The Substance of the World

Baruch Spinoza was a Dutch philosopher of Portuguese-Jewish extraction who lived from 1632-1677.  I like to refer to  him on occasion in support of a point I’m trying to make, when I think I might not be entirely out to lunch when developing a particular line of thought that seems consistent with what he had in mind when he wrote about the same subject matter almost five centuries ago.

This has to do with the concept of God, and the notion of a supreme, all powerful being that is purported to be  the creator of the world; the biblical God of the Old Testament. I struggled with this concept a lot as it never made sense to me from the earliest days that I started thinking about these sort of things.

When Spinoza writes about God, it is not in the anthropomorphic sense of a God as usually portrayed by the Christian-Judaeo or Muslim varieties of religion, i.e., very much like a person – a kind of father figure – with human-like emotions.  Someone who seems to take a personal interest in what the creatures he created here on earth are up to, and in the process suggesting  a personality featuring some of the more regrettable human traits I can think of, such as being  narrow minded, vain, jealous, as well as vengeful! If you are familiar with the Old Testament, you will know exactly what I am talking about.

Spinoza strongly rejected the notion of a providential God – the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, in complete control of all things; he claims that the Law was neither literally given by God nor any longer binding on Jews. (Not surprisingly, this conception of God got him thrown out of the Amsterdam orthodox Jewish community for good when they excommunicated him in 1656.)

Does this mean that Spinoza was an atheist?  Not really, since he holds that God is the one and only unique and indivisible substance that the universe is made of. There are no other substances. The view is a bit more complex than that, and involves perceiving this substance through a variety of distinct attributes – such as Thought and Extension – but not its basic premise.

It is interesting to note that Albert Einstein – also once accused of being an atheist – followed Spinoza in rejecting the  anthropological concept of God,  saying,  instead,  that he believed in “… Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of the world”.

These views suits me fine, to the point that, if God is everything, and everything is God,  this will render the concept of a distinct metaphysical entity over and above the world – the great creator –  logically empty (i.e., meaningless) since it doesn’t signify anything over and above the totality of the cosmos, and the name “God” ends up being just another label for it.

Accepting the God of Spinoza and Einstein  instead of the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob does no more that restore and recognize the integrity and  wholeness of the cosmos, as  a magnificent, mysterious phenomenon in all its demonstrated grandeur.  As well,  it ties our reason for being here  more closely to  the raison d’être of the cosmos,  given that the history of our evolutionary track seems to lead back to the very heart of the  cosmos, and the energy and matter that constitutes it.

In Pursuit of a Greater Good

It is difficult not to get seriously depressed by the kind of news you get today, such as reports about the absolute savagery in the ongoing civil war in Syria by survivors of a deadly attack in Khan Sheikhoun describing chemical bombs being dropped from planes, while directly contradicting the government’s version of events. But then, on occasion, you can find something at the opposite end of the spectrum that will lift your spirit and bolster your faith in people once again because it shows an astonishing degree of enlightenment in thought and action, even so since it was expressed as early as 2000 BC by the ancient Zoroaster faith in a hymn from the Farvardin Yasht:

We worship this earth, we worship those heavens: we worship those good things which stand between the earth and the heavens and that are worthy of sacrifice and prayer, and are to be worshiped by the faithful man. We worship the souls of the wild beasts and the tame. We worship the souls of the holy men and women, born at any time, whose consciences struggle, or will struggle, or have struggled, for the good.

While “worship” or “faithful” or “holy” or “sacrifice” and “prayer” are typical terms as applied by the formalized, totalitarian religions as a means to keep the great unwashed under their thumb,  they can stand perfectly on their own without reference to a 3rd party – an imaginary deity of sorts,  i.e., God – by applying them to the way in which we pursue the truth about ourselves.

That is, we pursue these truths faithfully, for their own sake, and without coercion from anyone, and to the benefit of all mankind. And what we will find is the good inherent in all of us, and it is this truth that is “holy” and should be “worshiped” in the sense that we will put this above everything else that we treasure about life in the world.

By “sacrifice” we might well have to be less selfish than usual on occasion, in order to put the greater good ahead of ourselves. And by “prayer” we need to do nothing more than express the hope and belief in ourselves that we are here for the right reasons, which is to realize the common good in ourselves as we rise to our full potential as human beings.

