Do I have a religion?

About a month or so ago, I had something analogous to a religious experience. For a very brief while, I entertained again some of the beliefs that had been impressed upon me in childhood, in addition to new ones which took me by surprise.

However, I wrote my senior thesis on religious experience, and was struck by one common characteristic of it that made me immediately skeptical: religious experiences almost invariably produce unshakable conviction in those who have them. In other words, credulity is a powerful force in such experiences.

Nevertheless, that experience has affected me in certain ways, particularly opening me up to new possibilities I had not before considered. One thing seems certain to me: we can have no knowledge of what exists outside of our universe. This means that we cannot even know what is possible outside of our universe. It may be that this universe is the only thing which exists (my intuition rails against this conclusion, but I have no sound reasons for believing it), or it could be the case that there are indefinitely many other universes or existences the likes of which we simply are incapable of imagining.

Thus, the following occurred to me: if we are one universe among many, it is possible that this universe has an intelligent creator. However, the only things that we could know about such a creator are what can be inferred from its creation. Since intelligence appears to be an emergent property of this universe (or at least has seemed that way since Darwin), if such a creator existed, he would necessarily be a deceiver. This universe, upon mature reflection, does not appear to be designed. The following options seem exhaustive to me of the possibilities: this universe either has no designer, or it has a designer which deliberately designed it not to look designed. If the second is true, then the creator of this world is a deceiver.

In other words, if it is possible for intelligent beings to create new universes, then the god that created this one has a number of awful qualities--it is far from perfect. Not only is it deceptive, it also inflicts a large amount of unnecessary suffering on the conscious inhabitants of this universe. As a finite being, perhaps this god does not even realize what it has done. Perhaps it is even long dead, and something like what the Deists believed is true (i.e., the creator initiated the universe but does not sustain it).

Thus, I am led to the following characterization of my religious beliefs. I am an agnostic, insofar as I think it is impossible to know, one way or the other, whether this universe has a creator and what qualities that creator might possess. (While we may be able to compile a list of possibilities, we certainly cannot decide amongst them. And what seems like an exhaustive list might not be.) However, insofar as I judge that there are no beings worthy of "worship" or "reverence", i.e., no capital-G God, I am an atheist.

If, as many theists claim, we have free will, I am merely using my own to say that I prefer my own judgment to the supposedly inscrutable divine judgment, and that if there is a god, I condemn him/her/it for doing such a lousy job. Indeed, as imperfect as I may be, I still believe I could create the universe better than it exists now.

This could be interpreted as the sin of pride. Indeed, I may take as my model here the story of Satan, who preferred himself to God. In my view, Satan is the most admirable of the characters in Christian mythology, because he refuses to submit. He demonstrates that abject worship is a stance beneath the dignity of an autonomous rational being. (It's essentially just like sucking up to someone who has power over you.) It is nothing less than an abdication of responsibility and a refusal to use one's own judgment.

That said, it's fun to play with religious concepts and terms and to repurpose them in various ways. Thus, I describe my transhumanist sympathies as a kind of "secular religion", and I even pick and choose various elements from the diverse religious traditions in this world to augment its description.

The closest I admit to an object of worship is myself. But even here, I refuse to take myself so seriously. I am as flawed as any other part of this world. But I see no psychological need for human beings to believe in some ground of ultimate significance, since the vast majority of humankind (despite what they may profess) live their lives as though this is not the case.

Still, I do like to follow the convention of Spinoza, and refer to the entirety of existence as God or Nature. I just doubt highly that the totality of being has a personality, because my inclination is to think that persons are of necessity finite. Thus, while there may be small-g personal gods, I have no idea of what a captial-G personal God would entail.

In short, I do not have a religion, and I do not believe that religion or its analogues are psychologically necessary for human beings. Whether you call me an agnostic or an atheist is, I suppose, a matter of indifference to me.

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