“[Regarding religion], one is generally agreed that it deals with goals and evaluations and, in general, the emotional foundation of human thinking and acting. Religion is concerned with man’s attitude toward nature at large and with mutual human relationship.” – Albert Einstein
Research suggests that religious individuals suppress the brain networks used for critical reasoning in order to engage the network for empathetic thinking. On the other hand, non-religious individuals tend to suppress their empathetic thinking for critical reasoning. But both are needed for the survival and evolution of our species. While reason promotes knowledge, religion inspires a solidarity that guides human morality in ways that secular philosophies cannot, and an appeal to our spiritual and transcendental tendencies may prove useful for the motivation of prosocial action.
“When one lives with others and is bound by a feeling of affection, one is aware that one has a reason for being, that one might not be entirely worthless and superfluous but perhaps good for one thing or another.” – Vincent van Gogh
A majority of the world identifies with a faith that upholds humility, kindness and generosity. And for everyone else, these virtues pervade our social and ethical codes of conduct. Yet we see corruption, suffering, and perversities of every kind. And with such apparent depravity in our nature, many have given up hope, or reserved their ideal of societal perfection for some heavenly notion. But if humanity is to survive on planet Earth, then the harmony of afterlife must be made manifest in this life.
“Human progress now calls for a shared ideological framework that grounds our morals and aligns our values. World peace requires a “liberty and justice” that works for everyone. This philosophy offers an answer, and it does even more. Imagine another movement, one that revives the compassion and altruism potentiated by every major faith. But unlike other spiritual awakenings, this one begins with the intellectual mind.” (The Whole First)
“I believe, indeed, that overemphasis on the purely intellectual attitude has led directly to the impairment of ethical values. Without ethical culture, there is no salvation for humanity… “A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” – Albert Einstein
So far, my philosophy describes a fundamental purpose and belonging to nature, a sense of relevance that is common to many spiritual convictions. However, the most influential beliefs stress not only our connection with nature, but also our connection with humanity. And in nearly every faith, the greatest source of human harmony is a conscious phenomenon that we call love—an alignment of emotions towards one purpose: to exist, together, forever (axiom 3).
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
– Jesus Christ
“You will never enter paradise until you have faith,
and you will not complete your faith until you love one another.”
– Prophet Muhammad
“God is love; it is the only truth I fully accept.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.
Without them humanity cannot survive.”
– Dalai Lama
Our greatest moral leaders all recognized one thing: whatever the truth is, it must involve love. If there is any reason to hope in humanity, then it’s our capacity for compassion. And if there’s any sure source of meaning, then it’s found in human connection. Through various beliefs, different cultures have arrived at similar conclusions: love is why we live, and often why we want to live forever. For the prosocial majority, the concept of love implies a mutual survival—a “happily ever after.”
In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl (1947-1997) recalls the moment when, while a prisoner of a Nazi concentration camp, he realized that imagining his beloved wife gave him the will to survive:
“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory…”
“This is my commandment,
that you love one another as I have loved you.”
– Jesus Christ
If I have learned anything from my faith, it is this: there is no phenomenon more powerful than love. Through its effect on the sentient mind, love is the single most potent sustainer of life. Fortunately, human nature allows almost everyone to feel compassion—all we need is a reason to. And as shown by religion, we have come up with some very fantastical reasons. Nonetheless, faith underscores the possibility that human nature, with its capacity for evil, holds a greater potential for good. That feeling allows us to hate, but perhaps to love even more. Maybe we’re not inherently broken, but momentarily misaligned.
“We have broadened the circle of those we love.
[But] if we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further,
to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth.”
– Carl Sagan
Just consider: your mind is the result of nearly 100 billion neurons communicating over 100 trillion synapses. Your body is not merely a single entity, but trillions upon trillions of molecules that continue your collective being. If such harmony can exist at the chemical level, then perhaps nature—human nature—has allowed for such harmony at the conscious level.
At the chemical level, the components of an organism seem bound together by a certain purpose: to continue their collective being. To sustain, in a delicate balance, the trace flows of energy throughout its trillions of compartments. To maintain the flux and gradient of every molecular form across every lipid membrane in its assembly. To recreate, from four nitrogenous bases, the precise passing of electrons by every enzyme from conception to death. What drives life at the chemical level manifests itself, at the conscious level, as love—an alignment of emotions towards one purpose: to exist, together, forever. To continue our collective being.
“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.” – Albert Einstein (Source: Letter of condolence sent to Robert J. Marcus of the World Jewish Congress, February 12, 1950)
“Everyone has a transcendent dimension, a life of the spirit. This is most directly expressed in religion and the mystic traditions, but the frequency with which people have intense feelings of bonding with groups, ideals, or anything larger and more enduring than the person is evidence of the universality of the transcendent dimension. The quality of being greater and more lasting than an individual life gives this aspect of the person its timeless dimension.” – Eric. J. Casssell, “The Nature of Suffering and the Goals of Medicine”
“For small creatures such as we,
the vastness is bearable only through love.”
– Carl Sagan
“If we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself, then we may certainly be a way for the Cosmos to continue itself. Our ability to reason, to feel, and to self-reflect—maybe it’s not some aimless accident. Rather, our existence evolved to know and to value itself, for the purpose of preserving itself.” That is, consciousness is the highest experience of order continuing order. And at the sentient level, this order is driven by love.
“God is love…
We love because God first loved us.”
