You may have noticed a near-universal compulsion in our society to achieve "financial security," which, conventionally, we might see as an extension of the biological survival instinct. Of course, as we all know, the basic need for food and shelter is met with very little money, hinting that perhaps financial security might be a surrogate for other needs. Chief among them is the deep need to feel loved, cared for, and accepted by the world.
While no amount of money can protect us from most of life's great calamities, it is nonetheless true that wealth can insulate us from some of life's dangers or soften their impact—though to a much smaller extent than most people assume. Money cannot protect us from disease, divorce, stress, injury, fights with teenage children, addiction, or many other sources of misery. So while money can indeed confer some measure of security, objectively speaking that security is very limited.
Why do we feel so insecure? After all, objectively speaking our odds for a long and healthy life are no less today than they were during any other period of human history (though neither are these odds as much higher as we think). Never before has a society put so much emphasis on safety and security–a point which I will illustrate in a minute. But first let's examine what it really is to be secure.
A secure child trusts that the world is safe, nurturing, and fundamentally good. She trusts, moreover, in her own innate goodness as well. While many unforeseeable, accidental factors may affect a child's perception of the world's goodness and her own goodness, I think the most important factor is whether she receives enough unconditional love and unconditional acceptance from her parents.
As adults security means beliefs like, "I am fine the way I am," "I am capable," and "Things are working out for the best." "It is okay." "I am okay."
While a secure person will not tempt fate, neither does she feel a need to constantly insulate and protect herself from life's uncertainties and dangers. A secure person is willing to plunge into unfamiliar territory, to try new things, to expand beyond his present self; he is not afraid of the unknown, because he knows the world is fundamentally good. I think most of us at least have moments of security, for example when we realize that "everything is working out according to God's plan," or that "things will work out for the best." Sometimes we sense a wisdom and a purpose behind the superficially random events of our lives, and realize that everything that ever happened to us was necessary to create who we are today, and furthermore trust that this wisdom will continue to shape our lives. When we trust in this higher wisdom shaping the events of our lives, then it is no longer necessary to try to stave off every negative eventuality. Cultures that have a belief in fate spend a lot less energy trying to protect themselves from the vicissitudes of life; because a certain span of life is allotted to each of us, and because the key events, the key encounters of that life are foreordeained, the emphasis shifts from trying to control life to simply living as best we can the lives that are given us.
Much more than we realize, we live the lives that are given us. While it is up to us how we respond to certain situations, we have little direct control over the events of our lives. Important people come into our lives seemingly at random: a sneeze on a street corner, a late bus, can easily bring us together with a new friend or life partner. From a rationalistic, mechanistic point of view it seems that if I had not wondered into a Chinese class my freshman year I would never have ended up meeting my wife; my three sons wouldn't exist right now… a series of most unlikely coincidences brought us together. I didn't know and could not possibly have guessed when I changed my mind and decided to stay for one more band at a certain concert in Taipei that this decision would lead to a chain of events culminating in marriage and babies. This is why human beings believe in fate. The coincidences were so trivial, the choices so unrelated to the results, yet the results nonetheless seem to possess their own inevitability, purpose, and logic. In other words, to believe in fate means that these coincidences are illusory. My meeting Patsy did not hinge on taking a certain bus or listening to a certain band or just-so-happening to be at some place at some time—she was bound to come into my life anyway, somehow.
Of course, most scientifically-oriented philosophers would say believe in fate is just a projection of meaning and purpose onto events that are in fact random. They would say there is no meaning in coincidence. I agree that my view is profoundly at odds with conventional science, but it agrees with the teachings of most if not all major religions. Whether we are speaking of "God's plan" in Christianity or karma in Buddhist and Hinduism, religions share this idea that the events of our lives, in their content if not their details, are guided by a necessity beyond ordinary human comprehension. Animistic and shamanistic cultures take this realization to an extreme, assigning symbolic significance to every event and encounter in life: the circling of a hawk, the sighting of a bear. All are woven into an unbroken wholeness.
When we give up the illusion of control over our lives we are free to focus on the one place where we do have some control—our selves, or more precisely, our responses to the events of our lives great and small. The pressure is off. In the yoga tradition it is taught that it is much easier to wear shoes than to attempt to cover the whole world with leather.
