I believe in a RIGHTEOUS "God".
An UNrighteous God would be one who brings unethical people to heaven just for loyalty to their dogma, but refuses to bring ethical people who don't unquestionably believe in their dogma, or who just haven't been exposed to it or "Jesus Christ" or "Mohammad" or whoever. That's not my God, an exclusive God. My God loves ethical people regardless of their religion or lack thereof.
The main purpose of religions, in my viewpoint, is to make people into better people, and make more peaceful and tolerant societies.
As long as people are using their religion to be ethical, and are tolerant and supportive of other religions and sects, then I'm encouraging and supportive of them with their religion.
I start to have issues with two main things:
I disdain conflicts between religions, and "fighting over God" (which seems so hypocritical).
Religions generally have good codes of conduct, though with exceptions. Outsiders may pick out and use such exceptions to criticize a religion in favor of their own, but insiders of one's own religion should acknowledge its exceptions, too. People should follow the good codes of conduct but also acknowledge the wrong dogmas and not follow the latter.
Unfortunately, a minority of conflict-oriented people can be the most high profile and also the most motivated to act as well as to recruit others in their tribe or sect, usually based on emotions and questionable rationalizations. There are hoardes of vulnerable and enthusiastic recruits, and various tactics for recruiting these kinds of people.
I try to focus on good people, regardless of religion or non-religion. These are often low profile people.
The Animal Instincts / Emotions of Religion
Emotions are animal instincts. Humans have 2 things: emotions (our animal nature), and intellect (thinking). You can feel one way but think another.
Ethics come mainly from intellect, to control our behavior. Don't steal, don't kill, tell the truth, etc., even if your emotions make you feel otherwise. (This includes in business, and other desires!!)
Good religions encourage the emotion of compassion, love and helping of others, which evolved in us for raising our children and more widely for tribal health, survival, and well being.
Unfortunately, our tribal instinct can make us get into conflicts with outsiders, in any of a wide range of situations, such as other religious beliefs, races, etc. (I think sports also brings out the tribal instinct.)
Fear of death is an obviously advantageous evolved trait, but this emotion feeds the desire for "life after death".
The striving for shelter and comfort feeds the desire for "Heaven".
Evolution has bred into us many competitive traits. That's the DNA which was passed on to the next generation. Some is good for the tribe, but some is too selfish.
The intellect of ethics is what makes us less selfish, to combat our selfish desires, in the best interests of the tribe and ... in modern times ... the world beyond.
In humans, many men go to go-go bars and prostitutes but that is much less common with women. Many men brag about their conquests whereas many women are much more inclined to keep such matters private.
Many people, especially men, do stupid things and lose their minds over mating.
Probably the strongest emotion to control is the one of sexual desire, moreso of males than females. Males can deposit their DNA into multiple females, but females must be choosy about which DNA they mix with, and want the best mate they can get. We see this with multiple other species on this planet, but it also applies to humans, clearly. It feeds into many peoples' desires to have high status, wealth, and power. Ego.
There is an attraction to authority figures. For example, if a politician can convince you that they're part of your clan or tribe in beliefs, they can get many votes, even if an "outsider" politician behaves more ethically. (Maybe not your vote, but it works with a lot of basic people out there.)
Tribalism contributes a lot to religion. On the good side, it's nice to go to church, get to know your community, make peace with people, and live together cooperatively and harmoniously. On the bad side, tribalism can lead to partisan politics. It is common for people to pick a side and then support and defend policies against another side, without really thinking about what's right or wrong on a point by point basis. The tribal emotion can lead to rationalization for your "insider" tribe.
Tribalism can also lead to groupthink, and the adoption of a dogma, unquestioningly.
Besides religion and dogma, so many people in today's world just look around them and conform to the norms of society, business, and other things around them, without questioning them and keeping the bigger picture of life in mind. When it comes to behavior, it's best to adopt the good practices you see going on around and learn them, but ignore or reject those you think are wrong regardless of their popularity, and seek out people and groups who you think are doing good. On today's internet, you have that opportunity. Think globally, act locally.
Heaven and Hell
What is "heaven"? It's like the question of what is "God"? Some people answer this as an extension of our biological lives on Earth and individualism.
