Religion: What Is Religion? What Should Religion Be?
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Religion is a most human mental dimension, concerned with the vision of a transcendental superstructure or foundation of existence – of the universe and ourselves. Religions arose from our mind’s capability for abstract visualizations, our inquisitiveness or desire to understand this world or destiny, and our search for protection, assistance, or meaning.
The followers of some religions believe that their faith originated directly from divine “revelation”. Most religious people, while believing in their own religion, consider other religions, or more primitive ones, as limited, merely imagined, false, or misdirected, especially when they result in deprivation, abuse, or violent fundamentalism.
In our time, we experience a rise of the sciences, emphasis on practical observation, and exchange of global ideas. This mental development provides mankind with a profoundly deeper view into the greatness of the universe and its history – from the origin of the first subatomic particles, forces, and laws of the appearing existence. Such view must provoke and inspire an absolutely limitless awe for the source of this universe, its origin, inherent order combined with mysterious randomness in quantum mechanics, and its evolution in time from smallest subatomic particles to a foam of diverse galaxies. This necessarily results in new challenges for historic religions which originated at historic times on our so very small Earth, with less insight.
But we still need an emotional answer, solidly based, and strong values, higher inspiration, resonance in grateful joy and comfort in suffering – while we search for a vision of our existence consistent with the newly gained insights of the sciences and within evolving modern society. We need guidance.
This essay analyzes the origin and evolution of religions, their benefits and liabilities for society, and an approach for the future, also in view of not only “global”, but above indicated “universal” considerations – see “The Path of Our Life” at the end of this essay.
Surveys indicate that the cultural evolution in our time leads to increasing “atheism” or “absence of religiosity” among the highly educated and wealthy segment of the population. This may be caused by the progress of industry and science, by more attentive observation of reality, and by global communication of diversity in cultures, thought, or faith – and by more open emphasis on “worldly pleasures” in our modern culture. On the other hand, church affiliation and attendance grows in the “developing” countries. Religious fundamentalism is on the increase, and esoteric spirituality attracts more followers. All the while, the search for a “meaning” of our life continues to occupy young and old alike.
Human inquisitiveness, the practical search for understanding this world, for protection or assistance by the forces of destiny, and the philosophical search for meaning in our lives may have been the motivation for the evolution of religions, but they are equally the motivation for the evolution of the sciences.
The sciences continue to search for the ultimate cause of existence, mainly in the physical world, but also in regard to the origin of the highly effective, interwoven laws and constants of nature (combined with quantum-mechanical randomness), and of the natural evolution at the rate in time as observed. But what if these questions lead only to mystery and awe? What room does science leave for the moral and emotional needs of humanity – in personal life, in society, in questions of social justice, international assistance, or even international interference? Can the “social sciences” – anthropology, sociology – and psychology provide adequate answers and guidance? What if they cannot?
Religions should also continue in the search for a better understanding of the “Structure Providing Essence of Existence”, of “God” – or of the assumed spiritual forces – by always questioning their own historically formulated dogma in view of new insights, of scientific reality, or of factual observation – and in view of the damage done by fundamentalism within their own faiths. But what if religions cannot change their dogma as when they see it firmly and inflexibly based on some historic “revelation”, teaching, and scripture? What is left for such religion in the future of an evolving world? Can the world tolerate religions that are abusive, weaken self-reliance, prevent the reduction of suffering, limit opportunities, or become dangerous? In the discourse with the sciences, must religions retreat and restrict themselves to the psychological needs of the human mind in longing for meaning, inspiration, comfort, and a solid foundation for human “values”? Which religion can speak for tolerance and international, global justice?
Science indicates, but religions too often do not address, the large amount of suffering, waste, and destructiveness in nature – where every organism can suffer from accidents (external and internal/genetic ones), from viral, bacterial, or fungal diseases, from parasites, from predators (humans included), and from competitors. What understanding of the “Structure Providing Essence of Existence”, of “God”, results from that?
Is there (and can one hope for) a possible convergence between the inspiration and comfort a scientist may derive from his or her vision of the universe or nature, and the one obtained by a believer in a benevolent, modern religion that encourages caring service, basic human values, self-reliance, reduction of suffering, and the increase of opportunities fairly for all in this world – and provides an emotional resonance to the searching “soul”? After all, religion is not only a matter of the searching mind, but also of the human emotion – sometimes in grateful joy, but often in great need or suffering.
A system of faith (the sum of beliefs or convictions accepted as true) beyond scientific proof concerning transcendental (not objectively and reproducibly recordable) phenomena, beings, spirits, forces, or events
A system of thought proceeding from acceptable propositions to conclusions by strict reasoning – related to a variety of fields, including certain questions of theology, ethics, and aesthetics.
Scientific Teachings or Theories:
Scientific suppositions (many unproven) based on scientific hypotheses or assumed causalities – expected to be proven by subsequent scientific and reproducible observation – but subject to change whenever new evidence becomes available. Most of scientific “knowledge”, as proven by repeatable experiments or repeatedly verified predictions, may be valid in restricted domains only and may need change when considering larger domains.
The utilization in thought of an unproven fact, uncertain event, or unproven causality merely on the basis of expected veracity.
Recognized aim, purpose, or intent in action or evolution (including ones own life).
1. What is the origin of religions?.
There is a factual or scientific way and there is also a religious way of looking at the origin of religions.
In a factual or scientific way of looking at the origin of religions, one has to consider some important observations:
- The human mind thinks in terms of causalities. If some phenomenon happened, something else must have caused it to happen – whether in the arrival of suitable weather for farmers, good luck for hunters and warriors, or personal health problems and their cures. Are superior, transcendental forces involved in the causation of events in this world?
- Human action is purpose-oriented – whether to obtain an effect or just to obtain some pleasure. In a philosophical sense, that gives each action a “meaning”. Did the creating force of the universe have any meaning in mind – for the world or for us humans?
- In an often hostile and complex world, individuals and societies have always been in need of protection, assistance, guidance, inspiration to develop strength, comfort in suffering, and support beyond their own means, especially in situations of distress. Can one obtain such protection, assistance, guidance, inspiration, comfort, and support from presumed superior forces, which can be addressed and are believed to influence and direct the events in this world and in our lives – or judge us thereafter?
- The question of one’s own or a loved one’s life and death – of appearing in life upon birth, of now actually being here, fully participating in reality, and then, after death, not to be any longer, not to exist – has always mystified thinking humans. Does the newborn come from somewhere? Does the deceased merely go somewhere else?
- There were – and always are – some individuals in any society or culture who search for a deeper understanding of factual, philosophical, or moral problems, for a deeper level of causality, meaning, and truth, and for better answers, solutions, or guidance. Some individuals are gifted with more detailed recognition, some with more holistic views, and some with a degree of fantasy.
- Religious thought takes place in the brain. Basically, human thought in the brain consists of processing perceived information and memory elements – sometimes influenced by emotions or moods. Explanations, strategies, and systems of thought are mentally developed in a combinatorial process over time – as a mansion is built out of various components (see the author’s two essays, on “Creative Thought” and “Mental Creativity”, on the website www.schwab-writings.com).
- The human brain has the capability for imagination or, in using a different word concept, for “visualizations”. Visualizations are the appearance of images, sounds, or often verbal concepts (the “inner voice”) in the awareness of the mind independent of actual sensory perceptions. These visualizations are the most important foundation of the human mind’s capability for thought, understanding, creativity – and religion. They can occur in daily life, during a conversation, in meditation, or in dreams.
- Do the transcendental spirits, or “God”, communicate directly (or through angelic messengers) with the human mind? Do they speak to selected individuals in “revelations”? The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths believe this. They firmly base their teachings on such revelations. If there are contradictions between different revelations, which ones are true? What if common observations, later evolution of society, or science disprove earlier revelations?
- Visualizations of the mind can be mentally processed and expanded as in a virtual reality. At times, they may be equated to reality (as, for example, in phases of mental creativity, strategy formulation, or storytelling – see the authors of great literature).
- The human brain is also capable of exalted states, as if being in a different reality – of great calm, torment, sensing the receiving of “revelations”, or in experiencing “enlightenment”. Muhammad is said to have foamed at the mouth when “receiving” a new Sura of the Qur’an. Buddhists can sense great peacefulness when reaching “enlightenment”.
- Most humans have the tendency to hold on to a once-accepted system of mental concepts or explanations – treating others in a depreciating or hostile way.
- Most common systems of thought, interpretations of the world, or ideologies, are based on selective observation or selective valuation (often confined by a specific culture) and by exclusion of divergent or contradictory arguments (as possibly accepted in other cultures).
The brain’s capability for and the dynamic nature of visualizations independent of sensory input is of special importance in regard to religious thought. Most people are capable of mental “manipulations” (the intentional changing) or expansions of mental visualizations. For example, manipulations of visualization occur in the minds of technical designers in the process of creating a new product. Most people can draw pictures of objects, individuals, or situations they have never seen but have heard about.
A more lifelike development of visualizations occurs to writers of fiction novels. They often experience the characters in their fictions taking on “a life of their own”. These characters can develop their own personality, go through the experiences of a fictitious life, talk as living individuals would, and make decisions that lead to plausible consequences.
Many “visualizations” of the brain are of a verbal nature (the “inner voice”), especially for people who work intensely with words, as writers or speakers do. Speech also occurs in many dreams. Other professionals, however – such as musical composers or creators of perfumes – may work primarily with non-visual and non-verbal visualizations – as with sound or fragrance-related visualizations of their respective professions.
It is not uncommon that people – and not just children – believe in the voices they hear in their minds or the stories they invent (or visualize) themselves – especially when their ideas are very intense, when the stories are important to the children, or after telling or hearing their stories often enough. This evolution of narrative, and then believing in narrative, can be observed in all historic religions and ideologies. Did this occur to Muhammad? This phenomenon occurred equally during the formation of the Christian religion; see the book “Lost Christianities” by Bart Ehrman, Oxford University Press, ISBN-13: 978-0-19-518249-1. In our own time, see the evolution of narrative in those political systems, which exaggerate personality worship of their leaders.
