Daily Devotional for the Not-Yet

  Earth and the Sun, as viewed by the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Earth and the Sun, as viewed by the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Daily Devotional for the Not-Yet

In this moment, as in all the moments I have, may the image of the God or Gods Who May Be burn brightly in my heart.

Let faith give me a felt assurance that what must be done to bring the Day of Awakening and the Day of Fulfilment closer can be done in a spirit of joy and contentment.

Let the gathering powers of heaven be at my left hand and my right. Let there be many heroes and saints to blaze the trail in front of me. Let the younger generations who will follow discern the truth and wield it to strengthen good and weaken evil. Let the grandeur of the Universe above inspire noble thoughts that lead to noble plans and noble deeds. Let the Earth beneath be a remembrance of the wisdom of our ancestors and of others who have died before us. And may the light within be an ocean of conscious and unconscious being to sustain me and those who are with me through all the trials we must go through.

In this moment, I am. And I am grateful that I am. May others be, now and for all time.

Commentary

Having a window of time on a plane ride when I didn’t need to do anything in particular gave me a chance to realize that I was feeling depleted. Sleep was one obvious remedy, but I felt a need for something to feed my soul as well. So I wrote this prayer as something that might help lift my spirits on a daily basis. I wrote it for myself, but thought some of you might like it as well, perhaps as something to riff off of. (Designing one’s own religious rituals is a well-accepted practice in Unitarian-Universalism, the organized religion I belong to, and it is part of the research program I argue for in my sermon “Godless Religion.”

The basic theological ideas behind this devotional can be found in my sermon “Teleotheism and the Purpose of Life.” There, I define teleotheism this way:

Teleotheism is the view that God comes at the end, not at the beginning, where I am defining “God” as “the greatest of all things that can come true.”

Thus, the “Not-Yet” is the greatest of all things that can come true, which I call God, or more specifically, “the God or Gods Who May Be.” I chose that phrase because it also has an agnostic interpretation, allowing for the possibility that there just might be a god or gods out there already. (If there is a god or gods out there already, I feel pretty confident that God or Gods will not match all the details described in any religion that I know of, since every detailed description of God or Gods I know of has internal contradictions.)

Note that identifying what is the “greatest of all things that can come true” is a job for all of us. As I wrote in “Teleotheism and the Purpose of Life,”

In this view, the quest to discover what are the greatest things that are possible is of the utmost importance. The best of our religious heritage is just such an effort to discover the greatest things that are possible.

One key aspect of my theology is that it is non-supernaturalist. I tried my best to define “supernatural” in my Q&A post “What Do You Mean by “Supernatural”?” There are some phrases that were quite tempting to write into the devotional that I resisted because they were contrary to my non-supernaturalist beliefs.

Three previous prayers I have posted here provide elements for this prayer:

  1. An Agnostic Grace
  2. An Agnostic Invocation
  3. An Agnostic Prayer for Strength

There are some new elements:

The Day of Awakening and the Day of Fulfilment. The final words of “Teleotheism and the Purpose of Life” are

Can there be any greater purpose to life than working toward that day, that fine day, when God and Heaven do exist?“ 

The "Day of Awakening” and “The Day of Fulfilment” are handy names pointing to that time. It is unlikely that “the greatest of all things that can exist” will come into existence suddenly. “The Day of Awakening” is an early day when it seems that the greatest of all things that can exist is beginning to actually exist. “The Day of Fulfilment” is a later day when the greatest of all things that can exist does exist in full.

The Gathering Powers of Heaven. Because “heaven” can also answer the question “what is the greatest of all things that can exist,” in Teleotheism, the word “heaven” refers to the divine as well. “The gathering powers of heaven” is primarily those people (in the broad sense of intelligent agents) and ideas that are working to build heaven. To my mind, that is the same as those people and ideas that are working to make the world a better place, both in the immediate sense, and in the more roundabout sense of working to discover principles that will help us to make things better in the distant future.

Heroes and Saints. In “Adam Smith as Patron Saint of Supply-Side Liberalism?" I define a "hero” as someone who has done or is doing great good in the world, and a “saint” as a hero who in addition is free from scandal. That is, a “saint” is someone who has not only done or is doing great good in the world, but has done no serious, blameworthy harm, even locally.

On this blog, you will notice that there are many people that I admire. I give a set of links to posts about some of them in my recent post “Saint Clay.” I am sure I have forgotten posts I have written about other heroes. And there are many, many people I admire and think of as heroes whom I have not yet had occasion to write about, or have not yet had occasion to laud.

Younger Generations. The full significance of the phrase “younger generations” is only clear in the light of this passage from my column “That Baby Born in Bethlehem Should Inspire Society to Keep Redeeming Itself”:

… however hard it may seem to change misguided institutions and policies, all it takes to succeed in such an effort is to durably convince the young that there is a better way.

Died. The phrase “our ancestors and the others who have died before us” refers to the fact that in this age, we all still face death. Although I believe death will be conquered (see Cyborgian Immortality), unlike Ray Kurzweil, I don’t believe death will be conquered until it is too late for me to escape death. It is my fond hope that the words of this prayer and this post might survive to a time in the future when death is conquered. But I am very conscious of my own mortality. As I have often said, I am not a fan of death. My favorite poem about death is Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Dirge Without Music.” I hint at the poignancy of the fact that I and others I love face death near the beginning of the prayer above as well, in the phrase “all the moments I have.”

I Am. In “An Agnostic Grace” I make a hat tip to the Mormon religion I grew up in by ending with these words–which still respect my own non-supernaturalist beliefs:

And we remember Jesus Christ, symbol of all that is good in humankind, and thereby clue to the God or Gods Who May Be. Amen.

In the prayer above, the phrase “I am” is the hat tip to the religion I grew up in, since at least the King James Translation renders the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s explanation of His own name as “I am that I am.” But “I am” also harks back to Renee Descartes rationalist dictum “I think, therefore I am.” (Cogito ergo sum.)

Grateful. I write about the importance of gratitude in “Human Grace: Gratitude is Not Simple Sentiment; It is the Motivation that Can Save the World,” which is also very much an expression of my theological views.

May Others Be, Now and for All Time. In my post about three possible “Armageddons” I wrote

I believe the continued existence of our species is of great value.

By current temperament, I am an optimist, but I don’t take the continuation of our species for granted. Andrew Snyder-Beattie wrote this in his Quartz essay “Finding a new Earth could be a sign we’re on our way to extinction”:

The Great Filter is an argument that attempts to resolve the Fermi Paradox: why have we not found aliens, despite the existence of hundreds of billions of solar systems in our galactic neighborhood in which life might evolve? …

While emergence of intelligent life could be rare, the silence could also be the result of intelligent life emerging frequently but subsequently failing to survive for long. Might every sufficiently advanced civilisation stumble across a suicidal technology or unsustainable trajectory?

I am hopeful that we can make it through the Great Filter. We have already come a long way. Going forward, in addition to avoiding missteps in the short-run, a key to the long-run survival of humanity and our transhuman descendants is for humanity and its offshoots to branch out to the rest of our solar system and beyond. To the stars! (Ad astra.)