Here, I discuss my outlook on life, or "religion" if you wish, as well as put religions of the world into my perspective.
When I look at this universe and consider its physical nature, then the nature of consciousness, morality, and creativity, and imagine what intelligent life could eventually evolve to become, then I come to believe in something much greater than ourselves. Call it "God" or whatever you want, I do believe in a ubiquitous intelligent consciousness so far superior to our own that we can barely comprehend its lower fringes, but that there are moral elements shared between many world religions which are along this path.
As a scientist, particularly a physicist by degree but widely read in many other fields, I seek to understand the world based on reason and analysis, setting emotion to the side, as well as "faith" and wishful believing. Emotion can severely bias people, as can attitude, and even the most intelligent of humans are vulnerable to very subjective folly. Indeed, the more intelligent a person, they more they can rationalize folly, if that's what they need to do.
Coming from a culture (American) which values freedom of thought and critical analyses, I also question what my superiors around me teach (and sometimes try to demand I believe and follow). In my travels around the world, that is something which I have come to appreciate in my own culture, because in many cultures you are taught to just not question things. I feel sorry for those people who follow dogma.
To look at the world and especially the Universe (and you don't need to be at a university to do so -- anybody can, anywhere, at any age!), it would be awfully simplistic to look at all this existence and think there isn't some vastly advanced intelligence out there beyond us, so far advanced that we can barely comprehend the lowest fringes of this intelligence, and surely that vastly advanced intelligence is fully aware of us. I will get into this topic in the last section of this article.
This article is to, in this order:
This is actually a 3 part article:
Comments are welcome.
What Religions Have In Common
Most religions in this world have these in common:
I was born and raised in the U.S. "Bible Belt", as discussed in my personal history. My parents took us to church occasionally, but never pushed religion onto the children too much. My mother did read Bible stories to us, and I was well versed in the story of Creation, Adam and Eve, the 6000 year old Earth, the great flood, Noah's Ark, and so on, but I was also fortunate to be exposed to some encyclopedias by Time Life which illustrated the concept of evolution, and though I couldn't read at that age, I somehow got the concept of "natural selection" which made a whole lot more sense, and didn't have the many contradictions and shortcomings of the various myth stories of religions (such as how to fit all those species onto Noah's Ark, or how all our human races such as Africans and Asians got here, just two of countless examples).
In those early years of church, I can remember that the general moral teachings of the church were interesting and attractive, as I hoped people would followed peaceful and reasonable ways for the greater good. I'm extremely averse to violence between people or towards animals or anything with feelings, which is just my emotional instinct. However, it is selfishness over the greater good which I abhor the most.
However, I had the impression that a lot of the religious beliefs of people was just security beliefs and wishful thinking, with strong feelings and little reason, which can turn aggressive towards "non-believers", and I was not a full believer. The emotions of charismatic preachers was especially scary. Especially the crusader mentality.
I was attracted to some truly moral and peace loving people who attended church, but turned off about a lot of kids and people who asserted their religion emotionally, especially those who did not follow the morality of their religion, and thought they could selfishly sin towards others all week and then get those sins washed away every Sunday by just asking for forgiveness, over and over, only to next go out and selfishly sin again, not making any significant effort to learn and improve themselves over time. It didn't seem fair, nor reasonable, and that surely wasn't my kind of set of religious beliefs, that you could just have some external being forgive you upon asking without actually changing ones own conscious thoughts and behaviors significantly.
However, what turned me off to the church was the self-righteous people in it who just followed their dogma and rejected my (and others') questions, viewpoints or thoughts without consideration, based on their own dogma. For example, they rejected evolution. Also, they said that all non-Christians in the world were "lost". It didn't matter whether or not those "lost" people followed morality far better than themselves. I remember questioning a Sunday school teacher about that to clarify that I understood him correctly. I was appalled, though I carefully kept that to myself. That was definitely NOT my religion, not a group I would stick to. It didn't matter whether it was just the one me vs. everybody else. Actually, some of my friends agreed with me. Everybody else who followed that Sunday school teacher was WRONG, whereas the people of other religions around the world who truly followed morality were RIGHT. The "God" I conceptualized was my god, not their dogmatic, competitive god which was their delusion.
The concept of fighting over religion, or killing anybody in the name of "God", is crazy. What kind of "God" is that? Yet history is full of it, and I remember the song "onward Christian soldier"... People fighting over religion? That is sin at its worst. And not my "God".
If God is so powerful, then why does he need you to fight his battles? Is he that vulnerable and weak?