In the beginning, early in history, humans’ search to explain the observed phenomena of nature through findings of causality led to the assumption of causing forces to which, consequently, a reality had to be accorded. The capability to establish and enhance thought visualizations allows vague ideas or weak perceptions – for example, a breeze of air, a shadow, a noise, or an effect of light – to develop into concepts of spiritual beings. This occurs more easily when the descriptions of such beings had already been communicated by others. Therefore, the description of spiritual beings is, to a large extent, consistent within cultures, but may migrate from one culture to another.
The continued expansion of such concepts over historical times led to beliefs in a large variety of spirits or gods, as they appeared in the primitive religions of various cultures. Increasing philosophical thought, the appearance of new questions of existence in the evolution of cultures (for example, the question of the “meaning” of life or the need for better behavioral guidance), the observation of life in nature, and the explanatory thoughts by gifted or powerful individuals led to higher religions.
Such religions can be seen as realms of virtual realities, more or less consistent with observed realities or, at least, not blatantly in contradiction to them. When contradictions did arise, as after the evolution of the sciences, religions either negated such contradictions and suffered in validity and support, or the religions had to be modified. Many people live in two worlds the world of religion (on Sundays) and the world of science or business during the week.
Emotions and moods can strongly influence thought and visualizations. Emotions and moods are influenced mainly by the biochemistry of the body and the brain. Some mood-enhancing biochemical substances are produced by the body; others are absorbed into the body from nutrition, and also from coffee, alcohol, drugs, incense, fumes, and pharmaceutical products.
One can speak of a “state of mind” when exceptional calm and tranquility set in, slowing down not only the body but also the thought and visualization processes. Occasionally, this leads to a reduction of the influence on awareness coming from the mostly dominant analytical thought in the left side of the brain. Consequently, this leads to an advance of holistic, three-dimensional thought from the right side of the brain in reaching awareness. Many scientific and technical inventions occurred that way – possibly, also, many religious “insights”, as in “meditation” or withdrawal (mental exercises were developed for that purpose).
Other states of mind can include tormenting agitation, anxieties, exalted states of abstract visualizations, and the reception of “revelations” in the form of visions or divine messages (for instance, oracles, prophesies, and divine appearances).
In sum, religiosity is a consequence of the functioning of the brain in thoughts and emotions and must be expected in all human cultures.
In other words, religiosity occurs naturally and necessarily in consequence of the capability for visualizations in the course of human thought, appearing as a virtual reality in the minds of humans, especially in exalted states of mind or in meditation and prayer.
In modern thought – as in ancient times – unexplained phenomena lead to speculations concerning their causality. But in our time, scientific theories are used for explanation, assuming that, at the end, there will always be found a factual or scientific cause, not the action of a spirit or god.
There is one exception, however, and that is the question of the ultimate origin of the universe and its laws in cosmogony. Mystery remains in that point, where even a scientist can or must assume an ultimately proto-physical, super-physical, or transcendental “Structure Providing Essence of Existence”, by whatever name one may want to describe it.
This leads to the question of existence beyond our universe. If the universe is seen in a scale where our own galaxy, the Milky Way, would be of the size of a small pin head, then our whole universe would have the diameter of merely 150 meters. If a thousand years where equal to one second, our universe would have an age of a few months only. What else is there (exists) besides our universe, before its, or would be there after its, dissolution? Science has speculated, lately somewhat vaguely in the string theory, however with little convincing results.
Two main groups of concerns of the human mind find their expression in religions:
- The search for an understanding of the world, the universe, the forces of nature – their origin (Creation), evolution, and future – the possible meaning of existence – and the place of humans in that world, including the question of a life after death. Answers to these questions – or the lack thereof – may lead to confusion and despair, or they may lead to “inspiration”, to gaining inner clarity and strength with which to pursue a benevolent course through life.
- The search for protection, assistance, support, and comfort by spiritual forces and for behavioral guidance within society – assuming that God-pleasing behavior will attract divine protection or support. This concept can lead to the assumption of ultimate divine judgment and a compensating afterlife. It can also, possibly, lead to a search for escape from suffering in a Nirvana. Negative answers to these questions may also lead to despair, but some answers may lead to mental clarity consistent with the demands of life and to comfort in suffering.
As indicated before, there is also a religious way of looking at the origin of religions. One can consider the following thoughts:
- Humans evolved in nature such that they can perceive revelations by God.
- Similar to the “anthropic principle”, one can actually talk about a “theologic principle” whereby all evolution occurred such that at the end an organism occurred (humans) that can perceive divine revelation.
- One can believe that in humans God created – by way of evolution – a (subordinate) partner for communication with Him within the universe – adding a miraculous form of life and dimension of mentality to existence in the universe.
- At first, while humans were primitive, such communication between God and humans was simple and halting. But later in historic times, as mankind matured, such communication became increasingly clear and specific. Some Christians believe in a future second coming of Christ to bring even further revelation or communication.
- Revelation is the form of communication from God to humans. Prayer is the form of communication from humans to God, supplemented by ritual and sacrifice.
There are some serious problems with this religious concept of the origin of religions and the viability of communication between “God” and humans. The major reasons are the differences and contradictions between religions, their often despicable degeneration, and the absolute lack of divine response to urgent prayers in many of the calamities befalling mankind, whether self-inflicted or caused by nature.
In a moment of greatest significance in the evolution of theological thought, Pope Benedict XVI, when visiting a former concentration camp (Auschwitz) in Poland on May 28, 2006, exclaimed: “Why Lord did you remain silent? How could you tolerate this?” and “We must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: Rouse yourself! Do not forget mankind, your creature!”
Do these words imply a sharing of guilt by God in what occurred at the camps, at least by neglect? Or do these words indicate a breakdown of communication between God and us humans – indicating that God did not listen to all the cries of human despair about the camps?
At about the same time as the Pope spoke, a terrible earthquake in Indonesia killed more than 6,000 people in a poor village. Only months before, a much larger number of people was killed by the great Tsunami (as now, in 2011, by yet another Tsunami in Japan), the earthquake in Kashmir, and the violence in Iraq, now in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The wars, invasions, and great epidemics – and the summation of all the individual daily calamities – brought immeasurable suffering, outcries of despair, and calls for help! Where they heard?
All questions – including the above mentioned differences and contradictions between religions and their occasional degeneration – lead to doubts in divine participation (active or preventative) in the events of this world and, hence, to doubts about ongoing communication between God and humans or humans and God – consequently leading to doubts in the religious concept of the origin of religions..
But this still leaves the mystery of the ultimate origin of the universe and its laws in cosmogony, where even a scientist can, or must, assume an ultimately proto-physical, super-physical, or transcendental “Structure Providing Essence of Existence”, by whatever name one may want to describe it – provoking the greatest awe – whether in religious or scientific terms.
The search for an understanding of the world and its “meaning”:
Neither the various religions nor the sciences have found a final answer to the ultimate causation of Existence (Creation). They present only a description of Creation. Neither have the religions nor the sciences found a meaning of existence. Actually, religions either do not indicate a meaning of existence or leave it as being “for the pleasure” of the Creating Spirit. Additionally, science recognizes the finality of existence in its ultimate collapse or dissolution in radiation – thereby leaving no aim, purpose, or meaning for Creation.
Actually, there is little mental or behavioral difference between the firm acceptance of a specific scientific speculation (or scientific theory) and a religious belief or religion. The difference between the two lies in the value and priority one gives to various mental inputs, specifically to factual, scientific observations as opposed to traditional, spiritual visualizations or speculation.  But the academic disputes between adherents of opposed scientific theories can be as vicious as the disputes between different religious sects.
The search for protection or support by spiritual forces and for behavioral guidance:
This is the question of the foundation of ritual and of moral laws on divine revelation or dictate. It is also the question of reward or punishment in accordance with personal behavior (including sacrifices, repentance, and faith), judged by adherence to those laws – and hope for grace.
On the one hand, the appearance of moral laws in the minds of leaders of mankind or priests would have occurred in the form of an “inner voice” of thought (see the above description of mental visualizations and processes) and could easily have been seen as divine “revelation”. On the other hand, priests and common people must very well have assumed that culturally despicable acts were displeasing to their perceived exalted (yet anthropomorphic) gods and could have led to their anger – thereby anchoring moral laws in the perceptions of the expectations of their gods, often based on their culture.
Finally, it was quite common in historic times to falsely attribute important writings or statements to important personalities, thereby giving higher rank and influence to such writings or statements. This can even be found among writings included in the Bible, as proven by modern scripture analysis (for example, the discovery of the book of Deuteronomy and names given to some of the “Letters” in the New Testament). Therefore, attribution of culturally desirable moral (or hygienic) laws to divine dictate may have been common in antiquity.
In the modern world, the laws for proper behavior are based on the common human needs – security, protection of personal property and well-being, assistance when in need, certain fundamental human rights (resulting in the support of the poor or weak and providing some dignity), trustworthiness in interhuman relations or in business, and the expectation that politicians act in the common interest – not all contained in the Ten Commandments.
In this context, it is important to note that social behavior among animals was originally based on the natural appearance of ethical (unselfish) behavior in the course of evolution, as in caring for offspring or for pack members, in reciprocity with selected individuals, and in self-sacrifice for the pack. This behavior provided specific benefits in propagation or prevailing in the struggle of or for life. Therefore, the above-mentioned ethical (unselfish) behavior became anchored by nature in significant personal emotions, much refined in advanced human cultures. The success and efficiency of societies depended upon the “ethical” behavior of the members. In other words, “ethics” or “morality” are both, emotional and practical.
Consequently, a modern person can see all laws of behavior ultimately resulting from the needs of human nature (allowing for a certain diversity of cultural developments and learning). In other words, human nature is founded in Creation and in how it evolved. Is this a circuitous way of possibly anchoring moral laws again in divine will or expectation as expressed in Creation?
