Remember Crossblogination with @formulaic666? Well it's back, with a new twist. Instead of trading albums we're trading big themes and I thought we'd start with one of the biggest of the lot, belief systems, religion and our individual takes. You can go and read Paul's when you're done here.
Where to even start... I suppose it's important to say that I was brought up in a household that was religious on a Sunday. We went to Church, my sister and I got shipped off to Sunday School and for the first 12 or so years of my life I pretty much accepted that there was a God although he didn't seem to have much impact on the rest of my week. When we lost Dad in '86 something changed. Nothing really definable, I wasn't angry at God for taking Dad away, but there was a sense that the loss wasn't going to get filled by praying to anyone or anything. That the grief was ours to carry and there was no comfort in a man in white collar saying that it was all part of God's 'plan'.
So yes, that sewed the seeds of doubt. A death in the family has a way of doing that. Then I went to high school (we still had a middle school system on the Isle of Wight) and things started to get cemented. I remember our first Religious Education lesson, the class must have had about twenty five kids in it and the teacher, who looked a bit like Noddy, asked who believed in God. I, being a bit on the shy side, hedged my bets and waited to see what everyone else did and only three put their hands up. I remember it being three because I can remember their names. I kept mine down but was shocked that so few people believed in God. I think at that point I'd have been best described as agnostic, but by the time I left high school I was almost certainly atheist as I'd found friends who could hold a reasonable conversation about such stuff and I'd started to form a pretty solid opinion.
One thing I will say, and I think this is important, is that not believing in God, doesn't mean you lose your sense of wonder. I can still be left in awe by the Universe, by someone's altruism, by something that seems unexplainable. I absolutely love that there are questions that we don't have answers to, I just think it's wrong to fill the holes those questions leave with God. I respect your right to do that, totally, as long as you respect my opinion too.
I struggle a bit with the blindness of the really devout sometimes. That inability to see past where their beliefs have failed so miserably in the past and will fail again. 'The Earth is at the centre of the Universe... oh....' etc etc.
I struggle with religion being used as an excuse to wage war too. It sickens me to be honest. I just don't get it.
So what do I believe in? Well I think there's an absurd need to make atheists seem like they see everything as a machine. That the Universe is made up of nothing more than elements that combine and collide creating a cosmos that's dry and devoid of imagination. I do believe that we are the product of billions of coincidences and natures need to evolve to survive, but the moment we clicked into sentience changed everything and we are truly fortunate to be able to view our world with eyes that not only see but also question. It's not really surprising that we've needed to answer some of those questions by applying something bigger than nature to explain them, but that's just our imaginations running away with us. I believe that our sentience is an amazing but not unexplainable thing and I have no doubt that there are other life forms out there, wondering, just as we do, how the hell to get off this rock and go find each other.
I believe that there are answers to all of the questions we ponder and although I don't believe that our souls carry on into an afterlife I do believe that our 'souls' (for want of a better word) do exist within the confines of our own brains. That the chemical reactions in our heads combine to make us more than we are. I also believe that as a species we'll always have questions and there will always be some who choose to find answers in religion rather than science.
Losing a sense of wonder would be damaging I think. Being able to retain that, to be able to look at a stunning view and still have your jaw draw drop at what nature has made, is so important.
Drilling down something like love to a chemical reaction in the brain doesn't diminish how that feels to a person. And that's the error I see getting made all the time, that discovering something like that closes the door on more questions, because for me it just opens up more.
In a nut shell then... I think religion stunts us as a species, because it means accepting that this is all some grand design. Accepting that it's not is far braver, because trying to imagine the scope and scale of an infinite space where we sit on a tiny rock, in maybe just one of an infinite amount of other Universes, is far more mind blowing than any creationist story I've ever heard.