Something simply is. It exists for its own reason with no beginning and presumably no end. I know something exists because I am experiencing something. I know that I am finite, therefore I also know that something bigger than me has to exist in order to enable my own. Philosophy plays a lot of circular games trying to pinpoint definitions for experience and existence, but let’s just skip all that and lay down an axiom: something just exists and it doesn’t need our awareness to do so.
I spend my life struggling to make sense of the world. The cornerstone for my search for truth is this: what is that ultimate thing that simply exists, and how does that affect us? There are many answers and I’m obsessed with hearing them all–particularly in personal accounts of personal beliefs. I’m interested in hearing each person’s individual struggle to discern the absolute thing that exists and determine how that affects their life. That’s what makes religion. Each time I meet a new person, I have to evaluate their conclusions and reevaluate my own. It’s very tiring, and yet exhilarating, to always be awake to life and existence. It keeps my eyes open to what is beautiful and ugly, and it prevents me from getting lost in my own tiny life and missing the big experience. So if this blog is a brain exercise to help me organize my thoughts enough to communicate, then I’d like to try and lay out the basic gists that I have come across.
What simply is?
Atheism posits that matter and physics just simply exist, and our experiences are only a side effect. I like atheism in that it is built on looking only at what is observable. It is both beautifully simple in belief and devastatingly complicated in the incomprehensible amount of data. I find it exciting and humbling. It doesn’t delve into the mire of motivations and personification and it doesn’t have an alternative (spiritual) science. Atheism doesn’t care why things exist, but only accepts the fact that we do and moves on. To a large extent, I have applied that simple acceptance and desire for knowledge into my own thinking. A common misconception is that atheism isn’t a religion and that it doesn’t require faith (i.e. a deliberate choice not supported by evidence). That’s not true. Religion as a word with spiritual baggage might not apply well to atheism, but atheism does require our logic to make assumptions, namely that the only things that exist are things that can be measured. According to our current understanding, the universe cannot be infinite due to nature’s tendency to equalize. Why the universe even started is an unknown, but all matter and energy is gradually being homogenized in ways that cannot be undone. However gradual this process is, it is irreversible and will ultimately end all processes in the universe. Thus atheists have to believe that there is something unknown but scientifically explainable about the universe that resets the scale of entropy (that de-homogenizes the universe) and justifies that matter and physics need no beginning or beginner. That’s still a step of faith, although I have met several atheists who didn’t consider that such was implied in their beliefs.
Monotheism states that there is an unquantifiable entity that simply exists, and that it created and/or maintains nature through means unexplainable by science (since it exists outside of science). As far as monotheism goes, I am only able to speak of the concept as I know of it from the perspective of Judaism and mainstream Christianity (this does not include spin-off sects or Mormonism), and Islam. Other monotheisms that have come out of these religions might share the same monotheism or may be different, I have no experience to say. Christianity of course comes with the controversial trinity clause, but for the sake of this article’s brevity let’s just accept that it ultimately is monotheistic in argument. The beautiful thing about this immeasurable entity as these religions have recorded is that it identifies itself as “I am that I am.” God exists simply because. The nature of all monotheistic practice is living according to what God has approved and disapproved of. Yes, that conversation is beyond the scope of this post.
I’m not going to pretend to understand polytheism, mostly because it comes in so many forms and I haven’t met people who can explain it to me personally. From what I can make of it, though, polytheism requires another level or more of alternate-science. If there are multiple beings, then they must be measurable and defined by alternative rules of physics and matter. In some cases, like in old Greek mythology, the Gods were created by matter(?) but had the ability to supersede matter and physics. So I cannot speak about polytheism because, given the diverse systems of beliefs in this category, I don’t know exactly what it is they posit that simply exists.
I have much more distinct experiences and interactions with members of the Latter Day Saints community. Mormons believe life is an infinite chain of order and growth in a non-scientific, or maybe alternate-scientific realm. Individual consciousness is ordered out of spiritual matter, and thus has a beginning but no end. There is no ultimate, timeless intelligence governing everything, but we are a string of entities preceding and creating each other. Physical matter and spiritual matter simply exist for their own sake. Our existence is a constant process of growth through knowledge–of which living in an earthly form is an embryonic stage governed by the specific entity, God, that assembled us and this earth. And we will in turn become god to our own creations.
Spiritualism states that matter and physics simply exist, but so do other layers of spiritual- or alternate-science. This category includes Wiccans, spiritualists, and some Bhuddists (these are minority populations in my acquaintanceship, so pardon if I don’t have a very clear understanding of their beliefs). There is no higher entity governing anything/everything. There is a spiritual form of matter and/or energy that cannot be measured or defined by science but are in some way quantifiable, like The Soul/Aura, “energy,” and Love. Note that most religions do include a spiritual layer, but that spiritualism doesn’t include some unquantifiable entity governing things. Again, it’s akin to atheism but with the idea that we cannot observe and measure everything scientifically.
I hope that in presenting these ideas, I’ve been able to communicate that they are all valid/plausible. There is no reason why one of these ideas couldn’t be true, only the fact they are incompatible with each other and thus only one is. Truth is what is real, whether acknowledged or not. The most we can do is to always be testing and evaluating our perspectives, trying to be sure that what we believe isn’t just plausible, but real.
A common misconception is that the opposite of religion is atheism. As I said earlier, even atheism requires a deliberate step of faith. Although it contains no sentient God or spiritual layer, the atheist has to choose to believe there is nothing else; this affects their approach to life and the universe. Thus atheism is a religion.
And, for the record, that doesn’t have to be bleak or sinister.
No, the opposite is agnosticism. The point of being agnostic is taking the standpoint that the Truth is unobtainable, that humankind cannot and will not ever know the answer to “what simply exists?” This, too, is a valid opinion. Every religion struggles with the sheer amount of data to account for, and the simple fact is that we cannot know everything. Evidence will never make us certain. But poor agnostics are at the brunt end of every harsh joke from every religion. Why? Because behind agnostic belief is either apathy or indecision, two very frustrating traits to someone who cares. The ability of agnostics to listen to people’s religions, and then walk away without posing a better or equivalent idea is the exact dig that aggravates those who read great significance and consequence in the topic.
Because people do care. People care enough to die for what they believe. And that is why we must always approach people with respect and courtesy to their religion. We must adopt a little bit of the agnostic attitude and recognize that we do not, can not know everything. But the more we do know, the better we are able to stand clear in our own choices. We should be as eager to hear other answers as we are to explain and refine our own, and we should never grow so dead to life that we do not care to understand why it exists.
So I hope that you also have your eyes open to existence, do not take it for granted, and enjoy exploring its whats and whys.