Several religions provided simplified models for the meaning of human life. The combination of concepts for divinely based moral laws with concepts for an afterlife led to the expectation of an intervening divine judgment to determine admission to “paradise” based on adherence to those laws. Consequently, with the increased expectation for the quality of that afterlife, real life on Earth was seen merely as an unpleasant transition in this existential mechanism of birth in sin, obedient struggle, faith, and redemption for eternal happiness.
In another model (Buddhist), in selective concentration on the suffering in this world, reincarnation and ultimate escape from miserable existence are put in the foreground, leading to the denial of opportunities for personal growth or joyful and active participation in this world.
These narrow and highly selective models of the meaning of human life totally neglect our own participation in the grandiose world we live in while we actually live – in expanding observation, in personal unfolding and growth, in caringly contributing toward better conditions for others, society, or the environment – and in joy about all the beauty in the arts and nature that our sensory and emotional formation, as a gift of nature, allowed to perceive.
In addition to ethical laws, most religions developed laws for complex or burdensome rituals and, in many cases, aberrations in laws that may once have been based on hygienic needs, cultural habits, or superstition. Examples can be found in religiously prescribed bodily mutilations, rules for the preparation of food, prohibition of certain foods, hairdos, dress codes (especially head cover), and postures – all believed in those religions as having been demanded by God, the Creator of the great universe.
The belief in life after death, at least for the “soul” – in a next world, in paradise or hell – is of special importance to some religions. The mental capability for visualizations – and, especially, the capability for dreaming – may be an explanation for these beliefs. When dreaming, a person may perceive himself or herself to live quite actively in those dreams while the body rests as if dead. The similarity of sleep and death leads to the presumed parallelism between dream and a continued existence of human awareness (or the “soul”) after death. This leads to a belief in the separation of soul and body as two different entities and in a spiritual “next world” for the souls, in the “beyond”, in heaven, or in hell. Thus, many people live in two worlds, the religious and the real one – Sundays in prayer and in church, Mondays in business or in the scientific laboratory.
Much of the above applies to the Jewish and Muslim faiths as much as it does to the Christian one. But, in all three of them, the religious justification for attacks and terrorism against non-believers or other tribes – or their cruel suppression and dislocation based on “God’s promise” – is not tolerable any longer in the modern global world. (The Masai of Africa believe that God gave them all the cattle of the world. Would we let them take possession of ours? How about the Israeli occupation and settlements in Palestine? How about the Muslim atrocities sanctioned by their religious leaders based on their selective reading of the Koran?). Ancient “divine” revelations or promises must at least be adapted to the needs of our time – if not discarded.
A word should be said about Hinduism and Buddhism. The original Hinduism possibly represents the deepest philosophical thought concerning the world in early times – obviously having been limited by the scientific knowledge and religious concepts of its time. Hinduism recognized the duality of creativity and destruction in the essence of nature, but presented the belief in one ultimate essence, in a separation of soul and body, and suggested a path toward mental peace or moral accomplishment. Religious differentiations and degradations occurred at later times, as did Hindu reform movements in modern times. The deeply engrained traditions and the promise of liberation from pervasive worldly misery by means of rituals or spiritual endeavors made it difficult to reach a unified view with modern scientific thought – leading the modern Hindu to a life in two worlds, in the escapist religious and the ever-expansive real-worldly one – the same as what happened to modern Christians.
Buddhism, even more escapist than Hinduism, started out as specifically not being a religion, but a Hindu-based philosophy concerning the conduct of life in the face of all the suffering in this world. Migration of the soul (reincarnation) and meditation exercises were accepted from the dominant Hindu religion. Religious adoration of Buddha and his relics and of lesser Buddhist saints developed later, as did the concepts of a Buddhist paradise. The meditation exercises, as in Zen, correspond to the philosophical and not-religious aspect of Buddhism and Hindu heritage. The phenomenon of “enlightenment” is merely a premium resulting from consistent meditation, providing the disciple with the pleasant sensation of “exaltation” without much practical value. Enlightenment provides the emotional feeling of virtually “understanding” the whole world, but it has never helped solve any political or practical problem.
It is specifically Buddhism that provides an asymmetrical view of existence – with exclusive emphasis on the escape from suffering while neglecting all opportunities for a “fulfilled” life in personal development, social participation, and joy. Hinduism and Buddhism both – as also the Judeo-Christian and Muslim religions – lack a central emphasis on improving the conditions here on Earth – on personal responsibility and a demand for personal initiative for an improvement of the state of our civilization and society or for the improvement of living conditions in this world.
2. What provides for the stability of religions?
Once the virtual reality of religious concepts has found a certain inner coherence and has become part of cultural tradition, even increasing contradictions with advancing thought or observations that offer better insight into actual reality at first do not result in changes of religious concepts or philosophical dogma. For example, the discovery of natural evolution with all the cruelty resulting from over-propagation and selection of the fittest – not to mention natural or technical catastrophes, the many cruel methods developed by nature for attack and defense between living beings, and the prevalence of diseases, pests, and predators among all plants and animals – did not lead to a modification of the concept of an always loving, providing, and all-planning God-Father in the Christian religion. “Intelligent Design” is still being discussed. 
The reason for adherence to once-chosen religious concepts may be a defense against the loss of mental security or destabilization of cultural values and coherence, especially since contradictory new insights initially don’t offer coherent systems of new religious thought.
The defense of the habitual religion or the habitual system of thought occurs mainly through denial, questioning of the consistency or general validity of the objections, reference to selective observations, or formation of personal preferences and priorities in assessing the importance of arguments – often in great personal hostility toward the “heretic”, “apostate”, or “infidel”.
For example, most people still see nature in a romantic view (in their garden or on a walk) and don’t care much about the cruelty therein. Most people give little thought to what the fact of “natural evolution” could mean to religious dogma. To most of us, Christ’s teachings from the “Sermon on the Mount” – of brotherly love and the ideals of humility, mercy, pureness of heart, and peacemaking – should still be the ideals for our lives in society and for this world.
Many people can still point out how prayer has helped them and how blessed their own life has been – while neglecting the tragedies of others. Do those beliefs in Divine interference form a religion of survivors and winners – neglecting the perished and the losers? What can the individuals of wasted or crushed lives believe in, who also fervently appealed to their God without response, especially when the victims were innocent or youngsters? Just look at the tsunamis, earthquakes, and horrors of war – and the daily reports of crimes and accidents – or visit a pediatric hospital. What was the guilt or “sin” of all these victims? The response that their suffering is merely meant as a lesson for the survivors is either thoughtless or immensely cruel. Even Pope Benedict XVI, in his above-mentioned speech on May 28, 2006, at a former concentration camp, exclaimed: “Why Lord did you remain silent? How could you tolerate this?” and “We must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: Rouse yourself! Do not forget mankind, your creature!”
In our time, most people give little thought to what the recent discovery of the cosmic vastness, the expectation of extraterrestrial intelligence, and the ultimate dissolution of the whole universe, as shown by astronomy and astrophysics, mean to theology.
In a weak defense of present thinking, it is often pointed out that Christ’s sacrifice for us here on Earth may have meant to apply to all civilizations in all of the universe at all times. Would that also be retroactive by billions of years when applied to earlier civilizations in cosmic times? Are we the only sinful and redeemed species in the universe?
Each religion still attempts to find enough selective observations or arguments – strained as they may be – that justify its continued existence. In case of contradictions, people often willfully define what they consider the most important issue, argument, or explanation applicable to their own religion, thought, or lives, while suppressing others.
Commonly, the administrators of religions – the priests – do not want to lose their positions. Simple people do not want to lose the traditions they are endeared to – that provide security and comfort in suffering – even the hope for a much better existence in a world-to-come, as in the case of Christianity and Islam – or the hope for escape from suffering, as in Buddhism.
There is another interesting example of selective observation for the benefit of religious stability. Pope Benedict XVI, in his book about Jesus, follows specific words in the New Testament to their prior use in various places in the Old Testament, leading to interpretations. He interprets the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount as projections toward the future Christian Church and its followers. In comparison, the configurations of stars in the sky of the night (Orion, the Big and Small Dipper, etc) were interpreted as significant images by earlier cultures – not knowing that the individual stars of such configurations find themselves at vastly varying distances from Earth. Therefore, only a minor side movement in space would let the configurations disappear – and new ones appear. This may also hold for seeing specific configurations in highly complex intellectual or historic fields.
3. What provides for the change or evolution of religions?
Human religious thought went already once through a large step of abstraction when animist polytheism was displaced by faith in only one God in heaven.
Initially, each human clan or tribe had its own god, as perceived in the mental world, language, and art of the respective tribe, with emphasis on tribe-specific characteristics of survival, good luck, and thought. Even the god of Israel initially was only a tribal god, accepted as one among many others of other tribes – specifically among those of the leading civilizations of Biblical times, the Assyrians, Phoenicians, and Egyptians.
As larger questions loomed, mainly the question of the creation of the world, not all those gods could be supreme. Only one of them could have been the true Creator. Obviously, it always was – and still is among modern religions – the own tribe’s god who was declared supreme – a difficult problem as empires, travel, and commerce grew and, consequently, the horizon of philosophical thought. Many cruel religious wars were the sad consequences.
The transition from the polytheism of primitive cultures to monotheism was not an easy one. The quiet springs in nature no longer harbored nymphs, the wild oceans were no longer ruled by Poseidon, and the sun was not a God-driven heavenly chariot any longer.
How was it possible that all those deities that were so evident before, were now, all of a sudden, said never to have existed? Had all those people of times past prayed in vain, addressing their prayers to spiritual emptiness, to figments of their imagination?
The diverse Christian cults of saints and the adoration of Mary, with numerous chapels and places of pilgrimage where absolution could be obtained, were substitutes serving all those naive, sincere, and often suffering people and did them good. More importantly, the new hope for admission to a wonderful “paradise” and the vision of a loving God-Father, combined with the social structure of the people in supportive congregations, facilitated the transition from the pagan world to the new religion.
