Religion in the Future, Part Two By Tom Slattery (Religion in the Future is a slow ongoing creative process.

Several months ago I posted a beginning section on this Scribd list if anyone may want to look it up and look at it. I add to it when I feel a writers block in other ongoing writing. My intention is to accumulate enough words and thoughts to have a book, hence its categorization as a "book." This section is presently called "Part Two" but may well turn out to be "Chapter One.") It's in our nature. We present humans in the long evolutionary line have inherited an ingrown need for religion. When this need began is hard for paleontologists and anthropologists to pinpoint. It probably came very early when the brains of our protohuman ancestors grew large enough to entertain abstractions and create stories. But even in the recent human archaeological record we see that human minds have created stories of thousands of gods and religions. Our minds need the products of our capacities to invent and our yearnings to understand and have purpose. Even the most rational of us will probably need the resulting elements of superstition and the supernatural in the future. Near the apex of rational thought and behavior is science. Science studies observed facts and counters superstition. Through science the supernatural is often shown to have natural bases. For example, Benjamin Franklin's scientific invention of the lightning rod made mysterious lightning understandable and controllable. Thunderbolts of ancient gods like Woden, Zeus, and others lost their magic and their terror. As scientific discoveries modify our perception and imagination we find our superstition requires upgrading and our hopes and dreams need new narration. The old stories get old. We need new stories and we need new songs. While not quite rising to the level of religion, stories of science and our time with cult followings like the novel Childhood's End and the motion picture 2001 betray a vacuum that longs to be filled. Popular songs like Bridge Over Troubled Waters and Imagine have already taken places with hymns in churches. Old time religion has been evolving. Successful religion in the future will be fair and inclusive of all human beings. Tribal religions have been fading for millennia because increasingly the human community has viewed itself as one. Moreover, successful religion in the future will leave open an inclusion of sentient beings from beyond the planet earth. A possible eventuality of contact lurks in the back of our minds in this age of exploration of space. Chemicals of life have been found in meteorites. Something smart is probably out there. We can't allow ourselves to be holier than intelligent beings from other worlds.

In addition, successful religion in the future will be attuned to science and free to evolve in parallel with new scientific discoveries. It will, like science, be a questioning and skeptical religion or it will eventually expire from its own irrelevance. And yet it will be religion and not science. It will be stories and not scientific papers. It will both give purpose and seek purpose. It will demonstrate and promote our human place and potential against the backdrop of incomprehensible vastness of time and space. And religion in the future may include the possibility of non-human sentient beings out there among the incomprehensible vastness and their rights to dignity and souls. So what might these future story-foundations of future religions seem to say? If past experience with religion may be any indication, the stories would probably imply "good" against "bad." The "good" might not be absolute good as with an all-knowing god. It may be simply good behavior, as in, for instance, Buddhism. But we humans strive to something better. And future religion would reflect this as well as past religion has. Moreover religion generally lays a social trellis that makes it easier to grow into being good amid our powerful endowed beastly instincts. Religion is as much about our earthly struggles as it is speculation about divine or natural good and evil. Early in the history of the new technology of writing, stories were created that implied that individual human deeds and even thoughts were "written down" for later review, reward, and punishment in the great hereafter. As writing evolved into "books," popular notions developed around these deeds and thoughts being written down in a great cosmic book. It implied that you'd better be good and think pure thoughts because it's all being written down. Millennia later technology expanded on recorded words. It offered us recorded sounds, images, and motion pictures. Sounds were originally recorded as impressions on wax or vinyl disks. Images were created from chemically processed silver particles in gels on paper, and similar chemically processed silver particles in cellulose nitrate and cellulose acetate motion picture films. Technology fed on itself and grew exponentially fast. Soon sounds and images were recorded in magnetic patterns on plastic tape. And now this has become obsolete in the new technology of laser-induced physical changes in plastic CD disks. Amid all of this technological change and hyper-change the metaphors of religion only slowly and reluctantly change. The prevailing image seems still to be our deeds and thoughts being recorded in words in that cosmic book. Religion in the near future may begin to embrace new metaphors derived from present technology of recording sounds, images, and motion pictures. It is not difficult to imagine

