Thoughts on death, afterlife, god, and logic
December 19, 2018
Humans have probably been wondering about the existence of some kind of god ever since the first members of the Homo genus walked upon Earth more than 1 million years ago. It is natural for a large-brained, cognitive species to look out at the world and the sky above and wonder… where did it all come from?, how far does it all go?, what does it all mean? When an individual possesses only limited understanding of these matters, thoughts inevitably turn to the supernatural.
Over the millennia, different groupings, settlements, and civilizations of people have developed different ideas about gods. The original ideas were probably nature-based, like the spiritual concepts of American Indians and other "primitive" societies (as viewed by “advanced” Europeans) that live off the land. Supernatural spirits and deities were seen in all natural things. Rocks, mountains, rivers, trees, animals, people, and stars were all considered to be aspects of gods or goddesses, and all these parts of nature were thought to have their own souls. These nonphysical souls might continue their existence from one physical entity to another, like the reincarnated souls of East Indian religions.
As human societies became increasingly removed from nature, so did their religions. This trend eventually led to the monotheistic, paternalistic, rigidly organized, and hierarchical religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In these religions, humans are seen as the master of nature, rather than as a part of nature. Humans are considered the lord of all other life forms, rather than as the brothers and sisters of them. I suppose that these beliefs were a logical development, reflecting the pride that people felt in their growing dominance of the feared and dangerous elements of nature, such as wild animals and adverse weather.
As human dominance of nature has climaxed in the 20th and 21st centuries, religion has become increasingly irrelevant and unnecessary for many people. Who needs a god when a man-made drug or electronic gadget can fulfill all human wants and needs? Who needs to resort to the supernatural when science and technology can seemingly answer all questions?
What do I believe?
I have long pondered over my own religious and spiritual beliefs. As a basically scientifically minded person, anything I believe needs to be logical. It needs to make sense. But I am also skeptical about some abilities of science, and I find the arrogance of some scientists just as obnoxious as the ignorance of religious fundamentalists. There has to be much more to this amazing world beyond the dry facts and strict materialism of science. What kind of religion can logically fill in the gaps of science?
I was raised as a Catholic. But the church services of that religion always left me cold, with absolutely no sense of spiritualism or of the profundity of the universe. The universe is supposedly the creation of god, but Catholicism and other traditional religions never seem to focus on that awesome concept. I found Catholicism to be utterly meaningless and pointless, and I abandoned it soon after graduating from St. Albert elementary school. I later became thoroughly disgusted by the extravagant wealth, corruption, hypocrisy, and sexual perversion of the Catholic Church. But such decadence is the inevitable result of any large, wealthy, and old organization—whether it is an organized religion, a country, or a corporation.
We often hear that religion is supposed to be about love. Well, the things that I have always loved the most are animals and nature. I like animals and nature a lot more than I like people. People are generally deceitful, dishonest, and manipulative. Nature is raw, pure honesty. And honesty, even when it hurts, is always good. I feel a strong sense of spiritualism, joy, and love when I’m in the forest, under the stars, or in some other natural setting away from people. That is why I am attracted to the type of nature-based spiritualism associated with American Indians. Furthermore, there is a real logic to such beliefs. It is logical to believe that all life forms share a strong connection. It makes sense to me that either all living things have “souls” or none of them do. Why would souls be restricted to only one species? In addition, if one accepts the concept of a soul, then the concept of the reincarnation of souls also seems to make sense. Perhaps, following the death of a body, a soul migrates from one life to another—maybe from one species to another.
Alternatively, it also makes sense to me that the concept of a soul is purely fictional. Nothing has a soul, and, thus, nothing and nobody experiences an afterlife. Because this is logical, I can accept it. I cannot firmly say that I believe it—and there is nothing especially appealing about the idea—but I can live with it if it is indeed true.
The concept of an afterlife will forever be perplexing and fraught with unsatisfactory speculation—unless people start coming back from the dead to tell us what they experienced “on the other side.” By “dead,” I mean genuinely dead—not just having the heart stop for a couple minutes. Perhaps scientists will someday discover the secret to the reanimation of corpses, and then our questions about the afterlife will finally be answered. But in the meantime, we are left to speculate. For me, the speculation has to at least make some kind of sense.
As I see it, there could theoretically be four possibilities regarding any afterlife. I have already discussed two of these possibilities:
- You simply cease to exist, and there is no afterlife of any kind. In other words, you do not have a soul. This idea may or may not be attractive to you, but, as I have noted, it is certainly a logical possibility.
- You have a soul that is reincarnated into another body after the death of your present body. I have previously expressed my basically favorable view of this possibility. The body into which the soul goes might be that of another human, or it might be that of some other species. Perhaps it might even be an inanimate object, like a “single drop of rain” (as in the lyrics of “Highwayman,” by my favorite country-music supergroup). The soul might go through a single reincarnation, or it might go through a series of reincarnations. At the end, we are back to our puzzling question… where ultimately do we go? Maybe there is no end, and reincarnation goes on forever. Or maybe it suddenly ends in total blackness. But that would be a rather depression and seemingly pointless end to the soul’s journey, wouldn’t it?
