I’ve done a lot of reading since my beloved wife’s death. Most of it has been secular in its nature but a substantial amount has been biblical and spiritual as well. After my last post, for the first time I received as much dissenting feedback as I received words of praise and encouragement. What’s good about that was that all the dissenting opinions were offered respectfully and tactfully, and much of the dissent came from people I know and respect. This is exactly what I have sought to achieve from the very beginning with these posts. My intention was never to make people feel bad or wrong about their beliefs. My purpose was to understand those who disagree with me and to have the opportunity to offer them a perspective that they may not have been exposed to, in an effort to get them to understand my point of view.
After spending a substantial amount of time considering the comments (pros and cons) that I received over the course of me writing this blog, along with considering all I have come to understand from personal experience and from all of the texts I have read over the past several months, I have decided that humanity’s fate may have been decided over 30,000 years ago. While there is much debate over what made it possible for humankind to dominate the entire planet (some say language, some say the ability to use tools, some say simply an opposing finger, the thumb) is what made it possible. I have come to believe it is our ability to tell stories that is both the source of all humankind’s success and dominance of the planet and at the same time is the instrument of our demise and possible disappearance from the earth. The writer that has been most influential in my adopting this belief is an anthropologist named Yuval Noah Harari who wrote a series of books on the evolution of humankind. The prevailing theme in all his writings is that man’s intelligence makes it possible to be conscious of his mortality. About 30,000 years ago, when the human race functioned they way it was genetically equipped to function, in small groups of 15 or 20 people at a time working collectively to satisfy the self interests of each member of the group, someone discovered that by creating a good enough story, you can convince much larger numbers of people to overcome their fear of death and forgo their self interests, if the story convinces them they have a greater purpose in life. That belief can serve to benefit of a small circle of people, at the expense of millions of true believers. The concept is as old as civilization itself and has evolved into the modern religions we follow today.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we all reach out to some higher consciousness in times of extreme stress and danger. I’ve known people who claimed to be confirmed atheists cry out for God or Jesus in near auto accidents. It’s almost impossible to endure life, with all its trials and tribulations, and to continue to contribute to society without the hope of some kind of after life, especially as we get older. The only difference between us as people is in the degree to which we empower those beliefs.
Here in America, and throughout the developed world, we seemed to have divided ourselves into two diametrically opposed and separate groups. One group consists of those of us who have completely empowered the story (i.e. the idea that some deity is in control of everything that happens in life, and will be the judge deciding if paradise or damnation awaits us at the end of our lives). The other group consists of those of us who, while we may acknowledge the possibility of a deity and even worship a deity, chose to believe that every human individual is a deity in his/her self, and deserving of choosing his or her own destiny. Both groups carry their own innate advantages and disadvantages. Those of us who have chosen the story over the empowerment of all humanity have the advantage of living a life less concerned with their mortality and consequently are much more capable coping with life’s setbacks. The downside is that their faith leaves no room for compromise with those who don’t share their beliefs and attitudes. Those of us in the humanist group, on the other hand, are much more capable of accepting change and are inclined to experience much more personal growth, and actually benefit and prosper from diversity. On the down side, they are much more fearful of death and are violently defensive against anything that threatens their personal freedom and civil liberties.
After considering all this, I’ve come to the conclusion that the two groups can never reconcile their differences. I understand this now. There’s no way a humanist is ever going to convince a true believer that a women has the right to do anything she wants with her fetus, to the extent that it is an extension of her body in the early stages of its development. Likewise, a true believer is never going to convince a humanist that a fetus is a fully formed human being with all the rights of any other taxpaying citizen. There can be no compromise between the two groups. The only way we can survive this dichotomy is consider how we have dealt with such dichotomies successfully in years past. Consider that wars start because one group miscalculates the will to prevail and capabilities of the opposing group. I get the uneasy feeling that those of us who are true believers somehow don’t understand that those of us who are humanists are quietly arming themselves, even as they lobby and protest against the NRA and lack of gun control. We must be up front about the fact the Americans are not arming themselves for protection against criminals. We are arming ourselves against attacks from each other. We have only to look to Iraq and Syria and Libya to see where this continued enmity between the two groups is going to lead. The cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States remained cold because of mutually assured destruction. One side knew it could not destroy the other without itself being completely destroyed. I believe that to be the case with all modern civil wars. If you look globally, you have to conclude there are no winners in modern day civil wars. The aftermath leaves the entire civilization in shambles. Whatever outcome either side expects to accomplish by war, always turns out to be pure fantasy. They only thing real is the pain we feel at the loss of anyone in that small circle of people we build our lives around – the only people who truly ground us in reality and who without, life becomes meaningless. When you think about it from a genetic standpoint, for the purpose of our own individual lives, those people are all of humanity.
There in lays the paradox. The only way to safeguard the people who matter most to us is to give all of humanity the same consideration and respect we give to our love ones. It’s natural to think all we have to do is protect that small circle of people around us in order to be safe. That is how we are genetically programed to think – hence all the guns in America. In fact the opposite is true. There is nothing we can do to protect our love ones in a lawless environment, which is what modern civil war is. Our only hope is to talk to one another. Only then can we remind each other who we really are. Only then can we come to understand that these alliances we are constantly forming between millions of us at time are an unnatural illusion. The only people in our lives that truly matter to us are our friends, family and neighbors. They are what we are going to lose if worse comes to worse. The rulers and demigods we empower through these false alliances are not going to lose, at least in the short run. Only after we have destroyed everything required for humans to live in peace on Earth will they perish. But they will be the last to go.