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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Future of Religion

I have had the contents of this blog entry whizzing around my head for several months now. However because of recent drastic changes in my life, coupled with a certain degree of procrastination and severe limits on my precious time it is only now that I am able to put fingers to keyboard and empty my head onto a screen. I wish to talk about religion. Now I can hear the sharp intake of breath around the cyber-sphere as I dare to broach this feisty and inflammatory subject, but please, stick with me on this.

As a back drop to my subject may I say that I come from a moderate to severely religious background myself. However, watching evangelism twist and distort my mothers schizophrenia into something even more bizarre than it was already, and then bearing witness to her moving onto Catholicism, The Church of the Latter Day Saints and eventually evolving her own sect of Christianity: The Church of Ester, I could see that not only was there something fundamentally wrong with all of these so called “Benevolent” organistions but that no matter how much devotion and faith she poured into each belief system, God never brought her any peace from her mental illness. My mothers savior was medical science and good old fashioned holistic social care. At the end even she had realised that organized religion was doing her no favours. She still had her faith. She still had a strong sense of belief: Nothing could take that away from her. But she had managed to filter out all of the bullshit and reach a oneness with her god that was independent of holy buildings or repentance or manifestations of guilt ridden sin.

I watched her struggle with orthodox and organized religion for 25 years. I watched the way she was treated by pious people. I listened to the rants of how I was going to be the next messiah, how I was special, how I was going to change the world and for a while I believed it all. How else does a pre-pubescent child digest the psycho religious ramblings of a mentally ill parent? I attended Sunday school. I listened to the brainwashing propaganda. I joined a Christian version of The Scouts called Campaigners: Spreading the word of God whilst learning how to change a tyre and tie knots in ropes. I endured the hideously terrifying films such as “A Thief in the night” and “A Distant Thunder”. Films which I have watched over as an adult and recoiled at the blatancy of their brainwashing techniques and the horrific undertones of guilt and self loathing they instill in the viewer…. Repentance is the only way to save your soul. Children subjected to such malignancy in the modern day would be classified as being psychologically abused! When I was 12 something changed. Something crystalised in my mind, almost overnight. I was involved in an near fatal road traffic accident whilst visiting my great grandmother for her birthday. Nobody from the church visited me in hospital. Nobody from the church sent a card. Nobody from the church even noticed I was missing. My existence meant nothing to them. I was saved by the care and dedication of the nursing staff in the intensive care unit. I was saved by ordinary mortal men and women. I was saved by science and the pursuit of knowledge. When I left hospital I never stepped foot in a church again as a member of a congregation. My days as a sheep in need of a shepherd were over.

Over the next 24 years I have watched monotheistic religion segregate, alienate, subjugate and breed hatred in both the western and developing world. I have watched the spread of HIV in Africa proliferate at the hand and words of a powerful, celibate and ignorant man. I have watched countries tear themselves apart from the inside in the name of their God. I have watched countries tear each other apart over the contents of outdated and discriminating books. I have listened to how thousands of innocent people have been killed in the name of a God. Watched stories of suicide pacts and suicide bombers unfold on the news month after month after month, all in the name of a God. From where I’m standing, we have totally lost our way so here’s my spin on religion.

From the dawn of our species there is evidence of our curiosity of the unknown. There is evidence of our innate spirituality. I am going to state 3 beliefs of my own now….

I truly believe that we are a deeply spiritual species. We crave answers to the unanswerable. We have moments of deep connection to the universe. We all share a feeling that there is something more out there. Not necessarily something bigger or better, just something intangible, unknowable, unfathomable. This feeling is a legacy which has been with us from our very first ancestral roots. The fear of death is sufficient to instill a desire for something to continue afterwards. For a possibility that the electro chemical networks and pathways of our brains, the unique pattern that makes us who we are, that enables us to have independent thought, for the possibility of this to be able move into another plane of existence.

I truly believe that this innate spirituality is hard wired into us on a genetic level. It is as much a part of us as our unbelievable curiosity. As our collective selfishness. As our capacity for selflessness and altruism. As our creative ingenuity and artistic flair. All of these things have been with us from the beginning. Since the first cave men drew paintings on the walls and showed mercy and made vendetta and fell in love. The feeling within that there is more out there, a great enigma that is on the tip of our tongues, a wonderous pandoras box just waiting to be discovered and cracked open.

I also truly believe that religion has stemmed from, blossomed into and prospored greatly as a result of this genetic predisposition. From the beginning of the Antropocine, religion has sought to answer the unfathomable. It has given us purpose. Guided our morals. Offered us hope. Structured our civil societies. Ordered our thoughts. Religion gave us answers to all the difficult questions: Where we came from; how we came to be; where we are going. Fundamentally it is something that works in synergy with us as a species. It offers control and gives us a sound set of rules to live as a group of good orderly people.

