Theories and speculations

How to be a religious atheist

People invent gods because they perceive the impermanence of things. However all honest believers in God admit to doubt and uncertainty. Religion is called faith because it is a name for a state of uncertainty. Faith is a response to impermanence. Faith says, we are not materialists, but we don’t really know what else there is. We know nothing human or worldly is permanent so we’ve invented a God. Faith can be a good and a bad thing. Because faith is a rejection of materialism it produces humane and altruistic rules for living – like thou shalt not kill and love thy neighbour. As a society these rules are our only hope for a lasting moral consensus. It occasionally inspires large numbers of people to do good things like object to wars or make better rules about equality. But inventing gods is quite a primitive response to the truth of impermanence. Humans have an awful need to objectivise (ie materialise) everything and God is no exception. They make God into a literal being demanding allegiance and use the idea of God to endow themselves with power using this for material ends. Religion is powerful because it holds out the impossible, a promise of existence after death, and if that existence is interpreted in a material way it can be used to persuade the gullible to do almost anything – even to destroy themselves. Religion is therefore unhelpful and primitivistic because it is used to stop people thinking for themselves.
I think that most of the constructive parts of religion can be in any case be deduced by logic if we accept that the purpose of human life is to care for all living things and that material permanence is illusory.
So I often say that religion is a good thing because it produces moral rules which even quite unscrupulous people are sometimes influenced by. It is certainly the only context within which you can tell people you don’t know to love each other. I sometimes say that I am a religious atheist because religion counters materialism in a way everyone can understand and provides a structure for living which is potentially better than one with no God. I also think that it does no harm to anyone to sit in a church once a week and reflect on the impermanence of things and the limitations of materialism. But I certainly don’t believe in God personally and gratitude for space to think is countered by discomfort at the embellishment of truths about materialism into untruths about faith which are directed at the prevention of thinking.

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