Gaianism (book)/Introduction/Religion

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This is the Why a religion Chapter of the Introduction section of the book Gaianism.

[edit] Why a religion

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch,
you must first invent the universe.

Carl Sagan, Cosmos

When does the human life of an individual begin? At conception? At birth? When the nervous system begins forming? Or perhaps when yo finishes forming? Perhaps at the moment we experience self awareness? What is the value of the life of a human individual? What is the value of a non-human individual? How is more important the life of a human individual than the life of a non human individual, and why? How is more important the life of a non-human individual than the life of another non-human individual, and why? How is more important the life of a certain human individual than the life of a certain other human individual, and why? We all have personal answers to these questions, these are part of our core values, that we subconsciously consult with for every thought that crosses out minds, for each decision we make, each choice we take. Atheists and theists alike, our whole existence dances to the rhythm of religious thinking.

Religions are not necessarily about faith in God, or belief in Gods, or even constructed around sacred texts. Being about consensus and clarity, Gaianism pays careful attention to linguistics and etymology: at least in English and other languages derived from or influenced by Latin, the word religion comes from the Latin religare, meaning re-ligate, reconnect; this can perhaps be interpreted as reconnecting with what is essential, the mystery of life, that which belongs in an experiential realm and cannot be communicated or explained. Dictionaries give at least three meanings for religion: (1) "the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods", (2) "a particular system of faith and worship", and (3) "a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion". Interestingly, neither the ancient Greeks, nor the Egyptian, nor the Chinese had a word equivalent to religion. The Indian, European and Middle-Eastern influenced cultures, the word religion is most often related to the dictionary's 1st meaning simply because in these cultures the most prevalent form of religion is that of the belief and worship of the notion of the Hebrew God Yahweh, and its later reinterpretations as Jesus in Christian Religion, and Allah in Islam, and the gods of the Vedic religion and derivatives like Hinduism. However, in other cultures the word religion commonly relates to the 2nd meaning in the dictionary, where religious beliefs are closer to forms of animism in which there are no deities, such as Buddhism, Shinto, some Native American religions, and even some European religions like the Celtic. The dictionary's 3rd meaning relates to fervent customs, such as sporting competition and consumerism, which become quasi-ritual and a central part of people's lives and their social expression. In Gaianism, religion means, specifically, a collection of shared beliefs that translate into values resulting in socially-impacting practices, whether such beliefs are related to deities, the spiritual, or any other form of belief, i.e. that which one can't reconcile with one's factual knowledge.

Understanding why Gaianism is designed as a religion requires, firstly, understanding Gaianism's main principle and main purpose, being consistency and safeguarding humanity, respectively. The notion of consistency is applicable in a range of contexts, for example intellectual honesty is a form of consistency between held beliefs and factual knowledge, and intellectual rigour being the consistency of standards. Safeguarding humanity is also applicable in a range of contexts, such as, biologically, meaning protecting the human species from undue extinction, and culturally, meaning protecting what which we can come to understand as our humanity. Everything Gaianism represents spans directly or indirectly from this principle and purpose. These fundamental characteristics define, support and reinforce each other, however it is important to maintain an awareness that they're both arbitrary choices, and therefore do not require being explained or justified in on themselves: they just happen to be what defines Gaianism. However, dedicating time and resources to this pursuit does require defining and understanding underlying motivations and reasons, and all motivations and reasons are basically rooted in belief. The holding of beliefs is an unavoidable characteristic of being human, and possibly a characteristic of any forms of intelligence that rely on abstract thinking to model reality in their brains as a way to anticipate outcomes and make decisions based on those anticipations.