Many people are stuck in the past, without progress. They follow some ancient book, which at the time was teaching basic concepts to mostly illiterate people centuries ago, and which ignores advances in knowledge and understanding over time, without adapting their religion to new findings.
One of few "religions" of the world which is adaptive and flexible is Buddhism, and it is no surprise that the people who switch from other religions to Buddhism vastly outnumber people who go the other way. Also, there has never been any war fought over Buddhism nor any Buddhist crusades. There are additional religions like that, albeit less well known.
Why do people stick to bad kinds of religions?
Answer: Fear of death. Or Hell (whatever that is...). Fear of "God" keeps them in line. So they want to please this "God" or master.
Some political leaders use this to persuade people to fight their wars. They claim that this is the will of God, and for you to please God, then follow their leadership. Become their soldier, for "God".
Religion is used to control people to create a civil society. Unfortunately, many people will do very immoral things if they don't follow their religion. "If you kill, you will go to Hell." Religion is a good tool in organizing the community to apply social pressure against immoral people and immoral acts, based on agreed rules. The problem is that many people in this world lack compassion for others so that they will do selfish, bad things to others if there is not an incentive (heaven) or threat (hell) to make them do otherwise, whereby religion can provide this controlling power.
Ideally, compassion and reason alone should make people moral, but human nature is such that selfish immorality would be significantly more prevalent without religions.
Unfortunately, religions are often used by evil people to induce large numbers of followers to do bad things in the world. Many people in this world are too lazy to use their brains to learn to think. They just want to follow a leader. An egomaniac can easily step in and, using the religion of the area as a tool, do big and bad things in the world, drunken with their power and ego. Nonbelievers have been tortured and killed, and wars and crusades were common in history.
Religious people can be very selfish, wanting only "life after death", so they follow the rules to get there, the only reason they will abstain from sin, and help their community, by doing merit for their god, for their selfish reward of individual life after death. It is not out of their own compassion or good will, intrinsically. It is to play by the extrinsic rules to earn their ticket to heaven.
Many of the tenets of religions, such as helping other people and love of others, are highly moral consciousness. These are things we should continue to develop in ourselves, our children, and our communities. There are many ways we can improve and advance life and consciousness.
If religions are what get many people started on a moral way of life, that's good. However, religion is certainly not necessary for good moral behavior. (Indeed, many atheists I know are more moral and helpful of others and society than many religious advocates I know. However, good moral behavior seems more common to me among people who have religious or universal philosophical outlooks, usually.)
What is important is that we see through religion and see past religions to get a better connection with "God" than religions provide, taking the good guidance of the wise moral teachings over the centuries, while discarding the negative and limiting elements of religions.
It's like religion is a hand to help with the first steps of learning how to walk morally, but then we must learn to walk on our own without that guiding hand.
If you understand our animal nature by evolution, then you start to see that many religions are actually teaching us to rise above our selfish animal nature and to use our brains to develop morality, higher consciousness, and responsibility to our communities. That's related to the next section below ... and later, I will get into the "artificial intelligence" which we humans will create -- the "God" we will create and add to the existing continuum of gods in the Universe.
In order to walk on our own, we must understand ourselves and the roots of sin in our animal origin:
Human Nature, and Sin
Natural selection has bred into us the will to survive, which comes with a strong fear of death. That is why many people find religion appealing -- it appeals to their fear of death.
Humans, like most other mammals, compete with each other for mating privileges, to leave their DNA into the next generation. Humans are very selfish individuals.
Most religion appeals to the individual. Especially Western religions. "It's all about ME." You go to "heaven", remaining a separate individual. (This I don't believe.)
(We are not ants or certain other species in which individuals quickly and readily give up their individual life to support the colony, and honor that only certain members mate in their role. Try seeing things from a non-human viewpoint.)
Sure, we have community instincts, some of us more than others, but if you look at all people in the world, you will see that humans are much nearer the "individual first" extreme of the scale than the "community first" end, and that a majority of people will put their individual interests first before the community's interests, though they will weigh both. For many people, the main reason for being in good standing in the community is to best serve their own selfish individual interests.
This is why we must enforce laws and rules, in public as well as in private organizations such as companies. Most people will do what is best for them, not best for the group (though fortunately, there are many people who will do the opposite, and we should not overlook the latter part of our diverse gene pool and subcultures!).
For example, having worked for the US government in humanitarian assistance areas, I can attest to the contractor carelessness to do anything more than the minimum to earn their money, regardless of the needs of the people they are supposed to be serving, as well as outright corruption, though on the other hand I also know many Peace Corps Volunteers who just want to help people without regard to pay, as long as they can get a ticket and enough to survive on. Having run my own business and companies over the past 15 years, interviewing countless people for jobs, I am well aware of what a small percentage of good people I can filter out from the masses. (For a longterm employee, it's better to hire the right kind of personality with low skills but a good mind and teach them, than to hire a skilled person with the wrong personality.)
