Crafting a Rational Theology

As atheists, we’re well acquainted with the irrationalities of the world’s religions. We’ve seen it all before: the absurdities in holy books, the convoluted twists of logic used by professional apologists, the self-contradictions and incoherent definitions that the faithful swallow without a qualm. All that can safely be taken for granted. Now let’s see if we can do theology better.

I’m not speaking of ways that the world could be made better; we covered that ground in “Improving on God’s Handiwork“. It’s no fair saying you’d have created a perfect, immortal paradise from the beginning, even though we all know an omnipotent deity would be capable of that. The point of this exercise is different: you must accept the world as it currently is, and craft a theology that explains it in a reasonably satisfying manner, without any fallacies of logic or divine mysteries that must simply be taken on faith, and without replicating a currently existing religion.

To start the discussion, I have an idea to propose. It’s a form of pantheism that might be called “universal transmigration”, and it solves a puzzle of personal identity that philosophers have long struggled with: Why am I in this body, this life, and not someone else’s body and someone else’s life? Why is my “camera of consciousness” in this head and nowhere else?

This theology proposes that there is a soul, but only one soul – call it the World-Soul if you like, or God if you feel more comfortable with that. This single, immortal soul lives billions of different lives, using human beings as its vessels. Each time one body dies, it transmigrates to a new body – a new person – and starts over again. These transmigrations can move it both backwards and forwards in time, even contemporaneously with other incarnations of itself: so that ultimately God, or the World-Soul, lives many lives simultaneously, like a time traveler going into the past and meeting himself. Like a shuttle weaving at a loom, turning a single thread into a complex tapestry, this process results in God becoming, in turn, every human being who ever has lived or ever will live.

This explains why there is suffering and evil, as well as great happiness and joy. God, the only real consciousness in the universe, wants to explore life in all its diversity, and living an endless string of blissful, contented lives wouldn’t teach anything new. Living through short lives of pain and toil, in addition to long lives of happiness and love, is the only way to truly experience all the possibilities that existence has to offer.

This theology also has profound personal and moral implications: namely, you are God at this moment, and so is everyone else you know, everyone else you meet. Everyone from the President in the White House to a panhandler on the subway is a different incarnation of God, and thus worthy of respect and devotion. And if you do violence to any other person, you’re not only doing violence to God, but to a person whom you yourself will be someday. Such a theology could provide the basis for a very deeply felt ethic of compassion, non-violence, and concern for the future.

So, that’s what I’m offering to start with. Who else has a theology to propose?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Owen

    Meh. This sounds nice, but Occam’s razor is all the theology I need.

  • John Morales

    I’m an atheist; theology is for theists.

    Why do you want to ape them? ;)

  • Valhar2000

    This is very silly, and, unlike the Monty Python sketches, not in a funny way.

    Then again, if it keeps you from doing drugs and alcohol…

  • Herb

    Hi Ebon… you said

    God, the only real consciousness in the universe, wants to explore life in all its diversity, and living an endless string of blissful, contented lives wouldn’t teach anything new. Living through short lives of pain and toil, in addition to long lives of happiness and love, is the only way to truly experience all the possibilities that existence has to offer.

    yet you propose using this theology as a basis for improving the world. Isn’t that a contradiction? If everyone accepted this idea so that peace and compassion flourished, wouldn’t we be denying God the experience of hate and violence? Since you’ve introduced time travel, I guess God can always experience those things in the past. But it still seems like the full range of possible experiences would be missed.

    In other words, by admitting that God *wants* to experience evil, don’t we simply provide cover for people who want to do evil?

  • Eureka

    To state the obvious, you are heavily relying on reincarnation in your proposed theology. For who knows? Could Dr Ian Stevenson have been right about it? One thing though, I won’t propose any theology for now because unlike the Dr I’m not on LSD and I prefer the scientific method.

    Isn’t it funny that one person’s story can, several generations later, be a Doctor’s life story?

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    I’ve come across this sort of concept before. It also has the effect of rendering the universe unnecessary as a physical object, turning God into the only existing consciousness and the arch solipsist.
    Like all pantheisms it’s non falsifiable and largely irrelevent. If it’s true we can never know it so may as well carry on as if the universe was real and observable and we are separately conscious within it.