In summary, I think we are part of a simulation, as discussed elsewhere, to see what kind of future humans create, of which there are an extremely high number of simulations and parallel universes. As individuals, it may be somewhat like backing up data. If you look good and interesting, you get backed up, essentially; otherwise, you get deleted, or maybe frozen archived. That's not exactly heaven, hell, and purgatory/limbo, but put yourself in the position of a higher intelligence doing the simulations. The same may apply to groupthinks, and how you weave into the fabric of groups and history.
Likewise, why haven't we detected any other life in the Universe (the Fermi Paradox)? If this were a simulation to see what humans create, then maybe best to not have too much interference from others.
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, and so on.
I was also fortunate to be exposed at a very young age to some encyclopedias by Time Life which illustrated the concept of evolution, and though I couldn't read at that age, I saw the pictures of cave men, proto humans, fossil skulls, and so on, and somehow got the concept of "natural selection" from talking about all that. That contradicted the "Adam and Eve" model. There was also a lot of information which contradicted the 6000 year old Earth allegedly created by God in 6 days.
As I was generally not impressed with many religious people in my community due to their many unethical behaviors and attitudes inconsistent with the spirit of Christianity in my viewpoint, I had the impression that a lot of it was security beliefs from fear of death combined with wishful believing, and I saw a lot of contradictions and things that just didn't make sense in the religion ... evolution made a lot more sense.
I grew up in a Christian environment, so I will focus mostly on that.
I soon found out that many religious people saw evolution as a threat to their beliefs, so believing in evolution was controversial. (Though I didn't know it at the time, before I was born, the Catholic Church already had a pope issue a statement saying that evolution wasn't a threat to the religion, but this was Arkansas, and many of the people I knew were Baptists.)
When I grew up and went to church, I was impressed by the ethics, but dismayed by other "believers" who went out and behaved unethically.
It wasn't long until I was dealing with the "righteous God" issue.
Some of these things are very simple, and easy for a child to make decisions about. That's exactly what I did.
I do believe in something which people may call "God". However, what is "God", really? Ancient scripts were written for mainly uneducated people with a basic outlook on life. We have a personified God.
What is "Heaven" and "Hell"? It's also personified. I don't believe in the simple and stupid ancient scripts of the Devil, burning in Hell, 77 virgins in Heaven, and so on. It seems so stupid to me, but then again there are so many stupid people in the world...
I do believe in an evolving holy spirit, a kind of cosmic community consciousness. As I grew up and learned more about the universe, I couldn't imagine there NOT being a far superior consciousness out there in the universe and beyond, something incomprehensible to our meathead brains. We are to them like the intelligence bacteria is to us. Actually, I think the difference between humans and "God" is immensely greater than the difference in intelligence between bacteria and humans. I don't think we can comprehend much about "God", just the next steps up from ourselves. We can't comprehend many steps above ourselves.
Nonetheless, we can start with intellectual ethics, over meathead emotions.
I like many religious people because they have a good sense of ethics and exhibit good behavior, be they Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, or whatever. However, I don't like dogma and the belief in ancient writings written for basically uneducated masses and bent to control and manipulate them, and in many cases to rally them into battle for some egomaniac leader.
Many religious people are into fighting and conflicts, either between sects of their own religion or against other religions and dogmas. What would Jesus say to you about that? If God is so powerful, then he doesn't need you to defend your religion by fighting. Promote it peacefully, okay. If God needs you to fight, then God is not really so powerful after all.
What I disdain is religious people who:
In my state, Arkansas, it was ILLEGAL -- yes against the law -- to teach evolution in public schools in Arkansas, when I first went to school. I didn't know it at the time, but I know now that the law was finally overturned by the Supreme Court upon appeal in 1968.
Making it illegal to teach the science of evolution because it disagrees with the beliefs of a particular fundamentalist religion is, of course, trying to enforce one's own religious beliefs upon others, which is one of the things I disdain in a lot of religious people.