what some of this might look like. But let me step back for a moment and look at it through this perspective. The speed of light is fast. But some of us may have asked ourselves why the speed of light is so slow. That is to say, light takes forever to get from one side of the universe to the other side of the universe at this maximum speed for everything. Why would either a Divine Creator or a Great Natural Accident have made the maximum speed of light of travel that slow? And even the most devout scientific believers in the rigid speed of light might wonder in unguarded moments if there might be something yet undiscovered that goes faster than the speed of light. Until it gets discovered, however, we are left wondering. Science, though, has done what science is good at. Scientist have experimented, reasoned, and discovered. Those discoveries have generated these questions. The questions no longer revolve around the nature of gods of light like the ancient Egyptian Aten. We question the scientifically known nature of light. Now that we have gotten this far in knowledge and understanding, honest religion for some time into the future will have to deal with these questions resulting from discoveries and speculations of science. And questions always provoke more questions. Let me drop a few idea-numbers. Since my numbers may be wrong and since anyway the real numbers are probably derived from assumptions open to debate, I call them ideanumbers. They are loose ballpark numbers meant to initiate ideas rather than to measure them. Let's start with this one. It is an idea that I used in my short science fiction novel Norikaeru. I wrote the first draft of Norikaeru in Tokyo in 1968 so the progress of science may have grandfathered my crude old numbers by now. But forgive my fuzzy math for a moment, it is the idea that is important. In a cumulative average of speed around the Sun, speed of the Sun around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, and speed of the galaxy through space, our Planet Earth travels at about 80,000 miles per hour, as I recall in the direction of the constellation Perseus. 80,000 mph may seem fast but it is relatively slow. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second — or about 670 million miles per hour. Look at it this way. If an event or thought was recorded in some unknown cosmic matrix one might be able to retrieve that event or thought. An event of an hour ago is only 80,000 miles back in space. It takes light four-tenths of a second to get there and another four-tenths of a second to get back, roughly. A round trip takes less than a second and maybe the recaptured event could be displayed as a hologram.

Farther back would take more time to retrieve. As our planet zooms through space at 80,000 miles per hour, something that happened two hundred years ago -- or to put it in hours, 1,753,200 hours ago -- is about 140,256,000,000 miles back in space from here. It takes light about two hundred nine hours to get to the place in space where we were two hundred years ago. That’s a little over eight-and-a-half days — say about seventeen and a half days round trip. This is just to illustrate how all of our thoughts and experience, all of our good and bad deeds, all of our hopes and regrets could be recorded in some mysterious unknown matrix of maybe neutrinos, maybe dark matter-energy, probably something we cannot yet imagine. As our Planet Earth zooms through space at 80,000 miles per hour it may allow us to leave indelible impressions of what we are as individuals, what we want, and what we've done on this yet-to-be-discovered fabric of space. This recording process might be imagined as like a laser makes an impression in a CD or like an old-fashioned stylus made impressions on wax or vinyl phonograph records. Suppose there is a record of us, our everything, out there in the darkness of space. More to a point here, these impressions may be of all of the information that individually and collectively we have processed as we have zoomed through this unknown fabric of space. And here is where future religion may part with some more formal past religions. We see it even now. Traditional religion has molded into our minds that the metaphorical Adam and Eve separate humans from other life forms, that we have some kind of spark of the Divine in us that they do not. But science has already predisposed religion of the future to call this anthropocentric and egotistical notion into question. Darwin showed us that we evolved. Modern science shows that there is a known chain of life, a trail of DNA, that can be traced back to a beginning life form. We are not separate from this beginning life forms or any of the other life forms past or present on out little blue planet zooming though the vast darkness of space except in a certain obvious capacity. And what is this capacity? I am grateful to Sir Paul Nurse of the Royal Society, by way of Charlie Rose's PBS program, for this insight: it is a capacity to process information. The simplest life forms process information. Single-celled organisms make decisions to go where it is safe and comfortable and to avoid where it is not. All life processes information. We only differ from other forms by the enormous capacity we have to process information, to create abstractions, to invent scenarios, to control, index, and file information. We are at the top of this information processing food chain and due to our

information processing capacity, uniquely aware of ourselves at a level that no other living entity seems to be capable of. So if there might be some matrix in space in which impressions are made and those impressions that are made in it derive from information that living organisms process, our vast information processing input capacity may dominate and control the output. But for all or our potential dominance, our information processing input is not alone. We would share this "heaven" or "afterlife" with all creatures great and small. This concept is not new. In it we can see something non-Western-monotheism, nonseparation of human from other life, something Buddhist, Hindu, and Animist in this. But religion of the future will not be continuations of Buddhism, Hinduism, or Animism either. It will take the best from these and Western monotheism, but it will be more consistent with accumulated knowledge and understanding that we call science. Religion in the future will be consistent with science or it will leave believers with too many doubts and contradictions to survive and will be replaced by something with fewer doubts and contradictions. A religion of the future may be built around the idea of impressions of thoughts and deeds being recorded in a matrix of eternity and including all information processed by all life forms going back to the beginning of life on the planet. This is, of course, only one possible idea and put here for illustration. The idea would be included in future religion because it allows expansion of the concept of "soul" to include other life forms on Earth and out beyond Earth. All entities that by their nature process information could be said to have souls. I put it here only to show what could possibly evolve from what we know now. What we may know in the future would, of course, change all of that. If some distant day it is confirmed beyond all doubt that we humans are the only intelligent life form in the universe, that would make us precious indeed. It would in itself write religion. It would imply that only the planet Earth had the rare enduring combination of chemicals, events, gravitational pull, atmospheric pressure, distribution of water, and moderate temperature to allow life to evolve from the simplest information processing to the enormous mental capacity that literally plays with complex abstractions, including this one. But this is looking less and less likely. Water, a crucial ingredient for life as we know it, has been found on not only the planet Mars but also on the Moon. Water is abundant in the universe. In addition, many Earth-like planets have been found far out in space circling similar-size suns to ours. With every passing day it seems more likely that we share the universe with some other life forms and more likely intelligent life forms. We are not all alone.

Most of us already, even in the absence of definite confirming evidence, believe almost as a religion that there are, have been, or will be others like us and maybe much more advanced and smarter than us out there. And religion in the future cannot continue to be in denial of this. Moreover it is the possibility of other life and alternate evolution to intelligence that is important. Regarding ourselves as unique and alone in the universe limits consideration of all of those wonderfully entertaining speculative possibilities of our literature and our science to only one possibility. Only one possibility of intelligent life would probably lead to stifling dogma and rigid ritualistic repression like we have seen all too often. Let's hope that we are not alone, or at least that we never find out for sure that we are all alone. Religion in the future should not be cults worshipping UFOs as we have now. Rather it should be open to rationally interpreting what science has discovered. There could come along an irrational spellbinding charismatic holy person who takes charge of a threatened humanity in a time of great crisis. Religion of the future could suffer setbacks. Rational believers could be forced for a time to meet in secret and to know one another through secret codes and gestures. But if the charismatic holy person promotes beliefs that run too counter to knowledge and observation, the religion is bound to fade and die with its founder. The hunger in our souls is for credible meaning to our lives. False fantasies may drive distressed minds for a while, but when the stress is lifted and the fantasies are exposed, the quest know what there is to know returns more motivated than before. But that spellbinding holy person would have been successful if religion in the future had lost sight of its humanity. Being all too human, these successful holy persons link our human lives to one another. There is a hunger for that, too. And that is why we see so many followers of charismatic religious personalities offering them large contributions. The human link and shared destiny should be essential to religion in the future lest irrational charismatic holy persons steal this deep longing and use it badly. And superstition is a part of us, too. Religion in the future will tolerate it, even encourage it. Superstition comes out of our highly evolved and complex information processing brains. Superstition is story, the imaginative stories generated by information concerning the unknown and mysterious. From superstition comes questions, stories, and imagination. Science by its very nature is better at answering questions and solving problems than asking questions and posing new problems.

Superstition and story sometimes generates those unorthodox questions that lead to crucial discoveries. Moreover superstition demonstrates a healthy capacity to invent and abstract that is so necessary to discovery. Religion and religious literature loves superstition for its own sake. That is not all bad. The same suspension of disbelief that allows us to enjoy written or image-based fiction also allows religion to embrace superstition. Fiction creates synthetic realities into which we can immerse ourselves and have various vicarious experiences that could irreversibly cripple us if experienced in reality. Especially in an era of technological hyper-change we need to put ourselves into many different and sometimes bizarre contexts, experience the many possibilities in them, and emerge unscathed to make necessary social changes to deal with technological changes. Religious stories and the secular stories lead us through our common human fantasies and guide us through ethical dilemmas that if faced in reality we might not be capable of coping with. Religion in the future will have its new stories based on vastly expanded future understandings of reality. These may look a little like science fiction stories in our time. They may also look a little like present scattered islands of liberal religion that are continuously updated with discoveries and knowledge from what we call science. Some elements of future religion will slide back to the safety of what had been. Old beloved and reliable rigid doctrine may tug hearts and minds away from genuine seeking and understanding. But a gravitational mass of human information processing is growing, abstracting, questioning, and attracting people who really want to know. We all whistle our way past the midnight graveyard of the great unknown. And we know that we don't really know what we are and what it's all about. There's no use in hiding from that reality until such time as we may know what we are, what we are here for, and what this vast universe is all about. In the mean time we can sing glad songs and reflect on stories of meaning and hope. Rocky River, Ohio August 2011