Wednesday, 6 February 2008

On A Personal Take Of Religion

I must disclaim firstly that this is not an article about what is wrong with/why you shouldn't accept Christianity (and other religions if you will) or why pantheism is good/why you should adopt pantheism. This article seeks to familiarise the reader with the concepts of pantheism, the scientific and non-scientific foundations that undergird it (and perhaps why they are sound and worthy), pantheism's stand in relation to science and other religions and how it works for myself as it might for anybody else.

When it comes to the question of what I believe in, what my faith is, or in popular terms, what's my religion, for starters I'd always like to state that I am largely inclined towards pantheism. A problem with that is that not many people know what pantheism is to begin with, so a brief Wikipedia overview would be:

Pantheism is the view that everything is of an all-encompassing immanent abstract God; or that the Universe, or nature, and God are equivalent. More detailed definitions tend to emphasize the idea that natural law, existence, and the Universe (the sum total of all that is, was, and shall be) is represented in the theological principle of an abstract 'god' rather than a personal, creative deity or deities of any kind.

An oft-cited feature of pantheism is that each individual human, being part of the Universe or nature, is part of God. One issue discussed by pantheists is how, if this is so, humans can have free will. In answer, the following analogy is sometimes given (particularly by classical pantheists): "you are to God as an individual blood cell in your vein is to you." The analogy further maintains that while a cell may be aware of its own environs, and even has some choices (free will) between right and wrong (killing a bacterium, becoming malignant, or perhaps just doing nothing, among countless others), it likely has little conception of the greater being of which it is a part. Another way to understand this relationship is through the Hindu phrase, tat tvam asi - "that thou art", wherein the human soul/self or Atman is understood to be the same as God or Brahman - only people do not realize it. In this Hindu context, they believe that one must be liberated through enlightenment (moksha) in order to experience and fully understand this relationship - the part becomes no longer dissimilar from the whole.

If you haven't been bored til this point, fantastic.

Admittedly, a significant factor that contributes to my adoption of this faith and not that of Christianity (or, to a lesser extent, some other mainstream faith) is my rejection of some of the basic absolutist axioms of Christianity.

But essentially, I'm not an atheist, for I believe in a God of sorts, except that I simply do not wish to personify this Being. But with that said, there is a huge conflict on many grounds, especially with that of Christian-related beliefs. For easier functionality, I shall continue to use 'God' for the rest of this writeup.

A lot of what contributes to my pantheistic inclinations at this point stems from a lot of reading on quantum physics. I know many people will then be extremely skeptical of this: science and religion are two different things; how then can you attempt to reconcile your 'religion' using such a scientific basis and attempt to refute my religion which is based on faith? My short cut answer to that would be that I really believe science and religion are two sides of the same coin. Yes, I am making the claim that science and religion/faith/etc fundamentally share the same truths and can be said to be the same things, and if this can be understood the way I do, I think it can be truly breathtaking. I'll touch on it in brief.

(This is a truncated post which excludes the explanations and mechanisms behind the history and processes that led to these findings, as well as their implications. You might find this truncated version inadequate in your understanding. To read the whole post, click here.)

Through the double-slit experiment, quantum physics opened the doors towards understanding that:

  1. we live in a universe that is 'an undivided whole',
  2. we are one with it, and part of it,
  3. the universe is a world of potentiality rather than predictability, and
  4. that we actually participate in the operation of this universe - it responds to us.

Through the EPR Paradox, science discovered that the basic substance of the universe is composed of invisible quantum fields, rather than atoms, which:

  1. are non-material patterns of energy that exert visible influence (e.g. magnetic, gravitational, etc),
  2. exist throughout space and time,
  3. are the medium through which energy is carried in the form of waves,
  4. are the means that particles emerge, and
  5. are infinite in number in the universe and are endlessly interacting with other fields.

Although much scientific work remains to be done, every step continues to verify the idea that the quantum realm is the transitional realm between God, or for that matter, Intelligence, Force or Power if you wish, and the material world, which is where this Force that created the universe continues to move into physical expression.

Researchers such as Robert John and Brenda Dune have suggested that the realm of the mind where thoughts are born behaves much like the quantum realm of waves and particles. When a thought moves in the mind, it creates a field. When that field interacts with another field, something happens - a particle forms. An idea begins to take place.

As it states that there exists a realm that responds to the expectancy of the individual participant, this can explain the power of the subconscious mind.

Consider why hauntings seem to be more prevalent in rural areas and less so in developed cities. The collective consciousness of the people who are superstitious enough can be a contributing factor towards the manifestation of ghosts. This might also explain why the presence of God feels so strong in church especially during a very collective event such as mass. On an individual level, it has been shown that a sportsperson can significantly up his game if he is able to effectively tap into his subconscious mind a belief that he can play better, even without training, as if he had been training for days prior to the game.

Here, subconscious thoughts manifest themselves into tangible forms and through an understanding of the universe through quantum physics, it is explained due to the existence of 'universal laws', or 'spiritual laws', whichever you want to call these natural laws that quantum physics tries to understand.

If I were an atheist, I would believe occurrences to be random and independent of any form of theological governance. In a pantheistic sense of belief, things do not occur at random; the 'force' of God is manifested through these natural laws. It is in this belief that there is a sense of an engineering force that gives rise to the belief that there is a core set of truth(s) that can marry science and religion.