I can’t claim to have any special insight here, but it seems to me that, first of all, it makes sense to pursue the things that benefit us most as a species, and not look at sacrificing some individuals to the betterment of others as a means to advance the human race as a whole. This has to be a fundamental truth about ourselves, but sadly, the sum of human history to date shows primarily the exploitation and slaughter of the many to benefit the few. And if this proves anything all, it is that the formalized religions have been absolutely no help at all to the betterment of humanity, and in fact can be seen as the instigators – and in many cases the perpetrators – of much of the murder and mayhem that has befallen the many people of this earth for reasons that make no sense at all.

And so, yes, we can get there without religious totalitarianism, or the need to be murdered or murder for them, and especially without the Islamic religion in its most virulent and primitive form,  and which uses its ancient tribal laws – known as Shariah law – in an inhumane and brutal manner in order to keep its adherents in line. Clearly, life has no value there, when it is so easily denigrated or even dispensed with in order to prevent dissent.  I’m referring to caning people in public, hacking off hands and stoning people to death  … Barbaric acts that have no place in a society that values the sanctity of life.  I guess that happens in communities where folks are absolutely not allowed to think for themselves and must accept some ancient doctrines “on faith”, or else ….

Of course, all this coercion in the name of a ‘higher” authority has nothing to do with achieving some mystical purpose or aspiration involving a god, creation or eternity, or whatever else a religion might be about. In the end this is all about the few having the means to control the many in everyday life, and where women and girls are devalued to the level of cattle, to be used and abused at will because it is their duty to comply. How much more morally and ethically backward – or primitive –  can you get?  Clearly, no effort towards the greater good is happening here.

The World as Form and Function

Reality is created by observers in the universe  – John Archibald Wheeler, Theoretical Physicist (1911-2008)

Today I am revisiting the views held by Schopenhauer in The World as Will and Idea (1818), and his rejection of naïve realism, or what has been called scientific materialism, that the things we observe in the world are what they appear to be, absolutely, and forever, and not in anyway a function of human perception and experience in the sense that they can be modified based on our understanding of things.

This view would suggest a possible distinction between how things are independently from human observation versus how they are perceived by us once they have been observed and their information has been processed by our perceptual and conceptual processes.

Now while there may be a logical gap between the world and the world observed, it could be argued that it is in fact a useless  distinction,  given that we have no other means of accessing it in an ontological sense.  And so the question remains: is it in fact a meaningful exercise to even refer to it as a matter of some significance? To all intents and purposes, if we never refer to it again, what would be lost in our discussions about the nature of the world?

To deal with this alleged problem, Kant introduced the “thing-in-itself”, or “ding ansich” in German – to suggest that the true nature of  the world is fundamentally unknowable as we can only grasp the nature of things indirectly through perceiving them as objects in relation to ourselves – how we have experienced them.  I respectfully suggest that Mr. Kant is out to lunch here, in the sense that is is contradictory to say that something is fundamentally unknowable as to make such an assertion implies some knowledge about  it. In other words, the distinction serves no useful purpose.

Moving on,  it is one thing to experience the world through one’s senses – it is another thing to experience it logically, e.g., to experience such things as cause and effect, time, space and the various ways in which objects relate to us and each other. If these relationships are permanent features of the physical universe, it wouldn’t matter in what form you encountered them in your experiences, your conclusions about them would be same. But in the end, it would be less important what the world looks like versus what can be abstracted from it simply from interacting with it. And this would lead me to say that the nature of the world is about function (a method that relates an objective to its instantiation) –  and not form (the manifestation of matter and energy), the latter being  incidental to the process, and a means to an end in terms of being the medium that allows the function to be enabled or expressed.

This is an important view for me and consistent with my argument that we should perhaps be less preoccupied with determining the origin, age and size and makeup of the material  universe, by poking into the furthest and oldest region of the universe, looking for clues of sorts and so on  – and, instead, look more closely at what the logical or functional nature of the various cosmic events appear to be about,  such as the manifestation of a directional and seemingly intrinsic teleological process leading to ever higher degrees of material complexity and organization – evolution – and where this particular process would seem to want to take us to.  As such, the cosmos appears to be a  work in progress, and that is at least some concrete information we have about the nature of the world as we have encountered it.