  • http://friendlyhumanist.net/ Timothy Mills

    Excellent idea, Ebon. I think it could be quite fun, if enough people get into it. Not just as a means to show how sloppy and sad most conventional theologies are, but as a creative way to explore the human condition. Like a new genre of fiction. That is, create-your-own-theology has been around as long as religion (obviously); but its authors have never been so open about the fact that they’re just making it up. Hmm…

    I also like your proposed theology. As Herb points out, it isn’t perfect, but it’s a good sight better than most theologies out there. So it satisfies your criterion for improvement.

    I think I’d aim for something more deistic. In order to make it new, I’d elaborate on the personality and moral code that this very impersonal prime-mover might have had, to have created a universe such as the one we find ourselves in. (For example, it founded the nature of the universe on regular laws, to encourage rationality in any conscious beings that might eventually pop up. Therefore, the prime-mover values rationality. Also, it’s a very ascetic being, as the universe became mostly empty space soon after the Big Bang.)

    Or maybe a more Eastern take on things – a theology focussed not on the existence of supernatural entities, but on recognizing the sources of suffering and living so as to rise above them. A sort of Buddhism whose practices are tied to the state of neuroscientific, psychological, sociological, and economic understanding of human nature and the means of thriving. Could that still count as theology?

  • TJ

    I have always like Last Thursdayism: the world was created last Thursday, and us with it, with our memories, hopes and dreams in place, and the light from stars a billion light years away in just the right place on its way here. The creator is probably a prankster who created us to amuse itself (for about a week, one supposes). Enjoy today… Wednesday… since it is the last day of the universe. A new universe will probably be created tomorrow.

    The extreme version of this is Last Nightism, as shown in the documentary film “Dark City” in 1998. Or rather, as present in my memories of that film, which, since I haven’t seen it in more than a week, may not actually exist, though lots of semi-coherent evidence for it is on the web (and even on my shelf of DVDs if I go look, I bet). What a prankster the Last Thursdayist God is!

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    I hope you are not going to give up atheism to become the next prophet of the I-am-God-and-so-are-you religion.

  • Ritchie

    I like this ‘universal transmigration’, though may I suggest an ammendment…?

    Since there is still the historical problem of where along the evolution of our species we exactly became ‘human’ (who was the earliest being chronologically to be used by God as a vessel…?), may I suggest that God lives through every living thing, human, animal, plant, etc,. That way, God is experiencing not just the sum of HUMAN experience, but the whole of creation itself.

    If fact, that could be exactly what, not just consciousness, but life itself is – animation by God.

    I’ll put my thinking cap on for one of my own though…

  • Snoof

    There’s a short story here which is along universal transmigrationist lines, too.

    Here’s another theology that I’m quite fond of –
    Hell exists, it’s here and now. It’s a test, too: can we make it Heaven?
    (It’s one part Theology of Species from Science of Discworld III, one part Believers of the Source mysticism from Planescape. I suppose it could be called humanism with a teleology.)

  • http://www.dvorkin.com David Dvorkin

    Why waste time on this?

  • Polly

    And if you do violence to any other person, you’re not only doing violence to God, but to a person whom you yourself will be someday.

    But, maybe I(god) want to experience what it’s like to get cut-off in rush hour traffic…or punched in the face…or much, much worse.

    My friend was astounded when I told him, one time, that I wish I could be every person on Earth – except no sexual torture stuff. Starvation and disease OK.

    My “theology” is that I am the only being, the only THING in existence and all this is my dream. I can’t wake up. However, events do move according to my will in a very circuitous manner that’s hard to predict (really does seem that way).

  • http://friendlyhumanist.net/ Timothy Mills

    @ John Morales, Valhar2000, and David Dvorkin,

    What’s the problem? If you enjoy it, jump in. If you don’t, head off to more attractive areas of cyberspace. Or at least try to think of some more substantial objection than “I don’t like this”.

    I think it’s fun, it’s diverting, and it may even be illuminating. Maybe it will shed light on people who make up religions and then take them seriously – such as Scientology, Mormonism, and (come to think of it) every other religion on the planet.

    Sure beats watching professional sports or reality TV – but you won’t find me going over to a discussion of the latest game and asking “Why waste time on this?”

  • CzarGarrett

    Sounds quite like what Orson Scott Card eventually got to in the post-Ender’s Game books with the philotes/aiua and such.

