We estimate that human understanding can account for about 5% of the universe, and that is our own estimation, it’s probably even less. Within that five percent is something labeled “Dark Matter.” Which I learned is a fancy way to say “we have no clue what this is.”
There is clearly some kind of unknown energy holding the universe together, but we don’t know what it is.
Dark matter outweighs visible matter 6 to 1, which means most of what we “know,” we actually don’t know. So whether we label it energy or God, we agree that there is some unknown force holding our galaxy together and we can’t fully comprehend what/who it is. But many of us want to, desperately.
Most of the world is a cosmic mystery to us, just like it was to the Greeks when they were writing their myths, or the Hebrews when they passed down the story of creation. Each generation does its best to answer the questions:
- Who am I?
- Where am I?
- What should I be doing here?
I believe there is a duality to reality — that material things have spiritual significance.
In realty, if a home was the site of a horrific event — murder, sexual assault, torture, etc. it is considered a “stigmatized property.” There are even some states that require horrific events to be disclosed to a potential buyer. In 2021, Realtor.com found that 80% of Americans wouldn’t live in a home where a murder took place. Why is that? There is no material explanation for that. Just because someone was murdered in a house doesn’t mean that the house itself should be affected once it’s been cleaned and cleared. But most of us knowthat isn’t the case. That is why we don’t want to buy the “haunted” home — because there is some unexplainable, non-material, energy there.
There are so many mysteries in this world that can’t be explained by only looking at the things we see. We also have to consider the things that we do NOT see, and how these two realities work together.
With science rapidly advancing, discussions of religion, faith and meaning have failed to keep pace. We can calculate lightspeed, but we can’t figure out how to keep our families together. Medicines extend our lives, but we don’t know how to fill the extra time.
Yet, if we can allow them to work together, science and faith are natural allies. At their best, they are both fundamentally based on an honest curiosity about the world–they both inspire endless questions and a general sense of awe about how masterfully this universe is put together.
In a culture that loves to talk about “following the science,” I say don't follow it, chase it.
We made a huge mistake pitting religion and science against each other — as if you had to choose just one of these lenses to view the whole world through. I guess we thought that material truth discounted a spiritual truth or vice versa, but that isn’t the case. The practical study of the material world is an amazing and extremely important endeavor. It has extended our life spans and taught us what our bodies are literally made up of. But science doesn’t comfort us in death. It doesn’t fulfill our need to belong. It doesn’t provide us with the meaning for our lives.
Similarly, religion doesn’t teach us how to transplant a lung, calculate velocity, or even how to get from one place to another.
It’s like science is a knife and religion is a spoon. You don’t eat steak with a spoon and you don’t eat soup with a knife.
It’s like science is a knife and religion is a spoon. You don’t eat steak with a spoon and you don’t eat soup with a knife. If you did, you would assume the utensils are irreparably broken.
Or worse, you would wonder why such a useless utensil even exists.
If America is facing an energy crisis, we should turn to science and the material world for solutions. But if America is facing a crisis of meaning, then we must turn somewhere else. It is a tragedy when a nation belittles the collective function of faith in society, or when they refuse to examine physical realities. It leaves us with only a fork for our soup and a spoon for our steaks. The scientific method can not produce proper values, nor can the Bible teach you how to split an atom. Yet we benefit from both.
There is archeological evidence that we may have started believing in the supernatural as early as the Paleolithic period over two and a half million years ago when we buried our dead in what looks like what may have been preparation for something after death. Of course, we don’t know for sure, but from what we can study, it seems like humans have been talking about God or gods for a VERY long time.
There are evolutionary anthropologists who argue that human beings evolved for belief in God. Evolutionary biologist Bridget Alex wrote in an article in Discover Magazine that there are three distinct human traits that make humans ideal candidates for belief in god — we look for patterns, we infer intentions, and we imitate.
Let me break these down:
We see patterns in the cycles of life — from the sun cycles and seasons to traffic patterns and those times we say to ourselves, “I know where this is going.” We probably DO know where it’s going, because we can recognize the patterns of how it has gone before.
In a murder trial, we rely on the jury's ability to infer what cannot be seen, based on what can. It is a miraculous thing, and we do it all the time.
Humans learn by imitating. We learn to walk, talk, and eat just by watching other people and repeating what they do. If you have ever had the privilege of raising a child, you know babies just imitate everyone around them, and they actually never stop imitating. It just gets more complex.