It is said that science has to do with facts, and religion with values. Anyone who's not affiliated to an organised religion, or doesn't consider themselves religious, however, would passionately object to this notion. Although values are not the exclusive domain of organised religions, they are always sourced from what can be can called "religious thinking", which includes any form of faith, mysticism, magical thinking, and generally any belief or belief systems. There is almost nothing in human life that doesn't involve belief systems; even Science is ultimately based on belief systems such as ethics and humanism. Facts cannot be values: facts belong in the realm of objectivity[1], facts are facts regardless of our subjective opinion or consideration. Whilst deriving our values from facts is a sensible practice, holding values and beliefs that are at odds with facts is folly, and the latter seem to comprise the great majority of the values and beliefs we rely on, in any current culture. Which brings us to Gaianism's purpose. Fulfilling on "protecting humanity", especially whilst maintaining it's principle of consistency, requires a number of beliefs that are often not aligned with long-held beliefs, often rooted in old religions or ancient mysticism, as most of them are now invalidated by current scientific knowledge. Even the linguistic constructions that we rely on for everyday communication are rooted on, and assist to the survival of, old, obsolete beliefs. In pursuing the highest effectiveness for protecting humanity, Gaianism intends to take on the most updated factual knowledge, and with it review, and update, every social value that is or can be detrimental for our long-term survival.

There are many mysteries around our experience of being alive. For example, our sense of self, or how placebo works, or where does life (as we know it) come from or what sparked it, or if we're alone in the universe, or what happens to our subjectivity when we die. Most of what used to be mysteries until just a few years or decades, however, are now either well understood or, at least, understood to a degree that invalidates many previously held assumptions and beliefs around those mysteries. Whilst the experience of self remains a mystery, we now know a great deal about life and consciousness, for example that that we become conscious about our decisions a few milliseconds later than we actually make those decisions, and that our experience of self can be by altered by physical and psychological trauma, and that our overall experiences can be tricked, and that our experience of self is largely influenced by knowledges and beliefs. We also now know a lot more about how, at least in mammals, certain emotions depress the central nervous system causing a cascade of biochemical reactions that affects the subject's overall homeostasis eventually leading to disease, and we know what Earth life and its environment looked like when it begun spreading around the globe (cyanobacteria and an atmosphere devoid of free oxygen gas). We also know the difference between total and partial brain death, and some ways to cause reanimation of a dead animal or plant, and the suspension of their life for any period of time. We also know a great deal about social and psychological characteristics of human beings thanks to ample statistical studies, such as that children raised by a single-parent or same-sex parents can be (and often are) just as intellectually sound and emotionally stable as those raised in traditionally constituted families.

Our current understanding of life and the natural world through scientific disciplines like psychology, biology, archeology, palaeontology, physics, etc, invalidates most of the traditionally held beliefs people still rely on for everyday decision making. Despite this, as science does not deal with values, we continue to rely mainly on the traditional values we were raised with, surrounded by, or come across with through literature or other forms of communication as we develop. People rely on technology on a daily basis for mostly everything they do; such technology is, overwhelmingly, the direct or indirect result of scientific knowledge. However, people use technology even whilst being scientific illiterate, similarly to how our companion animals are able to open doors. Not only scientifically illiterate people use magical thinking to explain (to themselves and others) natural phenomena and the workings of human technology, but most people believe they know better than the collective of scientists in their field of expertise, and consider themselves able to challenge their authority. This is exacerbated by the fact that everybody is scientifically illiterate one way or another: scientific knowledge is too vast for anyone being able to be on top of all knowledge; and also the fact that most financing for the advancement of science and technology is motivated by greed or the perpetuation of the system through growth and economic development, as opposed to the promotion of people's freedom, health and self expression. Whilst scientific advancement is positive regardless of lucrative or political intentions behind it, such intentions do contribute to create distrust in science, even though, absurdly, everybody does happily make use of the technology being unconcerned with having it be the result of the type of thinking they distrust.

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Objectivity is actually inaccessible, all of our knowledge is situated and subject to other related knowledge including beliefs; it can be said that there are only degrees of objectivity, and factual knowledge is characterised for a high degree of objectivity, one that is so high that is very difficult of practically impossible to disprove with current knowledge and technology.

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