The Scourge of Mankind

One wonders how the mind can get so screwed up that you would be willing to kill a fellow human being just because they don’t share your religious beliefs. But for any student of European history it is not too difficult to be reminded of such acts of barbarism being committed in the name of deity of sorts, when murder was on the repertoire in order to advance the interests of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe during the Dark or Early Middle Ages

Lest we forget, by slaughtering the infidel unwilling to convert to their version of Islam, the Muslim Jihadis of today appear to have taken a page from the late great King Charlemagne – or Charles the Great – the king of the Franks, who became the first emperor in Western Europe since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and is sometimes referred to as the founder of modern Europe.

During his campaign to establish an empire in full support of the Church, he felt compelled to Christianize newly conquered people upon penalty of death, which lead to such events as the massacre of 4,500 captive rebel Saxons in October of 782 in what is now known as Verden in Lower Saxony, Germany. The unfortunate Saxons had rebelled against King Charles’ invasion and his subsequent attempts to Christianize them from their native Germanic paganism.

And that massacre pales in comparison with the events almost 500 years later, in 1209, in the town of Béziers in the Languedoc region.  When the Roman Catholic Church established the Inquisition, it was set up initially to wipe out the Cathar movement in southern France where it had taken hold in opposition to the hitherto dominant Roman Catholic religion. Apparently, there were a lot of Cathars living in the town of Béziers, to the point that it was seen to be a Cathar stronghold, and on July 22nd, 1209, under leadership of the Abbot of Citeaux the town was attacked, ransacked, and completely burned to the ground, the majority of its population of 20,000 people killed, including many women and children. That this would have included many thousands of Roman Catholic adherents who were also living in Béziers didn’t seem to matter. When questioned about this, the Cistercian abbot-commander of the Catholic crusaders, is on record of having said that: “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eis. (Kill them all, the Lord will recognize His own).

Now all this happened a long time ago, and while today the Christian faith is far more benign,  the justification for this kind of slaughter remains an intrinsic part of the foundation of the Christian faith: the bible, for in Deuteronomy XIII.12-16, the faithful are instructed as follows:

If thou shalt hear say in one of these cities …, Let us go and serve other Gods …; then shalt thou surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly and all that is therein. … And thou shalt burn with fire the city and all the spoil thereof every whit for the Lord thy God. … And it shall be a heap forever; and it shall not be built again.

And so we are here today, 800 years after the slaughter in Béziers – and yes, it was rebuilt again! –  and in the 21st century, and as can be evidenced from recent events in the Middle East, innocent people continue to be slaughtered in the name of some god or prophet or another. One might claim that this kind of action has nothing to do with the religious beliefs themselves – and that they are misused when wielded as weapons of murder and destruction. No – it is precisely the unsubstantiated and irrational nature of these beliefs that allows them to be used in this manner. When you think you have the creator and eternity on your side – all your actions are justified; you cannot be wrong!  Until we shake off the influence of these dangerous nonsensical beliefs, our species will continue to be murdered for them.

This leads me to say that to believe in the existence of a god or other kinds of super-natural beings is terrible affliction and a seemingly endless source of human tragedy. Because – while in principle these are nonsensical and hence harmless beliefs– it is at the same time the sickly smell of centuries of savagery and senseless slaughter of thousands  of people in the name of such beliefs – and primarily in the competition between such beliefs.  And when you read up on human history and listen to the news today, this shall be revealed and made abundantly clear: “Religion is the Scourge of Mankind”.

The Limits of Our World

Given that there are limitations to what we can achieve with our bodies in a physical sense – e.g., how high we can jump, or how fast we can run – it seems reasonable to think there are also limits to what we can achieve with our minds in an intellectual sense, in that these limits are determined by the unique physiology of the human brain and its ability to offer up the required level of conceptualization.

We might be comparing apples with oranges here, but the intent is to merely illustrate the fact there will likely be an upper limit to the extent that one is able to grasp a concept and run with it, so that no matter how clever one is, there are going to be limitations to our ability to think about the world and our place in it.

