Religion and Models

I was thinking today about models.  No, not supermodels, as a nerd I was thinking about computer models.  Computer models such as those that try to forecast the weather or forecast climate change take our understanding of how the world works and try to look at what is happening now and test that understanding by trying to predict what will happen later.  Then I thought about religion and how it is also a model.  I truly think that religions, at least at their inception, have the same intent as the models we use in science.  That is to look at what is happening now, to try and understand the world, and come up with an algorithm for how to live better lives.  To take way the unpredictability of life, which often causes great stress and fear, and replace it with a set of principles which, if followed, can help one feel more peaceful about the future.  That feeling alone can give great comfort and lead to even great success.

What is also similar is the fact that there are often numerous models that try to do the same thing.  If we look at general circulation models that try to forecast climate change we can see that there are several in use today.  They have many similarities as there is much we universally understand about the climate, but then there are different assumptions that different groups of scientists might make that lead to differences in the outcome of the model.  This is not too different from religion since religions all have many similarities, yet enough differences that each one does not necessarily produce the same results.  The main difference here is that in science when we look at the results and they do not seem to do a good job of representing a true understanding of the world we make adjustments.  We reevaluate our understanding and we make changes.  With religion however changes are general not made.  Instead brand new religions crop up, or denominations split off from one religion to produce a similar religion but with slight changes.  This may not be completely unlike computer models either to represent natural processes either, however if a model was made to the point where it was completely accurate, everyone would use it.  And overtime computer models do get more and more accurate as understanding increases and constant testing allows us to make appropriate adjustments.  Another important difference is that a computer model can only be a useful tool if it produces meaningful results.  Religious models can be used as a tool regardless of whether they are good or bad models, sometimes to terrifying consequences.

As I child I had a Christian mother, and a non-practicing Sikh father.  But much of his family and friends practiced, and what was clear to me is that there were good people on both sides, who grew up with completely different faiths.  Either both sides were right, or both sides were wrong; meaning that either two different stories were true, or that neither story was the whole story.  It seems to me that the latter must be the case.  If we look at religion as a model and test its validity based on its intent, which is often to rise up against repression and gain freedom in the way of life you choose, to give purpose, to give peacefulness, to act generously and compassionately to those around you, religion might do pretty well.  We all know religious people that are good people and if you pay attention you will see good people of many faiths.  Faith has been proven scientifically to be a good thing and we should all recognize the benefit for it in our life. It seems to me that if God is an explanation to the universe at all and it is the correct model for our existence and purpose then the model should converge.  However after 10,000 years of civilization convergence does not seem any closer.  Perhaps there are fewer religions in some way, but human history shows that religions have been more often forced on to others as nations have been conquered rather than people flocking to it because it looks like a better way to live and that it looks like a better explanation for our existence.  And in some ways even if there are fewer religions they are replaced by denominations and different groups of people pick and choose parts of the larger dogma that make more sense for their particular circumstance in their part of the world.  And we must also recognize that there are plenty of secular humanists, atheists, agnostics who are also good people, who don’t prescribe to any religion and yet manage to have compassion, kindness, and generosity, thus demonstrating that peacefulness and happiness are not contingent on using a religious model.

It is proven, time and time again, that cooperation is what makes us better and more successful.  Therefore, we should be focusing on things that unify us as people and as a species.  Let’s not cling to what makes us different, but concentrate on what things make us similar.  Maybe we fear the loss of our individuality, but I submit that it will always be there.  Because successful cooperation might require some redundancy but it also works best when it is made up of a mosaic of people with different strengths and ways of thinking.   We can thus appreciate the differences that make us individuals, but take comfort and be peaceful in the things that bind us together.  I don’t believe this thought to be utopian in any way.  I don’t know what the future will look like or should look like.  I am no model.  I only recommend a direction or path; something new to try.  Who knows where It will lead, but it’s a pretty good direction to head in don’t you think?

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