If only we had managed to foster a globally unified single faith from the beginning. Surely, if there was a guiding higher consciousness watching over us it would have presented itself in a way across the species and across time, that fostered the creation of something a bit more homogenic. Surely, any intelligent “creator” would have been able to steer us together into something which bound us globally. But this is where the human factor comes in. If I was to create a new religion today. One that gathered a following and gained both strength and credibility relatively quickly it would be only a matter of time before it sprang offshoots. Sub castes and clades, strongly based on my parent religion but which differed in ever so slightly subtle ways. Christianity has, wait for it, around 30 THOUSAND variations and this has been an evolutionary path of only around 1800 years! Christianity, though one of the dominant faiths on the planet, is just one amongst thousands of others! And where has religion brought us to now, in the 21stcentury? Does it offer us the comforting feeling of global unification? Does it continue to answer all those age old questions. Does it still afford us a strong set of contemporary moral values? Does religion offer us the hope and promise of a brighter and more fulfilled life?

From where I’m standing the answer to these questions is a resounding NO on all counts. Civil unrest, community segregation, war, greed and terrorism all have firm roots in organised religion in modern society. Why is this? Science, civil freedom and global communication technology are going to be the death knell of orthodox organized religious groups. Science has answered the majority of the questions which religion has sought to provide solution to in our past. We understand the universe down to the sub atomic. We understand life down to polymorphisms in genetic code and how the complex interactions of proteins and enzymes in intricate feedback pathways function within each cell. Freedom of speech has given us the voice to challenge the doctrine which has kept us suppressed for so long. We no longer have to put up and shut up when we want to question the words of  those ordained by a God to show us a righteous path in life. Finally we can reach out across the entire globe and find others who share our own ideals, ideas and values, outside of religious teachings. We can find meaning, solice and honesty which out competes any confessionary box or pulpit sermon at the push of a button and a few keystrokes of a keyboard. How can a traditional and rigid set of rules and rituals compete with such a fast evolving set of parameters. Modern day life offers us so much more than any religion ever can. It offers us answers to any questions. Contentment and companionship and believable compassion. When we are striving for an inclusive society which accepts everybody regardless of their colour, cultural background, sex, sexual orientation, political belief, class or spiritual belief what place is there for a framework which is so inflexible or unaccepting of difference and requires such upheaval for even the slightest modification. The only thing which modern society cant provide us with is some kind of definitive answer to what happens to our essence when we die. However, this may be only a temporary impasse.

When a company, such as Apple, can instill such a level of devotion in its consummers, that it verges on the fanatical, is this not the foundations of a modern day technological religious revolution? Apple customers have been examined with MRI scanners and shown to have the same areas of their brains light up when shown images of Apple products as devout religious individuals have when shown images of their deities and religious paraphernalia. Is this evidence that Apple customers are actually having a religious experience when they are using their devices? Possibly…!? So if a company manufacturing technology can instill such a “spiritual” response, in a relatively short space of time, does this then pave the way for new technological based religions? I have given this idea some thought. We are on the cusp of complete integration of neural and electronic networks. Implants are being developed to allow paralysed or disabled individuals to interact with their environment via an electronic interface. The way this fusion of man and machine is progressing is it not a logical proposal that in the not too distant future we will be able to map, copy and record the same pathways of our own neural networks to be stored and examined via computational means? This possibility opens up a very interesting idea to me. If an afterlife is dependent on how good we have been as individuals then surely, it can actually be granted to those of us which have contributed  to the benefit of humanity. Those of us who have lead wholesome and morally upstanding lives. Those of us who have behaved throughout our lives as outstanding beacons of altruism and  selflessness. All our life will be reviewable. All our thoughts and feelings and motives will be extrapolated and evaluated and when it comes to the natural conclusion of our organic existence. Those who have shown sufficient merit can be “downloaded”, if you like. Have their essence and personality disembodied and stored as a digital afterlife. This holds a key to a true outlet for our spirituality: Be a good person and you will move on to an ethereal existence. Be a bad person and you are left at the mercy of the uncertainty and murkiness of existing religious offerings. 

The possibilities of this level of existence are staggering. Inhabit an avatar to continue to interact with the physical world. Access all amassed knowledge instantaneously. Travel around the planet or infact the explored universe at the speed of light. live a moment in a year or a year in a moment. Merge and explore others in this format in ways incomprehensible to us at present. The potential is unimaginable. I will leave you with this thought: What is the future of true spirituality for us? How can we use the technological era to shape and nurture us as a species morally, civilly and spiritually?


Physically alone
But thinking of you
Makes me think im’ wanted
Makes me smile
Like new parents.

Emotionally alone
But feeling you
Makes me feel strong
Makes me shiver
Goosebumps like Braille.

Spiritually Alone
But flying with you
Makes me soar high
Shows me I can glide
Above adversity

Walking alone
But running with you
Traveling together
However great the distance
We go as one.

Talking alone
But im’ speaking to you
Oral insanity
Because I know you cant hear me
But still, you know what im’ saying.

But together
But joined
At peace!

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