Religion, New and Improved
We need a new, worldwide, unifying religion that satisfies people's needs for hocus-pocus but doesn't preach hate. Here are some suggestions.
Now, the religions of the world, those earthly guardians, exemplars, guides and teachers of divine morality and of love for one's fellow man, have enjoyed slaughtering one another's followers in the name of the God of Love for at least 2000 years, and probably in the names of various gods since mankind began to feel the need for them, eons ago. And that's how it will continue until someone, somewhere launches a revolution of good sense aimed at reducing the brutality of the various followers of the God of Love. I'm not proposing to be that someone, but here are some ideas that someone, somewhere may find useful in crafting a new and improved religion.
Religion is both a unifying and a divisive force. Each religion promotes a feeling of unity within its own fellowship. Unfortunately, that's closely tied to the chasm of enmity separating the believers from those outside the fellowship. This appears to be an unvarying truth. If it is, the solution to the evil brought about by our "moral guides" must involve forging a religion which can appeal to all cultures, in which the whole world can in fact join in brotherhood.
Those who don't use religion may well ask why we need religion at all. Wouldn't the problems of wars and terror in the name of God vanish if all religion vanished? True, they would, but such a solution is unfortunately not possible. First, those who need and use religion will not give it up, and second, religion has actual benefits for many who make use of it. (See my note from earlier this year.) I will proceed on the premise that the need for religion is accepted; that the comfort, cameraderie, and social stability that comes from religious practice is both a benefit to individuals and society and, at this stage of humanity, is a necessity.
If we try to look forward a couple of hundred years, what do we see, in the absence of any revolutionary changes in the religious landscape? Most likely, a continuation of the same kinds of conflicts, with new participants but perhaps lingering in many of the same areas: Palestine-Israel, Pakistan-India-Sri Lanka, Ireland, Afghanistan, Chechnya, the Balkan peninsula, Iraq, the Caucasus, "Kurdestan", Arabia, most of Africa, and countless other religious hot spots. The history of the last several hundred years gives little reason for hope that mankind's religious disputes will be settled any less violently in the near future.
Can we make a new religion?
Is it possible to visualize a religion that would not lead its practitioners to try to eradicate one another; one that would actually promote brotherhood across cultures? A faith that would provide the benefits of religion without its many drawbacks? If we have faith that the human race can progress, the answer must be Yes.
What would be the features of such a religion? Let's say it would retain the features of religion that are beneficial, and cashier those that are destructive. At least seven beneficial effects of religion stand out:
If we wish to retain some form of the above, we'll certainly want to dump the following bad actors:
- Everlasting life. Belief in an afterlife is immensely reassuring. Relatively few humans are comfortable with the idea of his/her life being simply extinguished.
- Authoritative direction to the course of life.
- Moral guidance.
- Comfort in times of need is for many the crucial benefit of their faith. Access to a higher being who will listen to and care about their plight is a source of daily strength.
- Promise of eventual justice is also a powerful comfort, satisfying also our desire for revenge on our enemies. In the afterlife, all wrongs of this life will be made right.
- Social communion and friendship with likeminded friends is not the least of the benefits of the religious experience.
- Mutual assistance is related to the previous; religious groups provide a social safety net better than most other groupings.
How would we go about bringing a new religion to the human race? One that offers the comfort and social benefits of the present faiths, yet avoids the features that lead to hatred? Is it even feasible to present the world with a crafted religion and expect them to believe in it? Shouldn't a believable religion be revealed, not created? But of course all religions were created, just long enough ago to take on a venerable air of believability. We believe, not because we have proof of what we believe in, but because it's what we feel we need. It's a remarkable fact that folks whose religion is based on divine revelation are likely to demand more proof and demonstration from a door-to-door gadget salesman than they demand for the supposed revelation on which their faith and their entire world-view is based.
- Exclusionism and fanaticism, with mistrust and loathing of God's "enemies".
- Certainty of truth. While this may seem a "benefit" to the believer, it is an insidious trap. The more firmly a person believes that his own beliefs are right, the more he is convinced that other beliefs are wrong and evil. It is no great step from that to the view that the other (wrong) religions are the enemy of his God.
- Exclusive revelation. Information received from an omniscient God does not leave much room for debate. Therefore, any claimant to contrary divine revelation is a charlatan and an enemy of God, and his followers are deluded or evil.
An interesting result of this is that even believers believe that religions were created, not revealed. That is, they believe it about each of the other religions, while their own religion is the exception. The upshot is that each and every religion is thought by a majority of religious believers to be false and the work of man, not of God. So can we also create a competitive religion?
Sure we can:
Let's create a religion and see how we do:
It should have a "great creator" god (we're bowing to modern convention in limiting ourselves to one god, though the scientific evidence for multiple gods has been shown to be precisely equally persuasive). A god with a distinctive name – neither masculine or feminine, of course – "Pat" will do for now. We'll define Pat as the power that created everything, but has left us to deduce what we can about this creation, using our wits. Pat has given us no revealed truth; no holy book, rules, or commandments; no prophets, messengers, sons, angels, devils, visions, or miracles; no Church, no rites, no call to worship, and definitely no "Viceroy on Earth" (BRJ link). Pat is non-corporeal and sex-less, but probably approachable – we'll believe It (seems like the appropriate pronoun) listens to prayer, or at the very least assigns someone on staff to listen. (Responses are not to be expected, however; just like with the current gods.) Pat is naturally above all else. Beyond that, Pat just IS.
So far, so good. Admittedly we don't know much at this stage; perhaps not enough to move a congregation. But it's precisely the lack of revealed truth that is the charm of our new religion. Oh, the body of practitioners will factionalize with time, and probably very quickly, because Nothingness is so open to interpretation, and the various interpreters will have their followers. Theologians will finally have something to do again after centuries of inactivity. But the beauty is that schisms based on mere opinion will (hopefully) be neither as militant nor as long-lasting as those that point to a basis in the received word. But we digress. To return to our doctrine:
The core of Patological doctrine is that there is no revealed doctrine. We "know" that Pat exists and created the universe(s) and the physical laws. Everything else we're only relatively certain about. Yes, doctrine will develop, and so will doctrinal disputes, but the lovely difference from current religions is that you're less likely to attack your fellow man over beliefs that you're only relatively sure of. But we must ask, how satisfying is relative assurance of eternal life, eventual justice, moral guidance, and the other items on our list of goodies above? That's hard to say; one must admit that mankind may not be ready to leave the need for certainty behind.
What then of the future?
The trend in human history has fortunately been toward a rational search for understanding – of nature as well as of our own nature. The trend has suffered frequent setbacks, often as a result of conflicts of this search with established mythological dogma. But the trend will continue; we see today that major parts of the human community are leaving the myths of ancient civilizations behind. The key to accepting the rational view of the world is accepting uncertainty; to be able to differentiate between what we know, what we theorize, and what we simply don't know yet. Mankind will perhaps reach that stage of development some day, but can't jump into it in one leap. The above is offered as an interim compromise for humanity's current stage: retaining belief in a higher power, we let go of certainty and revelation in favor of development of our own (relative) truths. The effect will be (relative) religious peace on Earth. Granted, there's a slight chance that not everyone will immediately see the wisdom of this religious improvement, but I'm sure the Pope will come around in time. Well, relatively sure.
(Appendix: For a subsequent epiphany, see "Conversation with Pat")