  • TFM

    As made-up theologies go, I suppose you’re off to a good start, Ebon, but I’m scratching my head about what the point is. Parody religions like the Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster or Last Thursdayism have the benefit of satirizing actual theologies and the logic for them, but your first sketch of “universal transmigration” lacks the whimsy that would prevent people who aren’t familiar with your writing from taking it seriously. I don’t think *you* take it seriously, but it looks like the kind of thing that’s seriously believed by plenty of credulous folks. I’m not knocking it as an exercise in creative thinking, but without a few absurdities that even credulous people could be expected to reject, it’s just another imaginary candle in a room full of supernatural flames. If we’re going to walk into that room together, can’t we go in with an imaginary snuffer?

    If the exercise continues, then, my first suggestion is to rename the theology, “Universal Transmogrification“, and the mechanism for all this soul-traveling you have going on is invisible, undetectable cardboard boxes (i.e. transmogrifiers) that fill the world around us. The World-Soul’s true form, when not expressed in human vessels, is a stuffed tiger. This tiger has a name, but it must not ever be written or uttered out loud, due to possible copyright infringement.

  • http://www.skepticaloccultism.com/ pendens proditor

    This is roughly the theology of the Conversations With God series. It was the only flavor of theism I could tolerate, back when I was a theist.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    As Herb said in #4, this theology not only excuses oppression and torture, it mandates it.

    If we are all God, and each of us is here to experience a different existence, then some of us are here to experience the existence of being gassed by Nazis. Since this is God’s will and the divine plan, stopping the Nazis would be an act of evil. Worse, it would be futile, since God would just arrange another event where God could experience this existence.

    Sorry, Ebon, but it is impossible to make theology produce goodness.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    From several comments, I see I’m not the first person who’s thought of this. Well, that just proves this theology must be true – we’ve all gotten the idea from the memories of the World-Soul leaking through to our current lives! (Just kidding!)

    Why waste time on this?

    A fair question, David, but you might as well ask why anyone would write a screenplay or a novel. It’s just fun to indulge the imagination sometimes, even in creative exercises that bear no relation to reality. And you never know – if we can invent theologies that are fairer, more rational, more ethical than those of the currently popular religions, we may get a few members of those religions to notice that their own beliefs seem irrational and inadequate by comparison, and inspire them to start asking questions.

    In other words, by admitting that God *wants* to experience evil, don’t we simply provide cover for people who want to do evil?

    That’s a very good point, Herb. But if I put on my theologian hat, I can answer it. :)

    Yes, God wants to experience evil as well as good. But clearly God has experienced evil in countless ways and varieties, in millions and billions of lives, so there’s no possibility that that desire will go unfulfilled. What God has not yet experienced (“yet” in our time-limited sense) is living through a world that’s undergoing moral improvement, where kindness replaces cruelty and happiness supplants suffering. The world doesn’t offer very much of that kind of experience, compared to the quantity of suffering it contains, and that gives us an incentive to bring it about.

    I suppose it’s a similar problem to the one the ancient Gnostics faced. They believed the material body was beneath contempt and the soul was all-important. But does that give you a motivation to extinguish physical desires through asceticism (as they apparently did), or is it a motivation to indulge every kind of vice and personal whim since the material world doesn’t really matter anyway (as their enemies accused them of?)

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    This is scary, Ebon. This is eerily close to what I believed in when I had religious beliefs. I believed that we all had immortal immaterial souls (which reincarnated), and that there was a World-Soul of which these souls were all part: a being that had some sort of consciousness and selfhood apart from our own individual consciousness and selfhood. A whole that was greater than the sum of its parts, if you will: like we were all cells in a giant cosmic brain.

    Only I didn’t believe the World-Soul was intentionally going through suffering and evil in order to experience all that could be experienced. I thought of it as a life form — a life form that was imperfect, and going through growing pains. Indeed, I thought one of the main purposes of my life — of everyone’s life — was to foster the growth and learning of the World-Soul.

    Oy. It’s embarrassing to think of now. And yet, as shabby and vague as this theology was, it still beat Omniscient/ Omnipotent/ Omnibenevolent by a country mile. At least I didn’t have to twist myself into pretzels explaining why a perfect being allowed imperfection. I never thought of the World-Soul as all-powerful, all-knowing, or all-good. Again, the point of life was to help it become more knowledgeable and more good.

    I say yet again: Oy. How embarrassing.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Oh, and to the haters: If you don’t want to play, don’t play. But what is the point of the “I don’t find this interesting, therefore you shouldn’t have posted it” comments?

