I've been hooked on Netflix streaming for the past few weeks. It's served me as a useful post-book revision wind down, but not so useful in granting a good night's sleep. I've plowed through loads of my queue and started exploring indie documentaries. My latest obsession is the BBC special, The Atheism Tapes.
"Six renowned intellectuals debate whether God exists in these fascinating interviews with playwright and atheist Jonathan Miller. Highlights include playwright Arthur Miller discussing the anti-Semitism he's faced and his disbelief in God. Other participants are biologist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion; theologian Denys Turner; physicist Steven Weinberg; and philosophers Daniel Dennett and Colin McGinn." - from Netflix
I grew up feeling from a very young age that what was right was right, no matter if God or my teacher said so. The mere acknowledgment that "God is watching" can act as a trap, fueling bad behavior, corruption, and guilt, all remedied by God's forgiveness. No personal responsibility is needed - someone on the outside sees whatever we're doing and makes it all ok. I remember thinking that someone who really wanted to get away with something big came up with this institution. For everyone to be still going along with the whole charade felt ridiculous. In a seemingly contradictory fashion, I also wanted to become a nun. I wanted to help people, but I couldn't commit to a corrupt institution that was based on guilt, power and control.
People argue that religion guarantees good behavior and so it is good to teach our children these rules to live by. The English philosopher Collin McGinn says "What is right is right, not because God, an outside force, says so. If God told us that to steal and to murder was right, we wouldn't think it was right. So what's right is right and we don't need God to say so." McGinn says believing in God adds that extra umph for some people to do the right thing. People hate to feel guilt and God can take that away. This argument shapes up God to be an enabler. He might as well hand you a beer, a Big Mac, and the keys to your neighbor's house so you can steal their bigger TV, and wife if she's, you know, better than yours. He'll forgive it all, so why not just go for it.
Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg says we are simply winners in a cosmic lottery. People are religious because they know they are going to die. Everyone you love is going to die. Life will come to an end. Darwin had a wounding impact on religion by finding the causes for why people are the way they are. Weinberg says science is corrosive to religious belief. He sees this as a good thing.
Regrettably, many people do awful things out of sincere religious beliefs. When someone crashes an airplane into a building they must really believe in the paradise with which their God will reward them. When adjusted moral codes are fixed back to God, that's madness. Putting God above humanity is a terrible thing. There's no need for it, and the results can be disastrous.
Is any of this necessary? McGinnin says in his autobiography that when he decided not to believe in God it was like shedding a skin. The new one was fine but he was disappointed. He said he'd like to believe in a God that rewards the virtuous and punishes the non-virtuous, especially the punishment part because the world has no justice. But he doesn't believe. He can't see his way to it.
It seems to all come back to moral code. Do we need God to be somewhere outside of us, so we can look outside to find what we need? It can be confusing, the idea that we might already have whatever we need right here inside us - especially when things are often so difficult. People can be weak. We make a lot of mistakes. But rather than seek absolution from some other authority, maybe we could recognize where we are and keep trying to live better, with more compassion and love for humanity. Maybe we could build faith in our selves. It takes practice so we don't miss the mark.
This video is a meditation I learned and borrowed from Kundalini yoga. Many yoga schools have become religions, so can be just as dangerous as other religions. This is especially the case when moral code is adjusted by leaders and tolerated by its followers. In any religion, yoga or otherwise, the potential for good drops off massively when people give up their own control and discernment, and hand it over to a leader. It can be more comfortable for people to be told what to do. It's hard to keep looking within to find our own answers. But, keep looking. The benefits of yoga - just plain yoga - along with any path that is truly our own, can make us more compassionate, tolerant, healthy. The answers are all there waiting for you.