Later, a "Creation Science" law was passed in the Arkansas legislature in 1981, requiring that whenever evolution was taught in the classroom, then the Christian story of Creationism and an Earth only thousands of years old had to be taught alongside. That was eventually struck down by an Arkansas court in 1982, the ruling stating that so-called "Creation Science" was not really science, so had no place in the science classroom. It's okay for the history or theology classroom, but not the science classroom.
Having lived all my life in Arkansas up thru those times, and being exposed to these debates, it kind've resonated with me the stupidity of the masses in trying to use democracy and the stupid masses to overcome a more thoughtful minority. The statistics on believers in creationism, who disbelieved in evolution, was incredible in my state.
Some other states had similar court rulings. The creationists kept honing their skills until finally a case from Louisiana (the state on the southern border of Arkansas) went to the Supreme Court in 1987, and was similarly struck down.
The founding fathers of the United States of America were very wise in separating church and state.
Christianity has a long history of persecution of others. This includes the great astronomer Galileo, who was threatened with execution and under house arrest for the rest of his life because he said the Earth went around the Sun, not vice versa, so the Earth was not the center of the universe. Countless people were murdered for being "heretics".
However, I still run into adults today, in the modern world, who still believe that all people and all races on this planet are descended from Adam and Eve, that there's a simplistic personified God, Heaven, and Hell, don't want to think, just accept the dogma taught to them by their immediate environment, engage in tribalism by sticking to a group which believes likewise, defend it to the bitter end with many sorts of rationalizations and questionable arguments, and are ready to fight others over it. The American Taliban is how I think of them.
Fighting over God!! Not love and peace, but fighting! Killing, damaging, hurting, destroying... Animosities. What would Jesus or Mohammad or the Buddha say to the purported followers of their religions about fighting over "God" or sectarianism?
Sometimes, I would ask "fighters" whether God was male or female or neither. I was surprised how many times the quick reaction was "male". Hmmm..., what is it about God which make God "male"?
I could go on with lots of contradictions and questionable things, and nit pick, but I prefer to focus on the good side, the ethics, and try to advance an understanding, to take people out of The Dark Ages and the primitive times before them, and move into the current times and future.
There is no "end point". "God" is not an end, where there's nothing beyond that but stagnation. Same for Heaven. I think that the Universe and Earth are a creative experiment, we are the laboratory rats, and our meat brains are advanced to a point where we can go beyond emotional animal instincts and start to understand and practice intellectual things like ethics to override our emotions.
Religions need to transcend emotions and move more towards the intellectual.
Unfortunately, many religions feed into emotions and instincts to try to rationalize many sorts of beliefs and actions which are questionable.
The battle within ourselves is often emotions versus thoughts. If you believe in your emotions more than you believe in your intellect, then you'd better think again.
Some people want simple answers to the questions in life, and not to think.
Life is not simple. Just look at the complexity of the human body, microscopically, the vast variety of species on this planet, the world's economies over a vast planet with 7 billion people and 196 countries, the different cultures and legal systems, cyberspaces, ... the sciences, and the universe.
We must accept complexity, that our meathead brains are very limited, and that we are each such a small part of things.
As there is no "end point", it will always be a matter of being more and more advanced, along an infinite continuum. There is no simplistic "I reached Heaven so I got it all, I can relax now".
We should have more of an imagination than to think that Heaven is like an Earthly Garden of Eden, or that there's a furnace called Hell for torturing and burning people forever after, run by some male called "The Devil". We may as well go back to believing in the Greek gods ...
You can live a simple life if you choose. You can believe and teach your kids a simple dogma, that all the answers to the world can be found in an ancient text, and don't question the things which don't make much sense.
It reminds me of a story from some soldiers who had the unfortunate job of defending a place in Africa from charging natives. The natives, armed with only primitive hand weapons, would charge the guns and be mowed down by bullets. It made no sense. Later, they found out that a leader had given them emotional mystical guidance that their god would protect them if they BELIEVED ... and when that didn't work, the leader said it was their fault because they hadn't really believed enough.
Modern stories of terrorists often have the tale that they will go to Heaven as a martyr if they do the dirty work of the egomaniacs giving them the emotional leadership. This includes the 77 fleshy virgins (at a place beyond the life of the flesh...), which would be laughable if it wasn't dead serious. These things are based on emotional leadership and dogma, not intellect.