  • Katie M

    This idea is certainly thought-provoking. Ultimately though, I think I’ll stick to my atheology :)

  • jack

    Ebon,

    As others have pointed out, variations on this theme have already been proposed, and in fact are rather popular. The New Age “A Course In Miracles” is somewhat like this, as are Vedantic Hinduism and Buddhism. But your new theology, along with these similar others, all suffer (at least) one fatal flaw: they all depend on consciousness being independent of the physical brain. As you have so eloquently summarized, modern neuroscience provides abundant evidence that this idea is false. Therefore it doesn’t really meet your originally intended starting point: to accept the world as it is.

  • Zietlos

    …Wasn’t that the plot to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within?

    I prefer a flaky sci-fi theology myself. Either the infinite holodeck/matrix philosophy, which is a pretty good one, or the “germs on a flea” philosophy:

    There are large creatures out there, huge ones, we call them “universes”. We live upon one such beast right as I type. Compared to it, we are not even fleas. The galaxies are fleas. We are germs infecting one of the fleas on this magnificent creature, and one day, eventually, its antibodies will come to destroy us. Despite our insignificance, we still should, like the best germs, attempt to flee our flea and infect other ones. Some of us, like any bacteria, cannibalize each other, but for the most part, our noble goal of leaving this “planet” behind should be forthright in our thoughts. Only then can we eventually find satisfaction and completion, in the quest to expand our dominion and infect other universes.

    Though personally, Pastafarianism, I think, is the way to go if you’re going to actually take up a religion. rA’men.

  • Tacroy

    There is a rather interesting parallel in physics: an electron moving forward in time is identical to a positron (an anti-electron) moving backwards in time. A similar theory has even been proposed (though not seriously): there is only one electron, and it weaves back and forth from one temporal end of the universe to the other.

    Therefore, if this divine consciousness exists in our time-vector as a soul, its carrier into the past would appear to as an anti-soul from our perspective. They would appear to be normal souls, except with all measurable qualities reversed.

    If we assume that this universal soul has the goal of improving our world, then the souls would be people who have made the world a better place before they died; conversely, the anti-souls are people who would have made the world better by not being born. If we assume the opposite, the opposite is true; if we assume that the soul is simply neutral and influences people randomly, it would be impossible to differentiate souls from anti-souls.

    This explains why otherwise rational people can disagree on concepts that seem obvious to themselves – the people they disagree with have souls of the opposite polarity.

    I’m sure there’s further implications, but I’ve had too much Mountain Dew to think about it properly. (or to uncheck the “I’m not a spammer” box, apparently)

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Greta Christina

    I believed that we all had immortal immaterial souls (which reincarnated), and that there was a World-Soul of which these souls were all part: a being that had some sort of consciousness and selfhood apart from our own individual consciousness and selfhood. A whole that was greater than the sum of its parts, if you will: like we were all cells in a giant cosmic brain.

    I suspect we were both teenagers of our time :)More seriously I think this kind of concept of God/spirituality appeals to the scientific mind. It doesn’t surprise me that Ebon mooted this. It’s close to, though more specific than,Einstein’s “theology”. I’ve got a thought for a contribution of my own, which I may post later. In the meantime Greta, how about all conscious life in the universe is a physical incarnation of the wayward teenage (15 billion years old) child of God and evil is just one big cosmic spanking. Just a thought.

  • Tim

    Somewhat close to gnosticism:
    There exists some god, but it’s definitely not all-powerful, or even all that good at what it does. It created the universe, and many others. Keeps them in a jar on its desk for study later.

  • Anonymous

    Well there goes my sex drive.

  • Rick M

    A few requests for our rational religion – I want incense and candles, bells and giant gongs, flowing vestments and fun hats, special singing (not stuffy hymns – gospel and reggae!)and dancing. Also, bingo and sacramental hallucinogens.

  • jemand

    didn’t the guy who writes dilbert come up with some fake theology– god wanted to see what it would be like not to exist so blew itself up into tiny little godbits in the big bang… or something like that.

  • John Morales

    Timothy @14,

    What’s the problem? If you enjoy it, jump in. If you don’t, head off to more attractive areas of cyberspace. Or at least try to think of some more substantial objection than “I don’t like this”.

    It was a comment on the OP.

    The problem? The conceit that an atheist would subscribe to a theology.
    It’d be somewhat akin to a bald person’s hairstyle, no?