Or—maybe the soul ultimately ends up in some kind of blissful paradise. That idea leads to the third and fourth possibilities regarding the afterlife:
- Your soul goes to some type of heaven.
- Your soul goes to some type of hell.
The Christian concept of heaven for the "good" or "chosen" and hell for the "bad" or "not chosen" makes absolutely no sense to me. Good or bad is far too subjective, and chosen or not chosen is far too unfair. Plus, I have always found the conventional idea of sitting around on a metaphorical cloud and forever giving your praise to an almighty god to be very boring and unappealing. It does not sound like heaven to me. Conversely, the concept of eternal punishment is even more dumb. Punishment for what? Life itself can be punishment enough for people struggling to survive and maintain their sanity from day to day. If there is any kind of god who thinks that we deserve further punishment after we die, he must be the biggest jerk in the universe. There could not be such a god in any realm of possibility. Hell is the most illogical religious concept ever developed. It was undoubtedly developed as a form of social control.
I believe that the following concept is logical: a series of reincarnation steps followed by some kind of cosmic all-encompassing universalism in which all souls ultimately become one. In other words, we will all eventually become god, and we will achieve a oneness with the universe. That is not only logical, but also very cool. Of course, there is no way to know if it is true… except maybe after we’re dead… or maybe not. (For now, I could at least fantasize about bodies that I would prefer to inhabit other than the one I presently have.)
Science cannot explain everything
I often question the existence of any kind of spiritual plane, any kind of soul, any kind of god, any kind of supernaturalism. The conventional scientific view holds that there is nothing but material nature—living things and dead things and inanimate things. There is no need to resort to a god, because science will eventually explain everything. I cannot accept that view, because there are two questions that will forever be unanswerable by science and its naturalistic explanations:
What caused the Big Bang?
What caused the development of life on Earth?
Science will never answer either of these questions—despite claims to the contrary by the scientific establishment. The best science can do with the Big Bang is describe what occurred during that amazing and mysterious event, in which the universe came into existence roughly 14 billion years ago. Scientists have the “Inflation Theory,” which presents a plausible description of the first few seconds of the cosmos’ existence. But the scientific method is completely useless in describing what there was before the Big Bang to make the Big Bang happen. Scientists have developed such mind-bending concepts as the “initial singularity” and “quantum fluctuations” in attempts to explain this mystery. But even if those concepts are true, how did that initial singularity and those quantum fluctuations arise out of the nothingness that there was before there was anything? What was there before there was anything? What was there when there was nothing? Those questions simply do not compute in the rational mind. They make no sense—unless you resort to a supernatural, unscientific explanation. A supernatural force outside of the “laws” of science and outside of natural explanations—a “god”—is the only thing that could have existed when nothing existed. Such a force may not be scientific, but it is the only logical explanation for what created the universe.
A similar argument is necessary to explain how life developed from nonliving material on Earth (and on any other planet that might harbor biological organisms). In this case, the best science can do is explain how the first complex organic molecules and chemical building blocks of life—such as nucleic acids, proteins, and carbohydrates—developed between 3 billion and 4 billion years ago. Scientists have developed a number of plausible theories about the formation of these substances within the primordial mix of water, oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and other elements, energized by ultraviolet rays, lightning, deep-sea vents, or other power sources. They have even duplicated parts of this process in the laboratory. However, scientists have not even come close to a plausible proposal for how the early complex organic molecules somehow developed into living cells capable of reproduction. In fact, the very concept of such an occurrence would constitute the spontaneous development of life from non-life. And that idea is firmly rejected as impossible by scientific laws, including the “Second Law of Thermodynamics.” In other words, a natural, scientific explanation of the origin of life is impossible, according to science. (However, you will never hear a conventional scientist explicitly state that.)
Thus, we are left with the seemingly contradictory concept that the only scientific and logical explanation for the creation of the universe and the creation of life is an unscientific explanation involving supernatural creative forces—that is, a “god.”
A creative force
A “god”? … or a “goddess”? Either term implies that the unknown supernatural force has a biological sex or gender. Now, that is definitely an illogical concept! Most of us are used to referring to “god” or, usually, “God,” because we come from paternalistic religious traditions, such as Christianity. But if I’m going to ponder the existence of some form of deity, I prefer a female deity, like some of the early societies in Europe and the Middle East. We are talking about a creative force, after all. In biology, it is the female that is the life-bearing and life-sustaining sex. So a goddess makes a little more sense to me than a god.
