I recently read God's Debris, by Scott Adams (author of the Dilbert comics). It was an interesting book, with an extremely thought-provoking premise. If you haven't read it yet, you should probably stop reading now, because I'm going to spoil it for you. It's a good book, and an easy read, so I do encourage you to give it a try.
The premise is basically that God is dead. He is dead because he killed himself. He killed himself because his own death would be the only mystery to an omnipotent being. Here are a few select passages, to help shed some light on this:
"[B]eing omnipotent, God must be able to peer into his own future, to view it in all its perfect detail."
"Does it make sense to think of God as wanting anything? A God would have no emotions, no fears, no desires, no curiosity, no hunger. Those are human shortcomings, not something that would be found in an omnipotent God. What then would motivate God?"
"I can conceive of only one challenge for an omnipotent being -- the challenge of destroying himself."
So, God killed himself, and all of existence is bits of "god's debris" re-assembling back into God. The universe is ruled by probability, and things with high probabilities increase God's re-assembly.
I don't know that I agree with this.
The very concepts of omnipotency and omniscience are so far beyond anything I can reasonably approximate that I ultimately decide it's a wasted effort for any mortal to try to make guesses. I can't pretend to be omniscient nor omnipotent, so I can't begin to fathom what might motivate or challenge such a being.
One passage in particular really bothered me:
"If God knows what the future holds, then all of our choices are already made, aren't they? Free will must be an illusion."To me, knowing the future is not necessarily the same as controlling the future. God lives outside of any notion of "temporal continuity" we may have. Being omnipotent and omniscient must mean God lives outside of our understanding of time (right?). As such, we do have free will. God knows what we're going to do, but that doesn't mean he's made the decision for us. At the time a decision is made, we are in control of the decision, even though God might've already fast-forwarded past that bit so he knows what we choose.
Another passage really resonated with me, though:
"Four billion people say they believe in God, but few genuinely believe. If people believed in God, they would live every minute of their lives in support of that belief. Rich people would give their wealth to the needy. Everyone would be frantic to determine which religion was the true one. No one could be comfortable in the thought that they might have picked the wrong religion and blundered into eternal damnation, or bad reincarnation, or some other unthinkable consequence. People would dedicate their lives to converting others to their religions. A belief in God would demand one hundred percent obsessive devotion, influencing every waking moment of their brief life on earth. But your four billion so-called believers do not live their lives in that fashion, except for a few. The majority believe in the usefulness of their beliefs -- an earthly and practical utility -- but they do not believe in the underlying reality." ... "[I]t is not belief to say God exists and then continue sinning and hoarding your wealth while innocent people die of starvation. When belief does not control your most important decisions, it is not belief in the underlying reality, it is belief in the usefulness of believing."That bit so accurately describes my own agitation with so many so-called religious people. I'm most specifically agitated at those people who call themselves Christians, but so clearly ignore the examples of Christ.
My mom was a very faithful woman. She was a Catholic, and her church and its community were a very large part of her life -- more important than I often realized. She struggled her whole life to live a life of love, compassion, and forgiveness. Lord knows I challenged her on the latter often enough! She understood the significance of the New Covenant, and she dedicated her life to serving others, in all sorts of ways. She set a good example for me and my sister, and even though I'm not a practicing Catholic, I try hard to follow my mom's example.
Mom was a very intelligent woman, and she didn't just accept blindly everything about the religion. She was not at all afraid to explore her faith, or ask tough questions. She and I had many long conversations about all sorts of things related to the Church, and its teachings. She always came back to the love that Jesus exhibited for man, and his life as the expression of the New Covenant with mankind.
I'm reminded me of a friend of mine I had, some years back, who became "born again" while I knew him. He truly believed -- and argued fervently -- that people who had not been exposed to the teachings of the Bible were damned, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their ignorance. Yes, that means that Polynesian people on an island in the year 1000 AD who had never seen anyone outside of their tribe would be condemned for eternity, simply because they never had the good fortune to see a Bible.
I'm pretty much agnostic: I believe there's something after death, but I have no idea what it is. I refuse to believe that whatever it is is so picky as to punish people for not having chosen the right belief system. Moreover, so many religions around the world share so many common elements that I find it hard to believe that there's not some amount of truth in each of their tenets.
I think what matters is that people be generally decent: help one another; grow; love; laugh; explore.