Science and knowledge have progressed in the modern world. Our modern life takes place in an urbane, global culture with knowledge of astronomy, astrophysics, biology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and the expectation of extraterrestrial life in many places in the universe. This knowledge-based cosmic view brings the necessity for another step in the development of religious thought and dogma. Theology must not only explain human spiritual life (or afterlife), it must see the world not just in human dimensions. Modern theology must also include the greatness and the dynamic character of the universe, nature, and mind. Modern theology must not only address the question of the origin of the world (cosmogony), the anchoring of moral laws, and purpose of human existence, but also the pervasive injustice and cruelty in natural evolution, the multiple great catastrophes throughout the geological ages, and the future vanishing of our own Earth and of all the many billions of galaxies in a cosmic collapse in Black Holes or in the coldness of ever-expanding radiation. This leads to the question of putting us humans into our place in this universe – or “multiverse” – what it really may be.
But how does the change or evolution of religions occur in view of the strong stabilizing forces of religions and their hierarchies as indicated before?
History indicates that there is a difference between minor evolutionary changes within the context of established religions, and greater “reformations” or new ideas (“disruptive innovations”) leading to new forms of an earlier religion or to totally new religions.
The minor changes may result from variations in ritual, emphasis on specific aspects of a religion or merely neglect of others, invigorating activism leading to a variation in emphasis, new theological thought complementing the existing one, and, in most cases, from strong personalities with their own personal views and preferences. Examples are the appearance of the numerous monastic orders in the Catholic Church, of the many Protestant churches or sects, of the various Jewish variations of faith or culture, and of the many Muslim sects. In our time of religious crisis in the modern world, many church leaders would like to provide new vigor to their respective religions through selective emphasis on proper new ideals (or slogans), new forms of organization (or activist groups), and, if necessary, new rituals (or music), primarily appealing to the young generation.
The accumulation of many small changes within a religion can lead to almost a new religion. Is the Catholic Church of today the same as it was 2,000 years ago when Christianity existed merely among the disciples and personal followers of Christ? Are all the communities of the Jewish faith today the same as the religious community of Jews shortly after the Exodus and before the Assyrian onslaught more than 2,500 years ago? Have the diverse Muslim faith communities remained the same as the Muslim community of Medina in the time of Muhammad 1,400 years ago? Are the various Buddhist branches still close to the original community of monks living with Buddha about 2,600 years ago?
In the course of such cumulative changes, not all religions rise to new height. Some deteriorate. Of Lao-tse’s sublime teachings, only migrating “monks” peddling remedies remained for a while. Of the Shinto religion, little more than naturalistic rituals remain now. Some of the original religions of Central America – for example, the Aztecs – deteriorated into mass killings during certain sacrifices for the sustenance of the Sun-God.
Major changes of religions were not always intended to be the starting point of new religions. They may have been merely meant to “reform” existing ones. However, the rejection of such reforms by the establishment or hierarchies and support for the new ideas by the public forced those budding movements to further elaboration and a stronger stand – ultimately leading to the formation of new religions and churches. Such developments are based primarily on the strength of the founders or leaders of such movements, whether Jesus, a Lubavitcher Rebbe, Buddha, Luther, or some modern spiritual innovator or guru.
4. What is the reason for the diversity of religions?
There are two main reasons for the diversity of religions: the selective emphasis on very specific problems or visions and the diversity of the cultures where the religions emerge.
For the primitive religions of the North, the change of the seasons and the territorial fight with neighboring tribes was in the foreground. For the philosophers of the eastern Middle East or western Asia – of the tribes who later migrated into India – the contradiction between creativity and destruction in nature constituted a central mystery. For Buddha, suffering and death were the central problems of life. For the Jews of 2,000 years ago, liberation by a Messiah was a central hope, expected only when all the laws would be faithfully observed by all the people. For Saint Paul, the sinfulness of all humans, redemption through Christ, and, mainly, admission to paradise were the key elements of human existence and attractiveness of the Christianity which he preached to the pagan world. In other words, most religions are founded on the emphasis of specific human problems or hopes.
Modern life emphasizes opportunities at least equally with problems. Problems can be more easily resolved or tolerated if success is found in the pursuit of opportunities. There were directions of religiosity that emphasized certain role models of their times – the powerful hero-image – but not the positive evolution of society as we see it in our time in economic progress and social justice. Urukagina did not become a saint of a religion – and neither did Solon, Archimedes, Marc Aurel, Charles Magne, Ford, or Edison.
Culture is a major factor in the origin and evolution of religions. As indicated before, the explanation of some miraculous phenomenon in nature or perceptions of the mind occurs more easily when the descriptions of such events had already been communicated by others. Therefore, the description of spiritual beings is, to a large extent, consistent within cultures. For example, the appearances of Mary, mother of Jesus, occurred often in Catholic areas but never in Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, or purely Buddhist areas. The god of the Jews never spoke to any Chinese, Huns, Africans, or Germanic tribes. Stories of the creation of the world or of humans always occurred in the geographic area of the narrating culture. The question remains, why there did no (or very few) divine verbal “revelations” occur in Asia or Africa.
Contact between different cultures through conquest or trade can lead to the migration of religious concepts from one culture to another. Examples for such migrations are the various innovations that occurred in ancient Greek or Roman religious convictions and rituals – and, ultimately, the introduction of Christianity. Some additional examples are the newer concepts of “paradise” and the modern demand for religious practical charity in the Buddhist world. There is reason to ask whether there was any influence from the 600 years older Buddhist (or Confucian or Taoist) philosophies or religions to the nascent Christian world by way of the already existing Silk Road.
Christ’s teaching of a new understanding of God and His laws for mankind could have occurred only in the Jewish world. Muhammad’s teaching could have occurred only in the remnant areas of the Roman-Christian-Jewish world. Buddha’s teaching of escape from reincarnation could have happened only in the Hindu Indian world.
In other words, there is a correlation or interdependence between cultures and religions. Religions are a product of specific cultures. But it is also true that religions form cultures. In this sense, cultures become the product of religions.
5. What is the content of truth of religions?
The concept of “truth” is more easily employed in matters of science than in matters of ethics, human behavior, or taboos. Consequently, religions should refrain from authoritative statements about nature (including the functioning of the human mind, even its occasional criminality) that could or should be subject to scientific exploration. This also includes the descriptions of the process of “Creation” and of the subsequent “natural” evolution of the world. But, as indicated before, the aboriginal source of the energy of the universe (as expressed in the abstract phenomenon of the fields harbored and propagated by empty space) and of the structure of the universe (as given by the laws, principles, and constants of nature) – in other words, the question of the “Structure Providing Essence of Existence” – remains a mystery and, thereby, open to transcendental (beyond physics) interpretation, whether one considers that as a religious or just an open-minded view of this question.
Should, or could, statements about the existence or non-existence of a “soul” be a matter of the sciences?
Should, or could, all matters of morals or ethics be a matter of anthropology, sociology, and psychology only?
Should, or could, the definition of values for our personal lives, our societies, and world order be a matter of the sciences?
Should the concept of “sin” and “guilt” be redefined in view of the modern psychological understanding of criminal behavior?
Should the accomplishments or failures of individuals be seen in the context of their natural gifts (or the lack of those), their upbringing, and their environment?
What religious proscription for rituals and restrictions in nutrition can ever be based on global “truth”?
Can taboos be defined in a rational manner consistent with all cultures on Earth – and could they contain any “truth”?
As long as these questions cannot lead to scientific enquiry (including repetitive experiments, test groups, or predictions with consistent outcomes), one cannot speak of scientific approaches – nor about factual “truths” – in assessing the answers to those questions.
Alternatively, as long as the answer to these questions cannot be arrived at with unquestionable logic, one cannot speak of “philosophical truth”.
As long as not all religions concur in answering these questions, one cannot speak of a religious “certainty” (if not truth) of global validity in the assessment of these questions.
Yet, there are some universally accepted ethical standards concerning the protection of life, property, and human dignity. These standards are covered by most religious commands. Are they, consequently, universally “true”?
Some comments on taboos:
Moral or ethical behavior can be defined as “unselfish behavior for the benefit of another individual or society”. Taboos exist largely in regard to sexual matters – including the covering or exposure of certain regions of the body, certain movements, or verbal expressions.  The social benefits of taboos can be seen in reducing excessive sexual arousal in order to protect marital fidelity and young women. This would constitute an “ethical” reason for taboos. All else would be cultural, aesthetic, or mostly hygienic – and part of the culture-forming task or culture-expressing part of religion.
A more fundamental question of religious truth concerns the “belief in God”. This belief, or its denial, is seen as the cornerstone of “believing” and of “religion”. This is the question of “faith”, “a-religiosity”, or “atheism”.
Can fully rational people and scientists believe in God? Such individuals should consider that science is built on the assumption that existence is not fully arbitrary and random. The fact that we exist, and observe the universe as it is, indicates that there is a general validity of the laws of nature throughout our universe. In their origin (within the Big Bang) one can see the action of a “Structure Providing Essence of Existence”, as indicated before. What is the difference between a faith in God or a rational or scientific vision of that Structure Providing Essence of Existence? In other words, the matter of truth regarding the questions of a-religiosity and atheism is either a matter of lack of searching for the ultimate foundation of our existence or simply a matter of different verbal concepts (or definitions or understandings of what “God” actually is – or is not).
What does remain as the content of truth in religion – one should say, as the possible truth of some religions? Parallel to science, it is the vision of some ultimate transcendental (not “physical”) essence of existence that provided for its structure, including ours, and thereby, for its origin (or existence), evolution, and ultimate end. In other words, there is little fundamental difference between the scientist’s search for the origin of the order in the world, including the scientist’s expectation of universal validity of the laws of nature, and a religious person’s faith in God.