Imitation was evolutionarily beneficial because it helped us advance. We didn’t have to re-make the wheel or re-discover fire with every new human being, we could just imitate whoever already knew, and pick up where they left off. In the same vein, when we saw that our ancestors' moral code was working, we would just imitate them. We reject inherited wisdom today in exchange for “change” and “new ideas.” But to just blindly reject our ancestor's ideas without thorough examination is not only foolish, it defies the natural human trait that got us this far.
Of course, we don’t just imitate each other. We imitate God, or at least we try to. Jesus was sinless, and great men throughout have done their best to imitate the way he lived — the story of his ministry is the PERFECT imitation. Which humans naturally respond to.
Religious instinct can even be seen in our brains. There is an entire field dedicated to studying this called Neurotheology — where the scientific method is applied to study spirituality through brain scans.
The scientists checked out the brains of everyone from nuns to Sikhs and to atheists, and it turns out our brains actually respond to religious rituals like prayer and meditation. You could understand that from a secular worldview, and propose that our brains have adapted to believing in God over time. Or as a religious person, it would make sense that — if God is real — he designed our brains in a way that we can connect with him.
The neuroscientist Andrew Nerberg wrote,
“If you contemplate God long enough, something surprising happens in the brain. Neural functioning begins to change. Different circuits become activated, while others become deactivated. New dendrites are formed, new synaptic connections are made, and the brain becomes more sensitive to subtle realms of experience. Perceptions alter, beliefs begin to change, and if God has meaning for you, then God becomes neurologically real.”
Listening to Andrew in long-form, it doesn’t seem that he is proposing that faith can be explained away as a trick of the mind, rather, he is observing that the human brain responds to faith as if it's part of its job. Knowing that tells us something about who we are.
That's pretty amazing to think about.
...believing in God has played a huge role in shaping the human race for a very long time.
From our biology to our brains, believing in God has played a huge role in shaping the human race for a very long time.
But now society is becoming less and less interested in religion. Have we evolved to keep up with a lack of faith or will we be left with biological and neurological processes with nowhere to channel them?
Thinking of humans as a broader society over a long period of time, should we be worried about basically quitting God cold turkey?
I think so.
But how much religion do we need? And what is a religion anyway?
The word religion has a multitude of connotations in America today — many are negative. It’s popular among the young, hip and well-connected to shake off the dusty title of “religious” in exchange for the less tainted title of “spiritual.” But the word religious, at least as it meant in the past, may be the key to understanding the seeming chaos of modern culture.
Although some may say that America suffers from a lack of religion, I say the opposite. I say America is hyper-religious and that is becoming our downfall.
We all have VERY different experiences with the word religion — both positive and negative. You have to think of “religion” as a tool. It can be used for good, as it has; or used for evil, as it also has.
Emile Durkheim, a french sociologist who is cited as one of the principal architects of modern social science defined “religion” as:
“A unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden — beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a Church.”
He said “church” but he wasn’t just talking about Christianity. “Church” was a kind of stand-in word for a religious community, which is a crucial part of the definition of religion itself.
There are other definitions of “religion” but I like his, so let’s use that.
For it to be a religion, it must have:
- Things that are sacred
- Things that you do
- And both of those should work in conjunction to bind a community together.
That is how, even though there is no deity in Buddhism, it is considered a religion just the same as Islam or Christianity. Buddhist practices separate out the holy from the profane and create rituals based on that separation that unify a community of followers, thus it is a religion.
So with that definition of religion, I find it hard to believe that most Americans are truly not “religious” — it's just that many have not clearly identified what their religion really is.
When trying to understand America today, instead of thinking of our culture as non-religious–think of it as hyper-religious. As if religious inclinations are seeping into part of our society. In many ways, America suffers from religious inclinations behaving like trains off the track. The culture minimized traditional religion without accounting for the religious instinct. Now, that instinct spills into everything. It has nowhere else to go. Politics is a religion, race is religion, gender is religion, whether you vax and mask is a religion—religion is EVERYWHERE. If you consider every movement and every political belief as a religious struggle, it will help you understand why we seem to be behaving so irrationally.
Jordan Peterson says that ideologies function as crippled religions — they have the same kind of power but not the level of symbolic complexity. The ideas haven’t been tested and refined across time, so they usually aren’t as good. But they are still very powerful. There are ideologies in the United States that have taken a religious place in our culture.
So if we are religious, who is our “god?”
“God” could be money, politics, fame, social justice or anything that consumes your focus. Whatever wakes you up in the morning and keeps you awake at night, that’s likely your “god.”
