Happiness and Religion

Religion has been described as the opiate of the masses. A recent study finds that religious people are much happier than others. Those “others” are all of us non-believers not going to church and not talking to a powerful imaginary friend. Are we missing out on a good opiate that increases happiness in our lives?

The study doesn’t give a clear answer:

The correlation between religiosity and happiness is clear, but explanations of the connection and possible causal relationship are less clear. One theory suggests that the social support that religious communities can provide may be a key factor contributing to increased happiness, since “religious Americans are more apt to be involved in their communities.” Yet even here, the study found “that those who attend religious services often are happier than their peers with similar levels of involvement in the community.”

I always assumed it was the common bond and support of a community that added to their happiness. The study has been repeated and still holds true so there must be something to it. It obviously doesn’t prove religion is right but it does show religion provides an extra something to people’s happiness that simply not being religious doesn’t replace. It’s something to think about during religious holidays with our secular observances. The article ends with:

One could almost predict that many of those celebrating Christmas will be merry, those observing Hanukkah will be happy, but those only recognizing the “holidays” will have a little less cause for rejoicing.

I’d like to see a study that delves into those that simply drop religion and ground themselves in humanity and atheism. I like to think I’m not just that kind of person. I still live in awe of the universe and the mystery of our existence.

Where atheism tears downs the wonder and miracle of it all, agnosticism simply says we don’t understand it. The human described gods aren’t the answer but no god at all isn’t necessarily the answer either. I just don’t know. Freethought should allow for all of us to believe as we choose as we’re all just trying to figure it out.

I marvel at the mystery of it all during winter solstice, Yule, Christmas, or whatever this season is to me. I’m thankful to be alive and have my family and friends. I hope that whatever makes you happy with religions or no religions isn’t hurting anyone else and that you all are free to be yourselves. I wish for freethought and joy for everyone during this winter season!

winter happiness

The Last Question

It’s interesting how ideas flow around and echo off each other. I had read Scott Adam’s God’s Debris in the past decade and wrote about it here before. I completely forgot about a somewhat similar short story from Isaac Asimov called The Last Question. I must have read it as a Christian teenager since I read most everything from him at that point of my life. I saw this story referenced today on Reddit and now I’ve read it again after losing my Christianity. I think I need to reread Asimov with fresh agnostic eyes because it gave some new meaning to the story for me.

Both stories describe the collective intellect of the universe as the intellectual spark for it’s own existence. Both are beautiful examples of plausible reasons for the universe existing if there is a reason. The universe doesn’t require a reason to exist but it is interesting to contemplate some possible reasons. I find these sorts of stories more compelling and believable than the primitive religions and mythologies of our ancestors. No story should be believed just because it’s somewhat plausible. All of the various fictions from science and religion are excellent food for thought for open-minded agnostics searching for reason in chaos.

On this same day I happened to watch a documentary about Stephen Hawking including his theory of the Big Bang from a singularity. I can imagine the singularity being placed more directly into the end of Asimov’s story after having just read it again. Entropy had to reach it’s chaotic end for it to be reversed by the universe’s collective consciousness surviving in hyperspace in the story. The collective intellect of everything figured out how to recreate itself in an endlessly pulsating existence of entropy and chaos. Sure, it’s just science fiction but I think it’s an interesting fable better than any of the popular religions I see around me. I guess I’m just weird like that.

This story is currently living on the Internet at Multivax.com. I can imagine an artificial intelligence taking in these stories in the future and working through the logic to see if they could become a reality. I asked God many questions when I was a believer and God never answered. Google answers all kinds of questions for me now so I trust the wisdom of the Internet over the wisdom of ancient text. You can ask Multivax how to reverse entropy and it currently answers just like in the story:

There is as yet insufficient data for a meaningful answer

Is it a sign that one day it will say “let there be light” like Asimov’s prophecy predicts? 🙂 I jest, but there’s bits of truth in fiction and humor. If religious people can selectively pick out their bits of truth in religious texts then why can’t I pick out truth as revealed to us in science fiction?

There is as yet insufficient data for a meaningful answer. IInsufficient data for meaningful answert’s an appropriate answer for many questions that religions claim to answer. Why do we exist? How did it come to be? What is outside of or before this universe? What is my purpose for living? We don’t have the simple answers so we should keep collecting data.

There is as yet insufficient data for a meaningful answer. Perhaps this should be an agnostic’s mantra.

Hawkings and many other brilliant minds are collecting the right kind of impartial data to answer the grand questions. Asimov and other imaginative minds contribute additional considerations to spark our curiosities and expand our thinking. Hawkings and Asimov are more inspirational teachers of possible truths than any religious teachers I’ve ever encountered.

Eventually we may know enough and think big enough to some day understand existence. Perhaps, through a universal awareness and understanding, we could in the end create our own existence in the beginning. It’s not really that strange of a notion to consider infinite time and space folding back on itself so the end is the beginning is the end. It’s an interesting thought and one of the many reasons I’m happy to simply call myself agnostic to describe the limits of our human knowledge.