Reading Time: About 10 minutes
Part One: The Dilemma
Sometime in our distant past, our species, homo sapiens, developed the mental capabilities we now possess. That first spark of intelligence was most likely inherited from species that preceded ours, although many people feel that it was directly instilled in us by some supernatural being. Opinions of how we obtained this ability and other dilemmas would lead to clashing world-views.
Ever since human minds were capable of intelligent thought, they have pondered our existence. After living on earth roughly 200,000 to 300,000 years, we sapiens are only now beginning to understand the universe and our place in it. We are living at a major turning point in the history of human consciousness, whether we realize it or not.
If we allow ourselves the opportunity to experience nature, it can be spellbinding. The night sky is a glimpse into an endless dark universe which we now know contains an inestimable number of galaxies. Each of those galaxies is beyond description in their size and complexity.
If we enter a forest and roll over a rotten log, we can be mesmerized by the variety of life that exists beneath it. Dive on a tropical ocean reef and you will be stunned by an entirely different biosystem. The wonder of it all can be addicting, and none of us can experience it all in one lifetime—although people like filmmaker David Attenborough have made heroic attempts to do that.
Trying to comprehend nature inevitably leads to attempts to discern patterns that we try to understand and communicate to others. Even using every erg of our finite mental potential, we struggle to come up with answers to our nagging questions. I think that many of our species realize that on the continuum of intelligence we are much closer to other mammals than we are to some omniscient, or all-knowing being. Therefore, we can only speculate on what we experience.
Those questions and subquestions we ponder can probably be reduced to:
1. How did the Universe originate? If it’s always existed, how can that be explained? If it’s been created, then how could it come from nothingness?
2. What is the origin of life on Earth? Were all of the millions of species from amoebas to mammoths created for a certain reason? Were humans a separate creation designed to dominate the planet? Does life exist elsewhere in the Universe?
3. How can it be that nature seems to provide everything we need to exist? After all, every species has the exact food nutrients to sustain life. We all have the building materials we need for shelters and the physical attributes and necessities to protect us from the weather.
4. Do we have souls or life forces that continue to exist after our physical bodies die? Do they precede us or are they created when we’re born? Since all of our companion species have life forces, do they also have souls that exist after their death? If ours do, why wouldn’t theirs? What would be the nature and composition of souls, and where exactly would they go after an earthly existence inside a material body?
The Possible Answers Might Be:
1. A incomprehensibly powerful being created everything. We still debate the characteristics of this being because there are many different concepts of it. It may or may not monitor and protect its creation like a mother hen. Maybe it becomes involved in earthly events or communicates with humans or another species. It could be all-knowing and all-powerful, or not. Also, it may be loving, or it may be a tyrant. Whatever it is, we call this incredible type of being a god or deity.
Those who believe in gods probably believe them to be eternal and that they must have had a plan—some cosmic blueprints—for their creations. Is one god superior to the others? Does it assign responsibilities to subordinate gods? Did the supreme god sit down at some spiritual drawing board and compose the anatomy and physiology of every single life form it created? Every single species of plant, fungus, slime mold, and animal? Or did this being just say a magic word or blink everything into being without any detailed plans? Is this a spiritual or a physical being? If physical, where is it? If spiritual, how did it create a physical world? Either way, how did it come to exist?
Furthermore, this creator had to have known how to integrate all celestial bodies and all lifeforms into one infinitely intricate system. Can we even comprehend something like that? Many people think they can.
2. The second option is that the universe and all life trace back to natural causes that didn’t involve any supernatural intelligent beings. That’s because there is no conclusive proof that any exist. They are assumed to exist because every creation needs a creator, especially a creation this mind-boggling.
Over the last few thousand years, humans have learned much more about the universe and their biosphere. They’ve found increasing evidence that points to natural cycles that have natural natural causes. But this materialism thought process largely bypasses the task of explaining creation and goes straight to how the first organic molecule transformed over billions of years into what we see now—self-replicating life forms of unfathomable complexity. The creation of energy, physical existence, space, and time are left unexplained.