  • http://generalsystemsvehicle.blogspot.com Mandrellian

    Heh, nice one. This is the kind of deism/pantheism I subscribed to until relatively recently, when I noticed two things: 1) that I didn’t NEED a religion to be happy or nice and 2) that I was for all intents and purposes atheist anyway. Anyone read the “Conversations with God” series by Neale Donald Walsch? Ebon’s new made-up theology echoes the thrust & sentiment of those books. The CWG series, it must be said, put me firmly on the road to realising I was atheist. A good bridge from “Hmmm I dunno what I believe” to “Hmmm it’s bollocks”.

    It’s a great theology though Ebon, in that it encourages empathy and compassion for everyone, regardless of origin or faith or philosophy – and a nice little thought experiment. As such I don’t get the raised eyebrows in the comments. Hypotheticals are fun!

    I’d like to think that basing a theology on how the world actually is as opposed to a wishful-thinking-based sectarian utopia (& subsequent implied hell for enemies) should clearly illustrate to theologians that their contorted & contradictory thinking isn’t necessary. Then again, theologians are nearly, to a person, sectarian and begin with the assumption that their sect has The Truth, so expecting them to be neutral in such a way is a bit much! My definition of a theologian is someone with the responsibility of fitting square pegs into whatever shaped holes they find, not looking at the holes as they are and then crafting pegs to match.

    Anyway, nice post.

  • http://youmademesayit.com PhillyChief

    Wait, so your solution for “without any fallacies of logic or divine mysteries that must simply be taken on faith” is to offer a divine mystery of the “World-Soul” which, since you gave no evidence for it, I assume we’re to take on faith? Christ, the game is stupid enough but when you can’t even play it yourself by the rules you cooked up, then sir, you’ve gone full retard.

  • valhar2000

    Timothy Mills: Hey buddy! I said I aproved of this exercise!

    If it keeps Ebonmuse off drugs…

  • Eurekus

    Actually, I think I was too harsh in my above post. It’s good to do this. It shows that we as atheists could create a superior religion to what theologians can. Christ the Lord dying on a tree. How the hell could I have fallen for it?

  • Eurekus

    Try in my above comment. I’m sure you know what I mean.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    There exists some god, but it’s definitely not all-powerful, or even all that good at what it does. It created the universe, and many others. Keeps them in a jar on its desk for study later.

    Nice one, Tim. We’d better hope he put some airholes in the lid of that jar, or we’re all screwed. ;)

    A few requests for our rational religion – I want incense and candles, bells and giant gongs, flowing vestments and fun hats, special singing (not stuffy hymns – gospel and reggae!)and dancing. Also, bingo and sacramental hallucinogens.

    But of course, Rick. There’s no point inventing your own religion if you don’t get to have silly hats and sacramental hallucinogens.

    Wait, so your solution for “without any fallacies of logic or divine mysteries that must simply be taken on faith” is to offer a divine mystery of the “World-Soul” which, since you gave no evidence for it, I assume we’re to take on faith? Christ, the game is stupid enough but when you can’t even play it yourself by the rules you cooked up, then sir, you’ve gone full retard.

    And that’s PhillyChief for you – you can’t even invent a religion as a thought experiment without getting his ire up. :)

    For the record, the “divine mysteries” line was referring to things like the 3 = 1 illogic of the Trinity, or the belief that God has perfectly good reasons for allowing evil which he just isn’t going to tell us – things that are incomprehensible but that we’re still expected to believe. I think everyone can understand what it would mean for my theology to be true, even if there’s no evidence that it is.

  • John Morales

    I think everyone can understand what it would mean for my theology to be true, even if there’s no evidence that it is.

    Sure.
    Pantheism would be true, hence God would truly exist, hence atheists are utterly wrong.

    PS Hey, did I mention that being an atheist and having a theology are contradictory ideas? :)

  • Zietlos

    Yes John, but…

    The point of this thought experiment is NOT to create a religion atheists can get behind (Last Thursdayism and Pastafarianism are the “atheist’s religions” in that regard, and more-or-less do a decent job at it), the point is something else:

    Did I mention being an atheist and discussing various possible theologies are NOT contrary ideas? :p (Yeesh, it must be a boring life if you look at movies, video games, novels, drunken fishermen’s tales, etc and just disdainfully say “that, and real life, are contradictory ideas” (and I imagine then having a little harrumph and continuing to stare a a bag of pure mercury that is the only object whose truth you can truly be certain of). )

    We’re allowed to talk about theoretical theology, even if we don’t adhere to it.