The ability to organize and conceptualize the data of our sensory experiences into the reality of the everyday world we must live in is critical to our ability to survive and thrive in it. And that isn’t necessarily a uniquely human ability – and likely exists to some extent within other creatures in the world depending on their level of sentiency.

But only in humans is this capacity developed to the point that it can be articulated in terms of shared ideas, and be the subject of continuing discussion and analysis. Now that we can do this and chimps – our nearest cousins in the animal kingdom – cannot, is not just a function of the ability to use one’s brain more effectively, but also the fact that the human cerebral cortex, the brain’s most highly evolved region, is three times larger in humans than in chimps. The latter simply don’t have the hardware for this – to put this in very simple terms.

And so it might be necessary for our species to receive substantial increase in the grey matter department before we (or the species that supersedes us)  will be able to reach the next level of understanding that will allow us to grasp our place in the world more completely, as currently we don’t seem to have much of  a clue!

I’m presenting this in the context of our ability to understand those aspects of the world that would have to be larger than us, in the sense that they have gone into the making of us – and underpin the evolutionary push that brought us about. All of this on the assumption that the evolution of matter is an intrinsic, goal oriented process, and in the end not some random activity without necessarily excluding randomness as a means to an end if that would bring about the desired effect, with the understanding there is such an objective.

But insofar as we are able to look back to see how we did come about in an evolutionary sense – and attempt to deduce some underlying principles from this – we can’t look back quite far enough to see what started it all because we can’t conceptualize an earlier world that doesn’t have any humans in it yet without begging the question.

That is to say – we cannot undo what we have added to the world due to our own presence in it, and see it independently from ourselves. In Schopenhauer’s words, in the end it is always a human eye that looks at the world, and a human brain that must interpret the information. As such, we will always see the world from the inside out, as opposed to from the outside in. It would follow that there is no objective knowledge of the world, because all knowledge we have of it is a function of how we encountered the world from the very moment we were able to interact with it and hence always judged from the subject’s point of view.

This also means  we are no innocent bystanders with respect to being able to account for the spectacle of the world as we are experiencing it; we are necessarily implicated in its very creation when these experiences give rise to our descriptions of it. At the same time, our capacity to account for it in an intellectual or logical sense is necessarily limited by the creature we are today, and subject to the conceptual processing machinery in the grey matter department.

To summarize, it would appear that – not only an we not reach beyond our grasp physically  – neither can we do so intellectually when it comes to understanding the world we see around us in terms that are able to account for our own presence in it – as that would reach beyond the fact of our own creation as human beings, a fact that is given to us without recourse to justification.

Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world. (Arthur Schopenhauer)

Spiritual Beliefs

Existential writers such as Søren Kierkegaard claimed that proof of God cannot be the outcome of a logical argument, such that God’s existence can never be a public or objective truth. Belief in God, consequently, must always be a private matter, entirely subjective and a function of the individual accepting such truths for themselves as a matter of faith. Hence attempting to prove the existence of a God via such means as the Argument from Design would not fly in Mr. Kierkegaard’s neighborhood.

However, the way I see it is that the way most people accept the existence of a God is along the lines of believing seemingly something far less profound, e.g., believing Paris is in France; although you may have never been there, you accept this to be a true fact about the world. It fits in with what you have been told about Paris from the time you heard it first mentioned, from what you heard at school or from what you have read about it.  As such, the truth of such a belief and many similar ones like it is a function of coherence with other beliefs that seem to support it, giving you no reason to examine it critically or ever doubt it for that matter.

I’m willing to concede however that – when people say they believe in God – they might be expressing more than just something that they have always accepted as true, such as a belief of the “Paris is in France” variety. What may be referred to as “spiritual beliefs” are the results of having a sense or an awareness that one is part of something larger and more profound than oneself while being unable to cite the specific reason for believing this to be a true belief about themselves and the world.

Beliefs of that nature may have some intrinsic credibility based on the phenomenological nature of our everyday experiences, when one is led to expect a greater context for them beyond the immediacy of the present moment and whatever else one might bring to bear on them. It is within this expectation or awareness that one might ascribe to the possibility of a deity existing, especially when one is told from day one that there is such a thing as an all-powerful being named God, the culmination of religious brainwashing at the hands of some authoritarian religious institution.

