I'm not religious.
But if I were ever to embrace a religion, I'd want it to be a modern one. A scientific one. Meaning, a religion that seeks to explain whatever might lie beyond the physical universe without denying the reality of what does indisputably exist.
The dogmas of every major world religion, though, date from prescientific times. Back then, most people believed that the Earth was the center of the cosmos. The Sun and stars orbited around our planet.
We humans were special.
Both in terms of our relation to the rest of the universe, and of our relation with God. God had created the universe with us Homo sapiens singled out to be "the top of creation." Oh, how good it felt to know that everything revolved around us.
Now science has revealed a very different picture of the universe. I was reminded of this when the AppAdvice app on my iPhone told me about the free Khan app.
"Khan" refers to Salman Khan, founder of the amazing Khan Academy, a free online learning community. It features thousands of videos on a wide variety of subjects. My first Khan iPhone pick was in the Cosmology and Astronomy category, an eleven minute video called Intergalactic Scale.
I watched it in my morning meditation area. Then I turned off my iPhone, shut my eyes, and contemplated my place in the cosmos during my usual breath/mantra focused meditating. The video had moved me deeply. Something about reality is, well, so damn real.
There's no way to describe how indescribably small our planet -- indeed, even our entire galaxy -- is compared to the observable universe. Watch the video and you'll see this.
Back in 2005 I wrote a "Scale of the Universe" post. Re-reading it a little while ago, my mind was re-boggled in the same way as the Kahn video boggled me.
I’m finding that embracing insignificance can be exhilarating. I rushed back to Google for more web pages and found Steven Dutch’s Scale of the Solar System and Universe. This is a more straightforward treatment of the subject, but it has some nice sand-related facts. I learned that if the Earth were the size of a grain of sand, then our Milky Way galaxy would be 5,000,000 miles across.
Five million miles vs. a grain of sand. That’s the relation between our galaxy and our planet. And me? A sub-atomic particle on the grain—maybe not even that. More: if the Sun were the size of a grain of sand, then the nearest neighbor galaxy to us, Andromeda, would be 1,500,000 miles away. The nearest.
There are at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe vastly further away from us than Andromeda. What we see of the cosmos when we look up at the night sky is essentially nothing, just a few thousand stars that lie near us in our corner of a single galaxy.
Good God. I have no idea, none at all.
Yet religions think they do. Theologies based on false ideas about our place in the universe proclaim that humanity occupies a privileged place in the cosmic scheme of things.
God sacrificed his only Son for us, says Christianity. God dictated in Arabic a book that contains ultimate truth, says Islam. God gave ten commandments to Moses, says Judaism. God/Brahman is essentially the same as the human soul/Atman, says Hinduism.
Yeah, right. Tell me how this makes sense after you watch Khan's "Intergalactic Scale" video.
If we humans are so central to God, why is the universe so astoundingly, massively, gigantically indifferent to us? Earth is barely above nothing compared to the everything known to science, much less the Unseen More which lies beyond the observable universe.
I might, just possibly, be inclined to accept a theistic religion which was able to perusasively explain how it is that humanity can have a special relationship with God when God's creation leaves us in such an impressively unspecial place in the universe.
Most likely conclusion from this undeniable fact: we are not special. And there's nothing wrong with that. We're still part of everything. Just a insignificant part, exactly as Carl Sagan told us.