By Olivia Pierson
When Aristotle, the ancient Athenian philosopher, devised his systems of logic and metaphysics (the study of the nature of reality), he taught that all entities, be they animal, vegetable or mineral, had a distinct identity or nature (essence) and could only ever be or act according to that nature. This became the famous Law of Identity: a thing is itself, formulaically symbolised as ‘A is A’.
When it comes to understanding the nature/essence of a human being, we are the only entity which is highly conscious of the disconsolate truth that our life is temporary. All things change. All living things die. But this piece of knowledge is a key essential concept in man’s nature alone; that our lives have a beginning and will soon have an end. The thing that we call “a life” is the period in between that non-volitional Alpha & Omega.
This knowledge universally evokes a sense of melancholy, sadness, wistfulness, sentimentality or whatever term most fits with the profound feeling of loving an inestimable value which is certain to be lost to each of us - be it our own cherished life, or the life of another, or even the loss of something else; a pet, a family, a home or a country. All human beings dotted all over our great globe can deeply relate to this awareness that things change and life is temporary.
Whether one observes the forms, thoughts and emotions of a religion or does not, this knowledge instills a desire in all of us to want our temporary existence to be important in some way. Even if people refer to the feeling of just wanting to “make a difference” in someone else’s life, that is still another way of desiring to be important (to be of significant use to another). We want our lives to matter.. at least to someone.
But if one makes an objective cosmological analysis on the reality of man, he is just one form of natural life among billions of different species which have slowly evolved on our planet and are of no cosmic import at all. Despite the fact that he is life's most complex living organism, his life is fragile and temporary. He is subject to changing events that he has no control over: ageing, disease, accidents, loss of loved ones, natural disasters etc. He had no control over his birth and will probably have no control over the time or method of his own death. This is reality in the cold light of day. Many people can’t cope with it.
Is it any wonder then that man invented the notion of an ever-loving, watchful God, a God who grants an individual purpose to each life? It is the exact counterpoint to all of man’s universal fears and existential melancholies. Talk about making you feel important: the greatest entity in the universe, the maker of heaven and earth, created you, loves you throughout your life, gives you a special purpose to build your life around and desires your company after death.. forever. You also get to be with your lost loved ones again.. forever. All you have to do is acknowledge his existence and try to give him any glory rather than gleaning it for yourself.
I can see why people buy into this emotionally - I have always argued that religion is an emotional decision first, second and last. With many it is not a decision at all, but more of a following along with the philosophical/cultural tradition of family and friends, which can impart a strong sense of belonging and support within a tribe. It’s a ready-made belief system which engages its adherents emotionally to have faith in a supernatural deity, an engagement which they describe as ‘spiritual.’ Much of what is taught and believed concerning spirituality in the differing religions revolves around the core belief that man possesses a soul which can survive the death of the body.
This is another way of saying that human beings have consciousness which does not die when our bodies do. Our consciousness is that mysterious, perceptive and conceptual sentience which makes us an individual self, an “I”. It is the totality of every thought, emotion, action, dream, impression, desire, smell, sound, feeling, fear and aptitude we have ever experienced. What we do not actively remember permeates down into our subconscious often popping up in our dream-life when we sleep, but it is still part of the totality of our consciousness. This is our soul. We are no more than the entire content of our consciousness. We have our consciousness because we have a body with a human mind.
Though we all have consciousness by virtue of being born a human being, some people develop their consciousness while others seem to hardly bother at all. It is on this telling front that it is made so abundantly clear that human beings are not equal to each other - certainly not in the area of development. Some create beautiful music, some learn to play the piano or cello, some study singing or learn foreign languages and poetry, some study philosophy, science and read the histories of those who came before them. Some people do all of the above and much more besides. Some people just eat, sleep, work and watch sport on TV. Some don’t even work, they just lie around smoking weed and drinking booze while collecting a welfare check over long, wasted years. Some people smoke weed and drink booze but will write a novel while working two jobs. The content of our consciousness is our own personal responsibility and the result of how developed we want our minds - and consequently our lives - to be during the short time we have on Earth. This is a spiritual choice. Though we don't have control over our birth and death, we do have volition through our power to reason - itself a spiritual act, for it develops our consciousness.
That which we call the spiritual impulse has evolved with our nature as human beings - the tendency to be awed by the majestic power of a transcendent mountain peak, to survey in wonder the staggering immensity of the night sky, or to feel pure, thankful reverence for the musical compositions of Rachmaninov, Beethoven or Mendelssohn who presented us with beauty so undeniably sublime that one just wants to worship at the altar of their genius. These feelings evoke a strong sense of something powerfully divine or numinous, but really they speak to what the human spirit has the potential to be - utterly magnificent! Why give that away to a deity?
I know that the religionists will say that all human beings have an inborn knowledge of God which inspires these spiritual feelings toward nature and beauty because He made us in His image. But it is clear to me that it is exactly the other way around. We have made God in our human image - hence we know stories about him feeling jealousy, wrath, love, neglect, disgust at evil and pleasure at seeing good. These are human emotions that we have projected onto him. The evidence for this lies in the thousands of spiritual traditions and deities which have been observed over time - all holding a very common absolute: no religion is true but our one. All gods are jealous gods, and as the late Christopher Hitchens once put it: all believers are atheists when it comes to the gods of others.
Personally I find what moves me spiritually too important to project onto a supernatural God whom no one has even come close to proving exists. The best that believers can do is to reference subjective emotions, numinous experiences and holy books written by men.
Unless one is a psychopath i.e; grossly defective as a human being, most people on this earth have the capacity to create, to love, to be moved by beauty, to love goodness and to hate that which is evil, if we develop it in ourselves. We are also inspired by greatness when we see it or read about it in human form. These spiritual attributes are ingrained in our very nature as human beings and we owe it to ourselves to not give them away to a God who isn’t there. They are our unique human character which distinguishes us from all other life forms. A is A.
I will end with an insightful thought from Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher who lived and died 300 odd years before Jesus of Nazareth was even born. He was famous for dedicating himself to his philosophy of joy, to his friends and to his beautiful garden:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” [Epicurus of Athens]
If you enjoyed this article, please buy my book "Western Values Defended: A Primer"
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