Given this line of reasoning, you could say that the belief in God merely fills the void in one’s belief system that resulted from sensing the larger whole of one’s existence without being able to articulate exactly what that is. That the myth of God could be an answer in all its stupefying simplicity as to how to account for the larger world at the experiential or phenomenological level says a lot about the spectacular gullibility of our species. As well, it goes a long way towards explaining the willful manipulation of people by religious institutions over the centuries, to no other end than being able to control them, use them or – if they threatened their vacuous authority – by killing them.

Religion

The suggestion that the human race is lost and absolutely hapless when it comes to understanding their place in the world has been expressed many times. In the mid  1600’s the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza wrote that people find themselves with needs and desires without understanding the reasons why they want and act as they do.  Lacking this knowledge about themselves and their place in the world creates the illusion that they can do as they please, and which is a source of much grief in the world when they act against their own interest because they simply don’t know any better.

And when it comes to that, I’m sure we will all agree that more than a little guidance is required to prevent the human race from finding new ways to harm itself.  As even primitive ape colonies appear to have hierarchies and moral codes to govern their members interaction,  it was likely in the interest of self-preservation that our ancestors came up with the idea to legitimize their tribal laws and institutions by invoking authorization from a higher source, e.g., a deity of sorts. This could be (at one time)  the sun-god Ra, the King of all Gods and mortals, or further varieties on that theme, unseen yet almighty entities with a supposed interest to keep us on the straight and narrow, and that we better do as we’re told, or else there would be hell to pay! And heaven would be our reward …

Enter religion – and until the eventual uncoupling of Church and State –  the self-proclaimed owners of whatever moral framework was seen as being necessary for a society to function with some degree of success towards a tenable future.  I know I have simplified this premise greatly, but it merely introduces the idea that religion is  about placing the seat of moral authority off-planet and hence beyond the ability to scrutinize it, question it or challenge it.

Of course, the problem was that not everyone one had the same idea about this, and so religious conflict was born. While this notion of  all-powerful metaphysical  beings helped to stabilize our species at the individual tribal level for certain periods of time,  it also appears to have been one of the main reasons for people to slaughter each other in order to establish the primacy of their particular brand of religious beliefs.

Regarding the latter, it is the nature of religious beliefs to be unsubstantiated, and examining them is like peeling an onion: after stripping layer after layer there is absolutely nothing at their core. Although some folks simply claim that they “know” that such beliefs are absolutely true – e.g., that a God exists – we can do little but take their word for it as they are unable to clarify what they mean by this assumption. This is at the core of every religious edifice – rationality has no place here – and as Nietzsche put it once  “Faith means not wanting to know the truth”.

Without a doubt religion has confused a lot of people into various stages of existential despair, the inevitable outcome of trying to believe in something that is entirely without substance regardless of what spiritual or ontological argument one wishes to root for it.  The attempt to make the leap of faith required in order to embrace some variety of eschatological mythology at the core of existence leaves one stranded at the dark abyss of irrationally because all reason must be abandoned beforehand.

Religion has no future, only a deadly present and a deadly past – it is the poisonous worm that, in the abandonment of reason, burrows itself deeply into the minds of those who find comfort in the kinds of beliefs that appear to let them off the hook for having to take any kind of responsibility for the moral character of our species, as this will have been decided “elsewhere”.  This reminds me of a line from a poem by Nietzsche’s favourite poet Holderlin which,  loosely translated from German, goes something like this: “While here on earth we mortals toil, elsewhere a God decides …”

Truly, in today’s language, God is vaporware, and at most an unsubstantiated rumour. But while the belief in imaginary entities might be deemed a juvenile condition by any other name, collectively our species should have grown out of this by now, and in the process have prepared the intellect to be immune from similar afflictions. This as we attempt to extract ourselves from the quagmire of religious superstition into a more enlightened future free from the self-denial featured by such beliefs. Hopefully we will then want to embrace the idea that we are accountable for our all our actions to ourselves only, and not to some entirely imaginary third party.

