Rational Religion

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Religion...in Extremis


When we need religion most are the times we have the least opportunity to justify it to ourselves.    In extremis we want to be able to fasten onto the core of our belief and let it carry us through to the other side. 


"God's Will" is a powerful placebo for whatever ails us, mentally, emotionally or physically (not that they aren't all just different facets of the same highly integrated individual organism.)


But if god is by definition absent, how can there be any succor?


We have all, or most of us, been brainwashed by being raised in a conventionally metaphysical society.    Whatever our "natal" belief system was, we are prejudiced to believe that "abandoning" it needs must leave a vacuum.    That's why so many restless or disaffected believers jump from one goof-ball thought system to another, trying to fill in the hole.   (Cults feed on this syndrome.)


Paradoxically, the same spiritual unease - the sense of something "missing" - often plagues also those who have been raised by parents who actually believe in nothing much.   The power of the social matrix is such that there is pressure for the children of atheists and agnostics to join the crowd.   (The dipstick son of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, last half-century's most public and militant atheist, is a too-handy example.    But that may only be the syndrome of rebellion against a strident and likely authoritarian  parent.  It's also possible he was just a dipstick, from the get.)


Atheism, as a matter of fact, is often a self-conscious attempt to plug the spiritual vacuum with a strong belief in nothing.  It's like worshipping zero, the numeral; making an icon of an intellectual tool so we have something graspable to believe in.   That's rather like centering your life around your band saw.


What do we lose by believing in a rational, less-superstitious religion?


Mainly the sense that somebody is in control.   


Everything else we need is still there, including the logic of continuity and the imperative to be moral, ethical and self-supporting. 


The Golden Rule makes no mention of deity; it's all between us sapiens


It's perfectly obvious to anybody who has suffered a normal component of vicissitudes in the process of growing to adulthood that something out there is a hell of a lot bigger than we are; individually and collectively.


The metaphysical alternative to gods is demons, and most conventional religions - recognizing the apparent dualities of existence - believe in both.  


Now in order to maintain the necessary hope to keep on living, we must also believe that the gods are more powerful  (Sometimes, just barely, on the available evidence.  Sometimes not in one's individual lifetime, at all).


So Believing, itself very often has to become the justification for not chucking it all; that and the promise of a "better life" hereafter.


As a Preserver of the Gene Pool, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, philosophically or biologically. 


But I know from personal experience that there are many souls for whom the investiture of ancient superstitions with corporal reality - contrary to modern empirical evidence - is too much of a mental stretch. 


These people, born with built-in bullshit-detectors, need more rational answers.  And they need something to fill the vacuum; otherwise they are in danger of drifting away into anomie.   


Without constantly reassessing their position, re-defining it to fit an ever-changing surrounding universe, they can lose their bearings and begin to decide that there is no reason at all.  It's a tough act to juggle, as often as it needs to be re-balanced.    When things begin to come at them too large and too fast to catch or duck, the process gets harder.


As a younger person, and a confirmed - say "militant"- agnostic, I very occasionally resorted to prayer.   Oddly enough, I don't recall that my lapses were on behalf of anything which might have affected any possible immortal soul; just "gimme" stuff like finding a lost cat or getting some unattainable female to love me.   


And even as I was doing it I realized that it was an atavistic hangover from being raised (at least nominally until age 16) religious.   I didn't think I was talking to god, but the spurious situation of the moment seemed to justify touching all bases.  (I suppose I was intermittently a Pascalian, though I never studied Pascal's celebrated theory until I was many years past making use of it.)


I expect that is the justification for a lot of "deathbed conversions."  The lifelong atheist or agnostic knows she or he isn't likely going anywhere; but "just in case."


What could it hurt?  Well, nothing, really, except one's example for others.  If that doesn't mean anything to you, go ahead and recant.  I expect the animal is entitled to any comfort attainable in the final throes of mortality.


I don't intend to do it; but then I am currently not imminently terminal.


On the other hand, after the single occasion in my life when I was forced  - and given a weekend of relative solitude - to contemplate the very real prospect of dying young, I reacted oppositely.  I decided that my core philosophies, sans all except the unavoidable metaphysical interface with the rest of the universe, were sufficient to sustain me for whatever rest of life I had.  The ensuing 40-odd years have done nothing to change my mind-set.  


Oh, yeah.  I haven't prayed since. 


And I am suspicious of all bargains which are made too easily.   I think I truly have made peace with the prospect of oblivion, finding it logical and above all, tidy.