It is not often that I stimulate a spark of deep thought and inspiring words in others (and truth be told I must share credit with Philosopher Bertrand Russell for the original thought.) Yet a good friend of mine, Kent Harrop, recently penned a post on his blog I believe was inspired by a Russell quote I sometimes append to my email.
Russell (1872-1970) said, “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.” This caught Kent’s eye and he decided to put down some thoughts.
There’s much that Mr. Russell and I agree upon. But where we part company, is his belief that ‘religion is something left over from the infancy of intelligence’. For me reason and critical thinking need not be contrary to religious life. Even Russell for all his strong views towards religion considered himself an agnostic, ‘in that I cannot disprove the Christian concept of a divine being, just as I cannot disprove the reality of the mythical gods on Mount Olympus.’ Perhaps Mr. Russell has cracked open the door for a conversation.
In this, the fact that it opens a door for a conversation, Kent and I agree.
I consider myself an atheist. I define my atheism as finding no basis for a belief in an anthropomorphic God, or gods, that show an interest in how we behave, what we do with our lives, what we choose to wear or eat, or how we prostrate or otherwise demonstrate our devotion to such a being.
Russell’s quote illustrates the fact that, over the time of our human existence, we have attributed almost all natural phenomena to a divine being at one time or another. Until science and reason took hold.
I think Russell’s quote is more in line with progressive thinkers like Kent than even Kent might realize. The difficult questions we all have beg for answers.
How did we come to be?
What is the meaning of life? (42 is a good start for you Douglas Adams fans)
How did this whole thing get started?
I agree with Russell in that almost all religion is a simplistic attempt to answer an infinitely complex question. I think it fails in this and causes more harm than good.
I think Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), a MD and psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz, found a better answer in his book, “Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning.” Frankl’s research and life experiences showed him there is an innate essence within man for the religious. However, Frankl did not define religiousness as being in anyway associated with the common concept of religion.
Instead. Frankly believed, from his many years of research, that there was an unconscious religiosity within man. One that compels him to seek meaning in life. The many iterations of religion, from the many gods of early man to the monotheistic dominant sects today, are just stepping-stones to finding the true religiousness within us all.
It is not that we will someday become god. It is that we will someday no longer need a symbol, or a template of acceptable practices, or a script to follow to please god and lead an exemplary life. We will find that our innate, unconscious religiosity points us to a full, responsible, and meaningful life.
Let the conversation begin.
I encourage you all to read and follow Kent’s blog, The Green Preacher, (https://greenpreacher.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/is-religion-irrational. His writing is thoughtful, articulate, and compelling. I find his intelligent and persuasive pieces to be wonderful, if inexplicable, reading considering he is a Red Sox fan. Nevertheless, I suppose no one is perfect.