I have begun thinking lately about a world without religion. Recently, my wife and I watched Spotlight, the devastating film about the role of the Catholic Church in the priestly pedophile scandal. It seemed clear at the time, and the film makes it very clear, that the entire Catholic Church, all the way to the top, knew of its priestly criminal behavior, and not only did nothing, but actively worked to cover up the scandalous behavior. And I came away thinking, why is this basically immoral institution still in existence? Of course, I realize one might say the same thing about virtually every global bank on the planet, but still, the Church stands out for chutzpah.
And then I began thinking . . . suppose, just suppose, that this scandal so rocked the world of organized religion that the entire edifice came crashing down, bringing with it not only the Catholic Church, but all religious entities everywhere. That people worldwide saw this as evidence that the rulers of organized religion everywhere were simply amoral scoundrels, and they should be cast aside.
Suppose . . .
Then what would follow?
Would the world suddenly become moral and highly principled? One could make a case for that scenario I assume. People globally, would begin to understand that morality and human kindness must after all begin with them, individually. That they must now begin operating according to commonly understood standards of decency.
It could happen. After all, many people do that right now, without the aid of a churchly admonition.
Then I thought, but on the other hand . . .
Suppose, just suppose, one removed the threat of eternal damnation from the world of ordinary humans. That all humans everywhere finally understood the likely truth, that there would be no eternal anything, either damnation or heavenly rewards. That the mostly likely scenario for death is this:
You are still alert, but your breathing becomes shallow, slows, and your awareness begins to drift off. You now only vaguely sense that you are still in the world. Then, suddenly, your heart stops beating, and your brain is deprived of oxygen. So, after a very brief time, your brain loses awareness. And then, it is over, this thing we call LIFE. And we do not know it’s over, because we have no awareness. We do not see a light off in the distance. We do not “see” anything. Because our brain no longer functions. We do not awaken to find ourselves on a bus, or a train to heaven, or even to hell. We do not do or perceive anything, because, again, our brain no longer functions. And, as it turns out, there is no brain substitute or alternative called the Soul. So, nothing follows. No journey, no arrival at the gates of heaven or the gates of hell. Nothing. We simply stop “Being”. And, again, we are unaware that we have stopped Being. And we are never again aware of anything.
Then of course, the rot sets in, but we are unaware of that also. And whether our earthly remains are buried in a nice casket, or burned into ashes, we remain unaware, because we are no longer anywhere. It is difficult to describe what being dead is all about. Mainly, because we are here and aware, it is difficult, perhaps not possible, to conceive being unaware. I know I have great difficulty. I will simply stop “Being” some day, and I will not know I have stopped “Being”.
But that is where my mind has taken me, however uneasy such a condition makes me.
Now, having reached such a terrible conclusion, how does that change my being, my ability to interact with other human beings?
Well, it seems not to change anything for me. I react with kindness toward others when kindness seems appropriate. I react with hostility when that seems appropriate. And the fact that I will go neither to heaven nor to hell, seems an irrelevancy to me.
But how would such an awareness be greeted by others?
Well, we have the greedy humans, the Donald Trumps of the world .. . the global bankers, the mob bosses, the authoritarians like Vlad the Impaler, or Duterte. Such a realization doubtless would not compel them to become more awful towards other humans, because “more awful” seems not possible. Mostly, I imagine, such humans have no personal basis for acting kindly, or fairly towards other humans. They act the way they do, because their personalities condition them to act the way they do. So, for them, I would expect no change.
And for the Haters around the world, those who despise others they deem “less worthy”, i.e., racists, or misogynists, or anti-semitic, or anti-any of dozens of human characterizations, they might not change either. They might instead, feel a bit more secure, knowing that their hatreds would not in any ultimate sense, matter.
But then we have the rest of humanity, just ordinary folks, who now attend some church, or not, but who might be occasionally guided by a sense that what they do, or how they act today, will matter in the ultimate sense. That their actions will/may push them upwards or downwards after it is all over.
Will they now change, and always act to benefit themselves, even if their actions may hurt others? Aye, there’s the rub . . . they might change, or they might not, depending on how their belief system predetermines their daily behavior. And that is what gives me pause in wishing that organized religion would simply disappear because it is more evil than good.
I am not sure. Not that my relative certainty matters, because largely whatever I speculate here is almost wholly irrelevant to the future of humankind. Maybe the inherent design of the human being is simply a flawed creation, and maybe it is the best evidence for evolution, rather than intelligent design. For surely, no superhuman, a God, could possibly design this thing we call humankind so flawed.
Nope, not possible. And the winner is . . . EVOLUTION. Yay!!!!!