First Religion

Jun 11, 2012 by


Colin Hannaford

Dear Friends,

I begin this today, on the 3rd June, my birthday. So many of you have sent me birthday greetings that I cannot very easily reply to you all. Instead I will follow the suggestion of a favourite philosopher of mine, B. Baggins by name, that one’s birthday is the best time to send presents to one’s friends.

We have together created a wonderful present for the world: a conception of an invisible, incorruptible, irresistible God who is also the inspiration of science.

Some of you will have discovered that my life has been a love story. As a penniless young soldier, I fell in love with, of course, a very beautiful girl. As girls must, she decided to marry her own choice. I decided I must still prove my worth. I had first to learn to think. This brought me, in time, to receive my epiphany. Nearly twenty years passed before we met again. To my mingled joy and terror, I found that I loved her still. By this time I had been warned that virtually no-one actually believes that humankind is guided by God. If we were, humankind could not possibly be in such a mess. But when I asked her what she wanted most, she replied: “I wish I could explain the world a little better to the children.” “Oh,” I replied rashly. “I can do that.”

And I started again.

The fact of the First Religion was implicit in my revelation. Some presentamen of it has occurred over millennia to inspire successive religions.

But I was still then thinking as a soldier: all decision and action. To know how to explain it, I had to learn to think as a teacher: to respect you, my pupils. Then, with your help, this is the understanding we have achieved.

The First Religion is simply a deeper theory of evolution.

It suggests there is an impulse of order acting throughout the cosmos.

In the beginning it balanced the early energies.

It created matter from energy.

It organised matter into atoms and molecules.

It enabled molecules to build organisms.

It guided organisms to adapt actively with their environments.

In some, self-awareness became self-consciousness.

From their self-consciousness came social consciousness.

Adapting to the seasons produced the early cultures.

As societies increased, other cultures evolved.

Weaker societies were assimilated or annihilated.

First Religion guided social consciousness from idols to abstractions.

The earliest of its guides speak plainly,

Dress plainly, live plainly, need no palaces.

But as societies became more powerful

Governments became more rigid and elaborate.

Divisions and suspicions appear.

To feel more secure they buy more arms.

Most of our societies are at this stage now.

Our poor become poorer. Our children lack care.

The modern religions are highly ordered.

They are followed by billions.

They employ millions of workers,

Many are highly influential in their societies.

Even the United States is politically polarised by its religions.1

One quarter of these workers will be purely exploitative;

Another quarter will be legalistic;

Another is angry that the rest of the world remains unconvinced;

A final quarter despairs that their faith has become too elaborate for this ever to happen.

The followers of most religions are actually divided in much the same way.

Fully half can therefore be invited to join First Religion.

The first advantage of First Religion is to offer an understanding of the world that does not rest on history and with which children can decide their own future. I might explain more here and now, but I intended this to return your good wishes in good time.

Let me first show you how closely First Religion follows the instinct and reasoning of some famous thinkers of the far distant and recent past. You will know most by name.

In that very distant past, when descriptions and objects were first being understood as snares for the mind, Buddhist philosophers conjectured that all perceptions are created by individual minds from a universe of possibilities. We see what is wished to be seen.

A pregnant thought! Indeed.

In 1923 John von Neumann explained how numbers, supposed by every previous thinker to be the bedrock of reality, can themselves be conjured by the mind from nothing.

Von Neumann was a truly great mathematician. His explanation goes something like this.

The concept of nothing is itself not nothing. It is a description of something. Count ‘one’. Now there are two ideas in our mind: nothing and the concept of nothing. Count ‘two’. Next identify ‘three’: and so on.

This is a little laboured. But the intention is much the same: to conceive of order appearing from the interaction of nothing and a mind.

In 1950s the physicist Eugene Wigner, who helped create nuclear bombs, was asking: ‘how is it possible that the process alone of Darwin’s natural selection has brought our reasoning powers to the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in describing our universe?’

An answer had to wait until 2006, when our old friend James Theobald Wheeler published his grandly named (by him): ‘Participatory Anthropic Principle’. Leaning heavily on the theory of quantum electro-dynamics, the most accurately tested theory in science, he proposed: ‘we are the descendents of the biological participators who created not only the near and here, but the far away and long ago. Their perceptions created the universe; our perceptions sustain it.’ 2

Some may hold, perhaps along with Stephen Hawking, that this was the moment our universe appeared; and that that observation was made in themind of God.

Science appears to have come full circle. It is back with the rejection of idolatry, of objects being held to be holy, of places being sacred. Instead it says we are sacred.

According to the ancient Vedic Upanishads, which guide seekers of knowledge to accept reality as it is, it is only necessary to understand: ‘tat tvam asi’.

There are several translations. One most respected is: ‘You are that which creates.’

Back to the myth of the killer Moses, asking how to tell his people of his experience in being spoken to by God, and being told: “Tell them ‘Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.’”

Is it possible that it has not been understood for all these years – perhaps not even by Moses himself or those who told his story: that he was to tell people: “I am whoever I will be”?

It was another old friend, my tutor Bertrand Russell, who first identified the difference between similar syntactical forms. The first of these alternatives he would have called a declaration; the second is an instruction. They look identical. They may sound identical.

How much confusion can be created from misunderstanding three words!

I will finish my first thanks with another of Russell’s comments. he is sitting beside me now, in the shape of battered old copy of his ‘Basic Writings’, purchased on May 9th,1968, in Bristol.

I took to Ireland in September that year as a not very effective intelligence officer in a society polarised by religion for over four hundred years. In it I find a flimsy folded paper being used as a bookmark. It is a receipt from Morrison’s Beach Hotel, Killadoon, County Mayo, and records two persons staying for two nights, June 20th-21st, 1970.

The cost, with dinner, wine, and breakfast is written as £7:5:11.

I may have read the following comment before, but yesterday afternoon I found it again. Here is Russell writing three years after the cruellest war ever waged: ‘Daily joys, times of liberation from care, adventure, creative activities, are at least as important as justice in bringing about a life that men can feel to be worth living. Monotony may be more deadening than an alternation of delight and agony. … Love of power still leads to vast tyrannies. … fear, deep, scarcely conscious fear, is still the dominant motive in very many lives.’ 3

In an earlier essay, in which I noticed Eve’s surprising generosity – in giving control of justice to Adam, rather than keeping it for herself – I noted that there is a curious incongruence.

This does not fit human nature. But human nature can be made to fit it.

Whilst the most monotonous lives are commonly thought to be directed and controlled by men, a little thought will disclose the fact that the most highly controlled societies are far more to the advantage of mothers and their children.

Although they may appear to be the victims, it is older women who benefit most from societies in which little is ever allowed to change. They are capable of directing their apparent male rulers from cradle to grave. They even choose and tutor their successors.

I began to realize early in teaching how very effective schools are in driving great crude nails of fear and guilt into children’s’ hands and feet.

Forgive the harsh imagery. The pain and damage are real. The majority are crippled doubly. Fear makes them unwilling to offer kindness to others. Guilt – especially of ‘not succeeding’ in societies in which all are expected ‘to succeed’ – leaves them unable to deal calmly with the unpredictable trials of life: often involving dishonesty, injustice, unfairness.

Above all, they can no longer think for or say of themselves: “I am whoever I will be!”

Moses might well weep.

All great ideas are first ignored, then scorned, and are then described as having always been entirely obvious.

Here is an entirely obvious idea.

Only the exploitative, the legalistic, the unimaginative, and the mad want war.

Upwards of one half of the followers of the world’s religions want to overcome their guilt and their fear, and do not want war. We can show them that God cannot inspire war.

If you are interested in helping me create a charity to promote this entirely obvious solution to the world’s wars, please start thinking NOW.

To explain more advantages I shall write just three more essays: ‘How to be honest’; ‘How to be just’; ‘How to be fair’. In them I shall try to show how every religion began as and embodies First Religion.

And then, dear friends, I will STOP!


Love to you all, Colin.

1 See Pew Forum Research, April 2012.

2 I have taken some liberties in paraphrasing Dr Wheeler and Lord Russell. Their meaning is unchanged.

3 Authority and the Individual, Russell B., 1949

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