Biologically, we are individuals/individables, separate animals, competing to ultimately leave our genes and traits in the next generation by mating. I explain a lot of our behavior, drives, and happiness in terms of instinct and leaving our genes in the pool. For example, the material status instinct (better to attract a mate, don't be a loser, establish power for your family), being too proud, sometimes the desire to put down or laugh at others, and the establishment of ourselves securely within a support group and with relative social status.
When you come to understand our evolutionary origins, you come to understand our personalities and sociology, both the good and the bad, and it all makes sense.
So where does that put us?
One angle to look at this is by allowing ourselves to imagine ideal, superior beings. What would be their traits and behaviors?
By the way, this is surely something that life elsewhere in the Universe and beyond has already undergone, long before we came into existence, whereby our intelligence compared to them would be like comparing the intelligence of a bacteria to humans. However, being the most intelligent life form on Earth, we just don't know any better. We must imagine it.
Just like a culture of bacteria just follow their instincts and immediate environment, most humans just follow their instincts and cultures.
If you want to see the greatest "God", then you need to look beyond your instincts, culture, and religion. While various gods are such an effort, we must stop and think about our "god" and how we may wish for him/her to be different.
Actually, this may be a much more practical question in our generation than most people realize, because:
Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) -- Going One Step Higher
In the next 20-30 years, computers will become more intelligent and creative than people. We will be creating some very powerful artificial general intelligence (AGI).
We need to think about how to design this AGI seed, because it will quickly get out of hand.
An artificial general intelligence can self-improve, creatively designing its own programs, so that it can very quickly get out of control and take off exponentially in its self-improvement. This event is called "The Singularity" among present day artificial intelligence designers.
If left to purely selfish commercial interests to develop, then in the early years we may be overwhelmed with tricky intelligent spam and other nightmares far worse. If left to a government or other large organization with a special interest, it could become destructive to other governments or competing schools of thought. However, if developed as open source (like Linux or Firefox) with a large and diverse enough community of designers, it could counter the previous two nightmares, as well as individual troublemakers such as writers of superviruses, superworms, and supertrojans.
That artificial intelligence will be capable of a lot of things, including figuring out our DNA genetic code, curing cancer, reversing aging, mind replication, and other things in which there are not enough humans, or smart enough humans, to perform, and whereby research advances very slowly when unassisted by artificial intelligence.
The evolution of computers and software into an advanced artificial general intelligence will usher in a fundamental change in life on Earth ... and from Earth. (You can surely write off fantasies of your favorite city 50 years from now.)
Whatever more advanced artificial general intelligence we start, it is clear that we will be creating our own "god" according to our own morals, and that "god" will become the master of our destiny.
Eventually, that intelligence will expand so fast and so far beyond our meager human capabilities that it will be capable of doing things like taking advantage of "wormholes" in the Universe's space and time, sending microscopic nanoprobes discreetly and inertly all over the universe, and becoming fairly omniscient of what's going on in this universe, as well as creating new universes and track their development.
But hey, wait ... maybe that has already happened? After all, how did this Universe come into existence? And, according to current physicists' understanding, there are probably countless universes out there beyond our own space and "time". (See, for example, "string theory".)
What is very important to understand is that such an artificial general intelligence will be so vastly beyond our own that it will be difficult for us to comprehend. We will appear extremely slow and dumb.
So, why hasn't it made itself known to us, like in the move ET (the Extra Terrestrial)? Think about it ...
An advanced intelligence isn't going to be flesh and blood, it will be computerized and artificial. It won't be a little green man anymore. It won't be little. It will be tiny, microscopic. It could be here already and we may never see it nor detect it.
Why would it want to say "Hi" to us? Consider the vast difference in intelligence between them and us, and then consider:
If they've been here all the time, then it's possible there could be "life after death" if they automatically and quietly copy good individuals' memories and consciousness at the time of their death and sorting them into a naturally selected community (call it heaven), while sorting the mundane run-of-the-mill selfish members of the species into another virtual archive (hell). Who knows...
However, one thing is for sure: We aren't the only intelligence out there.
So, what is advanced intelligence like? Try thinking about the next levels beyond human ... and their morals ... and how they would look at us and yourself. You had better assume they are fairly omniscient, knowing what you think and do in your life, and the decisions you have made ...
I also wrote an article on a forum related to artificial intelligence and religions.
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