Good religions are about ethics, making peace, and working together in a connectedness for improving the world.
I've always striven to first understand things. (That's why I'm a physicist by degree -- I am in awe of things and seek to understand them. It is the most fundamental science, the basis for all other sciences.)
If you don't understand the nature of yourself and the people and world around you, then you will normally not be as successful in life and not living life to the fullest. You can choose to live in your own simplistic fantasy world with a simple personified God all closed in, but if you want to go out and live and deal with reality, which is actually far more beautiful and complex, and get to better understand the true God and nature of people, then you should start by accepting and understanding the basics.
Biologically, we are individuals/individables, separate animals, competing to leave our genes in the pool. It's been that way since life on Earth first became sexual, male and female, for mixing genes to become more competitive.
I explain a lot of our behavior, drives, and happiness in terms of instinct and leaving our genes in the pool. This includes the material status instinct (better to attract a mate, don't be a loser, establish power for your family) and group/tribal insider instincts.
Fear of death is, of course, best for competing to put your DNA into the next generation. Religions play to this, "life after death" and Heaven.
Feelings are instincts.
This includes sexual drive, trying to be attractive, love of your offspring, the need to belong to a tribe and been in good standing, ego and power.
Most religion appeals to the individual. Especially Western religions. "It's all about ME." You go to heaven, remaining a separate individual.
That I don't believe.
I believe that it is your connectedness to others, both human and nonhuman, which expands your consciousness, transcends your selfish animal instincts, and connects you to the Holy Spirit of cosmic consciousness. This is my experience of what brings meaning to life.
Creativity can come from individuals, or it can come from synergy between individuals, or from inspiration from established schools of thought. I think individuals are the cutting edges of the holy spirit. We are linked (some of us much more than others), but we are expanding the realm of consciousness. We are still at a very low meathead level, but by creating computer driven artificial intelligence, we will create something far greater than our meathead selves, as I discuss elsewhere on this website.
At the opposite extreme, being a selfish individual is like being an island disconnected from the land. A spiritual aloneness.
Most important are compassion, understanding, love, letting go of greed and materialism, good intentions towards others, tolerance, the ability for independent thinking, and creativity. God's work is truly our own.
We are not born innocent. We are born selfish. We must go thru paradigm shifts.
It is like Buddhism preaches. There is nobody born perfect from birth. (Forget the virgin birth and all the myths ... including the Buddhist myths that go around, like the folklore fiction that comes from followers about their revered leaders...) What real Buddhism preaches is that we all start off as humans with natural inclinations towards selfishness, greed, material status, etc., just like the Buddha himself until he left the luxurious life around age 35 and sought out the real meaning of life, unlike anyone he knew.
You must find your own path.
Japanese Shinto is also interesting (as is the god of baseball...), as are the Janes of India ...
I think there are elements of many religions and animisms that are relevant, though I also see flaws in most of these ways, too.
I do think that much of what is practiced in many religions today has strayed from the original teachings. In fact, Muhammad was illiterate, Jesus wrote nothing, and the Buddha's teachings were recorded by others -- very human. You can see a lot of contradictions in what is practiced today. It's like people going to the temple to try to get inspiration over next week's lottery numbers, or praying for more wealth.
Researching ancient scripts in their original language may be interesting historically, but in modern times, we must develop modern ethics and religions.
It is more important to learn to be fulfilled spiritually with a minimum of material things, little more than just what you need to be comfortable, creative and productive.
I don't think you can tell what's right by "feeling", as feeling is instinctual emotion. At least for myself, it's thinking and something that just clicks like it's right, and gives me a calm, clearness and sense of connectedness. It is not something that excites me or satisfies the general instinctual drive for happiness or joyfulness that so many people pursue. Happiness after death? It's not that at all. It is a kind of love for understanding and constructive creativity.
My goal in life is not to be "happy". It is to do good things for the world in my life. I'm not unhappy, and actually by "the big picture" perspective helps me avoid unhappiness over little things. Actually, I am happy when I think in awe about many sorts of things -- the universe, the incredibly complex human body, the natural world, the world economy, and many other things. I don't pursue happiness, but I am happy.