Take the Big Bang Theory for example (you can remain skeptical of it, but consider the example for the sake of this discussion). Around 15 billion years ago, energy compressed into a speck smaller than an atom was released and it had enough energy to form the universe and everything that exists today. This is mind-bogglingly incomprehensible, especially if, within 1 second of the moment of creation, the rate of expansion of cosmic energy had been different by 1 part per quadrillion (1 divided by 10 to the power of 15), nothing would exist. Less, and the expansion would be too fast for anything to form. More, and the universe would have collapsed in on itself.

This would be a huge case to note against randomness, for its chance occurrence would be too small to be possible, which would mean that there is indeed some form of order to things.

In the parallel between science and religion, how prayer works can perhaps be explained in the aspect of expectations and the subconscious mind. In knowing that the subconscious mind is allusional to the quantum realm as the place of transition between God and the material world, it helps to comprehend how the force of God and the natural laws of order permeate the universe and move into the material world. The laws always remain; it just depends on whether we know how to live in harmony with these laws. Just like the fact that the law of gravity exists doesn't mean people cannot fly; in understanding how Newtonian physics works, a 'miracle' like defying gravity, so to speak, or flying can indeed occur. Prayer essentially seems to manifest itself most when faith is at its strongest, which is a simple possibility when you consider how this works within the framework of quantum physics.

Who knows? Christian scientists have indeed used quantum physics to explain Christianity. In danger of sounding absolutely blasphemous, perhaps quantum physics could really be the semiotic term for explaining the means of God.

Sages, philosophers and mathematicians such as Platos and Pythagoras have long since believed we live in a world of connectedness, but it is not til the exploration of quantum physics demonstrated that this is, in the sense of the word, scientifically true. This explains the pantheistic idea that natural law, existence, and the Universe, as represented in the theological principle of an abstract God and that each individual human, being part of the Universe or nature, is part of 'God' in this sense, as man's role is no longer an observer but a participator as well.

That said, I personally believe in an abstract God, a core set of truth(s) and natural, spiritual laws and that they are probably somewhat synonymous and that every religion, be it Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc, stems from some desire to understand and live in harmony with this core truth, of which science is a relentless hunter of as well. The fact that a huge majority of the world partakes in some of form of religious belief can be testament to its existence too.

Insofar as my belief is broadly-encompassing in this aspect, I can also consider how the Bible can be right even if I, as a non-Christian, do not subscribe to it in its literal sense. I would view the Bible as an allegory of the real events of creation and tenets of law and truth, where the 7 days of genesis might not have been 24hr days, or that Noah's Ark might really have meant something else since no concrete proof has ever been found to confirm its occurrence.

A better allusion between science (reality) and the Bible (religion) would be that behind all Einstein's thought lay the role given in the Jewish-Christian religion to the primacy and constancy of light. The Genesis account of creation states the primacy of light in the line "And God said, Let there by light: and there was light." It is stated that God is himself eternal uncreated Light, but he created the universe in such a way that it is governed by created light. Light cannot be seen, but we can see only what is lit up by light. It is through deciphering light signals that all our knowledge of the cosmos in macroscopic and microscopic levels is learned. The mathematical properties of light have a central role in scientific theory, such as in the scientific description of the space/time universe. Light is not defined with reference to anything else, rather it is the opposite. Light has a unique physical and metaphysical status in the universe – it is an ultimate factor, the Constant expressed as C in scientific equations (E = MC²). If light were not constant, if the movement of light varied or wobbled in any way, there would be chaos. It is light that reveals the orderly nature of things. The constancy of light throughout the created order reflects the faithfulness of God of which the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures all speak – God does not play dice.

People have pointed out that pantheism seems to fall short of being a religious belief. Questions that pantheism might not be able to truly answer include things like:

  1. What is the meaning of life?
  2. How are morals established? Do you, in terms of pantheism, think that humans are inherently evil?
  3. If you do not personify God, how can you relate to this Power you are talking about?
  4. Do you know what this Power really is, and can you see it? If one day the 'truth' is found, how do you know that is indeed the truth?

In certain discussions I have been termed somewhat agnostic, as I stated that I do not conclusively know the answer to these things in a pantheistic sense, which implies some degree of apathy meeting defeatism as I choose to refrain from finding an answer while believing I probably wouldn't know. However, I would like to assert that such questions are inherently existent due to Christian heuristics and have value only because they are largely Christian or conventionalist/fundamentalist in religious nature, i.e. you might not even explore these questions with me if you didn't think they were important and you felt that they were because Christianity has an influence on what you consider important to know.

The thing is pantheism, to me, broadly seeks to enlighten one to the fact that we are co-creators in a system that has a natural order to it, which means that I know that I am the navigator of my own destiny (and thus perhaps the meaning of life is as much as you yourself want to determine for yourself) which is extremely self-empowering, and that in this understanding of pantheism I have found that alot of things can somehow be explained. I mean, to be able to marry science and religion is indeed a wondrous thing in itself already. It is a very abstract and intelligent faith so to speak, and what really strikes me is the humility behind its ways.

It personally doesn't bother me that I do not know what the meaning of life is supposed to be (as opposed to what kind of life I want to achieve for myself thus self-defining the meaning of life), how good and evil came about or if I will miss the truth when it stares me in the eye, amongst other things. Einstein, a pantheist himself, 'thought of God as revealing himself in the wonderful harmony and rational beauty of the universe, which calls for a mode of non-conceptual intuitive response in humility, wonder and awe which he associated with science and art. It was particularly in relation to science itself, however, that Einstein felt and cultivated that sense of wonder and awe.'

Essentially, what draws me to this faith is its all-encompassing ability to unify beliefs, understand with seemingly absurd clarity our place in this world and our potential to create, and stand side by side with nature and creation in an entirely unconflicting and humble manner.

In the words of Einstein, "Science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

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