Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Vision of the Future

This post is part of the History of the Devil series from Chapter 1: Good and Evil as Religious Ideas.

Now, over one hundred and ten years since Paul Carus wrote his book, with advancements in linguistics, archeology, genetics, cosmology, etc., it seems that we have metaphorically eaten the forbidden fruit of knowledge, and our eternal expulsion from the Garden of Eden of naivety, with its selfish love affair of personal deities, is only a matter of time.  What will remain?  Carus' vision still saw a place for religion:

"...there are freethinkers who declare that Atheism will supersede all the different conceptions of God. But this is not probable.  The Monistic tendencies of the age will not destroy, but purify and elevate religion. ... the religious ideas of the present time are symbols.  Taken in their literal meaning, they are untenable, but understood in their symbolical nature they are seeds from which a purer conception of the truth will grow."  HOD, P2, Paul Carus

Carus prophesied the emergence of a new type of religion, a better religion, which would grow out of the body of faith, once it had shed the chaff of its dogmatic, literal constraints.  To him, wide scale Atheism was not feasible, as he explained:

A state of irreligion in which mankind would adopt and publicly teach a doctrine of Atheism is an impossibility.  Atheism is a negation, and negations cannot stand, for they have sense only as confronted with the positive issues which they reject.  HOD, P3, Paul Carus

In a sense, Carus' words are right.  Atheism is really just a negation.  However, there are definitely anecdotes of public teaching of an Atheist doctrine, if you can use the term "Atheist doctrine" in any kind of meaningful way.  For example, I had a physics professor who wouldn't hesitate to mock the concept of God in front of the whole class if she was given a cue.

So unlike Carus, I do think that an Atheist doctrine could be part of the standardized school curriculum, but I would never endorse it, because if that were to happen, Atheism would truly become just like the religions it was denying validity.

In some sense, I think protagonists/antagonists, like my professor, play their little roles in changing the culture, but this kind of challenge and change should not be done on a mandate basis.  For starters, such a mandate would be unconstitutional, akin to the government sponsoring a national religion, even if it is more of an anti-religion.  Beyond that, I feel that spirituality is something to be worked out on a personal level, and any spoon-fed source of it, be it the classroom or the clergy, should be highly scrutinized.  Rather, the job of educators in that arena should be to enhance critical thinking skills, to present the facts, and to present the unknowns.

Besides, we shouldn't have to teach Atheism, any more than we have to teach that there is not a magical, pink, glittery, rocket-propelled hedgehog in orbit around Neptune.  Atheism comes from our understanding and perception of the world.  As such, in our modern era with our level of scientific understanding, some people will naturally choose Atheism.

At the same time, other people will understand or perceive some invisible agent, and will choose religion and/or spirituality, regardless of what is taught in our classrooms.  Spirituality will persist, even when all formal, doctrinized religions are proven wrong, or proven to be valid only metaphorically.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, if we can harness our spiritual side for creativity, mutual understanding, and a greater moral impetus.

As opposed to indoctrinating the negation of Atheism, Carus had a different concept of where our spirituality would turn...

Yet our present anthropomorphic view of God, briefly called Anthropotheism, which as a rule conceives him as an infinitely big individual being, will have to yield to a higher view in which we shall understand that the idea of a personal God is a mere simile.  God is much more than a person.  When we speak of God as a person, we ought to be conscious of the fact that we use an allegory which, if it were taken literally, can only belittle him.  The God of the future will not be personal, but superpersonal.  HOD, P3, Paul Carus

A superpersonal God?  What does that even mean?  We'll explore that next time...


  1. Aargh. "We'll explore that next time..." ???

    Ok. I'll wait... again. Have you ever been called a tease? :-)

    Even some of the New Atheists, while enjoying their celebrity status, seem to be showing reluctance with taking the word 'atheism' too far.

    I'm fond of Taleb's response - a new "ataraxia" and skeptical empiricism. Basically, not bothering with extra premises, presuming as little as needed, enjoying doubt but not getting fixated on argument, studying what you find beautiful, finding tranquility and making yourself worthy of trust.

  2. Ha! Sorry Andrew! I know you're chomping at the bit here. If work will let me, I hope to get that part posted later this week.

    I like Taleb's response. :-) I hadn't heard that before. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. As for me, I am glad for the bold voice. They have made it possible that you guys can have this conversation without a risk to your life. I think Quiet Atheists take all those past struggles to challenge religion for granted.

    "Super-Personal God"? Sounds like German Romanticism -- touch of Monism.
    How about Supra-Personal or "A-Personal"? So maybe everyone would be more comfortable with "Supra-Theist" or "Super-Theist".

    My post on Monkey Religion touches on this A-personal God.

    An A-Personal God gets rid of certain issues, but others take its place.

    The human mind is pathetic! (ooops, I'm not suppose to say that)

  4. @Sabio
    I, too, am extremely thankful for the bold voice. Even though I post with a pseudonym for protection, I still stand on the shoulders of those bold giants who came before me. But I think that there is a place for vocal yet quiet Atheists too, as they are more likely to "win the hearts" of Christians than the more confrontational types. The way I see it, both approaches are necessary to change the culture. The brazen shatters the foundations, while the quiet rebuilds.

    Wait just a moment on your judgement of a "superpersonal God." Without giving too much away, let's just say that "super" can mean a few different things, like in superposition.

    If I understand you right, you're not too far in suggesting the A-personal, supra-theist Monkey religion. But I think you may like the slight twist Carus will put on it.

    Oh, and you're damn right the human mind is pathetic! :-)

  5. My mind is getting more pathetic with each passing day. :-P

    I tend to think that it is personality that defines whether one is quiet or loud. Not that personalities can't or won't change but for the most part I think anyone who admits to be an atheist or atheistic are far from quiet.

  6. Zoe, I keep finding more and more my own mind to be pretty pathetic as well. I think that's part of the wisdom that comes with age: you start to realize just how pathetic you are. ;-)

    That may be true about people who admit to being atheist. In real life, I rarely, rarely do, and I am a pretty quiet guy.

  7. You know TWF, just recently I found myself quite embarrassed about my Christianity. I was so dedicated to it being right. You trust that the information you are given, the books you've read, the Bible itself is accurate, the personal relationship with "God" is real . . . and then one day you find out the truth that all the *t's* aren't crossed and all the *i's* aren't dotted. All of a sudden the moment of realization ends up being just one big "oh oh" moment.

  8. Zoe, I can surely understand it being one of those embarrassing moments. :-) But, with all of that supporting structure like you mention, I don't think we should feel too embarrassed. I know I have been a for for lesser things. It's just kind of one of those uncomfortable human experiences, I guess.