2/19/2012 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Paul So ~
Religion is a very difficult term to define in the field of sociology, anthropology, and comparative religion. But for the purpose of this essay I’ll try to define religion in ways that is relevant to the religions that we are familiar with: Religion is any world-view that tries to explain the natural world by positing supernatural agent(s) who are claimed to deserve worship from those who are created by them (or by him/her). Worshipping is servitude and devotion to the supernatural agents is a socialized practice indoctrinated through communities . Such forms of worship come in many varieties in respects to different rituals, doctrines, tradition, clergy-authorities, etc. Religions also socialize its members to follow certain norms that are said to be commanded by the supernatural agents.
Image by h.koppdelaney via FlickrIf this is what many religions are, then I do not need another religion in my life, and here is why. I am an agnostic naturalist who believes that Nature’s fundamental laws govern the natural worlds in impersonal matters, but I do not know exactly how these fundamental laws really came about. Cosmologists are finding answers such as the Grand Unified Theory which says that many of our natural laws were initially unified into one or two natural laws during the Big Bang. In this sense I am a believer that we can find an impersonal explanation of the natural laws without positing any supernatural agents to explain them to us.
While I am an agnostic naturalist, I am only agnostic in the sense that I admit that I do not know exactly why Nature is the way it is. However, I am an atheist in the sense that positing a supernatural agent as an explanation does not have sufficient justification. Since we cannot find any changes in Nature that has to be uniquely explained by supernatural agents, but rather we consistently find changes in Nature that are explained by the laws of Nature, it is not reasonable to conclude that there has to exist any Supernatural agents. As the Philosopher Jaegwon Kim once said, to posit something that has no clear causal role is virtually the same as being non-existent.
I also think that positing supernatural agents to explain how the world works is based on our anthropomorphic bias that is rooted in a useful yet fallacious cognitive ability called hyper-intentionality, in which we attribute agency everywhere when in many cases there is none. I personally think that hyper-intentionality is the best explanation as to why so many people are convinced that an agent has to be the cause of the natural world. They appeal to the intelligent design, but this is based on the assumption that complexity can only arise from an intelligent agent, but this is farther from the truth: complexity or order arises from chaos and the laws of nature. If you don’t believe me, go on Google to search for the term “Self-Organization”, which is a complex pattern or system that appears without a need for central authority. This concept is well supported in many independent fields of science, especially in evolutionary biology; Even Chaos theory explains how pattern is possible through randomness. It is because of some of a general understanding of these facts that I realized that the possibility of finding an explanation without positing a supernatural agent is very plausible and justified. What religions say is that many of the experiences and events in our lives have to be caused by someone out there, but as I watch documentaries and read some books pertaining scientific facts, I realize that such an appeal has lost its force on me.
hyper-intentionality is the best explanation as to why so many people are convinced that an agent has to be the cause of the natural world.I don’t need religion because it doesn’t bother me that the world is not created by some other person, or proto-person. It doesn’t bother me that we are a byproduct of impersonal forces called the laws of nature and randomness; Actually, I think it’s kind of cool that intelligent self-conscious beings like ourselves derive from something that isn’t intelligent and self-conscious. For me it doesn’t mean that my life lacks purpose, but rather my life is a kind of paradox that is counter-intuitive to the human mind. It doesn’t bother me that many of the things that are happening in my life are because of impersonal forces, because I already have enough personal agents involved in my life! I have a wonderful mother (though religious) who is already too much involved in my life. I have a father who is also involved in my life by paying for my tuition. I have professors who teach me on wonderful and interesting subjects. I have friends I like to hang out with in real person or online. I already have a malevolent government that has already taken away me freedom, and quite possibly would mark me a terrorist as much as it would mark you as a terrorist. I already have enough agents involved in my life, and putting God into the equation is just asking for too much. Occasionally, I would try to appreciate the impersonal things that are involved in my life: the dividing cells that are occurring constantly underneath my skin, the millions of photons bouncing from everywhere into my eyes, the millions of molecules from delicious foods entering into my nostril, and millions of oxygen entering into my lungs as I breathe, the immense amount of kinetic energy that transfers from my body into other objects (and vice versa), and to see that the appearance of the stars I am looking at are actually light of the stars that reached my eyes from millions of years ago, are already profound enough. When I do think about these things on occasion, I am amazed how there are so much more events happening behind the veil of my perception. I then come to this adage: Behind every person is Nature doing its works in secret.
