God’. Gravitational Field is the supreme soul (consciousness) and its innumerable points of action may be called as individual soul (consciousness). It acts through body and mind. Body is physical entity. Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system. Electromagnetic waves are its agents through which it works. This can be realized through the practice of meditation and yoga under qualified meditation instruction. This can remove misunderstanding between science and religion and amongst various religions. This is the gist of all religious teachings – past, present and future.

    AND

    ‘In Scientific Terminology Source of Gravitational Wave is God’ I have presented this paper at the 2nd World Congress on Vedic Sciences held at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi on February 9-11, 2007. The Abstract of this paper is given below:

    For Centuries, antagonism remained between science and religion. Science and spirituality require to be fused. An integrated philisophy is to be developed. It is written in the scriptures that entire creation is being maintained only through love or force of attraction. In Persian it is known as quvat-i-jaziba. It is on account of this force that the entire creation, which come into existence through the combination of small particles and atoms, is being maintained and sustained. The creation or universe includes everything that exists. In the universe there are billions and billions of stars. They are held together by gravitation and are known as galaxies. Sun is also a star. Various members of the solar system are bound to it by gravitation force. Gravitation force is the ultimate cause of birth and death of a galaxy, star and planet etc. and various forms of animate and inanimate existence. Gravitation force is the ultimate creator, sustainer and destroyer of the universe. These are the three attributes of God. Providence has located within the human body a spiritual faculty. When this faculty is developed like physical and mental faculties we find that Truth-the goal of science and God-the goal of religion are one and the same thing.

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