A couple of months ago, I wrote an entry regarding my opinions on the God of the Bible and how he is not a god with whom I wish to be associated. I still think it was pretty good, although I was a little disappointed that it didn't get me any hate mail. Anyway, at the end, I wrote the following:
I don't expect my opinion of God, or my reasons for it, to influence anyone else's. I believe that everyone is entitled to their vision of who or what God is, and that since no version of God can be proven to be the right one, any version is as valid as any other. My personal God is a Deist God - God doesn't really care about us. God - also known to me as the Illimitable Beauty of the Natural Universe - doesn't answer prayers, doesn't help football teams, and couldn't care less about you or me or any other individual, nation, or world. God simply is, and will always be, long after we, our beautiful planet, and indeed the rest of the universe as we know it has vanished.Well, now's as good a time as any....
I actually have a Second Theory of God, a slightly more uplifting and optimistic one, but that'll come in a later post....
Before I get too wrapped up in this, let me just say one thing: I make no claims that this particular interpretation of God is original. I would, in fact, be utterly shocked if it even came close to originality. But I did come to it within the confines of my own head, through the classic method of asking myself questions and then answering them, so even if they're not original ideas, I can still say that they are my own ideas. As far as I know, they're not cribbed from anyone. So, if you happen to know who was smart enough to put this idea together before me, feel free to shoot me a link.
This all started with thoughts about reincarnation. If I die, and come back, what would be the mechanism involved? Would it be instantaneous? One minute I'm, I dunno, saving orphans and kittens from a burning building and the next I'm being slapped on the butt by a doctor? Would I be aware of the transition at all? Or would there be a de-briefing of some sort? Perhaps an acknowledgment of what I had done right and wrong in this life, a performance review of sorts, and maybe a short vacation in the Ethereal Realms before being reassigned.
Yes, I know - I give my brain way too much leeway sometimes.
More importantly, from an Earthly perspective, that is, the perspective of someone who hasn't died but who is somehow able to "track" my soul as it reincarnates, how soon would that happen? People who talk about their past lives seem to experience great gaps between the year they died and the year they were reborn, but need this always be the case? Could I just hop from one body to another, or would there be lag time?
And, I thought, need it always be in one direction?
Time, as we experience it, is a property of the physical universe. It's literally part of the universe, and there is nothing in this universe that is not subject to time. But the soul is not part of this universe (which is a whole different problem which I will, for the moment, ignore) - we cannot detect the soul, measure it or see its effects. We can detect the microvolt electrical impulses which power the brain, but we cannot find any other motive force which could be plausibly called "the soul." How something that is not detectable in this universe can effect physical behavior in this universe (e.g. our lives) is a mystery.
Regardless, if the soul is not truly a part of this universe, then it is not affected by time. And if it is not affected by time, then there is no reason why my next life has to be in the future, relative to the one I'm living now. When I die, stopping that bullet for the President, I could be reborn in the 15th century, or 5,000 years ago, or a thousand years from the time of this writing. I could even be reborn into a life that is contemporaneous with the one that had just ended. In effect, that would mean there were two of "me" living on Earth at the same time.
Now that, I thought, was cool. It could explain the "soul mate" phenomenon - you are literally meeting yourself, only in different incarnations. How weird would that be?
But it brought up a new problem - the uniqueness of souls.
According to the Population Reference Bureau, about 106 billion people have lived on this planet since a clever apelike being became Human fifty thousand years ago. This is a guess, though - other sources range from 69 billion to 110 billion - a spread of 41 billion which, as Cecil Adams points out, is a "pretty formidable margin of error."
Given absolutely no reincarnation, that would mean a unique soul for each of those 110 billion humans, with a new one being minted for every human born. Future-only reincarnation can reduce that number, but it still needs to be a large enough pool of souls to accommodate not only the 6.6 billion people alive today, but the ever-increasing number that are waiting to be born. Contemporaneous reincarnation, however, could reduce that number significantly. You have the same souls leading different lives at the same time, conveniently amnesiac and unaware of their dual incarnations.
So then, I thought, how many actual souls might be walking around? A billion? A million? What would be the lower limit of souls living out the lives of every human that ever existed?
Well.... Why not one?
There's nothing in the theory that would prohibit the entire population of humanity, beginning with the emergence of what we could recognize as "human" 50,000 years ago until the last human's heart stops in the unforeseeable future, from being "driven" by one unique soul, reincarnating itself over and over again.
Why would a being do such a thing, I thought.
Perhaps, I replied, to learn about what it means to be human. To experience every birth and death, every joy and pain, the most indescribable evil and transcendent goodness. To know the universe through its own eyes, using its own laws and under its own terms. To see life from life's point of view, as it were.