The difference between the sciences and religions come from the fact that most religions added in their beliefs the assumptions of certain character traits of God, often very human ones. The problem lies in the fact that these character traits often (or, mostly,) cannot be generally confirmed by factual observation or, too often, are clearly contradicted by general observation.
Also parallel to the social sciences and psychology – recognizing that we humans are social beings by nature – most religions present the demand that we follow certain basic ethical laws, as in the protection of life, property and human dignity. There remains a wide area of uncertainty in detail – as about euthanasia, abortion, divorce, the death penalty, the conduct of wars, the amount of social obligations, international aid and all the ritual or nutritious laws.
Beyond these fundamental questions, historic cultural developments have indicated a variety of possible ways toward “fulfillment”, without providing any permanent and universal “truth”. There was hero worship in ancient times, not leading beyond endless tribal warfare. All the following great monarchies, from Roman times on, attempted to see their right to rule based on divine mandate – leading among their subjects to an acceptance of one’s position or one’s cast in life.
In several religions the view prevailed that fulfillment of human life consisted of having to go through trials and temptations in this world in order to be admitted to paradise or Nirvana in the next one after death – unless “faith” provides one with “redemption” – ignoring the great cruelty in such a view when seeing all the calamities overcoming so many of the innocent and children and also ignoring the pervasive cruelty in nature.
In our time, rising wellbeing and, mainly, increasing information led to seeing human fulfillment in certain forms of democracy – even within theocracies – and, mainly, in increasing social responsibility. This brings “Christian” social values to the center of ethical thought, as the most appropriate ethical conviction for mankind’s course – as expressed in either Christian, Jewish, or Muslim confessions. However, independent of such traditionally formed “religious” thought, the renaissance, enlightenment, and the success of the scientific-industrial revolution in the modern world led to a tacit acceptance of human fulfillment in personal mental growth through learning or exploration, and the acceptance of the arts among the substantial forms of fulfillment for mankind, whether God-demanded or demanded by our human nature as it had been formed through natural evolution.
But there remains contradiction between most of the religions and the sciences in the question of the existence of a soul, an ultimate judgment of all souls by God, and the immortality of the souls in either paradise or hell. These questions may remain as religious beliefs but not as “truths”.
6. What are the potential benefits or liabilities of religion?
Religions – once, in historic times, the all-encompassing search for understanding of the world, but now, after the spin-off of science as a separate endeavor of the human mind, remaining restricted to the understanding of issues of spirituality – have lost the benefit of explaining the process of the origin of existence as in old Creation stories. Science has taken over the explaining of the beginning of the universe. But neither religions nor science are able to further explain the ultimate foundation of existence in either God or a “Structure Providing Essence of Existence” of a universe or multiverse – or the characteristics of those.
An additional potential benefit of religion had been expected from a presentation of “meaning” for human life, thereby providing direction, inspiration, and comfort. But neither religions nor science are able to explain any reason or purpose for the origin of existence, for the physical universe, and, consequently, any meaning for human existence. This is especially the case in view of the limited duration of existence of our universe. But, if there are any speculations about the cause for the appearance of existence and our universe, should they not be identical between religions and science?
What remains are decisions by human individuals or cultures which direction to follow in fulfilling their potential in existence. The preceding chapter discussed the variety of possible directions as offered by historic cultural developments, spiritual leaders, religions, or speculation. It takes a personal decision, “taking a stand”, in deciding upon a direction one wants or feels that one has to pursue in life. Observation indicates that fulfillment could be found not only in one perspective , but in three different ones: In personal mental or cultural evolution, but also in dedicate caring, in social coherence based on human emotions, “values”, or benefit for society, and, additionally, in the appreciation of beauty in art and nature.
Religions are expected to provide the benefit of emotional and philosophical inspiration or comfort in distress in providing the view of a humanly understandable and reachable divine force beyond any “cold” scientific logic. But it is precisely this humanized view of a Structure Providing Essence of existence, of God, that practical observation and science cannot confirm.
But both, the religious and the scientific view, provide a firm foundation of values in a view of a social and emotional human nature beyond a cold and selfish interpretation.
The benefit of religions is often seen in their culture-stabilizing and –maintaining effect, especially by the “conservative” groups of society, whether in the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist world, which see in modern innovation a degradation of values and, possibly, a risk for the survival of their respective culture. Nationalistic elements are often mixed in with religious considerations – and with priestly interests.
On the other hand, fundamentalism must be seen as one of the great problems of our time (especially in the form of terrorism). Progressive groups of society see essential benefit – if not the mission of mankind – in progress.
The great liabilities of religions occur when they lead to inadequate handling of the problems of life, leading to depravation or violence and preventing improvement – whether in the reduction of suffering or the opening of opportunities fairly for all.
The historic formation and organizational structure of most religions prevent their evolution or mental growth consistent with the development of cultures, knowledge, and thought.
The problems associated with the formation of professional organizations with priestly hierarchies present additional liabilities for most religions.
7. What would life be without religions?
The main concern of religious people is that a loss of religiosity would lead to immoral, selfish, materialistic behavior and would leave no meaning in life.
This fear is based on the wrong assumption that ethics and all moral rules are based solely on divine command. But, as a matter of fact and as shown before, ethics evolved naturally at an early time of animal evolution as a benefit for procreation and survival resulting from “social” behavior of groups of animals. Care for offspring and genetically related individuals, reciprocity in behavior with selected members of the group, and readiness for sacrifice for the group became the genetically imprinted behavior patterns of social animals and humans (and, unfortunately, revenge or retribution seeking as well). As civilizations arose in the course of human evolution, cultural learning greatly expanded these basic behaviors in accordance with genetically anchored ethical emotions and their resulting practical utility. Visionary leaders brought the formulation of “laws” of conduct. Modern societies introduced detailed civic legislation for protection and conduct.
In other words, genetically anchored human emotions and utility for society will always restrain excessive selfishness and destructive abuse by individual members of society. Even if societies would reject religiosity, they would introduce laws (as they largely have done already) to control behavior – and, thereby, would attempt to retain “moral” and beneficial behavior.
This explains the similarity of the rules of conduct between widely different cultures, from the Sumerians (see Urukagina) to Europe (see Isaiah, Christ, or Muhammad), China (see Kung-Fu-Tzu), and the Incas (see the reflections of Pachacutec).
There is a practical concern that, in the absence of religions, there would be less charity, less giving to the needy in society or those suffering from calamities in distant parts of the world. There were not enough surveys yet to confirm or contradict this point. It could be that small individual donations as organized by churches would be lacking. On the other hand, the level of donations from the increasingly secular population of the developed countries of the West did not get smaller. Natural human ethical emotions still seem to prevail in basically ethical societies or “cultures” independent of religion.
There are equal, or even more important, questions concerning political consequences if or when the dominance of religious concepts would disappear.
- What if Christians were to find out that there is no compensation for good behavior on Earth, no afterlife, no heaven, no hell and, consequently, no last judgment by God?
- What if Jews were to find out that God never established any laws for self-mutilation, dress code, nutrition, or ritual, did not hold any preference for the Jewish people, and did not promise them any land?
- What if Muslims were to find out that there never was an angel to have whispered into Muhammad’s ear, that God did not demand that apostates be killed or women veiled, and that there will be no paradise – especially not for suicidal killers of other humans?
- What if Buddhists were to find out that there is no reincarnation and no Nirvana as a prize for escapism in monasteries?
- Would the world be better off if all religious hierarchies were to disappear, together with their dogmas?
- Would not the world still need emotional inspiration, comfort in distress, and moral direction?
- Would not people still need congregations for mutual support and for maintaining a benevolent direction?
- Would everybody come to realize that we better begin to concentrate on the one life that we now have, in this world, on this spaceship Earth that we will never be able to leave in any large numbers?
- What should we read, and what inspiration can we obtain, from the observation of this world and its evolution to make sense as a direction to pursue?
- Would it not come down to the goals of personal growth, caring service to others in a global ethic, as in a global family (combined with stewardship for nature) – and joy over the beauty in this world?
- Should we not be more aware of the many fellow human beings who struggle through life, who suffer from some of the many human afflictions, who are absorbed by their compassion for the suffering of a loved one, who are utterly lonely, who see no use or meaning in their life, or who feel rejected by the world? Should we not have more time for them and more readily offer a helping hand or just our presence at their side – when no spiritual force is there to help them?
- Can we not find comfort in knowing that one day our course through life will be completed and we will find peace in returning to nature, to the universe, to Creation in its transcendental essence – hopefully going home with a “clean heart”?
8. What benefits and problems derive from organized religion – congregations, churches?
Most religions attempt to modify, change, or control the behavior patterns of their adherents – also describable as “personality modification”, personality change, or control. The phenomenon of “personality” – its stability, variability, and multiplicity of expression – is discussed in detail in the essay “Personality”, in the section on “Brain-Mind”, on the website “www.schwab-writings.com”. As indicated in that essay, and as widely shown by experience, the expression of personality is influenced by the surrounding “culture”. Such “cultural personality stability” is maintained as long as the surrounding culture remains. In other words, someone converted to the behavior of a specific religious group will maintain that behavior more easily and longer if he or she is surrounded by other members of that group. This is the reason for, and support of, “congregations” (or mini-cultures) and participation in their activities. By maintaining congregations, the specific religions attempt to protect themselves against loss of membership through dispersion.
For the individual member of a congregation, support and comfort in a situation of distress can be of greatest value, especially when no family support is available. The sharing of resources and the support of the needy was one of the earliest functions of the Christian congregations as they originated (see the election of Stephanus and six other “deacons”, at first for the care of elderly widows). Support of the disoriented ones of any age, of the distressed, and of the lonely ones may be equally important in our time.
Role models are an important support in finding and pursuing a course through life. Congregations commonly provide role models, either in the person of their founder or in other historic personalities. Many people select their role models from a wide array of living or historic personalities. These can form a “virtual congregation” for the subject individual, providing most of the functions of a real congregation. Actually, it is a good advice for life to have available or to form such a group of role models, tutors, teachers, sponsors, or friends – in spiritual life as in business (networking).
