Monday, September 18, 2006

The Accidental Deity

Came across "Is God An Accident?" in Atlantic Monthly, and gave myself a headache. The article speaks to the duality of human nature, or the split in its physical and social consciousness. This unique separation of comprehension, the author argues, is what leads many humans to follow a religion. It allows us to separate our bodies from our spirits, and in turn, we search for a place to store the soul. Enter religion. That makes it not true belief or higher understanding, but rather straightforward biology. In short, an accident, a short circuit in the wires.

The article covers some interesting ground, though potentially demoralizing, for any waverers, as I frequently am. I still had a few questions. Why do humans, and not other species, exhibit these tendencies? Does this evolved duality apply to spirituality (assuming the author is not using spirituality and religion interchangeably, though I think he might?) Do we as humans fully comprehend the power of our own brains to guide individual beliefs beyond basic reasoning and problem-solving?

The author clearly restates his argument at the end:

" Religious teachings certainly shape many of the specific beliefs we hold; nobody is born with the idea that the birthplace of humanity was the Garden of Eden, or that the soul enters the body at the moment of conception, or that martyrs will be rewarded with sexual access to scores of virgins. These ideas are learned. But the universal themes of religion are not learned. They emerge as accidental by-products of our mental systems. They are part of human nature."

I think the fatal flaw of this piece is equating religion with supernatural beliefs--belief in an afterlife, fear/awe of a supreme being, seeing bodies as vessels, etc. This synonymous use--at least in my un-neuroscientifically trained brain--doesn't allow for simply feeling God in your life, experiencing communication through prayer, or feeling called to certain actions and decisions.

IMHO, our human duality certainly can account for the uniquely human conventions of creating laws, rules, rituals, ceremonies, and morals to organize and guide our daily lives. But I don't see where it accounts for the experience of a relationship with God.

The author may argue my questions merely points to a higher form of the short-circuit. That would make me, a believer, just a dedicated exploiter of this glitch--a metaphysical charlatan. But again, as a believer, perhaps I will never understand ... or never WANT to understand ... that my God can be explained by studies and papers.

And so the religion vs. science debate rages on ...

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