  • Jennifer

    I mentioned this in a comment here a couple years ago, but this is the perfect time to bring it up again.

    One fictional religion I think I could get behind if it existed is Armaghan Satanism, from John Ringo’s Empire of Man series. It starts with a planet settled by Irish Catholics, who promptly start fighting again. One side starts calling the other Satanists. With a sense of humor, they accept the epithet and end up winning. Then they develop it into an actual religion.

    In the end, they decide that “Paradise Lost” is a case of the winners writing the history books — Lucifer was the good guy, and it was the angels who were evil. They won the war for heaven, kicked Lucifer and his followers out, and imprisoned God.

    In the series, Satanists commonly join the military on the grounds that it is their duty to prepare, come Armageddon, to fight on Satan’s side and free God.

    This story neatly accounts for all the misery in the universe: if God was really in charge, things would be better. Satanists account for good by saying that good Xians, Jews, et al are simply bucking the intent of their own theology.

  • John Morales

    Zietlos, looks like part of your comment went into woo-land.

    I thought this was the point:

    Now let’s see if we can do theology better.
    [...]
    The point of this exercise is different: you must accept the world as it currently is, and craft a theology that explains it in a reasonably satisfying manner, without any fallacies of logic or divine mysteries that must simply be taken on faith, and without replicating a currently existing religion.

    My (initial) response to that was: Whyever for?

    Did I mention being an atheist and discussing various possible theologies are NOT contrary ideas? :p

    You have now…

    We’re allowed to talk about theoretical theology, even if we don’t adhere to it.

    So, when did I say you weren’t?

    Thankfully, I am allowed (thanks, Ebonmuse) to say that this seems like a silly idea.

  • Penguin_Factory

    Judging from some of the comments here, I don’t think some people realise that Ebon isn’t actually suggesting that any of this is true.

    Anyways, just wanted to comment on something in the post:

    “it solves a puzzle of personal identity that philosophers have long struggled with: Why am I in this body, this life, and not someone else’s body and someone else’s life?”

    Is this actually something philosphers struggle with? Because it seems like one of those questions with a self-evident answer. You’re in this body because it’s your body. There’s no way you could be in someone else’s body because by definition it’s not yours. I can see how this might have been an issue before it was understood that the brain and not some sort of ethereal spirit was responsible for consciousness, but now that that matter is cleared up it’s like asking why the data in your hard drive is in that hard drive and not someone else’s.

  • Herb

    Hi Ebon — you said

    What God has not yet experienced (“yet” in our time-limited sense) is living through a world that’s undergoing moral improvement, where kindness replaces cruelty and happiness supplants suffering.

    Couldn’t we also say that God has yet to experience ultimate cruelty or ultimate suffering? As much evil as there is in our past/present, I’m sure humans could find a way to top it. E.g. how about a global nuclear war? There has always been kindness and cruelty, happiness and suffering to some degree. I don’t understand how we can appease this god, who wants to experience all things, by heading in one direction rather than the other.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    Herb is, again, right on the money. This theology suffers from the same flaw as all infinite theologies: every direction is just as likely as every other one, because every destination is equally far away.

    Infinities don’t make sense in physics; and they don’t make sense in theology.

  • http://lenoxus.pbworks.com Lenoxus

    I remember once thinking about doing some tongue-in-cheek mystical street-preaching based on the oft-quoted saying which (though I didn’t know it at the time) comes from Paul in Hebrews: Be not inhospitable to strangers, for they may be angels in disguise. I would have argued that only those who believe this to be literally the case can possibly have an incentive to be moral; no other moral philosophy could work, period.

    More fun for me than made-up theologies is made-up cosmologies. When I was much younger I imagined a mythology in which the world was like those toy balls with a smaller ball inside which always keeps itself upright; the “outer shell” would be the sky, and a giant cat was perpetually batting the world-ball around on an enormous table, causing day and night to cycle overhead.

    My all-time favorite cosmology is the concave hollow Earth.