In situations of uncertainty, as under the impact of new developments, the existence of congregations permits arriving at a commonly acceptable course of action – and continued coherence. In an organized setting, this leads to “dogma”, binding statements clarifying matters of belief, interpretation, and behavior. This process can begin early in the development of a religion – or late – for example, by defining those teachings that are considered authentic and binding – resulting in a canon, preferably in written form.
Large congregations or the existence of a multiplicity of congregations can easily lead to a superimposed structure and, hence, a religious hierarchy – providing further assurance of coherence and establishment of commonly accepted dogma and a canon of scriptures.
While this development is useful for the continuation of a religion, it has the very negative consequence of rendering further evolution of religious thought very difficult, as necessary when new insight is gained regarding the nature and essence of existence by the sciences, observation, or global idea exchange! Even in secular thought, it was proven almost impossible to change the constitution of a country. It is even more difficult to change the “confession of faith” of a religion or to let modern thought go beyond the thought of the founder of the religion. The problem with formal religions and their hierarchies is that there is no longer any “exit” in the evolution of thought! This is especially problematic in our time with the Muslim faith, since Mohammed declared himself as the last of all prophets, not permitting another one to follow him. Could his modern re-appearance be hoped for?
Only a break with the past and with the hierarchy, a breakthrough, can bring the evolution of thought in most religions and churches. Such breakthroughs occur at random, under the influence of random events or the random appearance of another great thinker at the right time, when cultures are ready to accept change. The “faithful” of the prior belief remain in their “church”, while the founder of new thought has to start his own – and new – church. Subsequently, thought-evolution progresses as possible under the circumstances in those times – presenting another example of the basic principle of evolution.
In the Christian faith, future priests spend years in a seminary to learn the intricacies of their theology, allowing them to have answers consistent with their school of theology to all future questions of life possibly addressed to them. On the other hand, they then sit like in a cage of thought, not allowing alternate visions. Jesus indicated that one should merely look at nature to better understand God and find guidance in life (Matthew 6, V 26 – 28). But the natural sciences, or cognitive psychology explaining the human mind, did not exist in those days.
Islam also trains its religious leaders for many years on the foundation of the Qur’an and the Hadith in order to develop a coherent and consistent view of reality in their sense. Then, they also sit as if in a mental cage. But the Qur’an also points toward observation of nature, see Surah 30 (Al Rum), especially prior and in Verses 31 and 49, and other Suras.
The Buddhists spend much time in monasteries and in guided contemplation, to follow the rules of Buddha, developing a single view of existence here on Earth – as in a mental cage.
The Ultra-Orthodox Jews study the Bible and the Talmud to have a full understanding of God and their life – another mental cage.
The communists, during their time of reign (from Stalin to Mao, Pol Pot, and others) also developed their theories of society and the role of the individuals therein – freezing themselves in mental cages.
As much as each one of these theologies of established religions or ideologies devoted the best of their follower’s minds, their mental systems remained different from each other and different from the modern observation of nature and the sciences (or psychology).
It is interesting to note that the participants in each “cage” think of the other ones as erroneous or inadequate, attacking new thought as heretic – hostility often reaching violence.
What if all those cages of established religions and ideologies would break open one day – and only the study of the world where we find ourselves, of nature, (and of the characteristics of the human mind), would remain? What answers to all the problems and opportunities of the world would be developed then – and further developed and modified as we advance?
Established religions or ideologies and their hierarchies have never permitted mental progress – and condemned those who competed or progressed. Are firmly established religions or ideologies really a blessing?
9. Would other “conscious”, extraterrestrial beings in the universe have any religion?
The answer to this question depends upon what one considers “religion” and what “speculation” – with some shades of conviction in between. From an extraterrestrial view of human thought, the development of increasingly sophisticated religions in the course of historic developments of cultures on Earth can be seen as “speculations” of the human mind concerning questions of existence beyond the reach of human understanding. All “revelations” were more or less the expressions of the concerns and limited capabilities for perception of their times – often the best and most noble ones, providing directions for their respective cultures, but sometimes leading to dangerous detours, even disasters.
Other extraterrestrial, conscious beings in the universe that have created civilizations mastering some technologies must also think in terms of causalities, as we do on Earth. That would lead them to ask for causalities not only in matters of weather, luck in hunting or war, and health, but also in matters of cosmogony and destiny in general – possibly also concerning the foundation of morality. From then on, it is either a matter of speculation or of deciding to believe in specific answers to those questions.
All extraterrestrial civilizations must also have originated through a process of evolution – since they cannot have appeared all at once after their respective celestial bodies had cooled enough to allow for the evolution of life. Consequently, a wide variety of religiosity must be expected among extraterrestrial civilizations – of various height, complexity, and dominance, depending upon their cultural history and level of civilization.
It is not necessary that all possible cosmic “religions” address the same questions. Some may address only cosmogony, leaving everything else to the recognition of the actions of the laws of nature. Others may include questions of divine “intelligent design” in natural evolution and divine interference or guidance in destiny. It is not necessary, however, that all cosmic religions anchor their moral laws on religious foundations of “revelations”.
Some extraterrestrial civilizations may possess the mental capability of emotions as a basis of morality (as here on Earth); others may not possess emotions or may have totally different dimensions of mentality – as unknown to us and, therefore, not included in our religious thought.
The least likely is an extraterrestrial repetition of the Christian church’s belief in the fundamental sinfulness of all humans, in a “son of God” who appeared among those extraterrestrial beings to be sacrificed through a cruel death for the forgiveness of all their “sins” (that otherwise would not have been forgiven) by an always loving “God-Father” for those who “believe” in him, and in eternal life for all “souls”. 
The appearance of one or several “blessed” teachers among extraterrestrial civilizations leading the evolution of their cultural values is more likely – and can even be expected.
10. What is “cosmotheology”?
“Cosmotheology” is a term describing the attempt to define a theology that has validity in the whole universe, including other, extraterrestrial civilizations. The basic problems in pursuing this thought result from the variety of basic perspectives concerning God:
- God the Creator – but also the one who lets the whole world come to an end or dissolution in the future
- God seen as still active, interfering with or guiding the evolution of nature and history
- The personal God who can be appealed to and who responds to such appeals
- The judging God who has issued moral laws and will judge all humans (and also all other intelligent beings in space) upon death – promising rewards in afterlife or a next world in paradise (for all?) or punishment in hell
- The inscrutable God who issues moral laws but lets injustice, immorality, indescribable suffering, major or minor catastrophes, and utter waste of created beings exist in this world (the question of “theodicy”)
With extraterrestrial civilizations, the first two questions of creation and ongoing action, or interference, could end in scientific explanations or speculation, but they could also end in commonly accepted “assumptions” that are therefore equivalent to “beliefs” and, thereby, forms of religion. So far, our rapidly progressing science on Earth indicates a transcendental beginning of the universe – or a foundation in a multiverse of many universes without any beginning in time – still constituting a transcendental answer to the question of beginning.
Ongoing divine action is not seen by science unless one considers quantum-mechanical probabilities as divine interferences, specifically if they lead to large consequences in the sense of chaos theory. So far, though, no clear deviations from random probability have been observed. This leaves the divine influence only with the original establishment of the characteristics of the universe and its starting condition, allowing for a large variety of probabilistic outcomes within the confines of the laws of nature (including quantum mechanics).
The question of a “personal” God would have to be investigated by a form of “quantitative theology”, including “scientific” experiments and quantitative statistical research – including some aspects of psychology. General (quantitative) observation will indicate to other civilizations in space, too, that divine response to prayer cannot be expected.
The questions of “sin”, moral laws, judgment, and reward relate to the emotional side of human existence. Beings that do not know emotions may know deviations from standards, but may not attribute any guilt to the deviations. They may see actions (or thoughts) as right and technically correct or useful – or as wrong and technically incorrect or counterproductive.
Even in our human world on Earth, we increasingly see “sin” or criminality as a psychological problem of genetic disposition and environmental influences. Corrective action may require a degree of deterrence by public punishment, but more often the isolation of the incurable deviant, re-education where possible, and subsequent immersion into a different cultural environment. Cosmotheology would not see this differently, thus leaving little room for a belief in a last divine judgment after death.
The ultimate dissolution of our universe does not allow for a concept of permanent storage of all the “souls” of all human and of all extraterrestrial beings for “eternity” (in a “paradise” or whatever other storage area). This eliminates the expectation of compensation in an afterlife and, consequently, the expectation of a last judgment. Some people feel the judgment in their last moment of conscious life – but others may not.
What if some other civilizations in the universe do not know emotions? What if others know dimensions of mind unknown to us? As little as an emotionless being can understand our religion could we understand or formulate a religion or theology including some mental dimensions unknown to us.
The last question, the question of “theodicy”, is the most critical one in connection with the previous ones. Ultimately, a universally valid theology would have to be consistent with the observations related to theodicy (pervasive injustice, immorality, and indescribable suffering in all of nature, in major or minor catastrophes, and utter waste of large numbers of created beings). As one does not want to burden a God-image with characteristics of intentional cruelty or neglect – often hurting especially the young, the helpless, and the old – one arrives at an image of a not-interfering God. Consequently, one also arrives at the image of a not-personally-responsive God. This is the serious question Pope Benedict XVI faces now after his speech of May 28, 2006.
What remains is an understanding of the origin of the universe – of the origin of its energy content, its granulation, and its governing laws – as a transcendental essence at the foundation of existence, whatever name we give it, grandiose beyond human understanding. In the recognition of this transcendental essence and our place in the universe, we can find great peace for our souls and strength to act in this world – in a form of deeply felt humble religiosity, gratefulness, acceptance of suffering, and dedication.
What remains for us humans is no other meaning of existence than to be here because the creating force had wanted it or facilitated it – for possibly no other reason but for the “pleasure of God” – as historic thinkers defined it. Another purpose or “meaning” cannot be seen in Creation.