(1 John 4:8,19)
“God is love;
it is the only truth I fully accept.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
“Consciousness is the highest experience of order continuing order. And at the sentient level, this order is driven by love.” Thus, our creation is the manifestation of our Creator’s affection. And now we—the created—have become the Creator. Such a realization must necessarily motivate a love that extends beyond ourselves and our species to the whole of nature in its beauty. Should we hope to continue our existence, then we must love our existence—its past, its present, and its future.
“Our remote descendants, safely arrayed on many worlds throughout the Solar System and beyond, will be unified by their common heritage, by their regard for their home planet, and by the knowledge that, whatever other life may be, the only humans in all the Universe come from Earth. They will gaze up and strain to find the blue dot in their skies. They will love it no less for its obscurity and fragility. They will marvel at how vulnerable the repository of all our potential once was, how perilous our infancy, how humble our beginnings, how many rivers we had to cross before we found our way.” – Carl Sagan
Humanity faces the edge, caught between a stampede behind and an abyss below. The priest looks to the heavens, and the scientist to the stars—both believing that they have found their own hope, but neither aware that they seek the same salvation. The only alternative to extinction is eternity, and the only answer to death is love.
“If we seek nature, then love can be informed by truth
instead of being based on ignorance or self-deception.”
– Carl Sagan
Some religious ideas are inherently powerful, in the sense that they are particularly influential over human behavior, because they appeal to the spiritual and existential intuitions that underlie our most intense affective experiences (those we deem most profound or meaningful). And there are three concepts that seem to underlie our most influential beliefs: (1) Eternal relevance—the mind is inevitably drawn towards the idea that its being is just one part of a never-ending sequence. (2) Divinity entities—there are minds more advanced than ours, “gods” or “higher powers” that we often deem the origins of our existence. (3) Communal love—our capacity for compassion allows for the transcendent harmony of humanity. And this third concept was especially salient for me.
When I was a child, prayer and worship often inspired a boundless love, a feeling of connectedness marked by an ineffable euphoria. As evangelist Charles Finney said about his conversion experience, “I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love.” Even Sam Harris, a prominent critic of religion, acknowledges such experiences in his book, Waking Up: “A phenomenon like self-transcending love does entitle us to make claims about the human mind. And this particular experience is so well attested and so readily achieved by those who devote themselves to specific [spiritual] practices or who even take the right drug (MDMA) that there is very little controversy that it exists. Facts of this kind must now be understood in a rational context.”
Throughout human history, such transcendental experiences have inspired religions and insights that draw the mind and move the world. And now I’ve rediscovered it from my own past, this captivating sense of connection, but this time in a rational context: god, love, and eternity may seem like three distinct concepts, but they reflect the same truth: God is love, and we are God becoming self-aware.
“This is the only reason to think that we are part of something worth loving—that our existence is something worth preserving… Here’s an idea that might inspire, from our seeming brokenness, a compassion that is global and a vision that brings us to the stars” (Home).
“I dare to hope that, despite everything, human life and its richness of cultures will survive, even on a ravaged earth. Between us, we can surely pull the world through its present crises and lead the way to a happier time ahead. As I face my own impending departure from the world, I have to believe in this—that mankind and our planet will survive, that life will continue, and that this will not be our final hour.” – Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author, wrote shortly before his death in 2015. (Source: The New Yorker, “The Machine Stops”)
“If I have learned anything from my faith, it is this: there is no phenomenon more powerful than love. Through its effect on the sentient mind, love is the single most potent sustainer of life.” And my philosophy is meant to inspire a love based not on wishful thinking, but on a reverence for the beauty of our existence as revealed by modern science, and on a fuller realization of our purpose. If we wish to believe in free will, then we now have a choice. We can embrace our role as Creator, and create an existence more beautiful than the mind can comprehend. Or we can refuse our cosmic calling, and let ourselves fall into the darkness.
“The religious myth is one of man’s greatest and most significant achievements, giving him the security and inner strength not to be crushed by the monstrousness of the universe.” – Carl Jung, Symbols of Transformation
“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending.
You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds?
Lay first the foundation of humility.”
− St. Augustine
Human culture has tended to encourage an unfounded sense of self-importance. But a practical religion should inspire humility from even the self-perceived greatest. And there is nothing more humbling than seeing a larger picture of how everything might connect to everything else, and realizing that one’s relevance must involve everyone else.
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality… Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” − Martin Luther King, Jr.
Indeed, you and I are nothing, and only with our species can we be something. If you seek greatness, then look up at the stars and let them show you what it means to be truly relevant. Real significance is about creating a world that is cherished by every descendant of humanity, and being part of an existence that sees eternity. In the cosmic perspective, true greatness arises from humility and kindness—these enable the unity and plasticity that offer any hope of us *surviving. The loss of this foundation is what brings power to corruption and society to ruin.
“Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe.” − Marcus Aurelius
*The survival of humanity (or any living system) will require a tendency or willingness to cooperate (unity), and a tendency and willingness to change (plasticity). But survival is a concept that fulfills its own requirements. It is the only concept that both necessitates and motivates such a tendency and willingness to cooperate and evolve together. It both demands and inspires our self-organization. Consider this concept of survival. Who knew that such a primitive idea, when considered in the context of infinity and love, could inspire from our seeming brokenness such a beautiful harmony.
“Science, like love, is a means… to that soaring experience of the oneness of being fully alive… Love asks us to get beyond the infantile projections of our personal hopes and fears, to embrace the other’s reality. This kind of unflinching love never stops daring to go deeper, to reach higher. This is precisely the way that science loves nature. This lack of a final destination, an absolute truth, is what makes science such a worthy methodology for sacred searching.” – Anne Druyan