  • http://lenoxus.pbworks.com Lenoxus

    I know this assertion might ruffle a few noodly feathers, but I’ll make it anyway: I think Last Thursdayism, or, as it is more “officially” termed, Omphalism, beats the FSM any day for religion-and-ID-parody with the potential power to sway actual human beings. People don’t think of their own religious beliefs as being as absurd as “flying spaghetti monstrosity”, but Omphalism has a great non-absurdity to it, if only for the relative mildness of its claims.

    Coming in second is the Invisible Pink Unicorn. In one simple phrase and “plausible” logo, the whole of self-contradictory religion is nailed.

    All this has made me think of Vectron, another great example of how a religion can come to have a content of zero.

  • ildi

    Admit it, Ebon, you want in on the fame, fortune and hot babes that come with forming your own religion! You need a catchy name…

  • Joffan

    … except for people with green eyes. They’re actually a different, competing god that is also trying to experience everything.

  • http://generalnotions.talkislam.info Ergo Ratio

    Ebon,

    I don’t have time to read all these comments are get involved in whatever discussion is going on here right now, but your idea is qualitatively the same as mine, wherein the same thing is observing itself via many different points of view. I came to the same conclusion you did, that if I sincerely held this view, then I would want to prevent suffering, since I would eventually (or previously) experience that same suffering from that point of view.

    Finding a “rational” theology has been a side-project of mine for the past few years, if only for entertainment value.

  • Richard P.

    I have a problem with using a concept in which the word god is used. If we “must accept the world as it currently is, and craft a theology that explains it in a reasonably satisfying manner” then due to the baggage the word god would not be useable. It would take to long to redefine the word to really be useful.

    How about something like this:

    We are all a protrusion of awareness. The universe is a living sentient being. We are merely a conglomeration of universal awareness that is manifesting itself in this organic shell at this time and in this place. While existing in this form we lose direct contact with the universal consciousness, while maintaining an energetic connection with the mother universe.

    Our objective in manifesting ourselves is to learn. Within the organic construct in which we now exist. Our goal is to experience and to learn, it does not matter what we learn, or what we experience just that we do it. There are no rules, no boundaries except those we create. Once our time within this organic shell expires our awareness returns back to the universe and what we have learned becomes part of universal knowledge.

    Being a manifestation of a living universe gives us an inherent sense of survival, beyond that the responsibility of creating the world is up to us.

  • Ishryal

    Heh, like a few others this was similar to what I believed when I was a theist… not that I was ever really big into it mind you. But yeah, the idea was that everything that could experience things (be it human, tree, rock whatever) was but a facet of a universal conscious. That all we are is just one aspect of the uni-conscious ‘thing’.

    I came up with it when I was trying to determine if ‘God’ was good or evil. In the end I figured if God was ‘all’, then God would be amoral… both good and evil, and neither at the same time (assuming that good and evil both existed in the same amounts). From there I figured that if God was both good and evil, then God must also be everything and nothing, including us.

    At that point I realised that in the end there wasn’t a point to God at all, or even thinking about it… it either existed or didn’t, and all I could do was to live out my life as *I* thought best so why waste time in thinking on things I could do nothing about. In the end I was just making up stories to satisfy my own curiosity.

    As for another ‘Rational Theology’, how about this:

    God was a physical entity true. It was all knowing and all powerful with respect to the natural physical laws that God itself had created. At least the God before it. See, the idea is that humans (or any conscious being on earth or our in space) with enough time will develop to such a point, have enough knowledge and control over the physical universe that we will be like Gods ourselves. At some point in the far future, so long as we don’t kill ourselves through wars, greed etc, we will all become one being, and at that time we see that A: there are other Gods out there to which we can merge with and so on and so on and so on never ending, or B: there are no other Gods out there and find that what we have become is very lonely and so start the universe off again in another Big Bang, either destroying ourselves (because we are still limited to the laws of the universe), or unable to effect the new universe because it has it’s own laws and/or our existence in the new universe would consume it before it had a chance to develop.

    Any ‘God’ that may have appeared in the past was merely a more advanced being on it’s way to being an all-God, and we may or may not meet them again in the future either as equals in which to merge with, as victims of them as they consume us, or us as the consumers.

  • Paul

    Speaking of rational theology, I’ve thought of a great resolution to the problem of evil with respect to the God of Abraham.

    As floods and drought were a necessary consequence of the fabric of the physical world, predators and parasites, dysfunctions and diseases were a consequence of the evolution of life…They were not a result of a deficient or malevolent design.

