Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

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What Do I Believe? (Long)

So I've had this posting lurking in the back of my mind for a month or two, ever since siderea's excellent series of observations about how religion manifests in our realspace culture, and on LJ. Taking one key point from a long and cogent examination, she argued that LJ is a better outlet for discussion of the subject than the realspace culture most of us live in.

That got me thinking about exactly what I believe. I'm fairly hard to pigeonhole, aside from the vague-to-the-point-of-useless term "seeker". But I do actually have several personal non-falsifiable dogmae, existing on different psychological levels. It's interesting to tease those apart and see those levels.

(I confess, I'm also curious about others. Out of somewhere around 70 real people on my friends list, I doubt I know anything about the religious leanings of more than a third of them, and even among that third I often don't know more detail than the one-word descriptor -- I don't know depth of feeling, intellectual vs. gut feelings, and so on. So I invite others to chat on the subject if they are interested in doing so.)

Anyway, here are my own, rather eclectic and inconsistent religious views:

On an intellectual level, I'm essentially a Deist. (Thanks again to siderea for today's link, reminding me of the fine nuances of that term.) That is, I do believe that the universe was set in motion by a conscious force, but I don't particularly believe that that force gets involved in one's day-to-day affairs. Geeks have been joking for decades about founding "The First Church of Christ, Programmer", mostly as a way to hack the US' tax rules. But it's not a bad title for my actual beliefs.

I've actually gotten more religious over the years, the more I learn about the way things really work. Very slowly, I've found myself internalizing the notion that reality isn't quite as real as we think of it -- that deep at the bottom, it's really all just math. Math of extraordinary complexity (and maybe extraordinary elegance -- the jury is still out on that), but math nonetheless.

I suppose it's the lifelong programmer in me, but I can't readily conceive of that math without it being contextualized. There's a part of me that wonders if it's simply a lack of imagination on my part, but I can't comprehend it without that math running on something that manifests it as the world we see. If it's running on something, that something was created; if it was created, it was created by something. That's basically my personal conception of God.

It's almost a purified form of the Masonic concept of the "Grand Artificer of the Universe", but without the Masonic assumption that God takes an active and omniscient interest in the fine details. That last is an important difference, though. One of the key problems of religion is the question of Divine Justice -- the phrasing varies, but it tends to be along the lines of, "Why does an omniscient and good God allow evil to exist?" My view of Deity is much more value-neutral, neither necessarily omniscient nor "good" in any meaningful sense. God or no, we're responsible for our own mistakes.

All that said, there's a part of me that wonders about that failure of imagination. The Grand-Artificer model of divinity is still subject to uncomfortable infinities -- put simply, who created God? There is an alternative, albeit a hard one: that all of that math just is, and isn't contextualized at all -- that reality writ large is just an infinite sea of mathematical potential, and that anything that can be expressed by that math is expressed, simply by dint of that potential. That implies an even more tenuous definition of "reality", and I find it hard to wrap my head around it, because it comes very close to implying that existence is entirely an illusion. But it does fight for mental space against the assumption of the Universal Supercomputer, and I might yet shift my thinking there -- the more Buddhist I get over the years, the more that interpretation appeals.

On the emotional level, I find myself quite in contradiction with the above. Specifically, the question here is the old standby: is there a soul? My gut reaction is yes, but I am quite clear that that isn't coming from the rational side of me. I very much need there to be some sort of continuance after death -- the concept of oblivion horrifies me more than anything else I can imagine; it is outside my emotional comprehension.

That said, I don't really believe in continuance of the ego. The self is a very fragile thing, and it is hard to credit that something that changes so much while living could persist immortally and unchangeably afterwards. So I find myself leaning towards a concept of a collectively universal soul. This is not so different from many versions of God -- the idea that one joins with a supreme being after death is downright common. Intellectually I find little basis for it, but it feels quite right to me. So I allow it in myself, more on the level of Hope than strict Faith.

On the poetic level, I find the remaing Great Question: why? Why do I exist? Do I have a purpose? There are many formulations to this question, but they all boil down to a simple Why?

I confess, my original intuitions there were crystallized by Babylon 5. (I sometimes think that, if forced to pigeonhole myself into a single religion, my best answer would be "Minbari".) The answer there, which I would paraphrase as "to help the Universe understand itself", has a certain resonance for me, especially in light of the collective-soul concept.

On reflection, though, that isn't really the answer I find deep in my heart, which owes more to Neil Gaiman than to JMS. Put succinctly, it is "to be Stories". Every life is fascinating when properly examined on its own terms. We are all prone to thinking that our own lives are dull, but that's just excessive pattern-matching -- we see ways in which our lives are like those of others, and thus conclude that they are nothing special. But looked at individually, each is a Story of complexity and movement. I'm not sure I can find anything else that I find quite so important.

So I try to be a good Story myself, and help others find their own Stories. As purposes go, it seems a good one -- lacking in limitations, providing some good ethical side-effects, working consonantly with the rest of my belief system, and -- most importantly -- providing a little poetry to the world. It will do, at least until I get a more definitive answer to the question...
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