By Robert Wheeler
It is fairly-well accepted now that space and nature extend beyond what we now see. There is something “out there” beyond our knowledge. Because of our uniquely human thinking ability, we formulate ideas about that unknown. But it is largely speculation, beyond the reach of science. There must be a “first cause,” it must be out there somewhere. There must be a moral authority out there that is more just than human judgments. There must be out there something worthy of our devotion and worship. There must be a source for the creative force that started us, and that supports the development of us both as individuals and collectively as a species.
Wonder about and desire for knowledge of this mysterious unknown is built into us, and societies throughout known history have been dominated by assumptions of its nature. They became social belief structures and created religions. Because our knowledge and thinking are limited, we usually accept the assumptions already accepted in our social environment. These assumptions evolved because they ameliorated concerns about first cause, met needs, and improved society. But these assumptions and beliefs are difficult to conceptualize because they are about something beyond our immediate experience, nebulous, and mysterious. God has become a popular term in Western culture to provide an explanation, however other terms include Great Unknown, Yahweh, Great Architect, Master Spirit, or Great I Am. In other cultures are terms such as Allah, Brahman, Ormazd, and Tao. To be more meaningful, symbols and other representations are adopted. Anthropomorphism refers to representing the Great Unknown with human characteristics that we can more easily understand. God incarnate in Jesus is more meaningful than God as the Great I Am. Jesus, Mohammad, or Buddha are more effective as objects of worship than an abstract Spirit.
So, it is not surprising that symbols and icons take on divine powers that conflict with new scientific findings and current experiences. Which is better: belief in an ultimate cause that can be easily conceptualized and fills needs but conflicts with objective knowledge, or belief in an ultimate cause that is currently evolving and compatible with current experiences and knowledge but fraught with uncertainty and fluctuating judgments in human thinking? Answering this has been a perennial issue for theologians and philosophers–an unresolved conundrum that deserves consideration. Science has traditionally supported the objective view, however recent advances have opened the door for alternate views that support alternate or evolving reality. Scientific theories about multiverse and many worlds provide for mysterious realms of existence that may even include a Deity.
If this issue of reality or first cause is so important, why don’t we think more about it and why is it excluded from TV, magazines, education, and politics? In ancient history it was a major concern that formed religions and philosophies. The answer is that science and technology have made life so comfortable and have provided enough explanation that these deep questions are less important than questions about entertainment, money, and power. Understanding what started life and paying homage to it does not seem necessary now to meet immediate daily needs, so the deeper questions have been pushed into the subconscious mind where they smolder causing feeling of dissatisfaction or boil up to cause anxiety, depression, and other problems.
Religion. patriotism, and family used to provide answers to the deep questions for enough people that the answers were incorporated into culture in the form of beliefs and worldviews. For various reasons, religion, patriotism, and family have lost their influence leaving the subconscious deeper questions smoldering with more heat. Sociologists, psychologist, and philosophers attribute the recent increase in anxiety, depression, suicide, crime, and violence to this loss of influence. If people could get back to thinking about these deeper questions, our self-indulgent competition and aggression would be replace with helping and sharing. For nations it would replace terrorism and war with cooperation and exchanging.
Wouldn’t our world be better if media, leaders, educators, and politicians emphasized pursuit of this topic rather than the current emphasis on wealth, power, conflict, and consumerism?