3. The third option is that we don’t have the slightest, snowball’s chance in hell idea of figuring it all out. The human brain cannot conceive the details of how creation came about by either a natural or supernatural process. Therefore, no one can say with any certainty how it all began and how it arrived at the complexity we experience now. To me, admitting this is a very rational alternative. We just don’t know, we can’t know, it’s impossible for us to know. If we’re honest, total amazement is an appropriate response until we find much more evidence that leads us to a natural or a supernatural cause. I wrote about this not-having-a-clue option in an earlier blog about the origins of religion.
But people aren’t happy with unanswered questions so they force themselves to invent answers whether they have good evidence or not.
Part Two: The Clash of World-views
Whoever we are and wherever we live, all humans were born into a culture. Every culture worked out a narrative to answer those nagging questions in a way that made sense to them. This led to imagined stories, or mythology. Each tribe developed its own myths, vocabularies, customs, and gods in an attempt to answer those questions. All humans inherited what their cultures taught them, came to believe that it was the only system that adequately explained everything, and adopted it as their world-view. Then they passed this cultural package on to their next generation. With each generation, those ideas were refined, and eventually crystalized into a trusted view of reality.
The development of world-views
Our identities and worldviews were the natural results of our cultural conditioning. For example, my culture was white, middle-class, Protestant, third or fourth generation European descent, and residing in Middle Atlantic US. It was almost one hundred percent predictable how I would develop—I’d be taught that there was a supreme supernatural power that created me, watched over my every move and thought, and decided my fate at the end of my life. His son was incarnated on Earth to save me from my many sins, and if I trusted in this belief I would live eternally in bliss. If I didn’t, then my afterlife would be as horrible as I could imagine.
My mentors taught me to be proud of my country, its history, and its flag. I’d was fed nothing but the positives of my religion and nation to make me admire them. I also may or may not have been taught to resent people who looked or acted differently from me. And I’d be taught to take offense when anyone disrespected those symbols of my identity. My respect for the authority figures who taught me these things would help weld them into my self-identity. Even if they were false beliefs, they would become my world-view and the only one I was expected to believe during my life.
What’s wrong with diversity?
Look around. People of every culture go through a similar religious and personal indoctrination process. Most Latin Americans have no choice but to worship the Roman Catholic version of the Jewish god. If someone lives in Germany, there’s a high probability that person will worship the Lutheran version of the same god. Greeks worship the Eastern Orthodox version. Those who live in Utah are taught the Latter-Day Saints version, and Pakistanis will believe in the Islamic version of the same god, but call the god Allah. Most people in India will be indoctrinated into the Hindu religion and be taught that the Ganges River is a continuation of the Milky Way. You get the point. Each culture is taught some kind of religion and that’s the only one most of them will ever know. Few know that learning their culture will put them on a collision course of clashing world-views.
Who has the correct world-view?
But how many of us really stop to think about the truth of what we’ve been taught? Our cultural identity bonds us together and we learn not to question it. But, how many religions can have all the correct beliefs—one at the most? Because of this, we most assuredly have mistaken assumptions about people from other cultures. It’s much easier to feel superior to people in other cultures and blame them for our misfortunes than to face the possibility that our culture may have serious flaws.
Should we fight over it?
In studying four thousand years of human history for my book, In Search of Christian Origins: A Timeline of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, I’ve seen these clashing world-views play out endlessly and in a predictable way. Whether religiously, ethnically, or politically, it’s been the primitive animal instinct of us against them. And it seems most cultures have always justified the Us taking from the Them, because one group felt entitled to what the other group had.
The results have been horrendous. Those who haven’t learned history aren’t aware of this perpetual cycle, so when it replays for the twenty-thousandth time, they think it’s something new and don’t see the proven futility of it. If leaders keep their followers in the dark as far as a factual knowledge of history, that’s what happens.
As far as supernatural supervision, why should we believe that the gods of the Celts, Greeks, or Mayans were inventions of primitive-minded people, but the three or four-thousand-year-old Jewish-Christian god is real? Why did armies representing this god feel the need to subdue those who worshipped other gods, send those gods into exile, and force their supposedly superior religion on the vanquished? Was this the inevitable consequence of their world-views, and did their scriptures and religion originate in that world-view?
The results of intolerance of others
Another dilemma I have is how cultures spread. I see two ways for a culture that wants to expand to proceed. One is to attract others by demonstrating honest compassion and respect for people of other cultures? That seems like a rare commodity. The other way is to crush other cultures and gobble them up. The Romans did both. First, they crushed them, but then were tolerant of other religious beliefs once other cultures were absorbed into the empire.
Where has that kind of mentality gotten humanity? Untold millions have been killed solely for how their culture interprets reality. Most of the accomplishments of hundreds of billions of hours of human labor has been wiped out and rendered meaningless. And all this strife has brought no lasting results other than leaving most of the world’s population in poverty and despair.
What about the present?
We cannot change the events of the past. The unfolding of human history happened for various reasons and we can’t reverse it. But that warring mentality seems to have usually begun with leaders who were afraid of failure or something else, had a sense of superiority, or were so greedy they could never attain enough power, wealth, security, or fame. They led followers who they kept ignorant of reality, didn’t allow to develop bonds with those of other cultures, and infected with the belief that their society was better and deserved more.
Historical failures being repeated
Humanity has suffered catastrophic losses due to conflict, and the saddest part is it didn’t have to play out that way. Look around now and you’ll see that not much has changed. A dictator in Russia decides to invade his neighboring country, endless wars and famines continue in Africa, tyrants take over governments and steal wealth from their people, preachers preach hatred from their pulpits, and many people treat the planet without any regard for future generations.
Leaders still delude followers into thinking they‘re superior to others. They teach followers to keep refugees and immigrants from living productive lives, rob the poor and unfortunate of adequate safety nets and opportunities, and refuse to compromise with those of other ideologies. They brainwash them into thinking they have the best idea about how a family should be structured and which people should or should not have children.
Is humanity really improving?
According to author Steven Pinker, humanity has made great strides forward as far as cooperating with one another and reducing violent behavior. But there always seems to be those who want to throw out an anchor and drag all human progress to a standstill. They often make decisions based on anonymous millennia-old writings. They are under the assumption that those primitive writings provide better answers about how to live in the modern world than any source written since then.
Part Three: The Solution
So, I see that many of the problems we have in human interactions come down to differences in world-views, differences that we can overcome if we are determined.
Unlearning what we’ve been taught
If we hadn’t been taught otherwise, we could admit the truth—that we have no idea how we were created and that no one is born superior to anyone else—we would be able to see past all our petty human differences and just marvel at the common mysteries we experience. Then, we would find common ground, and realize that we can live without all the answers. We’re doing it every day whether we realize it or not. Some people try to convince us that they have all the answers, but once they say that we should be very suspicious, because no one does.
I still have faith in the future of humanity, otherwise I wouldn’t even bother to write this. Whenever I see people being kind and considerate that gives me renewed hope. It’s always those who are divisive, dominant, and feel entitled who ruin it for everyone. We have to learn how to tune them out.
I’ll close with lyrics from an old Moody’s Blues song. This one is from their sixth album, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and its named “One More Time to Live.” When searching for the solution to our life’s problems, the lyricist found that it came down to one simple thing—compassion.
Chosing an attitude
Yes, I’m a dreamer. I’ve tried to be cynical, but I can’t stay that way—it’s too depressing. As we all know, although not everyone is capable of optimism or compassion, almost everyone is capable of being influenced by others. If empathetic people can teach their gift to others it will make positive differences in people’s lives. Those same brains that allowed homo sapiens to dominate and understand our world also gave us the ability to change our attitudes.