Nonetheless, on another level our control over the events of our lives is total. In deistic terms, we can say that God's plan for our lives is not impersonal, but rather precisely tailored to who we are. The plan is made for you, personally, and it will change if who-you-are changes. And Who are you? You decide that—in your responses to whatever is happening to you right now. Your power to decide who you are is absolute; in fact, this is the only real power you possess. But it is enough. Everything else stems from that.
The same reasoning follows from non-deistic spirituality as well. Our thoughts, beliefs, actions and expectations generate the reality we experience. Our perceived lack of control stems from the non-linear, mysterious nature of he pathways that bring these experiences to us.
Let us ponder an intriguing paradox: We have much less control over our lives than we think, yet we also have complete power to determine what we will experience. Our power is zero and our power is total. The origin of the paradox lies in an incomplete understanding of cause and effect. I will spend a number of pages explaining the dynamics of fate, karma, and God's plan for us, because one of the main causes of our separation from God, creation, and the rest of humanity is our attempts to control and manipulate them, in ignorance of their true nature and in ignorance of our true power. I will start with some examples, but before that let me comment a little on religious terminology. Christians look askance at teachings such as karma, believing them to imply reincarnation and to contradict the possibility of redemption by grace. Buddhists, on the other hand, deny that "God" has anything to do with determining the events of our lives—karma, cause and effect, explains it all. Disagreements like this are what happens when people bandy about concepts like "God," pretending to an understanding which is not theirs. While contortions and misinterpretations of the original teachings have made their way into all religions, I have found the core principles, encoded in various terms, in all religions I have studied. All the important features of karma, for instance, can be translated into Christian concepts. In the present essay I will use mostly deistic terminology; equally I could restate everything in psychological terms: the unconscious and so forth. But I prefer not to do this, because to do so implies the primacy of that conceptual system and plays into the trend of explaining away spiritual experiences in material terms. This reflects a prejudice. We could equally say that all the various neurological phenomena associated with mystical states are merely the vehicle of their enactment in the time and place which we call physical, and that all the jargon of psychology is merely an attempt to recast spiritual truths in a more palatable language.
Now let's consider a few examples of illusory cause and effect versus real cause an effect: futile attempts to control the world versus the exercise of real power. Suppose John decides to have an affair without telling his wife, Mary. He takes all kinds of steps to avoid certain consequences—that is, to not get caught. He signs up for a credit card and puts his office as the billing address. He arranges fictitious "overtime." He hopes that by being careful enough he can control the course of events.
From God's perspective, all of these machinations are invisible. What God sees is the state of being from which John's actions spring. God sees a belief that terrible things will happen if Mary finds out—fear. He sees a life divided by lies and secrets. He sees unmet emotional needs that tempted John in the first place. He sees Mary's denial in the face of the increasingly obvious. Or maybe God sees some other set of circumstances, but whatever they are, what God sees is a whole pattern of being that demands certain experiences for the people involved. Nothing they can do can prevent these experiences from happening once the original decision to have an affair has been enacted. And when Mary eventually finds out, perhaps John will blame it on some specific lapse on his part, or on some certain coincidence, but actually it was inevitable, written into the fabric of reality long before. John's care to hide the expenses only means that Mary won't find out that way; his care to avoid certain places only means she won't run into them at those places. These details of when and where are, again, largely invisible to God. The perfection of God's plan is this: you will experience the ideal consequences of all your actions. The wisdom of God's plan is that these consequences spring from the intent and feelings behind them, and therefore are only predictable to the extent we know ourselves.
God honors the power we have as creators. An unscrupulous businessman might get rich, temporarily, through his scams, but the belief behind it all is probably something like "It's everyone for himself in this world," "More for someone else is less for me," "It's a cruel world out there," and "It's okay to cheat people because [everyone does it] [they're no good anyway] [they'd do it to me if I didn't do it to them]." These describe the kind of future he is creating for himself when he acts them out. Each of his clever swindles might be successful, but somehow events will conspire to create the experiences his "sponsoring beliefs" imply.
Fate or fortune is much like a road stretching out ahead of us, a road with straight, smooth stretches and tortuous curves, uphills and downhills, potholes, ruts, and bumps. Although by driving carefully we can perhaps avoid some of the smaller potholes, soften some of the smaller bumps, and keep our balance around the gentler turns, there are also giant pits and jarring bumps that are completely unavoidable. These represent the major challenges of life. We cannot contrive to live a life without them. They are built in. Excuse me for stating the obvious, but no amount of careful precautions and prudent behavior, and certainly no amount of money, insurance, retirement accounts, and medical benefits, can possibly prevent the major shocks and crashes of life from happening, much the less extend the road forever into the future.
I only state the obvious because in many ways our society behaves as if, with enough effort, the road of life can and should be rendered perfectly smooth. This assumption manifests in very diverse, seemingly unrelated ways, and has disturbing consequences for individuals.
Perhaps the most damaging consequence is that we believe that our misfortunes and traumas reflect some personal flaw—that we are unworthy of a smooth life; that we are not as good as the rich, healthy, beautiful, and successful people we see all around us. But another equally damaging consequence is that when everything is going well we imagine ourselves more worthy, more deserving than those poor benighted fools who've screwed up their lives. Not that there is anything intrinsically bad about believing yourself to be superior—the problem is that inevitably your own standards will be turned against you when the run of good fortune is over. Believing oneself to be superior because of this or that reveals a profound lack of unconditional self-acceptance. But even if this describes you, please don't feel too bad; the conditional self-esteem originates probably with the manipulative rewards, such as praise, for outward performances that more than likely weren't even something you would have freely chosen to do at all.
The logic beind this self-congratulation and self-blame is that we have the power and the responsibility to smooth out all the bumps and kinks in the road of life, and therefore any misfortune means we have failed. On the societal level, we find a metaphor and a model for this assumption in how we look to technology to eliminate all calamity and even all discomfort. The Technological Program, as I call it in The Ascent of Humanity, seeks to make life perfect, to put an end to uncertainty, to pain, and eventually even to death. According to this program, life is getting safer and better all the time: with dams, we are no longer at the mercy of floods; with antibiotics we are no longer at the mercy of bacterial infections; with air conditioners we are no longer at the mercy of uncomfortably hot weather; with bug spray we are no longer at the mercy of mosquitoes; with irrigation we are no longer at the mercy of the weather; with SSRI's we are no longer at the mercy of depression and anxiety; and, we are promised, someday all the other scourges—and inconveniences—of life will be wiped out as well: no more cancer, no more unhappiness, no more death.
Complementary to the technological program, our political culture also behaves as if it were possible, and desireable, to make life as safe as possible. There is a strong hidden connection between our disbelief in fate, karma, and the divine plan on one hand, and our obsession with homeland security, "defense", and so forth on the other.
Here's a more mundane example. Has anyone else noticed that all the fun equipment has vanished from children's playgrounds (at least where I live)? Gone are the seesaws, the big fast slides, and the high jungle gyms, because such equipment violates local guidelines dictated by the insurance companies. "Safety" is also the main justification for the numerous prohibitions we levy on youth, from the banning of skateboarding in almost all public places, to the age-21 drinking laws. Gone also are the days when pre-teens rode their bikes all over town—a parent today is deemed negligent if a child under thirteen is without supervision. Many parents won't even let the children out of the yard. Contrast this to the roamings of young boys in tribal, village, or colonial times, whose only limit was their own daring. Remember Tom Sawyer? Actually there is no need to go that far back to see the trace of this longstanding trend. My sister tells me that when she was nine she and her friend Meg would wander down the road to a swimming hole along Spring Creek, and play in the water for hours without supervision and without any adults even knowing where they were. How many parents today would let their nine-year-old do that?
These trends are not entirely a product of irrational paranoia. They do reflect an increasing fear of the world, an increasing desire to protect and insulate ourselves from the world and its dangers, but it also reflects the fact that in some ways, the world out there is indeed less friendly and more dangerous than it was before. Mostly we have just developed greater fear of dangers that have always been there, but new dangers have arisen as well. And again, the culprit here is fragmentation, fragmentation on a social level. In former times when people were more strongly rooted to their communities, and knew every neighbor on the block and half of them in town, they knew their children would be taken care of.
Greater fear and greater danger form a self-reinforcing vicious circle that demolishes trust in ourselves and trust in the world–the hallmark of insecurity. Naturally, we apply this mistrust to our children as well, as the examples above confirm. All three—greater fear, greater danger, and mistrust—are symptomatic of fragmentation on all levels of being; as well, all three exacerbate that fragmentation.
First, the fear and concomitant craving for security drives us to wall ourselves off from the real world into a cocoon of safety, a separate little world where even the air must be conditioned before it enters and everything is kept perfectly clean; that is, free of "dirt," which is nothing more than little pieces of the world. Fear also prevents us from getting fully involved in life, which always requires taking risks. Fear implores us to stay in control as much as possible. When we try to wall off as many aspects of life as possible into a private, controlled space, the realm of the private inevitably grows—the expansion of private homes in the last three decades to an average of 2000-3000 square feet for new construction demonstrates this. Our homes have expanded to encompass more and more of our lives.
Second, to the extent that the world really has become more dangerous, this is largely a result of social fragmentation—the dissolution of communities. In the old days it was much safer for kids to roam the neighborhood or even the whole (small) town, because everyone knew them. "That's so-and-so's kid. Remember, we met them at your cousin-in-law's barbecue last summer." In today's mobile society, people don't stay in their communities long enough to grow such roots; in an economy of superstores, franchise outlets, and long-distance commutes, people have little to tie them to a place-qua-locality in the first place.
The rise of litigiousness also reflects the breakdown of communities, which has rendered ineffectual many of the social mechanisms through which we once resolved disputes and enforced responsible behavior. These mechanisms have given way to the impersonal enforcement of the law. Today the ostracism of the community, for example, means very little because we hardly depend at all on whatever communities still exist. Except perhaps for a few vestigial—and dying—small towns scattered around the country, in most places we can still do all our shopping and commute to our jobs and live perfectly normally no matter what our neighbors think of us. Equally easily, we can simply move away. We no longer put down deep roots in a place, which makes it all the easier to "uproot" ourselves. Moving away is a nuisance, but modern living is nearly the same anywhere. The driving directions to our supermarkets and box stores change, and we must find new friends. But unless you and your friends all live in the place where you grew up, then your friendships are probably of the superficial adult type I describe elsewhere, and easily replaced.
Third, our mistrust in the intelligence and freedom of children points to a mistrust of the spirit of youth in ourselves. As many spiritual teachers have pointed out, children are closer to God, and so distrust or hostility toward our own youthful spirit is tantamount to distrust of that of God within us. Joseph Chilton Pearce has named three key features of adolescence that are relevant here: youth are idealistic, they have a sense of their own greatness, and they carry a "great expectation"—that something tremendous is supposed to happen. Our culture's socialization process, by which it instills "maturity," ruthlessly suppresses all three of these. Each child embodies a potential too magnificent and a soul too enormous for our society to tolerate in full blossom, so we make them into something smaller. Just as we fear the liberated transformative powers of young people, so also do we fear these same qualities in ourselves, because despite all the efforts of the powers that be to extirpate it, the spirit of youth remains latent within us, its blossoming truncated perhaps, but still vital and always waiting to germinate when conditions are right.
Our fear of the first of these qualities of youth, idealism, manifests as a resignation toward compromise and practicality, and leads to a learned powerlessness toward changing the world. Our idealistic impulses are frightening because they threaten the security of whatever life routines we have constructed: an unsatisfying job or relationship, perhaps, that is "good enough" or better than what might happen were we to give it up. Idealism is an insistence on living the way the world ought to be, or the way life ought to be. It is the recognition that on some things there is no compromise because they are more important than life itself. Throughout our youth various social forces conspire to tell us that our ideas of how things ought to be are silly and ignorant, and even if they are not, that they are impossible to achieve; that we are wasting our time and threatening our material security by even trying. This, despite numerous examples from history of individuals who lived their ideals splendidly even when they seemed impractical.
Saints and heros do not possess super powers unavailable to the rest of us; their way is open to all. Nor are saints and spiritual leaders the only humans to have successfully lived their ideals—in our own communities we can find such people as well who exhibit a contentment, joy, and solidity that surely does not come from being more clever, more ruthless, or more pragmatic at assuring for themselves a secure place in the world. On the contrary, constantly worrying about whether we can afford to do what the spirit guides us to, always watching out for our interests, calculating risks, weighing the potential gains and losses—this is an unhappy life, a restless and anxious life. In the end we therefore find that idealism is the only true practicaliy. But despite readily available examples to the contrary, our society denigrates idealism to the point where the very word has a negative connotation. We dismiss our expectation of a better world as "youthful idealism," implying that as adults we know better. Maturity, then, is to go along with the way things are; as I said, it is resignation and learned powerlessness.
Yet, the truth will out. Sometimes, despite our deeply internalized inhibitions, our idealism bursts out as an uncontrollable impulse to do the right thing—and damn the consequences! Discarding all thoughts of "Can I afford to?" and "What will happen if?," we quit that demeaning job—just because it was wrong to be there, or we refuse to go along with something, just because it wasn't consistent with who we want to be. And when we do this, when we allow idealism to rule even for a single decision, we feel joyful, powerful, energized, in tune, invincible, on the top of the world. Usually the negative consequences, the "what ifs," never even manifest, and if they do it might not matter as much as we thought.
The second of Pearce's characteristics of adolescence is a sense of our own magnificence, that we are here on earth for a great purpose. Few of us can envision the entirety of our purpose—at best we catch hints and glimpses—but we do receive guidance to move in the right direction: longings and yearnings to do something better, something more meaningful; an irrational, oft-dismissed, yet persistent feeling that we are better than this job, which somehow seems only temporary, as if we were waiting for our real Life Work for which we could unbind our energy and devote ourselves fully to. Adolescents often speak of a feeling of standing at the edge of tremendous possibilities. Although already by their early teens this feeling is already inhibited by fear—resignation to giving up on ideals in favor of something practical—and self-rejection—I am not lucky enough, smart enough, good enough to hope for anything more than "making a living"—still the feeling remains that "I am meant for something great."
I am great! It usually takes 22 years to beat this knowledge of our own greatness out of us completely. From a certain point of view this is necessary—society as we know it could no longer function if people were not somehow broken into accepting a greatly diminished version of themselves. Most of the work that the modern economy offers would be intolerable. And so, in the interests of the status quo, our sense of greatness has been crippled to the point where, when it manifests in our thoughts, we react with shame, thinking ourselves arrogant or conceited. We think this because we assume that our own greatness implies the diminishment of other people; in our age it is hard to conceive of greatness except in comparison to the no-so-great.
We tend to associate greatness with power, fame, and fortune, which stems from publicly-recognized success in science, politics, business, or the arts. Yet everyone knows that true greatness doesn't require the validation of money or fame. Even in the culturally-validated realms of achievement, such as the arts and sciences, for every Da Vinci and Einstein there must be dozens of equally brilliant men and women whose work was dismissed, lost or ignored through the vagaries of history, racism, sexism, academic politics, or simply because they were too far ahead of their times. All the more invisible are those kinds of greatness that will never win wealth or public acclaim. One person's greatness might be to rise above alcoholism to be a fine father, extraordinary grandfather, and eventually the patriarch of a vast extended family, who is everyone's favorite uncle and trust confidante, whose influences contributes to many generations of happy lives, but whose fame never extends beyond the clan. Another person might contribute a lifetime of serene labor as a kindergarten teacher, doing what she loves and remembered half-consciously by hundreds of her former pupils in association with a happy year of childhood, not realizing how much of their self-confidence and assurance is thanks to her. This great teacher will probably never become rich and famous. If we are lucky we might come across angelic beings such as this schoolteacher, in hospitals, hospices, service charities, and unlikelier places as well. I have even met them in prison! These people have never surrendered their potential for greatness to practicality and security; paradoxically they exhibit a far deeper security than can possibly come from power and money.
What a sad, sad inhibition it is, to shrink from living out of fear of not "making a living." When as young adults or at any time of life we reject our ideals and greatness because it isn't practical now, because we can't afford it, or because we give priority to "practical things," we are essentially enslaved to survival anxiety. It is right and proper that we struggle to survive when our lives and livelihoods are threatened; after all, a dead person cannot realize greatness. If I am starving the hunger for food overwhelms all other drives. But if survival–encoded as "practicality" and "being able to afford it"–dominates life, then we can say that our society makes us behave like a bunch of starving people. In anthropology there is an idea that Stephen Harrod Buhner, writing of the development of fermentation, calls "anxiety theory," which attempts to explain the behavior of primitive people in terms of the struggle for survival. Now we are supposed to have risen above that. Actually, the opposite is true. Primitive people enjoyed an "original affluence" remarkable free of anxiety and hard labor, while we moderns grow busier and busier as the pace of technological life quickens.
If you accept at all that there is a significance and higher purpose to human life beyond survival and reproduction, then a system in which survival anxiety governs our choices is also a system that keeps us in a low state. If the adolescent intuitions of greatness are true, then certainly there must be more to life than to live, reproduce, and die. This leads to Pearce's third characteristic of adolescence, that "something tremendous is supposed to happen."
Throughout childhood our brains develop all the functions needed to further the interests of the discrete and separate self. Gross motor skills, concrete operations, formal operations, reason and logic are all fully developed by the middle teens. In terms of economic self-interest, genetic self-interest, and rational self-interest, these faculties are enough–development is finished. Pearce disagrees. He says another stage of develepment is meant to happen, associated with the mysterious prefrontal cortex of the brain, at the time of middle to late adolescence. This higher developmental stage is one of transcendence–transcendence of the separate, limited, concrete world of individual ego. A tremendous awakening is supposed to happen, a transition to a transcendent state of being that we might call spiritual. The sexual awakening that happens around this time is certainly one facet of this awakening, as romantic love does crumble the boundaries of self and open us in intimate ways to an other. But it goes far beyond that. In the first fifteen years of life we establish our existence as individuated beings, but that is not the culmination of development, it is only the launching pad for the transcendence that is supposed to follow.
The problem in our society is that it never happens. In fact, our society, built upon the discrete and separate self, actively prevents it from happening and traps us forever in the maze of me and mine. Yet inside we know something is supposed to happen, and that this something is as important as life itself. But it never happens, and eventually, after a period of rebellion, we resign ourselves to an incomplete life. Or as my brother put it, "Yeah, it never happens, and then when you're 28 years old you figure, ‘Gee, I'm a grown-up now, I guess it must have already happened.'"
Nonetheless, however effective the mechanisms by which we deny the urge to transcend the limited selves we are offered, the urge burns inside, unquenchable. It might come out as a feeling of betrayal, or an inchoate rage that has no object. Or, after rage and rebellion prove futile, we might turn the anger inward as depression.
Could it really be true, that we are meant for more than Just This? Well, if it is true, then society must hide that truth from us, because then who would put up with the trivial, meaningless, demeaning occupations that keep society running? Who would work retail? Who would input data? Who would stuff envelopes? Civilization as we know it would end. That is inevitable, when the civilization we know is founded on that pre-adolescent conception of the self.
We project the same self into biology as well when we explain behavior as driven by the genetic imperative to survive and reproduce. Whatever other meaning, purpose, or sacredness we believe in, in the bleak scientific view the real purpose of life is to pass down our genes. I am speaking here of the neo-Darwinist orthodoxy, which says that the genes that have survived to the present day are precisely those that best program organisms with bodies and behaviors that ensure those genes are passed down. Every one of the higher human qualities, we can explain away in neo-Darwinian terms. Take love. The nurturing and protective urges associated with love facilitate the survival of our genes, because our children who share them survive long enough to pass them on. A person whose genes did not "program" him to love his children would probably never have grandchildren, and his genes would exit the gene pool. Similarly, love for our spouses arises first as attraction—a mechanism to spark reproduction—and then again as protective, nurturing impulses, which ensure that he/she is around to help raise the children. So no matter what elevated meanings we ascribe to love, all that's really going on is a pattern of neural firings and hormonal communications within our bodies, ultimately determined by our genes, that compel us to act out all the behaviors of love. And the feeling, the emotion? That is merely our subjective experience of these mechanisms. It is an epiphenomenonon, while the electro-chemical phenomena are the fundamental reality. They are what really going on.
