Becoming godly. Becoming god.
It seems atheists in general believe that we’d all be better off wholly abandoning our outworn superstitions. Other non-believers counter that a benefit of religion is that the believer is motivated to act pro-socially. Religion creates a sense of guilt for misconduct, but makes up for that by providing ways of absolving sinners while prompting them to make what amends they can. Does it help them or society if we convince them that they believe in a naïve fiction? Usually no. Unless we have another way to help believers to not feel license to hurt others, we’ve likely done them and society no favors. But doesn’t religion cause wars? My take is that religion has simply been used as a rallying cry by leaders who would have waged the wars anyway. Two more benefits: (a) sense of purpose in life and (b) researchers point out that placebos, even when subjects are told they are placebos, can still work, so why not use that? It’s voodoo. It’s faith healing. I’ll try that — as a first option — over a surgeon cutting me open or giving me pills with side effects.
Some are finding ways to lose the dogma but keep the pro-social and inspirational aspects of spirituality. For example, my take on the personal coaching movement, including some business coaching, is that in addition to some therapeutic aspects, many coaches bring into other’s lives a sense of community and purpose that used to be met by church. As a society, many of us are moving away from churches when we experience too much of a sense of perfectionism, comparison, authoritarianism, and dogma, but we still need connection and meaning. Many of us find those needs met in a workplace or family, but many of us don’t. Thus we see followings around thought leaders who inspire us to be our better selves and to support each other as groups of likeminded do-gooders. It’s a tribal instinct. It’s starting to be widely recognized that there is economic benefit to leading in the connection economy. Just as with pastors of decades past, this can be capitalized on at a subsistence level or more, at a level that matches the value the followers feel they receive. The followers are not oblivious to that gain. A congregation has always supported its leaders. Even if you view it as completely transactional, there’s a valuable service provided. Although many coaches stick strictly to psychological principles, much of the coaching movement is unabashedly spiritual. I believe it’s much needed. As humanists, these thot leaders espouse the perennial philosophy that is at the root of the world’s great religions and philosophies.
Some people poo-poo the woo-woo. Not me. I favor evolved superstitions. I don’t know if there really is “spirit,” some collective subconscious guiding us that is more than our individual intuition. I’ve chosen to interpret my experiences as indications that there is such a metaphysical connection, because my experiences make more sense with that worldview. I expect it’s not provable as true or as false. For example, my sister told me of a guy who told her he saw an angel that said it had come to tell him there is a god, and the guy dismissed it as a hallucination. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. We move forward with the best understanding we have. A lot of people feel — or in altered states of consciousness have experienced — that there is a dark matter “force,” a oneness that is our soul. Or maybe we are in a simply mechanistic universe and spirit is something we’re making up to feel better about our vulnerable existence. But if that is true, could we create god or spiritual unity if enough of us want that? The internet is magic. Smart phones are magic. Human cultures and leaders created that magic. We might evolve to have telepathy, interpreting a combination of others’ brain waves, pheromones, and facial expressions with greater accuracy. Technology may bring us immortality. The fictional gods represent our aspirations, and sometimes we do achieve our aspirations. So I won’t disparage magical thinking as long as it isn’t hurting anyone. (To the extent that it does hurt others, we should alter or abandon it. That would seem a debate solvable only on a case-by-case basis.) Believing in magic might help create the reality that we imagine. Many humans have developed advanced levels of maturity, wholly embodying both mercy and justice, both compassion and necessary boundaries. Enlightenment. So some of us have the goodness of the gods. But the power? Consider that theologians have never had the ability to believe — without cognitive dissonance — in a god both omnipotent and wholly “good,” with a view that an all powerful being would not allow innocents to so greatly suffer. Thus we really don’t have a reason to insist that gods be omnipotent, or we can define omnipotence as having all possible power but still subject to the laws of the universe, as Mormonism describes. Thus the gods we might become could indeed be as godly, hopefully more so, than the jealous and capricious gods imagined by cultures past.
For more on this theme, see also: