Long ago, in the earliest days of our homo sapiens species, males and females surely wondered, in their fashion, How did our kind get started and what happens when we’re done? That is, What came before our birth and what to expect after death? Two hundred thousand or so years later, many if not most of us are still wondering, though a lot of folks aren’t comfortable with such speculations and prefer not to dwell thereon.
Fair enough. Free country and all of that, but I think avoidance is a missed opportunity for enlarging one’s intellectual horizon. This topic deserves a place as fair game for REAL wellness explorations.
Unlike conditions extant during the times of our most distant ancestors, most children in recent centuries are provided pre-packaged stories or myths that address these questions. However, the myths do not encourage exploration or curiosity; rather, they provide answers, though not universally satisfying. Nearly unlimited varieties of explanations have been on offer in varied parts of the Earth. The modern fables with which we’re familiar touch on these questions, but focus on Why are we here and How must we conduct ourselves.
The most popular packages have common features. They are based upon venerated books said to be authored or at least inspired by supernatural beings, omnipotent and all powerful. Mystical, invisible potentates are said to have created everything and remain in charge, not just of Earth but the entire solar system, our galaxy and millions of billions of other galaxies in our amazing and expanding universe.
The major explanatory systems of our own time have special representatives uniquely authorized to interpret what the one true controlling invisible force desires of us, aided and abetted in the performance of their roles by distinctive costumes, exclusive access to and use of precious objects, rituals and procedures that adherents must follow.
Most people are exposed to and indoctrinated in one of the pre-packaged explanatory systems. Followers of one system or another live their lives, with varying degrees of success, guided by the system ingrained by their families and cultures. By the time they reach adulthood, young adults are fully indoctrinated and pass along the system they absorbed as children to their own offspring.
WHENCE, WHY AND WITHER
One of many problems with the systems that address the grand foundation existential questions noted (i.e., whence did we cometh, why are we here and wither will we goeth) is that systems are incompatible. This leads to conflict, mayhem and holy horrors. Another problem is that, at best, only one, at most, can be correct. Alas, all are impossible to verify. Many people today, called skeptics (or infidels, heretics, freethinkers, blasphemers, etc.), believe answers provided by all such systems are elaborate gibberish. They consider what most are led and bred to believe about existential mysteries to be nonsensical. By the time people reach adulthood, they have had the benefit of education and life experiences. Thus, more than a few begin to suspect that the explanations given about such questions are suspect at best, and possibly simple folklore, like stories about Santa, tooth fairies, goblins and elves.
With the exception of true believers, followers of most faith systems at privately have trouble going along, taking the nebulous offerings hook-line-and proverbial sinker-like. Some, about a third of the adult population in America, don’t go along at all. No surprise, perhaps, I’m one of them.
REVALUATING TRADITIONAL BELIEFS
How do skeptics resolve, to their own satisfaction, at least momentarily until new possibilities come to mind, these existential questions? How did our kind really get started and what really happens when we’re done? That is, What came before our birth and what to expect after death?
Of course I don’t know, but I find explanations provided by science more plausible than magical superstitions on offer. Science represents the best chance, statistically and logically, philosophically and otherwise, of understanding reality. Naturally, we don’t and can’t know anything with confidence about ultimate beginnings or hard-to-imagine afterlife futures. What, save an eternal void, could there be? For us soon enough, and our solar system a mere four or five billion years later, a void awaits, as it was in the beginning.
Well, here’s my take on that–no worries.
It’s invaluable to develop your own opinions about life’s great existential enigmas or conundrums–and expressing them freely. My own opinions are pretty simple–there are no reasons for our existence, that is, there is no grand design.
Not that I’d mind an afterlife, if I could conceive of such a thing. I’d love to once again have a chance to hug and pet my boyhood best friend, old Rufus, my faithful childhood dog, perhaps to romp about with him on Sugarcandy Mountain. According to Moses the Raven in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Sugarcandy Mountain is the place animals go when they die to reap the rewards from their work on earth. On Sugarcandy Mountain, the animals enjoy leisure, plentiful food, and sweet treats.
Sounds good, but I think the mountain would be overrun with dogs, so unless their sanitary habits magically evolve after death, I’d keep short my time on doggie mountain.
Naturally, Robert Green Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic, had a whimsical idea about an afterlife. At the conclusion of an address at the Lotus Club’s 20th Anniversary on the evening of March 22, 1890, he concluded his remarks with these words:
When I am at such a gathering as this, I almost wish I had had the making of the world. What a world I would have made! In that world unhappiness would have been the only sin; melancholy the only crime; joy the only virtue. And whether there is another world, nobody knows. Nobody can affirm it; nobody can deny it. Nobody can collect tolls from me, claiming that he owns a turnpike, and nobody can certainly say that the crooked path that I follow, beside which many roses are growing, does not lead to that place. He doesn’t know. But if there is such a place, I hope that all good fellows and ladies will be welcome. Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899)
Life is meaningless–always was and will remain so as long as we last. Create your meanings, find your purposes. This realityshould be perceived as good news. It means we’re free, not beholden to or enslaved by grand potentates in the sky, able to use our minds to reason, to seek periods of exuberance, to look after ourselves and experience as much liberty as we can manage. The time for joy, to love and be well, kind and of use is now.