Sunday, June 14, 2009

Why Did We Draw This Line?

It’s strange that belief and disbelief in gods is used to categorize people. I find it to be a highly biased view. For one thing, monotheists love the debate because it legitimizes their claim of a lone god. The debate has boiled down to Him or nothing, which is much easier for them than when they had to compete with various pantheons of divinities, with various cult temples scattered all about.

Theism versus Atheism is only an important distinction to monotheists who hold the Ten Commandments to be meaningful. After all, the first couple commandments are solely premised on the existence of gods. I put emphasis on the plural; how else could you have other gods before Yahweh?

I think three other concepts are more important to the human condition than the belief and worship of deities: belief in souls, belief in an afterlife, and belief in cosmic justice.

Every religion believes in some form of these three concepts. In addition, some atheists and agnostics also subscribe to one or more of these tenets. These three concepts play a direct role in our worldview; within religion, gods are usually secondary arbiters or defenders of the order associated with the immortal souls, the afterlife, and divine justice (with Buddhism being one exception).

Why are there no words for those who believe in souls, the afterlife, or cosmic justice? As far as I know, there is no individual or collective term for them, nor is there a name for the lack of such beliefs. Perhaps we bicker over the frivolous nature of the divine because we lack the vocabulary to discuss the concepts that truly matter on a personal level.

Sometimes it seems like the language of our eternal destiny eludes us beneath a sea of dogma that promises impersonal, universal salvation. Does the parlance of religion prevent us from having a logical discussion of metaphysical phenomenon without sounding like hokey mystics? Has religion hijacked spirituality, or are the absence of gods proof that our existence is anchored solely in the physical realm of matter?


  1. Hmm ... I've encountered some religions, mostly branches of Hinduism or Buddhism, that do not posit *individual* souls but rather a collective pool of soulstuff from which each life is shaped. After death, the soulstuff returns to the pool, so there also isn't the kind of individual afterlife or cosmic justice that most religions posit.

    Pagan religions generally posit souls and an afterlife, but not all of them are into the "cosmic justice" thing, particularly in the sense of rewarding good souls and punishing evil ones.

    Still, you did find three very widespread beliefs that span most human religions.

  2. Hello, Elizabeth Barrette sent me.

    You raise such interesting ideas and questions. People love their labels ... and it's not only strange that a belief or non-belief in gods categorizes us, it is unfortunate and sad. I tend to think that the vocabulary is there ... but using it takes an open mind and a lack of fear ... two things that religions don't always encourage.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

    Small Footprints


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