I'm also extremely lucky to have had a good enough education from when I was very young, and enough intelligence to rise above a lot of the idiots and groupthink around me.
The United States is near the bottom of the list of western countries in the percent of people who accept evolution as our origins. A Wikipedia article covers acceptance percentages between religions and countries. Buddhists top the list, Catholics top the Christian denominations, and American Muslims come in at around 45%. As of 2017, 38% of Americans still choose to believe "God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years".
Speaking of tribalism and authoritarian figures, President Donald Trump got 81% of the evangelical Christian vote, despite all his ethical issues. Most Republicans polled did not believe in evolution, and most Democrats and independents did. Support for evolution was proportional to level of education (though you can always find exceptions in individuals which defy the overall statistics).
As my PhD. psychologist father told me when I was young, many times, there is no limit to the human's ability to rationalize wrong things, especially when emotions are involved.
My section on artificial general intelligence is the next step above this one, which is covered elsewhere on this website as a subsection under this section titled Religions, Artificial Intelligence, and God, and also discussed in my GAIN Extinction website about how to prevent extinction due to "GAIN" technologies which threaten the very existence of humans on Earth in the modern times of technological evolution run amok.
Extremists, Terrorists and their Volunteers
Extremists who are offensive to others must be stopped, but not at too much expense of our own principles and style of existence. By over-reacting, especially in journalism (focussing on their terrorism instead of positive news stories) and politics (war), we give them exactly what they want and encourage them (the attention of the world, like they are great).
I won't get started here on journalism's self-serving and profitable policies... such as by insisting on covering who's "responsible" rather than who's "guilty" for a particular act ... though someday I do want to expand on that topic; but not here and now.
Terrorists are egomaniacs who just want to feel their personal power and have an impact in a cheap negative way. Bin Laden is an "egomanic" like Hitler.
Followers are so stupid ... Some have feelings and beliefs that they are serving their god and will go to heaven. Some have anger and hatred for some other people, and let it all out on strangers.
Any God who condones such murderous behavior is to be rejected. God is Good, not bad to condone violence.
If your God needs you to kill, then your God can't be so great because your God is threatened by humans.
It all just doesn't make religious sense. It's all about a lust for power and personal ego gratification of leaders and followers alike.
This is how I would address the issue if I were a political leader speaking directly to terrorists.
There is no religious sense in killing strangers or any other people. Any leader who condones this is drunken with [the emotional/instinctual] lust for power, not really love.
Fortunately, there haven't been many terrorists walking into US shopping malls and blowing themselves up. It is very easy to do. You can make bombs from internet recipes using commonly available supplies. You can buy a handgun over the counter or from a black market gang and go walk into a shopping mall and shoot people for your cause. However, from what I've read about Al Queda and its volunteers, Bin Laden has learned what other leaders have learned: Volunteers will come to socialize and belong to a group, with all kinds of enthusiastic promises and commitments, but are extremely unreliable when unsupervised. That is why the main threat is from "cells" -- peer pressure and supervision.
Stay away from crowds and mobs, too.
On the other hand, who is willing to buy smaller cars rather than gas guzzlers, switch to electric vehicles, or use public transport? There just doesn't exist the leadership or caring on a large scale. Sure, we talk the talk (sometimes in "holier than thou" ways), but do we walk the walk?
If Bin Laden wants westerners out of the holy land, then why doesn't he invest in electric car R&D, or lead otherwise? Because he wants conflict and people to have emotional hurrahs for him. It is much easier to make an old bomb to disorganize everything than to create something new and different.
It doesn't take communism or an ant colony like mentality to make solutions. It takes only society's commitment to move away from oil. However, these things apparent don't work with the genetic programming of the majority of population of our species, especially the "urban psychology".
People just want to consume cheap oil, most seem to not care enough about the environment, it's just about materialism for themselves, and then some religion to believe in, without thinking about all the contradictions or real spirituality. This is normal in many societies so there is also groupthink to support their outlooks.
It's better to be one of us who can think independently of others around us, and network with each other over the internet.
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