The scientific foundation of the denial of purpose goes deeper than Darwin, of course, all the way down to the mechanical universe implicit in the equations of Newton and Galileo. Whatever purpose we ascribe to the world, all that is really happening, at bottom, is a bunch of fundamental particles interacting according to impersonal, mathematical rules. The philosophical implications of this were realized in the late 19th and early 20th century by thinkers such as George Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell, who concluded that any sound philosophy of life must be based on an "unyielding foundation of despair." I explore these ideas in much greater depth in Chapter Three of my book. For the present purpose, the key implication is that fate or purpose is an illusion, a projection of a pattern onto reality that does not exist, and that security–which is really just the maximization of economic/biological interest–along with pleasure is by default the only purpose to life.
Because this assumption is woven deeply into what we call rational, sober thinking, and into our fundamental understanding of the nature of the reality we experience, I believe it necessary to address the apparent incompatibility of science with a universe of spirit, meaning, and purpose, which is one of the deepest reasons we so easily reject our youthful intuition of our own power and magnificence. Any philosophy that attempts to construct meaning atop a foundation of random, purposeless, deterministic interactions of fundamental particles is bound to be hollow and inauthentic. (As is the case when determinism is replaced by randomness at the quantum level. Blind randomness is little better than determinism; moreover, the conventional view is that quantum indeterminacy cancels out on the macro level.) In other words, it is to be expected that survival anxiety rules our lives when science—the religion of the age—posits the survival and procreation drive to be the fundamental raison d'etre of biological existence. We are here, at bottom, simply to survive and reproduce. Any other meaning we assign to life is merely a comforting fantasy.
To be sure, most scientists, even the most hard-core skeptics, agree that science has not and cannot ever disprove the existence of God or the soul. They say only that such concepts are unnecessary to explain any phenomena so far observed in the universe; that once upon a time, primitive man knew almost nothing and so explained the mysterious world through myth and religion; then as science developed, we explained these mysteries one by one, and God became less necessary; someday science will discover the theory of everything—we are close already—and all phenomena will be explained. There will be no more mysteries, and therefore no need or place for God. Oh sure, even then we will not have proven God does not exist; we will only have made God completely irrelevant to the universe we live in.
This view of God is consistent with the abstraction of spirit from matter that has been going on for the last several centuries, if not millennia. Both the scientists and the religious establishment agree on at least one thing: that if God exists at all, God is in a separate realm from matter.
The reconciliation of science and spirit that I offer takes the opposite approach. Rather than seeing God as an external imposer of meaning onto a dead, mechanical universe, I describe a universe that is inherently alive, inherently purposeful, and inherently sacred, and of which God is an immanent property. In such a universe, all of us have a necessary role to play, a reason why we are here. We can all feel it. Even though the ideology of our civilization denies it, I think all of us have been in a job, a relationship, or another situation where we know, "I am here for more than this!" That is the intuition I am speaking to.
Some people have criticized me for allowing the taint of teleology into my thought. Well, it is more than a taint. My thinking is flagrantly teleological. However, it is an organic teleology independent of an external source of purpose or design. This is hard for people to understand mired in the Dualistic assumptions of Cartesian thought. It is hard for me to understand, sometimes, how the universe could have purpose without a purposer. In my book I devote many pages to explaining how that could be, drawing heavily on examples of self-organization in biology, chemistry, even mathematics.
Instead of going there now, let me just summarize the ramifications of this idea, to see if it rings true for you:
- The body is not the house of the soul, it is the soul taken physical form;
- Matter is not separate from spirit, it is spirit as it appears to our senses;
- The universe, all-and-everything, is not the creation of God, but rather is God in the process of creating Godself.
Spirit is enfolded into matter, matter is the form spirit takes right now, and therefore that all the affairs of flesh and blood, and our worldly lives, are pregnant with spiritual significance. I am just reminding you of what you know already.