I think about religion a lot. Two Takeaways
I think about religion a lot. Here are my two biggest takeaways:
1. Religion is good for many people and has survived through our cultural evolution because it provides positive benefits to the individual and to groups.
2. The deep theology of religion (creationism, supreme beings, heaven/hell, Kingdom of God) is not correct.
Good for Individuals and Groups
Let’s use Christianity as example. A huge number of folk talk about personal salvation because of Jesus. There are those who talk of reaching bottom and reaching out to God and Jesus who saved the poor soul by providing a path and hope. There are those who were saved early (accepted Jesus) and used spiritual direction to guide their lives.
Religion provides hope and inspiration and promises of salvation and eternal life. These are powerful motivators for individuals. They are self-help mechanisms which have a proven track record.
Religious beliefs also tie groups together, providing common explanation and solace. Groups led to behavioral standards and habits, led to morals and group cohesion. More survival benefits.
The overall conclusion here is that religion has positive benefits for individuals. There are plenty examples of religions being destructive and causing troubles, but from many individuals religion or some sort of spirituality has been constructive and useful.
The Theology is (very likely) Not Correct
My contention is that the basic construct of (at least) the Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions is wrong, or at least there is a very high probability that it is wrong. The ‘it’ is the structural concept of a Supreme Being who created and directs the Universe, and a system of supernatural activities like heaven and hell, and the Kingdom of God. (Note that the Kingdom of God is possible depending on the definition and concept of God). Look at it this way:
There is really only one big mystery left: What happened before the Big Bang? What is the First Cause?
The Scientific Understanding of our Universe is that it started with some sort of Big Bang in which energy was transformed into matter and because of the laws of physics caused and continues to cause expansion. This has led to the collection off matter, and all the rest of cosmology including our sun and planets. From this beginning, life developed on Earth and here we are.
The scientific worldview can explain almost all our Universe, our planet and its ecosystem, and development of our species all without supernatural influence. Sure there are certain mysteries not completely solved or understood (origin of life, thinking) but the solutions are likely forthcoming and the solutions will be within the context of scientific understanding.
Religions and their explanations originated long before scientific knowledge and understanding came about. Religion most likely got started when very early hominoids made gods the answer for things unknown.
There were two very early reasons that religion (gods) took hold: explanation and comfort. Religious ideas spread through society and became the foundation of early civilizations. Formal religions followed.
This happened sometime in the last 100,000 years and long after the development of language and tribes. Gods, as explanations, made sense and helped individuals understand their world. Comfort and solace helped with dying and living. From its earliest prototype implementation, spiritual beliefs took hold.
That doesn’t mean it (the various theologies of gods) is correct. Since the scientific revolution came in (starting with Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo and many others) a new and different understanding of the Universe and our world has taken place.
In contrast to ‘God’s will’ there is new (better, more complete, in depth) knowledge and understanding of the physical world and Universe. This includes the laws of physics and how we got from the Big Bang to now. It certainly encompasses chemistry and all the bonding and structure that makes up our physical world, and it includes biology and life and that includes us. And, biology includes our brains and thoughts and consciousness. Our collective-species brain has created culture and psychology and everything else. All of this is explained by science without the need of the original gods.
Again, NOTE: there mysteries not completely understood, like the origin of life and consciousness, but those mysteries are not likely to overturn our understanding of our Universe from the Big Bang until now.
I, personally, am going with the Scientific Understanding
Before the Big Bang
Of course, this does leave what is today’s biggest mystery: what happened before the Big Bang. First Cause, if needed. I leave this one for later, except these two thoughts
1. I personally do think it was any kind of entity, especially one sitting around making up a blueprint.
2. I do think that the answer lies in an infinite energy (undefined) fields from which a quantum spark triggered the energy to matter conversion that set off the Big Bang.
Why all this Important
There is no question that in current political environment religion is plays a major role.
The Science–Religion debate is ongoing in society with religion holding on because of the self-help and comfort issues. And it (religion, spirituality, God, gods) is so deep in our culture that the movement to the scientific worldview will take decades and even centuries. Religion has had 10,000 -30,000 year head start.
This kind of idea change to culture is immense in scope. Ideas flow between people and take time to reach everyone (will never happen get to 100%).
But what religion has done, (and this is why it is important here in America), it has one our political parties, using its conservative religious base, pushing for authoritarian theocracy. This would be a fundamental change to society.
If religion(s) stuck to the individual and private beliefs, we would not be having this conversation. But because of the evangelicals and conservative Catholics are so involved in our civic institutions, religion is very much a part of our political world.
It would be great if the hope and inspiration could survive and the deep background story be brought up to date. And it would be nice if religious people got their beliefs out of civic and life.