Thursday, 26 May 2011

My religion - deism

It's not something that I talk about very often, but I am, in fact, a Deist. The vast majority will never have heard of this so please allow me to elucidate. Deism is a faith often characterised as a belief in the "watchmaker god". The metaphor being that a watchmaker builds a watch, winds it up, sets it in motion and then leaves it alone after that. Deism's approach to god is similar - for a given definition of god of course. However, that's a very mechanical and unpoetic way of putting it so here's a better version, originally written by William Reade in his 1872 book, the Martyrdom of Man.
We do not wish to extirpate religion from the life of man; we wish him to have a religion which will harmonise with his intellect, and which inquiry will strengthen, not destroy. We wish, in fact, to give him a religion, for now there are many who have none. We teach that there is a God, but not a God of the anthropoid variety, not a God who is gratified by compliments in prose and verse, and whose attributes can be catalogued by theologians. God is so great that he cannot be defined by us. God is so great that he does not deign to have personal relations with us human atoms that are called men. Those who desire to worship their Creator must worship him through mankind. Such it is plain is the scheme of Nature. We are placed under secondary laws, and these we must obey. To develop to the utmost our genius and our love, that is the only true religion. To do that which deserves to be written, to write that which deserves to be read, to tend the sick, to comfort the sorrowful, to animate the weary, to keep the temple of the body pure, to cherish the divinity within us, to be faithful to the intellect, to educate those powers which have been entrusted to our charge and to employ them in the service of humanity, that is all that we can do. Then our elements shall be dispersed and all is at an end. All is at an end for the unit, all is at an end for the atom, all is at an end for the speck of flesh and blood with the little spark of instinct which it calls its mind, but all is not at an end for the actual Man, the true Being, the glorious One. We teach that the soul is immortal; we teach that there is a future life; we teach that there is a Heaven in the ages far away; but not for us single corpuscules, not for us dots of animated jelly, but for the One of whom we are the elements, and who, though we perish, never dies, but grows from period to period and by the united efforts of single molecules called men, or of those cell-groups called nations, is raised towards the Divine power which he will finally attain. Our religion therefore is Virtue, our Hope is placed in the happiness of our posterity; our Faith is the Perfectibility of Man.
What he is talking about is our belief as deists that it is hubris to believe that there is a creator who listens to us and answers our prayers. Our species' existence is but a flicker in the life age of the Earth and an individual's life even briefer. When one of us dies it is like the death of a cell in a body, unremarkable and after a brief existence. Much as I wish otherwise, I strongly doubt that there is any kind of afterlife for us. The only form of immortality is through the human race itself. That is why we should all try to improve both the future of the species and the lives of those around us. Life is short whilst death is eternal, and the living are outnumbered by the dead who have gone before us.

This, as it happens, is one of the reasons that I chose the degree I did and why I am interested in politics. I have this yearning to somehow make the world a better place and to contribute to the success of humanity. Whether that be by making life better for the people of this country in some way, or by contributing to our understanding of the vast universe around us, I do not mind. Either would be equally valid to my mind.

But I suppose, essentially it all boils down to the near universal commandment taught by almost every religion:

"Love one another".

And, on that hopefully, everyone, regardless of their beliefs, can agree on.

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