I also get invited to join alot of religious causes and let me say, in summary, that I don't like any of them. I am not an atheist but I do not think that organized religion has anything to do with spirituality (none of them.) What made me decide to finally open up on this is the wonderful ad campaign that has been running around the world. For those people who have been whining about being 'attacked' - shut up, seriously. The world has been subjected to religious propaganda for thousands of years, and, especially given your abysmal track record, there is nothing wrong with the non-religious expressing their point of view as well. It is not an 'attack' - a few hundred years ago you could have tried for heresy. Fortunately though we are past that.
Anyway, just to make it perfectly clear. This is what I think on the the whole issue of Life, the Universe and Everything.
Religion is certainly the source of much good in the world. Countless charitable organizations are funded and operated by religious orders. As the first decade of the 21st century has illustrated for us, yet again, religion is also the source of much of the world's evil. I have frequently said that faith is a wonderful thing but religion is dangerous and I believe this goes to the root of the problem.
Faith is what fills people with inspiration and hope without proof or the necessity for reward. Faith is a belief that comes from the heart. Religion is something else. Religion is the unquestioning faith in the wisdom of other humans. Religion is the belief that another humans fairth, or knowledge of the divine is greater than your own.
Religion is, in short, at odds with reality. While all modern religions claim to be based on the testimony of eye witness' any good trial lawyer will tell you that eye witness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Eyewitness testimony handed down, over hundreds of thousands of years is scarcely more reliable than high school rumors. Virtually all religious texts claim to be the absolute word of god, but none of them have anything to backup such a claim other than the texts themselves and the aforementioned eyewitness testimony.
The reality is that no one currently living knows anything for certain about the divine. Others may have spend years or even decades reading religious texts, the meditations of monks and theologians and religious theory but all of this was written by people who were writing out of theory, or faith and none of it has any more authority than what you or I might write.
This does not mean that you should not believe. Many people in this world need religion, in one form or another. Some people need to believe in a higher purpose or power because it is the only thing that gives meaning an purpose to otherwise unhappy lives, others belong to churches because of the need for a sense of belonging. Humans are, after all, social animals and the open door policy at most churches - the ability to walk in the door and become a part of a community is important to them. What must be avoided is the following of religious leaders without question especially when those leaders attempt to use faith to turn one group of people against another, to spread hate, and mistrust and fear.
I personally do believe in a higher power. I do not feel any need whatsoever to belong to any organized religion and I believe that there is much wisdom to be gained in books but I do not believe that god ever has or ever written or ever will write a book. What I believe is, in parts, supported by various theologies but is also largely based in science.
“There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life.”
- Federico Fellini
"You can't create or destroy energy"
- First Law of Termodynamics
"The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together."
The entire universe is made up of matter and energy and matter is, at the deepest level, only extremely dense energy. It is also true that in one way or another that all of that energy is connected. If you look at the stars at night they are very pretty, but what you are seeing is energy that left that star and is now arriving at earth. Sure it's only a little bit, but in the same way that energy from our own sun arrives on a daily basis, fueling plant growth and sun tans the energy from other stars forms spider web like connections with thousands of other stars. So the universe, at a very basic level, can be seen as a giant web of energy floating in space.
What's more all of the energy that makes up the universe (including that energy masquerading as matter) is constant. It changes form but there is never more or less of it in total. It has all been here since the big bang and will be here when the universe 'ends' though even that isn't really an end, just another beginning.
Without getting into too much detail that pool or web of energy is what I call god. However that is only a physical description. While this description clearly makes god neither male nor female, of no skin colour, race, or ethnicity it doesn't answer most of the common questions about "Life, the Universe and Everything." So onward ...
"All things are implicated with one another, and the bond is holy; and there is hardly anything unconnected with any other things. For things have been coordinated, and they combine to make up the same universe. For there is one universe made up of all things, and one god who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, and one reason."James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis urged us to think of the Earth and it's systems as an organic being that lives and breathes. What if it is? I don't mean like a frog or a bird but what if, on some level, the Earth and the universe is organic and what if it, on some level is conscious. By this I don't mean that it says "I am" or that it speaks or thinks about writing a book, but what if it is on some level aware.
Marcus Aurelius - The Meditations (7.9)
If the that web of energy I described is organic and aware and we are all a part of that web (the energy that composes your body and causes it to function is also a part of that web) then it has profound implications for our concepts of mortality.
"The deeper 'layers' of the psyche lose their individual uniqueness as they retreat further and further into darkness. . . . they become increasingly collective until they are universalized and extinguished in the body's materiality. . . . Hence 'at bottom' the psyche is simply 'world.'"
- C.G. Jung ("The Special Phenomenology of the Child Archetype" [pt. 2] [_Psyche_&_Symbol_])
What I believe, and it is the biggest leap of faith you will find here, is that when a person dies they rejoin this consciousness. They are aware of all lives lived, everywhere in the universe, as if they themselves lived those lives. So you would be reunited, in the most intimate way, with everyone you've ever known, and everyone you haven't as well. You would know the story of everyone and everything that ever was and would have experienced it first hand. You would also, I believe, to cease to be you. Your memories of your own life would be indistinguishable from all of those other lives. You will know the truth of every story and every situation, you will know the innermost thoughts of everyone - even those still living.
"In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move."
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
So, if there is no heaven or hell, if we are all part of an unending organic universe then what is the point of being good? What is the point in any morality what-so-ever?
As I see it each life lived is the equivalent of an idea. It is 'God having a daydream' and the entire universe will know the entire story backward and forward. So what do you want your story to be? Will you be a hero or a villain? Will it be a story of bravery and overcoming adversity or a story of giving up and sitting on the couch? Everyone reading this has read enough books, watched enough movies and television programs to know how people react to a character. If you were watching a movie about you how would it go? How would you feel about your character and your story?
In the 1960s (and beyond) the baby boomers kept talking about 'finding yourself.' It is a ridiculous, silly, non-sensical concept. The idea is to discover deep down, at your core who you 'really are.' If you take this path you will never answer the question. You will just be a person reacting to external stimuli in whatever way seems best at the moment.
The trick is not to 'find yourself' it is to decide who you want to be, how you want your story to go and then work to be that person and tell that story. It won't always go smoothly but all you can do is wake up every day and try to take a few small steps forward. Some days things will go very well, some days they won't, some days you'll fail to be who you meant to be and some days you'll take a step back. The key is to get up every morning and try again to be the best person you can be, work toward your goals and don't let setbacks cause you to quit.
“Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
“We must become the change we want to see.”
“We have to do the best we can. This is our sacred human responsibility.”