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?