This is a LONG post about life, death, afterlife, religion, cosmology, extra-terrestrial intelligence … and probably more! Did i mention it’s LONG?!?!?!! You have been warned! ;)
So i went into town today to meet some good friends. It was really lovely to see them, and we had a look around the Christmas market, which was absolutely beautiful. We had some lovely spiced punch, cookies and mince pies! It was such a festive atmosphere. However, it was also crawling with street preachers, evangelists and people trying to tell me “the real meaning of Christmas”. Funny, nobody tried to tell me the real meaning of Chanukah, even though it is Chanukah at the moment!
I was told that hell exists and heaven exists, and millions of people every day go to hell when they die. I have no problem with someone believing that, but to shout it out loud in a street, claiming it’s absolute proven truth, well that’s quite irresponsible. My personal view: maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. I don’t think you can prove it either way. The idea seems a bit odd to me – seems like an awful waste of space to have all these souls piling up in a furnace of damnation. It just doesn’t really seem very likely. Oh, i believe in hell as a metaphor – and i don’t think you need to be dead to be there – but some kind of eternal wailing and gnashing of teeth like Jesus described (with some sadistic enthusiasm, it must be said!) seems altogether improbable.
I am more inclined to believe in reincarnation – it seems a bit more logical. But if i am really honest, i think i actually believe that my consciousness will cease to exist when i die, and i don’t really feel too bad about it. After all, i’ve no recollection of having any consciousness before i was born, and i’ve never been upset about that. Why should there be anything after i die? Nature is generally not that asymmetrical.
I do sometimes get fits of depression where i wonder what’s the point of it all. Humans, like all animals, seem to have this inbuilt instinct to survive and populate, keep the species going and keep improving. I’m not entirely sure why! What’s it all for, anyway? What is our ultimate goal? Just to keep existing for as long as possible?! I can totally understand the desire for some sort of God, some sort of hope in an afterlife, to give us a framework to live within, and maybe something better to hope for.
When i have these dark moments, i usually end up deciding that i’d best just make the most of my life here. Have fun, love well, and use my talents to the best of my ability. It does sort of put everything into perspective.
Concerning religion or spirituality, i find the best question to ask is, “Does it benefit my soul?”. Does it benefit my soul to live in fear of hell and damnation? No. Does it benefit my soul to try my best to follow rules to please a God when i have no idea whether or not God actually exists? Not really. Does it benefit my soul to light a candle and say a prayer? Yes, it does. Does it benefit my soul to meditate and send good vibrations out into the universe, believing that they will return to me? Absolutely. Does it benefit my soul to be kind and generous to others? Of course it does! Does it benefit my soul to worry about people who would say i am picking and choosing, making it up as i go along? No. And what else could i do anyway? Even within Christianity, different people will tell me different things. Somewhere i have to make a choice. Why not listen to my soul and see what benefits me the most.
Does it benefit my soul to believe that i have a soul to benefit?! Hahaha that’s a tricky one!!
I recently discovered that i can call myself a mild agnostic. I used to feel sorry for agnostics, viewing them as fence-sitters, people who can’t make up their mind. Now i understand: i have made up my mind. I have emphatically decided that i cannot be certain. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we can never know for certain, though – that would be a strong agnostic. Perhaps i should have asked the street preachers whether they could prove there is a hell. I guess they would have retorted with something about blind faith. To which my answer is: Why would i want to have blind faith in a religion or philosophy when i can have clear faith in the things that science is revealing!
Do i believe in God? It’s not a yes/no answer. I believe in the possibility that there might be a God, but it depends on how you define God. If you’re talking about a collective human consciousness or a quantum energy, or a universal force … i am inclined to agree with you. However, If you’re talking about a personal God with a conscience like our own, who looks down on us and has a preference over what we do, and decides on whether we go to heaven or hell … no i do not. You can tell me your beliefs about such a God if you like, but i fear i am probably going to remain unconvinced. Still, i am aware that just because a thing seems unlikely does not mean it is not so. Therefore i am still open to the possibility that you could be right.
Another topic that keeps recurring in my mind is that of extra-terrestrial intelligence. I have recently begun to understand just how insanely immense the universe is. I also understand that our solar system evolved quite by chance, after several billions of years, as a result of a supernova nearby giving us the minerals we needed for the planets and life to form. I believe in the weak form of the anthropic principle, which turns the question of coincidence on its head, saying that since we are here in the first place, naturally all conditions must be just right, for if they weren’t we wouldn’t be around to lament the fact that they weren’t! It does not mean that a God-like being necessarily made them so.
In such a vast universe if all the necessary conditions managed to be right once, i’d think they could do it again. Since there are 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone, even the lowest estimates say there should be several million planets like Earth out there. I look at life on Earth, and how readily it springs up – even in the most hostile environments life adapts to survive there. So i don’t think that all initial conditions have to be exactly the same as ours in order for life to exist on other planets. Therefore i think it’s actually very likely that there is life elsewhere in our galaxy, and certainly in the billions of other galaxies in the universe! There just must be!
But whether it is intelligent life, i am not so sure. In the way that all life is intelligent, of course it must be. Don’t plants lean towards the light? Don’t dogs sense human emotions? Sure, that is intelligence. But i see a big difference between humans and all other species on Earth: you don’t see any other creatures trying to build a telescope to search for life on other planets. There is something very different about humans and our natural curiosity for things beyond our understanding. I am unsure whether that kind of advanced intelligence exists elsewhere in the universe, probably because i cannot determine what allowed us to become so intelligent. I also consider the possibility that intelligent life has existed elsewhere, perhaps several billion years ago, but either got hit by a comet, or destroyed itself because its technological advancement exceeded its emotional advancement. For example, we now have the potential to blow our planet to pieces, thanks to our understanding of the nuclear force. Are we sufficiently emotionally evolved to avoid a catastrophe that could wipe out the entire human species and put a complete stop to our entire evolution thus far?
If we can overcome that risk, and if we can eliminate the risk of being destroyed by a comet (by migrating to other planets and later to other galaxies) and if we can continue to evolve technologically and emotionally, i see no reason why the human race shouldn’t exist indefinitely. I find it a very exciting concept that we are perhaps still in the very early stages of our development, and we have a long way to go, greater things to achieve, higher energies to manipulate, and perhaps, higher dimensions to travel through! In the book Hyperspace i read that intelligent life will eventually be faced with the death of the universe – the stars will go out and there won’t be enough energy to create new ones. The book kept talking about hoping for another species to come and rescue us – a species that is sufficiently advanced that it can manipulate the tenth dimension and tunnel through to another universe. It’s a great idea, but it crosses my mind that any such species must have been around for an awfully long time to become so technologically and socially advanced. Why might it not be us – the human race – that saves all the other species in the universe?!
I might have been heavily influenced by Heroes but that seems like a mighty good goal to me! :D
I am grateful for my Christian upbringing that inspires me to continually ponder questions such as these.