In that way, it isn’t that modern America is godless, it is that we don’t know, or at least haven’t named, which god we serve.
If you don’t know which god you serve, or which religion you follow, it isn’t because you aren’t participating in that ancient, evolved human practice. It just means you aren’t really in control of it, which makes you vulnerable to a religion, or a “god” that is malevolent.
Emile Durkheim thought that religion was eternal, but the form it took may change over time — that human beings' religious instincts may be channeled in wholly new directions from one generation to the next. The old “gods'' would die, and new “gods” would take their place.
Reminder: this is “god” in air quotes — "god" as the object of your worship. You can make any person, place, thing, or idea, a “god” for you, and Durkheim noted that THAT “god” could change from generation to generation
So if the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was America’s God during our founding generation, who IS America’s “god” now?
In the Bible, there is a recurring false god in the Hebrew's neighboring lands named Baal, who just may be America’s “god” — at least in a conceptual way…
You may hear the word “Baal” and think of an ancient pagan deity, and in many ways, you're right. But the word Baal itself is not only describing a single god but a pattern of belief. In fact, there are multiple documented “baals''.” It is best to think of baal as a representation of idolatry, with multiple subcategories falling underneath it.
Idolatry means worshiping the wrong God, which is another way to say you’re devoted to the wrong principles, basing your life on a lie, or having your priorities out of whack. It’s going the wrong way, missing the mark, and aiming in the wrong direction.
Baal is a Hebrew word that basically means “owner” or “master.” It implies complete ownership in a very strong sense.
Baal is a Hebrew word that basically means “owner” or “master.”
In Hebrew, not only do the words have meanings, the letters within the words also have meanings — they create a word picture. Also, very important words have the opposite meaning if you read them backward.
It’s as if G-O-O-D meant good and D-O-O-G meant evil, but English isn’t quite as complex in that way.
Since the Hebrew alphabet has no vowels, the letters that comprise the word “ba’al” are the consonants bet and lamed.
We will call them “B” and “L”
So the opposite of Baal — “B L” is “L B”, which is the Hebrew word that essentially means “whole heart.”
The word Baal — “B L” means the exact opposite. It is the opposite of “all heart.” It is valueless and nihilistic. The word ba’al is describing a belief system that says “I am the center of a valueless existence.” That is the picture the word is painting; and that mental framework, or belief system, is being baked into our culture.
Our modern pitfall is believing, or acting as if we believe, that each of us is the god of a world without meaning — a world where there is no truth beyond our personal experience. A world without real value outside of where each of us personally assigns it. Each of us is encouraged to be the god of a meaningless reality.
We are increasingly embracing a subjective understanding of truth, goodness, and beauty. We war with each other like the gods of ancient myths. We determine the value of beliefs by force and coercion. Because we believe there is no objective truth, beauty, or goodness, our values are determined by a court of public opinion, rather than given to us by God, or even inherited from the wisdom of the past.
The court of public opinion is an unbridled and emotionally volatile democracy. It doesn’t matter what the facts of a case are. Truth is not the point. Truth is subjective, thus dead, but “my truth” is worth defending to the death. That is why misgendering someone is described now as violence, because it is an attack on the only real meaning left in the world--which, according to our culture, is what I decide is meaningful. That is how the spirit of idolatry — the spirit of baal is manifesting today.
This new way we look at the world is spiritual, not material. It’s religious, or else it’s insanity.
When someone is driving alone in their car with a mask on, this is no longer a decision based on logic, but on faith.
When a man declares himself a woman, and the culture clamors to affirm him, that isn’t science, that has no material justification, it is faith.
When someone is driving alone in their car with a mask on, this is no longer a decision based on logic, but on faith.
When it is widely accepted and repeated that racism is the connective tissue of modern American society, without requiring the facts to back this claim up, then what we are dealing with is a strongly held system of beliefs — a religion.
When the abortion debate no longer centers on the question “Is the baby alive?” but instead degrades into a discussion of the relative VALUE of that baby's life in comparison to the burden of the mother, then we know our culture has given itself over to value-less (God-less) understanding of the world. Or worse, we see ourselves as god.
The battle of our time is spiritual, not material. It’s a battle of beliefs.
As we devolve into a culture that accepts each of us as a kind of demi-god of our own reality, how could the entire foundation of our nation not fracture at the seams?
Society is fracturing over the most central problem: Who do we serve?
Catch up with the rest of the "Who Is America's God Now?" series here: