#116: Religion is Trust in the Universe

The basis of religion is a deep sense of trust in the universe. It is not just hope, but a sense of confidence that things will eventually work out. Whatever bad things may happen, we are not alone, we are not merely random souls that do not matter in the larger scheme of things. If nobody else cares for us on Earth, there is a force out there that cares about us nevertheless. Call that force God, the Ancestors, or the Universe, or whatever you like. The core message – as for instance described in Luke 2:10 – remains: Μὴ φοβεῖσθε / Fear not.

I am talking here, of course, not about child-like caricatures of religion. The do-ut-des (I give so that you shall give) approach towards God reduces the idea of God to someone who will fulfill your wish, similar to Santa Claus, but for more serious matters. That kind of religion has its place, but it is not the core of the truly religious experience.

Trust in God, or trust in the universe, cannot come, however, at the price of a lack of trust in us as human beings. We may trust that everything will work out in the end, in our end, and that our ending, our telos, our destiny, and thus our life, is purposeful rather than meaningless. But we have a responsibility to contribute to that meaning, to contribute to it working out. We have to do the work ourselves. No magic being will save us – that would be a deus ex machina, not true divinity.

The assumption that we can know God’s will is preposterous, such is any attempt to try to define the divine. We are not supposed to make graven images because it is pointless: Our understanding of the universal order and of whatever we call the divine is more than limited. All we can know is that there is something that is bigger than us. Deus semper maior – God is always greater – Allahu Akbar. Whether that is the realization that we are – to quote Carl Sagan – “star stuff” or that we are children of God, does not specifically matter. We cannot prove the existence of divinity, and we can never truly see the entire universe. We can and must use science to discover our world, and we need to realize that we are just a tiny presence during a brief moment in eternity.

Such a realization can lead to a sense of meaninglessness, of insignificance, of existential angst. It can also lead to the insight that – in spite of all the obstacles that could have stood in our way – we came to be. Our individual being, our life, our existence, none of that is small. Against all odds, we are here. We can make our own meaning, and we can trust that we are unique. Our mere existence is a defeat over random chance, it is the result of a complex process of evolution that led to us. Our life can be meaningful if we recognize the impact of all our steps on our path towards our end, and if we can imbue them with meaning. For that, it needs trust – specifically, trust in ourselves. Understanding that we are unique beings, and that we are indeed all special, and that we will exist only once in all the universes that may be possible, understanding all that, may give us a sense of trust in our own ability to shape this life that has been given to us. The stronger this understanding becomes, the stronger our faith in the universe can become as well. We are here for a reason, and it is for us to discover it, and to make it meaningful. It will work out, because we have all the tools we need to make it work. Fear not.

You are wanted, you are needed, and you are loved, whether you know it or not. Trust that it is so, and nothing will seem impossible.