What can be seen as well in a concept of cosmic theology – and which is of paramount importance for our lives – is a purpose or direction that we personally can give our own lives, a fulfillment of the limited time we have in existence, to be directed by personal initiative and in personal responsibility.
This can be seen in fulfilling our “promise”, in developing our potential capabilities and skills, in exploring as far as we can reach..
Equally important in our emotional world on Earth and for other cosmic emotional cultures is the contribution to this world in pursuing the “Christian” values, in an attitude of caring assistance and service not only to our families – where children and partners are entitled to live in love, security, and support or with favorable guidance – but also to others – beyond the own tribe, the community – and to nature at large – while constraining our “inverse” emotions for revenge or retribution.
We received the gift of emotions, including love and aesthetic sensitivity. This allows us to seek joy in social contact and in observing the universe, more specifically in positively pursuing various forms of the arts and culture.
But all this leaves us alone in overcoming inertia, in struggling through decisions in the conflicting situations of daily life, in often severe suffering, in heartrending compassion with loved ones, in loneliness, and in the feeling of dejection. At best, the compassionate proximity of a fellow human being (or just a dog) may give comfort – until we find wonderful peace when leaving this life and return to where we came from.
11. What should religion be?
A religion (or theology) that should be accepted equally by all and would not be in contradiction to obvious science and observation would have to address the five fundamentally different perspectives concerning a faith in God as discussed in the preceding chapter. The resulting considerations would form the structure of a searched for religion and have consequences for the assumed meaning of human life, possibly providing direction for behavior – individually and for societies:
- God the Creator – admired in awe for the greatness of the appearing existence, but also mysterious as the one who lets the whole world come to an end or dissolution in the future – leaving all anthropomorphic descriptions as “God the Creator” or “God Father” appear as inadequate.
- The question of the existence of a still active God – interfering with, or guiding, the evolution of nature and history – in view of pervasive contradicting scientific observation
- The question of the existence of a personal God – who can be appealed to and who responds to such appeals – in view of all the catastrophes, accidents, and criminality overwhelming the innocents and children who are screaming or praying for help
- The question of the existence of a judging God – who has issued moral laws and will judge all humans upon death, promising rewards in an afterlife or a next world, in paradise or punishment in hell – in view of modern knowledge of the human mind and the structure of the universe
- The question of the existence of an inscrutable God – who issues moral laws to mankind but lets injustice, immorality, indescribable suffering, major or minor catastrophes, and utter waste of large numbers of created beings exist in this world as it was “created” (the question of “theodicy”)
The answer to – or only the consideration of – these questions must necessarily lead to further abstraction of our view of the transcendental force at the foundation of Creation (removed from any physical or anthropomorphic description), of the laws of nature, and of our human existence – here merely named the “Structure Providing Essence of Existence”.
A further evolution of religiosity, a new and generally valid religion, or the replacement of “religion” in the traditional sense by a new vision consistent with our present knowledge is needed; see the following thoughts:
There is no doubt that the consideration of Creation – especially its intellectuality in its granulation, the structure of its laws, constants, or principles of nature, its potential for emotionality, its great beauty, and its course through time – must lead to a religious “awe”, a “faith”, a scientific theory, philosophy, or assumption of a universe-structuring essence of existence or transcendental spirituality that traditional religions can call “God”, totally abstract as this concept may actually have to be, but more grandiose than human comprehension.
The assumption of a still active God runs into scientific counterarguments of natural evolution – as in the current controversy between the religious “Intelligent Design Theory” and evolutionary sciences. More so, the prevalent lack of fairness, justice, or compassion in nature – the actual cruelty and often senselessness – and the equally cruel and often senseless developments in history. This would lead to a rather horrible image of a God who would be thus active – or who has failed to be active in avoiding or negating critically horrible developments. Therefore, the assumption of a non-active God appears as the better consequence.
Specifically, the targeted and divinely guided destiny off each human being “by the will of God” should not be assumed in this cruel world. What is left is personal responsibility for all humans on Earth to stand up against all negative forces and reduce suffering.
A “personal”, or personally responsive, God is not “scientifically” or, more importantly, not statistically provable in this so prevalently cruel world. This would leave the faith in a personally caring God as merely the religion of the survivors, the successful ones, and the winners – neglecting the many innocent individuals who perished throughout history and daily succumb in spite of their fervent petitions. One has only to look at all the ugly events reported every day in the news – or visit a children’s hospital.
The assumption of a “judging” God hinges on the belief in a life after death for the “souls”. As one lacks scientific justification for the belief in a “soul” as an entity independent of the body (like a homunculus), and as one perceives our solar system and the entire universe as ultimately collapsing or dissolving, there does not seem to be a basic predisposition of Creation or any provision for the permanent archiving of souls in this world – consequently, no compensating afterlife – and, therefore, no ultimate judgment.
In sum, the observation of reality – in our lives, in history, in nature, and in the universe – leaves no room, justification, or hope for the assumption of a still active, personally addressable, or judging God and an afterlife for our “souls”. (See also the detailed discussion in the author’s essay, “Theology, Astrophysics and the SETI Project”, to be found on www.schwab-writings.com, in it’s section on “Philosophy and Theology”.)
The opposite appears as reality: A world evolving in accordance with the “Basic Principle of Evolution”  , utilizing the enormous variety of opportunities at any one time, but afflicted by catastrophes, cruelty, and lack of fairness in nature and history – and a universe either collapsing in Black Holes or totally dissolving at some time in the future in ever-expanding and ever-colder and weaker radiation.
Therewith, this evolution of religious thought leads to the heavily counting loss of a faith in a much humanized, “personal”, always reliably loving and caring “God-Father” who walks hand-in-hand with us through life.
This may appear as another “expulsion from the paradise”, where all our (spiritual) needs were once taken care of and where God walked in the evening with us. As in those stories, after eating from the “tree of knowledge”, we now are called upon to take care of our own needs in hard work and self-reliance – remaining not in loneliness, but in the company of our fellow-humans. May there remain a rainbow-sign of promise and the peace that we can find by spiritually resting in the transcendental foundation of Creation.
But then, let’s get up and do something about the conditions of our lives in this world!
This must, or should, lead to greater emphasis on personal initiative and personal responsibility by all humans for the conditions here on Earth, in our families, in our communities, and in our own lives – while preserving tolerance and not imposing our concepts or solutions on all others.
This is the “inspiration”, the source of strength, which we should receive from such a new vision of our existence.
A sober assessment of the universe and nature also leads to the conclusion that reaching “heaven” by avoidance of sin is not an adequate understanding of our goal for life; neither is the goal of escape from the world to avoid suffering any more adequate. Nature – and, possibly, the “Structure Providing Essence of Existence” of the universe, its laws, and evolution – quite apparently expects each being in nature to grow, flourish, excel, and prevail as best it can. As social beings, we are expected to build our civilizations through dedicated, “Christian”, care for each other and our communities, possibly also for the environment we live in. But, as a gift of nature, we can also enjoy the beauty of this world and augment it with expressions of art and culture.
In sum, the human mind searches for the clarification of some very basic concerns regarding the conduct of our life:
- How can I find comfort for my emotional distress – in personal suffering or when consumed by compassion?
- What shall I do with my life? What direction shall I take or what meaning shall I give to my life?
- Are there universal practical and ethical laws for personal behavior, for the behavior of groups and nations?
Historically, the human mind found the answers to these questions in an intuitive understanding of the world based on rudimentary observation and intuition, resulting in early religions. This understanding led to the belief in a creating and the world ruling anthropomorphic God. Depending upon the specifics of such an understanding of God, corresponding answers were formulated and cultures were formed. Inversely, the given cultures, as they had evolved, led to corresponding images of their gods. Additionally, great historic human thinkers or visionaries offered new perspectives on the foundation and functioning of the universe or human life and offered advice for behavior and direction. This was the case with the early founders of the Hindu religion and, somewhat, with the founders of the Jewish religion – even though it must be said that the Ten Commandments did not contain any direction for charity and for prohibiting abuse or cheating in business and politics.
In our time, the human mind uses the methods of the sciences to arrive at answers to the above questions – the natural sciences for the material aspects of the world – but psychology, philosophy, or the social sciences (anthropology, sociology) for the mental and behavioral aspects of our lives. This led to a weakening or abandoning of traditional religions.
But one should not thoughtlessly and intellectually take away the all-too-human concepts of early religions from those here on Earth, who find therein a very significant emotional comfort and ultimate support in their often so very difficult or lonely lives. Where, after all, can we go when we suffer from the harshness of life, from severe strokes of fate, or when caring for suffering loved ones in deep compassion?
Especially some highly intellectual individuals openly advocating their atheist or a-religious views should not be too arrogant or superficially disparaging and destructive in their comments about the religious faith of idealistic human individuals or those in distress.
Some aspects of the teaching of Jesus, of Christian faith, are among the most touching, supportive, and challenging visualizations that human development in thought and emotions have produced – arising out of the potential of our nature that was given to us by Creation – and possibly providing some beneficial direction for our real lives – beckoning for us to follow Christ’s ethical teachings so clearly expressed in the “Sermon on the Mount” – to walk in humility, to conserve a clean heart, to be full of mercy toward the needy, and to be peacemakers.
On the other hand, one should gladly get rid of those abuses of religion that were, throughout history and still are in our time, such a burden to mankind – whether in teaching that is abusive to some, that weakens self-reliance or initiative to reduce suffering and improve the opportunities fairly for all, or accept revenge and retribution – that were escapist, in contradiction with reality, or misleading – or that suggested dangerous fundamentalism.
Ethical judgment and moral laws are somewhat different in different societies, and they vary throughout history. Where will the authority for moral guidance, for the issuing and adjudication of moral laws, rest in a world that becomes “globally” connected and still evolves? Will intellectual argument – changing with the fads and political correctness of the day – be permitted to dissolve all moral foundations?
