I love the magic in my life, half-glimpsed ideas and mysteries that allow me to tease away the layers and arrive at my own understanding and beliefs. I don’t have a lot of time for atheists who know little more than dry science and the idea that they will cease to exist. I don’t have time for their demands that I abandon the friends and horrors that they insist are imaginary.
By the same token, I don’t have much time for religion and the concept of fellowship. I’m comfy with my belief in the God of Abraham, and don’t need anyone to validate it. Besides, being in a group implies that there is a one and an other. The presence of outsiders and insiders leads to making judgments, pride and a whole bunch of other creeping stains.
Note that none of this is an apology. It is a basis for what I am about to write.
Most spiritual and atheist beliefs are dependent on groups. By haggling over the nuances, believers somehow arrive at something that binds them and forms the acceptable limits of what they can profess before they transition from insider to outsider. It’s a bizarre democracy of the soul, with intolerance of a bunch of things at its centre.
The most obvious current group phenomenon is ISIS, a dangerous collection of control freaks who are absolutely intent on attaining a desolate spiritual hegemony: religious laws and regulations tacked onto an ill-defined geopolitical ambition that seems more scattered and opportunistic than defined.
The interesting thing is that, at its outer limit, it has death. Outsiders have to believe the way they do, or die. If outsiders cannot be brought to heel, members of ISIS have to be prepared to die in order to maintain their viewpoint. Suicide vests anyone? The ISIS brand of Islam is, in a demented way, a kissing cousin to Christianity and Judaism. Just in case you didn’t know, all three of the systems have the God of Abraham at their centre. And, at this point, I should probably argue that atheism also has the God of Abraham at its centre. If not, what are atheists so upset about? I could add Satanism to this, but why bother.
Here’s a caveat. If you believe that differences in religion give rise to different Gods, you are probably a heretic, given that there is only one God of Abraham at the root of the thing.
The interesting thing is that all religions derived from a belief in the God of Abraham have an unhealthy component that positions death as some kind of gateway to reward or punishment. In other words, although death is inevitable, a good life in terms of the religion du jour, makes the phenomenon of death manageable. By applying a bit of sophistry you can easily arrive at the idea that the inevitable has become a control mechanism. Believe the way we do, behave the way we do, and you will be welcomed in the afterlife, except if you are an atheist, in which case, your consciousness will cease.
What this boils down to is a series of death cults, only distinguished from other death cults by the duration of a productive lifetime. The normalcy of the death cult is separated from standard death cults by a span of decades, as opposed to the death cult which expects you to die in the very future, for instance Jonestown, and those nasty cups of poisonous cool drink.
The quandary is that in order to enforce standards of behaviour, death has to lead to either reward or punishment. Religions that establish acceptable beliefs and associated behaviour are still the most common templates for behaviour, within the group, even if the tendency to nihilism is one short step away, as is the case with ISIS.
Atheists, who might want to interject some kind of natural behavioural transaction to this, are advised to watch two dogs fighting over a bone.
The point of this riff is, I suppose, that there is still no substitute for belief and its templates. Even within ISIS, there are ways to behave towards one another. The real problem lies with the fact that insiders need outsiders and death to define what they are.