I don’t believe in God but I’m well aware that many do and I don’t begrudge them their belief. Instead I try to figure out how to work within our differences for the best possible future.
I have a new approach that’s grounded in basic science and yet is perfectly accommodating of the possibility of God.
Let’s assume there’s a God, a higher power, or some force aiming for the highest good, the good we should all serve. For simplicity, and out of respect for tradition we’ll call Him God here.
His will is our highest purpose. Our lives are a test of whether we’re working with God or against Him.
So what does God want?
We could ask God what he wants, or read His signs for indications. Been there; done that. All religions and spiritualties do just that, and still they disagree, at least on the particulars.
How about on generalities? Do they agree on anything God wants?
Many say that above all, He wants us to be nice to each other. Love thy enemy. Be tolerant. Accept all of God’s creation with an even-handed embrace.
That’s a nice start but it doesn’t get us very far. Love thy enemy doesn’t even make sense. If you love him, how is he your enemy? If he’s your enemy how do you love him such that he doesn’t end up taking it the wrong way, evidence of you not being nice to him? By definition, universal love and tolerance means not having any standards. In literal practice it means anything goes. In actual practice no one does, can or should be equally nice to everybody.
So, could anything else be what, in general, God wants? I say yes.
The meaning of life is sustaining it.
Look at God’s works. He’s clearly pro-life. He wants life to keep going. When we devolve His evolving creation, we fail His test and He’s disappointed in us.
At a minimum can we agree we shouldn’t destroy His creation or that part of it that he reveals to us physically?
Some say what’s revealed to us physically is the tip of the iceberg of his creation. To them some imagined part of God’s creation—heaven and hell, the second coming is more important to preserve. But again, about the imagined part there’s no consensus. Can we agree at least about preserving the part we all agree exists—the living world, us included, a rare species with the intelligence to even wonder what God wants.
Imagine then a God who creates life not just here on earth but throughout the vast universe, little pockets of it that grow and evolve, eventually sometimes, as in us, yielding intelligent life. Intelligent life is a long time coming, the product of lots of evolutionary advances over many millennia.
Intelligent life forms like us don’t just evolve. We learn and faster than any other organisms. In our mind’s-eyes we think about where they are, have been and could be. By means of intelligence we have newfound flexibility to chart new courses and take new action (often described as free will though that’s a misnomer).
We do it all through a combination of receptivity to new interpretations and commitment standards. We keep an open mind but don’t let our brains spill out. We live with the tension between listening and asserting, being nice and being discriminating. We love, not as the product of some mindless blanket policy, but by means of the old give and take, giving in here, taking charge there.
God tests only us intelligent life forms on our commitment to his goal of preserving life. It would be cruel to test those who don’t have our flexibility. God is not cruel, but he’s also not tolerant of everything. He has standards.
So how does God test intelligent life forms, here and on other planets? A climate crisis, like the one we’re entering.
Being latecomers, intelligent life forms would always awaken to a gold mine, the rich accumulation of fossil fuels, the organisms that came before them in the run-up to intelligent life. Intelligent life forms would eventually become smart enough to exploit those fossil fuels as we have, and inevitably with similar consequences, burning them so fast that they destabilize the rare and habitable climate that would have endured long enough to yield intelligent life. The ultimate test of our flexible adaptability is our ability to respond to the crisis.
The Climate Crisis is God’s test of our intelligence, and alignment with His ultimate aim, the preservation of life, and in particular ourselves, with this exotic late-blooming intelligence of ours.
There is a hell. The hot-as-hell hell that so many religions envision and warn us against is, by my interpretation us cooking ourselves to extinction with our fossil fuels. If we do God’s work, preserving ourselves by means of our intelligence, the Kingdom of God is indeed at hand.
Chances are very good that many intelligent life forms on other planets have been put to God’s climate crisis judgment day test. An it’s not an easy test. Perhaps some have passed; probably many have failed. The wild weather we’re experiencing these days, whether cold or hot but always erratic is the writing on the wall. Judgment day is coming. Hell or heaven on earth? It depends how we play it.
And should we play it nice? Yes, but selectively, as we all do whether we admit it or not. We fuel squanderers will shriek, “that’s not nice!!!” when they tax our fossil fuel consumption. Tax it anyway. We should be discerning, which means disappointing some in the name of preserving the whole.
Intelligence is the art of doubt-management, when to listen and when to assert, when to be yin and yang, when to say “I think” meaning I wonder and when to say “I think” meaning I know.
Is there a sure and simple formula for passing God’s climate crisis test? Many people make it sound like there is. Mention climate crisis and even thoughtful people will tell you with alarming confidence that they know exactly how to solve it: We must clearly do this and certainly not that, confidence compensating for fear of the uncertain perhaps. Like the religious they feel the existential urgency, and swing rash and aggressive with answers, impatient with questions. Judgment day is upon us. We better get moving, they say. They know the way, sure and simple.
In broad strokes we do know the answer. We have to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations through some combination of reduced production and increased sequestration. But how to do that isn’t obvious. Intelligence is trial and error on steroids, faster tests, better tracking of the consequences. We now face God’s greatest test, the test he reserves for the rare intelligent species. Judgment is at hand. These are desperate times, perhaps calling for desperate measures, but above all for intelligent ones.