There has been a noticeable insistence on physical things in recent times. It has been very deliberate, systematic, and evident of great intelligence. Who are its proponents is not the most important thing. One could, of course, examine the sayings of modern, atheist thinkers like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Listening to such intelligent men and the way they reason is a pleasure. In that pleasure are the seduction and the feeling to the listener of great empowerment. One, no doubt, feels empowered by the way religion is proven to defy logic, reason, and even common sense. It is all fine up to that point. It is when the alternative becomes clearly visible that problems emerge. Having abandoned all traditional basis for morality, one then has to start afresh and without recognizing any authority in the pursuit of a fresh set of rules and laws and principles to define what is moral. In my opinion, if one is prepared to take a firsthand look at the final destination, the possible objective of a Godless thinking, it equips the mind with the necessary farsightedness. When the entire focus is on physical things, the extremism built into human nature that emerges from undivided attention then seeks to find the ultimate in pleasures.
It is here, we find a notable lesson in a man called Solomon. His was the notably peaceful reign, divinely blessed rulership, in the history of Israel. Not focusing on the historicity of the man but, on what is shared by means of experience, is the more important thing. This experience has been shared repeatedly by aging men and women who examined wealth and pleasure as the focus of human existence. Eventually, they found a lack of meaning and lack of balance in human existence. In Solomon’s own words:
10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
– Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
The scenario without God is a temporary release – an exchange for a different form of bondage
When a person is determined to find freedom through the abandoning of the very idea of God, there is a temporary release from bondage. The idea of God binds humans to an invisible authority. Therefore, denying the invisible in the pursuit of freedom is the most reasonable way to accomplish a complete freedom; so it would seem. However, as is the case with the untethered human mind, it will start to seek stability and security after having gained the illusory freedom. In the seeking of stability and security, the human mind again gravitates toward certainty. And when there is the certainty, especially in the matter of belief, an individual is again bound to an authority. There is once again a loss of freedom.
It is surprising to see that there is no unanimity about the essential nature of humans1 or the nature of God, yet each ancient culture claims to have the correct understanding. What if we could ultimately come to an agreement about the nature of God, rather than dismiss the very idea? This agreement would be not in coming to the same opinion but, in acknowledging that we share a partial understanding of who the ultimate reality is. This we do in accord with our own wishes, observations, and understanding. If an agnostic is uncertain, then he has his or her personal reasons. If someone accepts atheism on the basis of visible injustices in the world, we should appreciate the underlying reason. If one is fully convinced about the divinity of Jesus, we could listen and try to understand. On the other hand, if one sees Jesus and Buddha as great teachers with valuable instructions for their times and beyond, we stand to gain for the vast study possible.
Even if human logic breaks down due to a number of factors, it would be impossible to eliminate the idea of God and even religiosity from the human mind. The desirable answer is to accept the limitations of human understanding. This opens the path to peace and respectful listening. However, if great troubles should come upon mankind as they historically did in the great wars, the opportunity to be rational and relaxed will surely be lost.
The moral bondage is a protection
There is a more important consideration in matters of religion, ethics, morals, or authority in general. If the existence of God is dismissed and the man becomes the ultimate authority, we then can modify the rules as we please. What we are basically saying is: Human beings are capable of self-determining moral standards. Also, all the needed answers are within the grasp of humans within the physical limitations of our world and aspirations.
One of the things that have happened in this time is the attempt to simplify and deconstruct the human being. Perhaps, there is the role of technology and how we access information as well. It has been narrowed down so much that the human mind is evidently different in how it functions now. There is such an attention to detail and a fixation with specifics that comprehensive, far-sighted, complex thinking are gradually removed from the human perception. These are dangerous developments.
The human obsession with certainty and insistence on the physical has had a two-fold effect of dumbing humans down. While moral certainty based on clear beliefs is very significant, the other layers of human thinking provide enough flexibility for the exercise of faculties like conscience, ingenuity, creativity etc. It still comes down to the individual human being.
Religion is capable of providing several layers of guidance and fulfills spiritual needs
Incorporating human freedom into the framework of religion is a basic need. There need to be limits of freedom is understood, and it ties in best with a sense of responsibility, of duty. The connection between the individuals, how individuals relate to society, how different communities interact are matters too complex to be based simply on laws. It is, therefore, the need for maturity and discerning of underlying principles which is effective during times of peace.
Peace must continue to enable intelligent and independent human beings to continue to settle matters through discussion. There needs to dialogue and in also personal autonomy. It is the personal expression of beliefs that makes religion joyful and meaningful. When the influence of social factors becomes overbearing, this joy is lost and individual expression can be stifled by unwelcome forces.
Different layers are needed in human thought and in religion to keep apart matters that should not be merged. Yes, there are matters that should not be merged! This attempted merging of matters produces endless conflicts. At the very least it leads to friction. Underneath all this conflict and friction, there are those who are truly benefiting from the distracted state of mankind. Do we believe, these powerful ones, the elite have the best interests of others at heart? Are they perhaps benefiting from the distractions and conflicts among humans?
If peace is truly to come, these divisions will need to be sorted out. The reality shows, it is not possible. Human beings are fundamentally divided not only on issues but also at many layers. The mixing together of several different layers of human society and individuals is not the way to peace. The discord will never end. The lines that divide us – some can be crossed – but, there are concepts of good and evil which cannot be eliminated from human thinking and belief. The only hope at present is, to interact at the level of layers of thought which permit coexistence. Beyond that, each one must keep his personal self apart from all else!
more thoughts to follow…
- according to John Locke; according to Plato; according to Jean-Jacques Rousseau; according to the Bible; according to Hinduism