As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
But what is love?
Love is god, said those who called themselves religious when I was a child, and god is love. They needed faith to believe this because they knew neither love nor god.
Belief in gods has become the definition of religion - there are probably more people alive today who profess to believe in a god than there were during what historians call the Age of Faith - but the decline of what I call religion began with the invention of the gods.
Those I call religious know we’re finite parts of a seemingly infinite mystery, and what we know of it is infinitesimal compared to what we don’t. Giving that mystery a name may help us think about it, but it also hinders us.
We invented language, said Tallyrand, in order to conceal our thoughts from each other; and not only from each other. Spinoza said it’s blasphemy to give the mystery a name and imagine that, by naming it, we know it; whereupon he was excommunicated for blasphemy by those whose profession it is to know it.
The ignorant aren’t awed by what seems to others an infinite mystery because they don’t know it’s infinite. Like the rest of us, they know only what it’s not. They presume to define the unknown for the rest of us because they imagine that, while they know they don’t know everything, they know everything worth knowing.
In attempting to define the mystery for others, the ignorant may become aware of their own ignorance; but if they’ve acquired a reputation for wisdom, they usually deny their ignorance not only to others but to themselves.
Haldane said the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine, because it's infinite and we are finite; but we are infinitely curious, and can’t stop asking questions.
When our ancestors grew tired of asking questions no one could answer, they invented gods and pretended that, by giving the mystery a name, they knew it; but they knew, consciously or unconsciously, that gods are not the answer. They are only the point at which people give up asking questions because the more they learn about the world, the more aware they become of how much of it they still don’t know and will probably never know; and that knowledge was driving them mad.
We keep our sanity, or what we call sanity, by imposing order, or what we call order, on what seems to us the chaos of the world. To infants, and those who don’t know or won’t admit they’re ignorant, order means knowing the world exists for them and because of them; but obviously something must have existed before they did. Ex nihilo nihil fit. They can’t imagine a world without them and/or beings in it like them, so they imagine a being or beings like them, only greater, created them in its image and the world for them.
The first scientists believed in a god, and sought to know their creator by studying his creation. When they found no evidence of him in the world, they decided he exists only in us.
Those who now call themselves religious, and for whom belief in gods is the definition of religion, blame scientists for undermining religion by offering answers to our questions that do not assume god is ultimately the answer to every question. But what we call science is merely the latest stage in that decay of religion which began with the invention of the gods. In this stage, ignorant priests who imagine that while they don’t know everything, they know everything worth knowing, have been joined by equally ignorant scientists.
Those who call themselves religious claim to explain why god created the world, and us. Scientists seek to explain only how the world works, not why.
Those who call themselves religious say their god created the world for them because he loves them as they love themselves; indeed their god is them, their greater self (but not necessarily their better self; knowing their god loves them gives people the courage to fight their enemies - theirs and their god's - not only when reason tells them they’re outnumbered, but when it tells them they’re wrong). In worshipping their god, they worship themselves.
The world of infants, and of adults who call themselves religious, is a small one in which only they and their god are real; and the two of them are really one, as the Hindu’s Ātman and Brahman or Descartes’ finite and infinite mind/soul are really one. Everything and everyone else is an illusion.