Religion and Self

As Feynman put it, God is “too simple, too connected, too local, too provincial”. In this interview, his main argument is about the “geographical” anthropocentrism of God: God came to earth, specifically for us, while the whole Universe is so big. Why would God specifically concentrate on human problems? According to some theories, religion is an avatar of the development of the human mind. The religion developed as a side effect of the development of the intelligence of the Human specie. I would like to discuss two more arguments showing the tremendous anthropocentrism of God, which of course makes it non credible.

The fear of death

The first is the fear of death. Dead is an absurdity, it’s unacceptable for the Human mind. But why, really, do we fear death? This seems to be such an obvious question; however the answer is quite elusive to me. My opinion is that there is a very down-to-earth, even mathematical reason. If we consider the human brain as a logical system, death is absurd because it appear to it as a paradox. The paradox in question can be formulated in only three words: “I am dead”. You will never be able to say rightfully this sentence: “I am dead”. As very often for paradoxes, it is built around a self reference: the “I” in the sentence is the entity that is said to be dead, but it is also the person saying the sentence, which is not possible. It is thus paradoxical, and makes it unconceivable. “I” in the sentence refers to the self, the consciousness, the “me”. Humans are not born with a consciousness: it is something that appears around the age of 4-5 years. So you were not born “you”: “you” only appeared gradually (see the excellent book of Douglas Hofstadter “I am a Strange Loop” on the subject). To me, “I” was always alive. “I” never experienced death, and “I” will never be able to (as I won’t be able to witness my own death).

This paradox creates a tension, and this is this tension that religion proposes to resolve: when you will be dead, you will not really be dead (you will go to paradise or be reincarnated, for example).

The lost of the family cocoon

The second reason that makes God not believable, to my point of view, is that it fills another psychological tension of Humans: the lost of the family cocoon. When you are a child, you live in a magical world under the protection of your parents. Whatever you do, there will be a providential entity, your parents, that will be there to repair your mistakes. But soon, you will discover that this will not be always possible: when turning into teenage, and even more as an adult, you will have to live alone and respond for your actions. This lost of the magical family cocoon is what God has got to replace. We call God “our Father” in a traditional song: “Our Father, who art in heaven”. The function of God as a replacement of the lost father, which is above us and protecting us is clear.

Mourning God

So, all in all, religion is way too much shaped to fill holes of the human psychology and development to be credible. I was raised as a Catholic, but at a certain age I began to question that. This has been a bereavement. Giving up religion is a bereavement: what you really loose is a lot of comfort. It is terrible to be an atheist: life is absurd, there is no reason why I am here and it is even more absurd to die. I think the current evolution of society, where religion is progressively disappearing, is more or less like an adolescent crisis. We are giving up the old belief, and the shelter they provided, because our intelligence became strong enough to live with the uncertainty and the absurdity.

This is also the reason why I don’t like to discuss about religion with very religious people. I am under the impression that I am hurting them: religion is like a comfortable cocoon. Criticizing the religion is like taking away the cocoon from them: they will inevitably fight back for it. They will find any argument, no matter how absurd, to defend it: no reasonable discussion can take place.