Religion. This strange behavior of humans was always a bit of a fascination for me. It’s not that I was raised in a society bereft of such things; it’s just that, even from the inside, it felt like a rather strange bird.
I had no clear conception of god as a child. I have a distinct memory of one Easter at a gathering of family when there was a thunderstorm rolling towards us. I, being quite young, did not have any understanding of what the nature of a storm was, and so I asked my aunt what the rumbling sound was. She said, with a wry smile, that it was god bowling. This struck me as odd, and so I asked what the lightning was, and she replied that it was the angels taking pictures.
Now, being quite young I have a vague recollection of quasi-acceptance of this claim. I remember imagining a large bowling alley in the sky and some large, bearded man, wearing some sort of white toga, rolling massive bowling balls at, well, giant pins with angels looking on with their cameras flashing. This is one of the earliest memories I have of what religion is. And while I don’t think I ever literally believed this claim, in some child-like innocence that allows the blending of truth with fantasy, I accepted this as at least an acceptable idea.
Much later on in my life, I began to understand that as children we accept rather strange things that adults tell us. This is, perhaps, necessary because children have a need to become acculturated, socialized, and otherwise trained as to how to navigate the world. We accept what we are told, and so long as what we are told does not obviously conflict with the possible, it will be accepted.
God bowling in the clouds is obviously absurd to me. But as I began to investigate the genuine claims of religion, they became absurd to me as well. Virgin births, Jesus being god, resurrection, heaven, hell, and papal infallibility all, eventually, became as laughable and silly as lightning being the flashes of angelic cameras. How, I wondered, could intelligent people accept these things?
The problem exacerbated as I began to learn about other religions. So many strange beliefs, so much conflict, so little reason to accept any of them. They could not all be true, and yet at least one might be right.
The concept of god was at least understandable. And while I never actually believed in god—I had no idea what it was supposed to be, after all—I was at least able to understand that despite the silliness of specific theologies, I could not find it so obviously ridiculous the idea of a supernatural being responsible for the existence of the universe. And this seemed to be the prevailing opinion of many that I talked to. It still seems to be a common point of view today.
Imagine my surprise when, in more recent years, I find a sort of beauty and sublimity to religious traditions, but found that the idea of a god to be absurd. I eventually found that I was an atheist who understood why people are religious. I became, in effect, non-spiritual but understanding of the religious.
I do not think that religions are true in any sense, but I see that it is an expression of human desires and hopes and a reflection of human creativity and our ability to abstract the best of ourselves onto the universe. Through our creativity, one powerful aspect of humanity, we are able to transcend mere existence and generate stories about ourselves, but told them about the world. Religion, for me, is when we take the brute fact of our existence and project the beauty we find onto the world and say that it is there, and not within us, that creativity exists.
And in this sense religion is a travesty of our humanity. It takes the wonder out of ourselves and thrusts it, unnaturally, onto the universe. Because we see meaning, intention, and consciousness within ourselves, we feel the impulse to project it onto the world, creating intelligences and intentions in the world and calling them gods or spirits. And when, upon finding that these forces of nature appear blind, we push god back to the farthest depths of reality, to the point beyond our understandings, and the gods become God (the one and only God, of course) and we place the attributes of humanity, all of the best that we may be capable of abstracted into an impossible superlative being which is ultimately a reflection of ourselves seen through lenses made out of omni—omniscience, omnipotence, omni benevolence, omnipresence, and on and on….
And this is how religion can exist without deities, because it is an expression of our humanity that, in our ignorance, we thrust gods into unnecessarily. And now we find these ‘spiritual but not religious’ people who have reversed reality. This belief in some god or gods, but rejection of religion, is ultimately a rejection of our natural humanity. God is the pinnacle of anti-natural (we usually call it super-natural, but they are really the same thing). ‘God’ is the ultimate abstraction of our projection of our humanity in a universe that is unconscious, blind, and without intelligence. It is the ultimate reversal of the value of humanity.
I cannot imagine that the world really needs gods for any explanation, source of hope, or morality. And while religions are not necessary either, they at least have given us a canvass for our expression as creators. We are creators. There is a great and complex universe to spread this creativity upon, and this is the best aspect of what religion has been for us.
And yet, despite this, I still feel no need for religion. It is because I recognize that most of the expressions of humanity are purely fantastic, even while often beautiful, that religion must be outgrown. Myths, legends, and other stories have a central part to play in our existence, but they have a limitation that many of us have reached. I am content to appreciate the beauty of our creations, but would rather find awe and beauty in the mysteries of nature—of reality. There is enough in the world without imaginary beings, rituals, and theologies littering our creativity.
For me, religion has had its day, and while it was a beautiful day in some respects, the day is over. Let us express ourselves without the need for such things. Let’s enjoy this wonderful stupid little meaningless existence together, and stop projecting ourselves onto the universe.