Brief Thoughts on Religion

by Courtney C Horne @FireezDragon

When people talk about religion from a philosophical view point, you commonly hear them paraphrase Marx. They say “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” The source they are quoting is much more complex then that. The actual lines read:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

That comes across with far more reverence for religion, far more sense of the purpose religion serves people in their daily lives as they face incredible trials and suffering.

In that way, religion is incredibly appealing. It offers a relief from suffering and a sense of something greater. I like to say that religion is a warm blanket against the cold night. It is something that makes people feel safe in the least safe of times. Something that offers security when there is none. And for me it is something that is absolutely unreachable.

I am decidedly a secular humanist. Religion just never clicked into place for me. My family is very Catholic and I was brought up in the church but nothing about it ever connected for me. It never felt real. Faith is an elusive concept and when you ask those that have it to explain it they often say that they “just know.” That concept could not be more foreign to me. I question and poke at everything in my world. Accepting something as true without a why and a how never worked for me intellectually.

In fact, when I think about religion, I am full of questions of why and how. I ask why an all powerful all knowing being would possibly be interested in what humans are doing. It seems bizarre for me to think that a being so powerful as to have created our enormous universe would be concerned with whether I went to church on Sunday. Humans don’t investigate the existence of every one of the huge number of microorganism living in our bodies. Why would a deity investigate us?  The scale seemed the same to me.

How could a being be all knowing, all present, and self aware? That is always my next question. If you know everything and are part of everything, how do you distinguish yourself from all of it? In short, I do not understand how god could have a distinct identity, a sense of self. While I can conceive of an all powerful deity as a force, I can not conceptualize an all powerful entity.

Despite my lack of ability to connect with a concept of religion, I can look at the world with wonder and amazement and awe. It does not take religion to have a sense of something far beyond ourselves. I often look to things Neil DeGrasse Tyson says for that sense of amazement. His twitter is a constant source of renewed wonder and excitement for me.

Watching documentaries about physics I learned that every bit of carbon in our bodies, and in fact the bulk of elements that make up the world we interact with, came from inside a dying star. Martin Rees (the UK’s royal astronomer) expressed this fact incredibly poetically in a way that speaks to something deep inside me. He said:

And we know that every atom in our body was forged in an ancient star somewhere in the Milky Way. We are literally the ashes of long-dead stars – the nuclear waste from the fuel that makes stars shine. To understand ourselves, we must understand the atoms we’re made of – but we must also understand the stars that made those atoms

In short, while religion may not inspire me, science does.