Thursday, June 11, 2009


To those who know me only from my books, it might be a surprise to discover that I'm currently some sort of agnostic. An agnostic with spiritual yearnings and a strong interest in religion, I would add. Although I'm fascinated by ancient Gnosticism, I've never quite managed to adopt it as my main viewpoint, though I wouldn't rule out the possibility of managing to do this at some point. Recently I became involved in an online discussion about atheism. Below are some of my thoughts about the role of spirituality and religion, from a standpoint that tries to make as few assumptions about the true nature of reality as possible. In other circumstances I might speak (or write) in quite a different way.

I can see three broad reasons to believe in God.

1. Belief in God is part of the culture(s) in which we grew up.
2. One's personal experience convinces one that there is a God.
3. Rational investigation leads one to think that there must be some sort of God.

Now, I'm not entirely convinced that 2 and 3 are absolutely separate from 1, although they must have been at some point otherwise religious culture could never have developed. But for me 1 is enough: a belief in some kind of God or gods and an investigation into the nature and existence of deity is a basic human activity. Recent research even suggests that religious experience is intrinsic to the structure of the human brain.

It's in us, and it won't go away.

As for life after death, I would say that the situation is similar, but there are some different issues. Do I believe that life after death is a possibility? Yes. Why? Surely the desire to continue with some sort of awareness and conscious experience is one reason. But also there's the experiential question. I cannot imagine my own non-existence--if I try to imagne my cold corpse rotting in a grave, all internal activity vanished, my current consciousness is there imagining the scene and giving the lie to the notion that my awareness has expired. I have no memory of experiencing death previously. I'm not convinced that there is any communication from beyond the grave, although I wouldn't rule out the possibility. So death is a one-way door. We really don't know what happens on the other side. We don't know what anyone's experience of death is. Near death experiences are fascinating but they aren't actual death. The mystical elements of NDE may simply be the result of chemicals flooding the brain, but the strong possibility that death will be accompanied by mystical experience encourages me to take a mystical view of death.


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