Letters to an Agnostic #4: Reality Is Either Personal or Impersonal

Letters to an Agnostic #4: Reality Is Either Personal or Impersonal

Reality is complex, the world is sophisticated, existence is perplexing: why should we expect the answers to ultimate questions to be easy and transparently simple? Nevertheless, I do not think these choices between religions are as overwhelming or perplexing as they might sound.

Dear J,

You’re right, my thinking is quite binary on this issue. Existence, as we know it, is either personal or impersonal.

Think about it: all religious belief systems are one or the other. Some are impersonal, or non-personal, if your prefer. These have taught that reality contains no personal deity or deities, but only the cosmos as it is, with energies, or “power”. Buddhism falls into this category, as does Confucianism. Many of the New Age religions focused on energies, crystals, reincarnation, are similarly impersonal. They do postulate some kind of super- or supra-natural powers, but these are not personal beings. All forms of pantheism (Including some forms of Hinduism and Taoism) or panentheism are likewise impersonal. If all things are God and God is all things, then you have an absolute, but an impersonal absolute.

Similarly, the philosophy (or religion) of materialism asserts that “the cosmos is all that is, all that was, and all that ever shall be”. The physical matter and energy of the universe is the sum total of existence. While it admits that consciousness exists in this cosmos – our own – it sees this consciousness as more of an anomaly. Impersonal matter accidentally created self-aware minds. Of course, all forms of atheism believe the universe is non-personal.

All impersonal belief systems tend towards nihilism. If reality is impersonal, then no universal meaning exists. Nothing in our experience has intrinsic beauty, value or significance. All is accidental, random, and chance. All meaning is individual, arbitrary and subjective. In the end, if nothing is true for more than one person, all that remains is that we please ourselves with whatever appeals to us. Pleasure is paramount, and the power to get the pleasure is vital. Reality is the survival of the strongest.

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