I don’t need religion because I don’t like being told what to do unless there is good justification for it. I don’t like it when all my actions are simply based on the whims of another being who does not give any reasons for my actions; it seems that my actions are not based on any reasons including my reasons, but rather my actions is based on the elusive pseudo-reason of an ineffable being. I know that when I was a child, I had to obey my parents, but as I grow into an adult whose cognitive capacities mature as the brain grows the situation is no longer the same. If my actions are based on someone else's reasons, then I would really like to know what those reasons are if they are relevant to my interests and values. This doesn’t have to imply that I am selfish, but rather expecting someone to do whatever you want them to do regardless of their interest is unreasonable. If you want to change someone’s interest, try to have a mature rational discussion with them by presenting the facts and the arguments, instead of threatening them to change it or else they will punished. To do this is imperialistic and authoritarian, and if this is all religion can do then I am not interested. Also, appealing to the benevolence of another being is equally unconvincing because benevolence of another person does not explain what his or her reasons are. Just because that person is benevolent it doesn’t follow that whatever he or she wants me to do is justified. The benevolence of another person does not entail that my interests should be the same as that person, unless there is an independent justification for it. I do not need any appeal to emotions, but rather I need facts and reasons in which my emotions can make value judgments about it.
I don’t need a religion because I am not some instrument for someone else’s desire or purpose. I am a person with a personal interest that guides my actions, and if you want me to act in accordance with your desires, you should appeal to my personal interest, or at least my moral conscience.
I don’t need religion because I don’t need grace. I am not willing to take fault from a pseudo-ancestor who made a horrible mistake that I didn’t make. I am not a deprived or impoverished being, rather I consider myself very fortunate since I live a comfortable life. I am not perfect, I am quite fallible, but that does not mean that I am incapable of improving myself. I don’t need to be saved because I don’t deserve punishment. If I am being punished just because of my predispositions, beliefs (which are involuntary!), or lineage rather than because of my own moral merits or actions, then the evangelist, proselytizers and apologists can go fuck themselves for all I care.
I don’t need religion because I already have too much purpose in my life. I wake up because I want to go to school. I study because I want to get good grades so I can increase my chances to go to Princeton. I write this article because I like to share my opinions with like-minded people. I eat because I want to sustain and fuel my body. I am in the library so I can concentrate on my work. I philosophize because I enjoy it. I have purpose for many of the things I do, and I do not need one ultimate purpose to subsume them all. Don’t tell me that my life is without purpose if there is no God; I already have too much purpose in my life as much as the next door neighbor. Life is abundant with purpose, but the only problem is that everything (including those purposes) in nature is impermanent. The only difference between me and a believer is that I want to live my life by practicing acceptance of that impermanence and just enjoy the ride. I know that many of my purposes that I created in the context of my environment are impermanent; I have no delusions about it. But at the very least I can accept it and just live on. If there is no eternal purpose out there, then whining about it won’t do. Just use whatever time we have left to perform the purposes we set for ourselves, yet accept that many things in life is impermanent.
The last reason why I don’t need religion is because I think finding happiness and attaining a peaceful mind is possible without religion. I think spirituality is possible without religion, since all spirituality amounts to to understand that we are part of the cosmic web that weaves us together in the fabric of space and time. To be in brotherhood (and sisterhood!) with each other is possible without God, since we are social creatures capable of being cooperative. To attain a peaceful mind is to understand ourselves and other people around us the best way possible, to alleviate suffering. All this, I believe, can be done without religion.