Since I've given up religion, I've become a lot more content with my smallness. As noted before, I'm no longer obsessed with expanding my consciousness, enlarging my connection with God, or growing my spiritual understanding.
Small things please me now much more than they did before. I guess you could say I've lost a lot of ego-weight after discarding a religious belief system that had grandiose goals and taught that human beings could attain perfection.
This morning I forgot to put the canned dog food back in the refrigerator. There goes my claim to perfection. To which I say, good riddance. The more imperfectly natural I feel, the more I feel in tune with reality.
The way I see it, I'm much closer to being nothing than everything. The obervable universe extends about 47 billion light years. I'm about six feet tall, and likely still shrinking. So I should feel small.
When I die, likely I'll be really nothing.
Can't know for sure, but those who say I'll become One With Everything don't know either. All we can be sure of is that when people die, there's no longer any sign of the living, breathing beings they once were.
(HInt: if you ever meet the Dalai Lama, don't tell him the "make me one with everything" joke. A TV guy didn't have much success with it.)
Religions, though, play to our craving to have our selves carry on forever. Some faiths say that the body dies, but the soul spends eternity with God. Other faiths promise that if we do such and such, we'll merge with allness, oneness, everythingness.
Supposed result: we get bigger rather than smaller. More wise, more spiritual, more conscious, more loving, more radiant, more blissful, more..., more..., more....
Sounds good, doesn't it? What could be wrong with more? Isn't there an almost universal craving for the goodies that religions offer up on their dogma menu? Yes, there is. But cravings aren't necessarily beneficial for us. Consider fast food.
In his fascinating little (144 pages) book, "Why We Believe in God(s)," psychiatrist and evolutionary psychologist J. Anderson Thomson likens religious belief to fast food. People are attracted to both for reasons that are by-products of evolution's adaptations.
Religion utilizes and piggybacks onto everyday social-thought processes, adaptive psychological mechanisms that evolved to help us negotiate our relationships with other people, to detect agency and intent, and to generate a sense of safety. These mechanisms were forged in the not-too-distant world of our African homeland. They are why we survived.
While not an adaptation in its own right, religious belief is a by-product of those psychological mechanisms that allowed us to imagine other people and other social worlds, abilities crucial to human survival. Because religion only slightly alters those adaptations, it can be equally powerful.
Let's look at the workings of adaptive by-products another way: do you like fast food -- say, a big, juicy burger with cheese, a large side of crisp, salted fries, and an icy cola or shake?... You may avoid them for dietary or health reasons, but odds are that you at least occasionally break down and buy such meals even against your better judgment.
Why does this matter? If you understand the psychology of craving fast food, a savory slice of prime rib, or a decadent chocolate sundae, you can fully comprehend the psychology of religion.
We evolved in harsh, dangerous environments. We evolved cravings for foods that were rare and crucial to our physical well-being. Nobody craves Brussels sprouts. Certain types of greens and tubers were an available source of food in the ancient world. But we all crave fat, and we all crave sweets.
...Craving is an adaptation. It solves the problem of securing crucial but rare life-sustaining foods.
...But today, in most areas of the developed world, food is plentiful and human culture has created new ways of responding to those cravings. Now we have fast food, high in unhealthy fat that plugs our arteries and expands our waistlines, a far cry from the lean game meat our ancestors sought out. Instead of ripe fruits we have sodas and candy bars.
Even knowing the harm eating fat, salt, and sugar can do to us, we still crave them, and unless disciplined, we will choose them over lean meat and ripe fruit. Why?
Because they pack supernormal stimuli. Our brains react to this relatively recent rise of excessive calories on demand as if it's a good thing, as though we still need to behave as our ancestors did. Our brains reward us. When we eat our favorite food, the pleasure centers in our brain explode with delight. What we experience is not just slight satisfaction, but an intense pleasure released by brain chemicals.
...This is why it is not a joke to say that if you understand the psychology of fast food, you understand the psychology of religion.
In the rest of his book, Thomson describes the specifics of how the craving for religion, like a craving for fast food, is a by-product of evolutionary adaptations that helped humans survive.
But now religion and fast food are dysfunctional. We don't really need them, but our brains are hard-wired to desire them.
So true believers will say "My religion feels so right and true to me," just as diners at a fast food restaurant will say, "My burger and fries are so tasty and fulfilling for me. Well, yeah, that's what their brain chemicals are saying, Yum!, and so people keep getting physically and spiritually fatter.
Leaner is better. Smaller is better. Excess weight, whether physical or egotistical, is a burden to carry around. Sure, it may feel good to imagine that you're part of God's chosen band of souls who are destined to feast on divine grace forever.
But consider the benefits of an alternative feeling: that you're nobody special. You're not a big deal. You're not a technicolor being in a black and white world. You're simply a small part of a gigantic universe, a tiny piece of an immeasurably vast jigsaw puzzle of reality -- the whole picture of which can't be known.
Small takes some getting used to. It's a more natural place to be, though. Try it. You might find that you like it.