What kind of being would do this, I asked?
The answer came back almost immediately: God.
That was the only answer that made sense, given the conditions I had set. God lives countless human lifetimes out of a kind of intellectual curiosity. God is not of this universe, but can somehow affect it when occupying a body of sufficient complexity. The experiment would allow God to know everything - literally - about being human, and with a kind of life-to-life amnesia built in so as not to skew the results God could truly know what it's like to be human. The soul of every human is the same soul.
We are God, each and every one of us.
I am God, you are God, Gandhi was God, Hitler was God, Obama is God, McCain is God, and yes - Eric Clapton is God (but then again, so is Paris Hilton, so don't get too excited). And each is also the other. There is no "I" or "you" under this scenario, no "us" and no "them" - the idea of our separateness is an illusion generated by our ignorance of what we all share. There is no sin or salvation, either - how can God hurt itself? Or save itself? You cannot be "saved" because you already are God, nor can you be damned. Nothing is holy, nothing is profane. Religion is a construct, built around an illusion that we are separate from God - there is no need to pray, because God is too busy living to answer our prayers. There is no heaven for the righteous, or hell for the damned, because that division is impossible. There is no death, because our shared soul truly is immortal - your loved ones aren't gone. They're you.
Under this arrangement, we are not obligated to follow the wishes of some distant and arbitrary father-figure, but simply to live our lives as we see fit, adding our existences as data to the greater experiment that is Humanity. We are answerable to no one but humanity as a whole, and our responsibility is to no one but each other.
As for religious icons such as Jesus, Moses, Mohammad, Buddha - we no longer have to elevate them above ourselves because they are us. Cleverer, perhaps, and certainly more charismatic, but under this scenario Jesus Christ is just as holy as you are.
I could really see this idea competing well, especially in the realm of the disaffected religious who do more thinking than their religion really approves of. It could become a kind of non-religious religion, the only Commandment of which would be taken directly from Bill and Ted: "Be excellent to each other."
Unfortunately, there are some problems with it. The existence of souls, for example, is a rather serious one. As I said, there is no evidence that souls exist at all - they are undetectable, and therefore are just as likely to exist as they are not to. Without the existence of souls, the entire framework collapses, so it would have to involve pure belief. I distrust belief, generally - someone willing to believe one thing on no evidence is likely to believe other things on no evidence, and not all of those things will be harmless ones.
There's also the time travel problem as well. If God, who is not bound by this universe's notions of space and time, experiences all umpty-billion human lifetimes in parallel (i.e. all at the same time, from God's point of view), then we have no problem. But if God experiences those lifetimes in serial (one after another, from God's point of view), then the whole history of humanity is either preordained, or God's ability to live freely is reduced each time God incarnates. For example, how could God be Robert Goddard before being Isaac Newton, when Goddard's work in rocketry required Newton's physics to happen first? Perhaps if God lived contemporaneous lives individually, but in terms of being humanity, had to begin at the beginning and work its way from 50,000 B.C. forward until the end of Humanity.... I don't know. At this point, it's kind of like asking whether pink unicorns are prettier than blue ones, ignoring the problem of the lack of a sufficient sample of unicorns to judge.
In addition to whatever other flaws there are in the theory, the most serious problem, of course, is that I don't really believe this is true.
It's an intellectual exercise, and a pretty good one in my opinion. As a religious world-view, I find it to be the one that best suits my attitude and my view of the universe while still being comforting and reassuring me that I have a place in the overall scheme of things. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to start my cult and try to convert people in airports. I make no claim that what I've just presented here is actually the way things are.
We all try to make sense of the universe, and we all do it in different ways. Religion and God are not things born of reason and logic - they're born of feeling and emotion and belief. Some ideas resonate better than others, and live long lives. Others vanish as quickly as they arose. We will always be looking for God, I think, either in our own hearts or in some Other Places. Unfortunately, people get rather caught up in the search for God, and forget that what they perceive as the truth about God is not, when you come right down to it, true. It is a belief, without facts to support it. No one has ever recorded a soul, or its departure from a dying body. No angels have ever been picked up on radar, and no hell has been breached by oil rigs. We have no physical, testable, verifiable evidence that there is a God. No facts, and without facts there is no such thing as "true." All that we can say is, "I believe."
So, I cannot prove my theory of God. The good news is that there's just as much evidence to support it as there is to support any other theory of God - none - so maybe that cult idea isn't so bad after all. I hear there's good money in that....
"Gods don't like people not doing much work. People who aren't busy all the time might start to think."
- Terry Pratchett, "Small Gods"