I divide my religious framework into three components - my knowledge, my values and my practice. That is - what I know, what I believe, and what I do. This post will go into detail around the knowledge that forms the basis for my religion - essentially a description of my basic worldview.
What do I mean when I say that I know something? For me, knowledge is information that I take for granted. I know that the sun will rise tomorrow. That doesn’t make that fact immutable! Some unpredicted catastrophic event could turn our sun into a black hole in an instant and my “knowledge” would have been wrong. But I am still comfortable saying I “know” that the sun will rise tomorrow. Knowledge can always be updated with new information - in fact, science mandates it. But in many instances I am comfortable taking my knowledge for granted and behaving accordingly.
More complex concepts and assumptions can be built on the principles of knowledge - but this complexity increases the subjectivity and specificity of the concepts, and so we move away from the ability to rely on them as universal truths. For this reason, I categorize more complex concepts built with knowledge as a foundation as belief. I will describe my beliefs in a future post.
It’s important to acknowledge that everyone’s worldviews are different to varying degrees - mostly due to the individuality of experience and brain chemistry. Some of the differences are inconsequential. Some of these differences are extremely consequential and represent a fundamental hurdle in communication or cooperation. I don’t have the answers for these differences or how to bridge them, but I will say that I am not especially interested in attempting to change others’ worldviews. I don’t really see the point.
There are laws that govern our universe, and these laws describe it as it exists and predict the world as it will behave. We can see these things, interact with them, be affected by them. Matter tends to behave consistently and with properties we can understand, model, and predict.
Thus, I take as a given that the physical world is all that exists, a position known as materialism.
That is, more or less, all I claim to “know” - everything else is a particular expression of this given, or a belief with varying degrees of confidence. As far as I’m concerned, this is the bedrock of everything else.
I take materialism as a given for reasons mundane and uninteresting. I have not had any notable experiences that can’t be explained scientifically. I find Occam’s Razor to be effective in keeping explanations for things towards their least complex. The numerous known pitfalls of human experience and memory renders the mind an unreliable witness at best. Thus, I have not encountered convincing evidence that there exists anything beyond the material world.
Yes, there are countless things we do not know about the universe. But to me, these unknowns represent limitations of our ability to apply science, rather than evidence for existence outside of matter and energy. The cutting edge of physics, for instance, is interesting, but I can live my life more or less the same whether or not I include quantum physics in my worldview.
And so, this is the foundation of knowledge upon which all of my assumptions, beliefs, and practices are built. The heart of my practice, its burning core - there is nothing that exists beyond matter and its motion and modification.
Why It Matters (ha)
Materialism seems simple, but its implications are actually somewhat complex.
For instance, I don’t believe in the soul in the sense of a distinct entity that cannot be described by scientific principles. But I do believe in the self. And I do believe that the self is unique, and that it is what makes us us. From my perspective, when I say the “self” I am referring to the very same thing that others might call the “soul.” But I differ in where it came from (the result of physical processes) and where it ends up (it slowly dissipates as heat and becomes indistinguishable from the rest of the energy of the universe). The distinction is not the concept, but rather its origin and its destination.
On a larger scale, my materialism means that I do not believe in deities or the supernatural. The reason is simple - I do not see anything in this world that I am convinced requires the existence of deities, and I do not see anything in this world for which I am convinced a deity would be the simplest explanation (I also don’t actually believe in free will, either, but I will talk about that in a future post).
Through the Lens
It seems silly, at first glance, to create a religious practice when you don’t believe in anything but the mundane. But this is where beliefs and practices come in, which are topics for future blog posts. Materialism serves a religious function the same way a belief in gods does for someone else - it defines the parameters of my experience and provides context to what I see, feel, and do. It is the lens through which I view the world, and it is the experiential basis for the beliefs and practices I am building.
Effectively, like all religions, I have come to a place where I have established the nature of reality. For some religions, that is humankind’s fallen nature as sinners. For others, it is the karmic cycle of death and rebirth, or the existence of gods. For me, it is a reality that I do not always understand, but that I am comfortable describing in terms of math, and physics, and science.