    Oh, wait, I knew I had read that somewhere. Templeton Prize winner Francisco Ayala wrote it in his book, Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion. More recently (in fact, the day after the Templeton was awarded) he was interviewed for an article, which said:

    Man’s “flawed” design made evolutionary theory more compatible with the idea of a benevolent creator than intelligent design. “Because of the flawed design of our reproductive systems more than 20 per cent of all pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion,” said Professor Ayala. “Do you want to blame God for that? No, science has provided an answer. It is the clumsy ways of nature and the evolutionary process.”

    Who knew solving the Problem of Evil was so easy. Just blame evolution for any poor designs, even though you still maintain that god is omnipotent and omniscient.

    Sorry for the minorly off-topic post, but you haven’t commented on the Templeton yet Ebonmuse!

  • Richard P.

    Ishryal;
    I think that is a horrible theology. It once again leaves us with believing in a non existent superior being to create a dogma by. It leaves another superior being to dictate stupid morals and elevate the need to think for our selves.
    Nope, throw that one out with the trash.

  • Ishryal

    @Richard P.

    I said it was an idea… didn’t say it was a good one :P

    Besides, who says we have to worship or look for morality in this ‘pre-big bang’ God? The idea was simply to suggest an explanation of why we are here and to explain why we are what we are… curious, consuming, progressive beings… and a possible path for us to follow for the future.

    In my view, that’s basically all religion (or theology etc) is for… an attempt to explain why where here and to offer a guide as to where we should go.

  • John Morales

    Ishryal,

    The idea was simply to suggest an explanation of why we are here and to explain why we are what we are… curious, consuming, progressive beings… and a possible path for us to follow for the future.

    Thing is, an arbitrary and unfalsifiable guess is hardly explanatory; also, using such as guidance is patently foolish.

    Mice are not, as is commonly assumed on Earth, small white squeaking animals who spend a lot of time being experimented on.

    [...]

    In fact, they are the protrusions into our dimension of hyper-intellegent pan-dimensional beings. These beings are in fact responsible for the creation of the Earth.

    [...]

    The Earth was often mistaken for a planet. It was, in fact, a powerful supercomputer running a program designed by hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings.

    (from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.)

  • Samuel Skinner

    Making God interesting falls victim to the problem Mary Sues do- namely individuals with no limits aren’t interesting. Of course Mary Sues generally conduct campaigns of genocide…

    Anyway, the only version of God that works for a rational theology would be a deistic one. You can always alter what you mean by deistic- maybe it doesn’t know what is going on in our universe. Maybe it can barely interact with us because we are so totally different. Maybe it can’t interact without causing the laws of physics to go haywire.

  • Scotlyn

    I was always partial to the Greek and Roman pantheons for sheer explanatory power of “how things are”. You can’t beat having a bunch of larger than life humanoid gods with larger than life egos, passions and jealousies, for explaining all of the random badness that happens. And as for human-sized sins – well, obviously, we didn’t lick them off the floor!

  • Ishryal

    @John Morales

    Thing is, an arbitrary and unfalsifiable guess is hardly explanatory; also, using such as guidance is patently foolish.

    Well duh.

    And I never wrote ‘guidance’. I wrote possibility. Just as I can’t proove God doesn’t exist, or someone else proove that ‘life’ isn’t just a dream you are living, or that we are not in fact a part of a large group ‘world soul’, all we’ve got left is the possibility of anyone of those things being true or false. At least in terms of theology.

    So, is my idea more or less possible than a guy being the son of God, than of resurrection or than of the Trinity? If it is, would it not be more rational?

    Not looking to write anything in stone here, merely sharing creative input.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    I like the “one soul” idea because it really drives home the point that we bring a lot of our suffering upon ourselves. Anyway, I never said anything about this because it was awfully close to my Humanist Creation Myth, but I was talking about it with my roommate last night and we came up with a great reincarnation-themed idea.

    Basically, life is like a video game, and when you die you go back to the character selection screen. You can choose to come back rich or poor, an eagle or a shark, whatever you want to be. If you screw someone over, then you pay a price for it: sure, Hitler ruined things for a whole bunch of players, but now Hitler has to experience life as every single person whose life he ruined, nightmare-on-rails-style, all in a row. It’s finite, but fitting, escaping all the problems with Hell. It presupposes some sort of metaphysical referee, of course, but I thought it was at least the start of a fun idea worth sharing.


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