Our Heavenly Home

… But Trailing Clouds Of Glory Do We Come, From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”  (William Wordsworth)

Apart from the obligatory nod to the prevailing local deity at the time that this was written, that is exactly where we came from – and, of course – where we still are! The  cosmic womb that spawned us,  and that continues to nurture us! And so let’s focus for a moment on the ongoing scientific effort to probe the heavens – our heavenly home – with the hope of finding out more about its origin and scope – such as how all of this might have come about.

And as we continue to do so – by reaching out further and further into the depths of the physical universe with VLTs (Very Large Telescopes) – whatever we want to conclude about our cosmic environment becomes less and less intelligible the further we move away from earth. And here I couldn’t agree more with what was once said  by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit paleontologist, in 1923  in Letters from a Traveler “The more remote in time and space is the world we confront, the less it exists, and hence the more barren and poorer it is for our thoughts”.

Ask yourself this: how meaningful is the recent discovery of the oldest galaxy ever observed by the Hubble telescope: “It is thought the galaxy is more than 13 billion years old and existed 480 million years after the Big Bang.”

Or: “Astronomers have spotted the most distant object yet confirmed in the universe – a self-destructing star that exploded 13.1 billion light years from Earth. It detonated just 630 million years after the big bang, around the end of the cosmic “dark ages”, when the first stars and galaxies were lighting up space”.

Apart from the “wow!” factor, this kind of information says more about the technology that made these discoveries possible than the actual objects themselves. While we may be able to express these observations in a manner that suggests that we actually know what we are talking about, we have clearly no concept of what this  means beyond building a theoretical model of our universe in which we appear to be just another speck of dust.

At most we can conclude is that an event is being played out here of cosmic dimensions, but also that – as unlikely as this may seem – this incredible spectacle is  directly relevant to us, as it pertains to both our origin, and our destiny. Yes, gentle reader, all this cosmic commotion is about you, regardless of whether you want to accept that or not.

I want to suggest that we can talk about the cosmos in a more meaningful fashion, by accepting all of it as another dimension of ourselves.  And here I am not talking  about some  esoteric physical and (above all) theoretical dimension requiring a succession of half-a-dozen blackboards to get spelled out, and meaningful only to some other theoretical physicist working within the same Kuhnian paradigm. With due respect, no.  I want to suggest an aspect of the cosmos that connects every particle internally regardless of where it is located – or how it is configured – and constitutes its integrity as an phenomenon in all its perplexing detail.

And while we do not know or understand much or any of it, it is an intrinsic part of our own existence, meaning that the key to all its magical and mysterious secrets lies not out there in some distant and abstract corner of outer space, but within ourselves. We embody all of this within the entity that we are: its origin, its history, its present scope, and its destiny.

Much of our scientific probing of outer space reminds me of a cat that got itself locked in a closet, scratching around in the dark trying to find a way out.  But we’re not trapped here, in the sense of being an isolated event in the cosmos: we are an event of the cosmos, and so  we don’t need to find a way out, we’re home safe and sound!

And so I am suggesting the possibility that, on the evolutionary front, we are its leading event – with the history of all that preceded us behind us, and a future in front of us to decide and create!  With the arrival  of our species  – Homo Faber –  the spectacular creativity power inherent in the evolutionary process that brought us about is now able to work directly through us for whatever goals we set for ourselves now or in the future!

I have been led to conclude that, if the cosmos is about anything at all, its agenda is about reinventing itself as a new entity, by turning itself inside out – so to speak – through the process of evolution, and reconstituting  itself as the sum of all the power and creativity that it is capable of.  You could say that it is a question of “rising to the occasion”, and as participants in this process this is something that we are all challenged with on a daily basis: we all have the same agenda, namely to make something of ourselves that captures our true potential.

And so we, the simple creatures of the earth, are finding ourselves at the top of creation as defined by our emerging consciousness, to be challenged to look deeper within ourselves to enable our own advancement as a species, to be more creative, more empowered, and to be more enlightened to take on our fate as an agent of evolution. Presumably, all this to bring about a better world than the dystopia we’re stumbling around in today, preoccupied – seemingly – by the instincts of the  predatory animal that once preceded us but is apparently still very much with us in terms of its exhibitions of outright savagery, limitless procreation, and boundless appetites while fouling its own nest in the process.