If there is a god or goddess, I think it is most likely only a creative being/force. It created the universe and life, set them in motion, and then left them to themselves, to grow and evolve according to the natural forces it also created. Such a creative force, as I’ve described, is logically necessary to explain origins. But it is not necessary that this creative force watch over its creation. Nor is it necessary that the force care about its creation—or intervene to help any of its created individuals. Thus, I believe that even if there is a god, this god does not listen to prayers, this god does not take requests, and this god does not care whether you live or die. The act of praying (or meditation on the divine) may provide you with a general sense of connection to something profound (the wonder of the cosmos), it may lift your spirits, and it may help give you strength to get through personal problems and go on with your life. Those are valuable and worthwhile outcomes of prayer/meditation. But this does mean that anything out there–a god—actually cares about you or the people that you care about. Nor does it mean that god can do anything about your present situation, even if “he” wanted to. Such intervention would not be in the province of a purely creative force.
If god doesn’t care about you, why did “he” create you? That is a nonsensical question that assumes that god has human-type motivations. God does not have such motivations. God is simply a supernatural creative force. God creates. That’s what god does. God created the universe and life on Earth. Maybe god is currently creating life on thousands of other planets throughout the cosmos. Perhaps god is even creating new universes… multiple universes. God creates and then moves on to the next creation. The created worlds and life forms are free to develop according to natural laws that god also created. After any creation, the job of the supernatural force is complete for that creation. Everything that happens after that is guided by the natural forces and rules that were created by the supernatural force, such as the rules of gravity, geology, and genetics. This is what the universe is, at its most basic… At least, this is something that makes sense to me.
What about reincarnation? Who or what guides that process, if it exists? Perhaps just as the natural objects created by god follow the natural rules created by god (such as gravity and genetics), the supernatural souls created by god follow god’s supernatural rules for reincarnation. If there are such “rules” for reincarnation, god would not necessarily have to observe or guide the process, such as by deciding which new body a soul goes into or how many reincarnation steps each soul has. Rather, the supernatural rules could guide each soul through a series of random reincarnation phases, or through some incomprehensible-to-the-human-mind purposeful reincarnation process… Who knows?
All will be well
Religious “truth” cannot be known with certainty by any of us. All any of us can do is follow ideas that make sense to us. At a minimum, each individual should develop his or her own belief system—something that makes sense to, and works for, that individual. Spiritualism is a profound thing that is worthy of individual contemplation, unburdened by the dogma of any organized religion. Organized religion is nothing but corporate and bureaucratic propaganda. Don’t waste your life by following it. Be a free person, and contemplate the natural and supernatural cosmos with your own mind and spirit.
The ideas I’ve discussed in this essay generally make for a satisfactory system of spiritual/religious belief for me. It is the only religious system I can think of that approaches logical sense for me. Nevertheless, there are certain unsatisfactory gaps in my system of belief, and I might have to borrow something from Christianity to fill those gaps. I feel a psychological need to fill those gaps, though this need is more emotional than logical. I am powerfully drawn to the Christian concept of forgiveness for all “bad” things—that is, stupid things and bad mistakes—that I might have done in my life, allowing for a fresh start and new possibilities, no matter what. There are some very stupid things that I have done and bad mistakes that I have made in my life, things that deeply trouble my mind and soul. (I am sure that most people could say the same thing about themselves, if they are honest.) Logical musings are insufficient to bring psychological comfort and peace of mind, and I find it hard to forgive myself.
Forgiveness. That is the one concept from Christianity that I find very unique and attractive. Jesus can forgive all. No matter how screwed up your life becomes, all will be well in the end. How could anyone not be attracted to that idea? Mental and spiritual peace will eventually be obtained. That is a useful outcome for any so-called religion, is it not? Thus, I find this conceptual combination appealing: the combination of the concept of Jesus-type forgiveness, unconditional love, and guaranteed ultimate peace, with the concept of nature/cosmos and its wonderful, amazing, profound spiritual beauty. I call this rather emotional, not-entirely-logical concept “Cosmic Jesus God.” This is a nebulous, not-fully-developed concept that I find attractive and comforting, though difficult to describe or rationally evaluate. Maybe it somehow ties into the idea of all reincarnated souls ultimately becoming one with god. I don’t know. I continue to work on it.
Part of something profound
As a human being living day to day on this planet, it is easy to fall into total negativity sometimes. This is especially true when overwhelmed by bad experiences, such as the sickness or loss of loved ones, your own health challenges, financial difficulties, work issues, relationship problems, regrets, and other personal problems. Each of us has to deal with pain, struggle, and heartache however best we can. Bad things are unfortunate aspects of life. We have to accept them and move on. But as we deal with these challenges as individuals, we should keep in mind that we are also part of something much bigger and greater than ourselves. We are part of creation—a beautiful planet and an astonishing universe. Knowing that, and appreciating that, and feeling that deep inside provides a profound sense of awe and connection. It can also provide a sense of peace when we are feeling troubled.