Large segments of the human population on Earth still live in undeveloped or barely developed areas of their respective countries. Equally large segments of the population have begun to struggle with ruthless commercial life in the big cities. Many among us – and sometimes the best ones – are not motivated by intellectual argument but by very human emotions and emotionally based values.
Therefore, we actually need four levels of human faith:
o The old cults of offering minor symbolic sacrifices and giving thanks to the forces of nature and of destiny in a simple way – for those who live close to nature and for the simple of mind.
o The strict faith in moral laws and a divine judgment – for our urban societies as they become wealth-, power-, and pleasure-oriented.
o The faith in humanly addressable forces of destiny, in forgiveness, love, and the concept of a merciful “God-Father” – for the many sensitive individuals who struggle in life, who sincerely search, and must often suffer so very much in this world, also in compassion – and also for the gratefully joyous ones to direct their thanks.
o The abstract view of the grandiose, dynamic universe with its finely tuned natural laws and the uniqueness of the consciously thinking, sensing, and acting living beings therein – with emphasis on not relying on an interfering god, but on personal responsibility and initiative for the fulfillment of one’s own life and the improvement of the surrounding world – through personal exploring development, through service to others or the community, and care for our environment, with joy in observing the beauty of nature and the arts, and with acceptance of the unavoidable.
Each of these forms of religiosity is justified by, or based on, a personal, individual observation of Creation and human life:
* The basic religions are based on a view of a divinely enlivened Creation close to nature – as in the old religions of all agricultural people who prayed for harvest – with the exception of the degeneration of certain sacrifices and ritual cults that historically developed out of these religions. The more modern, romantic love of a harmonious nature at the root of our natural being and longing for peace therein is an extension of this old religion, based on human emotional need and selective observation.
* The religions focused on divine laws are justified by the need for a higher foundation of those laws beyond arbitrary change and clever interpretation (with loop-holes) in our selfish and materialistic urban societies – if not leading to obsession with the exaggerated observation of spurious ethnic or religious laws or ritual.
* Faith in a God-Father is based on the human emotions as given to us by nature and on our values that search for their origin in the originating force of Creation, their lively resonance, and, emotionally, for personal help in fate – if not historically exaggerated in a fixation on human sin or guilt and paralyzed by intellectual, stubborn, narrow doctrine, ritual, and priestly hierarchies.
* The abstract view is based on the view of a transcendental “Structure Providing Essence of existence” – the foundation of the originating, evolving, and vanishing Creation, its structure and evolution in time – by following the laws of nature, and its dimensions of probabilistic freedom  and assumed “freedom of will” – as well as on the recognition of the limitations of humans, but also their unique opportunities and responsibilities in the fulfillment of their lives and participation in their surrounding world – if not degenerated into moral instability and cold emptiness of the soul.
Some atheist and a-religious individuals are attempting to form supportive groups – similar to religious organizations – under the title of “humanistic” ideals, referring to the intellectual and cultural climate of the early 19th century that produced so many great thinkers and artists. One could be opposed to this hijacking of the concept of “humanistic”, which has an important meaning in Western culture and should not be re-coined in the interest of a new group. Furthermore, the humanistic period, while also interested in the world of antiquity and the free progress of the human mind, was largely Christian in its ideals and its artistic expression.
Ultimately, there should be no conflict between science and religion or theology. In the past, science may have had little room for emotions and questions of morality, nor for questions of meaning, purpose, and direction in life. But a more inclusive view of existence – comprising the human aspects of emotions, mood, and need for an understanding of meaning, purpose, and direction – requires that the sciences contribute observations of existence that allow an inclusive view without contradictions.
There can be no dominant position for science where there is no factual knowledge. Science is well advised not to overly intellectualize matters of human emotions and sensibility for beauty. The reduction of human emotions and sensibility for beauty to utilitarianism has obvious limits as shown by experience when such an approach was used with unrestrained exclusivity. The reduction of emotions and sensibilities to a level of scientific understanding is not always a justification for prescriptive formulations.
There can be no dominant position for theological doctrine where there is no factual knowledge.
Theology and religious thought are well advised not to overly mystify matters that can be addressed rationally. There are obvious limits to the assumption of rigid positions or dictating behavior on the basis of beliefs, as shown by experience with the unrestrained exclusivity of such an approach.
The elevation of specific religious thought by some believers to a presumed level of divine will is not a justification for the setting of generally binding, global doctrine. Tolerance must prevail in thus globally connected world.
There will always be ample room for differences of view between the scientific search, with its methodological limitations, and the historic or modern theological speculations or religious fervor, which often neglect the observation of nature. Careful restraint in such areas of contradiction and humbly projected expectations should be a basis for dialogue.
After all, there is still the political sphere of thought, legislation, behavior, and arbitration – as in assessing rights between individuals, societies, or nations and questions of social or international assistance – where neither science nor religion should attempt to be the controlling force – where, at best, human needs, plain ethical thought, and practical experience can suggest solutions. After all, the lack of conventional religions will not lead to nihilism or unrestrained selfishness and materialism. Human nature – as a social being and genetically provided with fundamental ethical emotions – and the needs of practical life will necessarily lead to legislation, habits, and culturally based values quite similar to those we now have. 
The Path of Our Life
Closing and summary comments
- Where do we come from? Should we not stand in greatest awe and admiration of the ultimate essence from where the power, structure, and temporal course of the universe and of our own existence came?
- For many people, life is a serious struggle, with limited hope. But as we lift our heads, we can deeply appreciate our human capability to perceive the grandiose universe and to actively participate in the small area and for the limited time of our personal existence.
- This vision of the ultimate origin and evolving existence provides us with the inspiration to rise and responsibly fulfill our life as best we can. This vision can also provide us with peace and can comfort us in accepting the limitations of our life and our ultimate return to where we came from.
- As all nature strives to live, grow and evolve, we must struggle to overcome adversity and to develop our individual human potential in knowledge, character and thought – through learning, exploring, and maturing – while always striving for excellence in our endeavors. We shall not abuse our skills for selfish aims only or to the detriment of others.
- Only in social coherence can we develop our greatest potential, in contributing and receiving light and harmony – in the love of our family, in caring assistance to the needy, in dedicated service to our community, and in responsible stewardship for our environment. We must attempt to compassionately reduce the many forms of suffering and overcome the darkness of the world – and strive to improve true opportunities in the lives fairly for all. We shall not abuse the social forces of society for personal power only or to the detriment of others.
- We possess and gratefully cherish the gift of aesthetic appreciation in nature and the arts. We shall not abuse the intriguing influence of human sensitivity for selfish benefit only or to the detriment of ethical values.
- We are grateful for harmony in our world and need the community with our fellow travelers through existence in supportive congregations – for encouragement, comfort in suffering, for constraint of damaging behavior, and for coordinated contribution to a beneficial evolution of society. We shall not abuse such congregations for vocal dominance or hierarchical power.
Purpose and Direction in Life:
- We recognize the natural longing for survival, procreation, and companionship. We must learn a marketable skill, find work and work well. But it is not right to gain benefit from the suffering of others and to procreate when caring for offspring is not provided.
- We recognize the striving for additional security and resources, for recognition, and for uplifting rest and joy. But there is no value in the accumulation of resources without their meaningful application, for gaining fame without merit, or for entertainment in frivolity.
- We recognize the personal growth in mental accomplishments or useful skills, the caring dedication to others, and the participation in the aesthetic formation of the human environment as the highest goals of human existence. They find their reward in the deepest human emotions and in benefit for society and the environment.
 Both of these concepts, “imagination” or “visualization”, are somewhat inadequate since both are referring to a visual mental process of images. In reality, the mind can also “imagine” or “visualize” acoustic memories, or fragrances, or tactile experiences. Composers “think” in melodies. Creators of perfumes “visualize” new fragrances. The German language knows the concept of “Vorstellung” describing a mental presence that is not necessarily of visual nature (verb form: “vorstellen”).
 Is the assumption of “reincarnation” in Hinduism and Buddhism an ancient scientific theory or an ongoing religious belief? Stretching this point, is the Christian assumption of the existence of a “soul” for each human being and of life for the “souls” after death an ancient scientific theory or a religious belief?
 The observation of large population variations (human and animal) over historic times and through catastrophes did not lead to doubts in the reincarnation theory of Hinduism and Buddhism.
 Nature is largely insensitive to those matters, which we consider taboos. Actually, plants exhibit their sex organs to promote propagation. We cherish flowers, the sex organs of plants. Animals protect their sex organs against insects, infection, and accidents, but not as a matter of shyness between individuals in a social connotation (mating attraction among mammals is mainly by timing-controlled odor, not by symbols of sight). – Where there survival or procreation benefits for humans in the course of natural evolution in having sexual taboos? Muslims have their women cover their heads in public upon a command by Muhammad (Muhammad actually said “their faces”, not just head scarves), in order not to tempt other men (see the short Verse 60, Surah 33, Al-Ahzab – directly followed by the two verses demanding that those, who are insincere and cause commotions, be cut into peaces). Victorian dress codes may also have been seen as a cover for women in order not to arouse male bodily desire.
 This emphasis and interpretation of Christ’s teaching was propagated by Saint Paul and must not necessarily be shared by all Christians, as Scripture analysis shows. For many modern Christians, Christ’s views as presented in the “Sermon on the Mount” may be of paramount significance.
 The “Basic Principle of Evolution” indicates that the universe is not developing in accordance with a plan and converging on a goal. Instead, the universe evolves as possible at any one time or place in accordance with the then and there given starting and boundary conditions – with evolution being driven by probabilistic or random variations, and finding viability in accordance with opportunity – therefore, the appearance of often “converging” evolution – converging on the limited set of viable solutions.
 See, for example, probabilistic distributions of radiation and matter in the young universe and general uncertainty in nature in terms of quantum mechanics.
 See Küng’s proposal for a global base of ethical norms in “Global Ethic” (“Projekt Weltethos”).