The Open Sea

The history of the human race to date contains a lengthy and dreary record of the ongoing and absolutely non-nonsensical disputes between religious beliefs, a pervasive and debilitating process – often pursued to the point of self-destruction – that continues to thrive into the present, and the surest indication that the human race is truly lost unless it finds some way to get back to its senses. But how will we ever save ourselves from this neurosis: an obsessive-compulsive disease of the mind around the need to hold beliefs about unseen and powerful supernatural beings in charge of the world, and – in the most extreme case – being compelled to kill or be killed for them.

The sad thing is that it only takes a modicum of common sense to realize that there is no god or deity or any other entity of the metaphysical kind out there. We can no longer believe in such things because we have left the age of innocence as a species a long time ago, when we climbed to the top of Mount Olympus, but Zeus was nowhere to be found.

And since coming of age, we now know why: no god was ever there, or anywhere else for that matter. No longer are we able to blindly accept the existence of such entities without a shred of evidence, by simply being told about this or having read a book. A figment of our imagination is all he ever was, and the truth is that we made him up – Man created God – when he first opened his eyes on this planet as a sentient being with the innate need to know how he and the world came about and why he was there.

These questions are intrinsic to our being, and life is about pursuing the answers to them – nothing more and nothing less. And as opposed to seeking the answers outside or beyond ourselves, e.g., by postulating supernatural beings within the realm of metaphysics – or by peering into the furthest corners of time and space with evermore sophisticated technology – we need to look only within ourselves to find the answers since the essence of the cosmos lies within each and every particle of our being, and that would include all its rhyme and reason.

And so the meaning and purpose of the world are there for us to be found if we have the courage to discover what we are from ourselves. This as opposed to what the powers of religion want us be for them: the subservient underlings of their paternalistic institutions that forbid you to think for yourself, ostensibly for your own protection and spiritual well being, but in reality a means to keep their theocratic hierarchies in power.

But once we remove the blindfold of religious dogma our species can focus ahead once again towards a much different future – as without religion (as Sartre pointed out) we will actually have a future! And not only will this new future created by ourselves not be dominated by superstition and its associated murder or mayhem, but also be without the relentless and mindless greed and exploitation of the few over the many; instead – we might be able to celebrate such enlightened qualities as consideration, compassion, sharing, conservation and the arts.

If that is a supremely naive objective in light of what we know about human nature – so be it! But it is nevertheless the only one that would allow us to flourish as a species in the long run – as all other paths will lead to our eventual self-destruction and demise! That the road ahead will be difficult goes without saying, but as Nietzsche put it at the occasion of his famous “God is Dead” statement:

At long last the horizon appears free to us again, even if it should not be bright; at long last our ships may venture out again, venture out to face any danger; all the daring of the lover of knowledge is permitted again; the sea, our sea, lies open again; perhaps there has never yet been such an “open sea”

Religion Kills Once Again

It was reported by the BBC today that a Bangladeshi publisher of secular books has been hacked to death in the capital Dhaka in the second attack of its kind on Saturday, police say.  Faisal Arefin Dipon, 43, was killed at his office in the city centre, hours after another publisher and two secular writers were injured in an attack.

They are the latest victims in a series of deadly attacks on secularists since blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death by suspected Islamists in February. Both publishers published Roy’s work.

While it would definitely be wrong to put all Islamists in the same fanatical and bloodthirsty category, it nevertheless says something about the nature of this religion when it is able to incite some its followers  to such barbaric and murderous measures in order to defend their faith.

I seem to recall that Nietzsche said once that “morality is a function of a herd’s instinct to self-preservation”  and clearly, the Muslim herd feels under threat here,  and is resorting to deadly measures   to defend itself against attacks based on reason and critical thought.

Presumably, this demonstrates once again the necessity for certain religious beliefs to be based on fear as opposed to having a foundation in truth, if only because there is none to be found. And when it comes to truth in religion and faith, we might well want to agree with Nietzsche when he said about the latter:

Faith means not wanting to know the truth.