Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. - Matthew 8.20
Hatreds do not ever cease in this world by hating, but by love; this is an eternal truth. - Dhammapada 1.5
Heaven and earth will pass away. - Mark 13.31
Do you sense the shadow of Doomsday creeping across the land? Are you frightened by the spectre of total war? Are you worried about warmongers, hate criminals, religious fundamentalists, separatists, terrorists, totalitarians, and cattle mutilators? Could it be that the world is finally coming to an end?
Is there a reason to it all? Is there hope for the future?
Having trouble figuring out why it should matter? After all, aren't we just a bunch of monkeys that got too smart for our own good? Would it really mean anything if we nuked ourselves out of existence? Wouldn't that just clear the way for some potentially superior species to evolve? Aren't we so miserable anyway that it would be merciful if we went extinct?
Poverty and disease are rampant on the planet. All nations claim to want peace, but the wars just keep on coming. Every political system we establish eventually devolves into corruption and ruin, but, like fools, we make new ones!
Is history going anywhere?
Can't find something to believe in? Wondering if anything is sacred anymore? What's the point of all those silly old religions? Didn't someone prove that God is dead? If you are a believer, might you just be addicted to easy answers? If not, might your commitment to secularism be based on faith? How can you have a religion if you don't worship anything - or do you?
Of course you do! To worship something is to attribute worth to it, to celebrate its meaning. Wherever you focus your attention and praise, whatever you do in your life ritually and with devotion - that's your religion! You may worship partying and good times, or the products and celebrities of the culture industry, or a political ideal like equality or liberty, or some pet cause like environmentalism or drug prohibition, or maybe even G_d, but you definitely worship something. It's only human.
So relax and worship freely, and don't let the bastards grind you down. It's important that you have something to believe in, because your search for meaning in life is the driving force of history.
But where exactly is this force of history driving us? Aren't we just racing blindly to the brink of disaster? With so many different seekers, seeking so many different meanings, how can we get anything done? Just what is this all about? The pessimist says things are getting worse, the optimist that they are getting better. So who is right?
They both are! The pessimist is right in the short term and the optimist is right in the long term. The pessimist is right in the short term because human action has unintended consequences. Whatever people do, something always goes unexpectedly wrong. Thus, things are continuously getting worse. The optimist is right in the long term because there is a general trend of progress in human history. Each century is more prosperous than the next. So, things are continuously getting better.
If you think that's paradoxical, you obviously haven't been exposed to much history. The story of humanity is one of opposites in conflict - peace and war, love and hate, oppression and freedom - each dependent on its antipode for the context of its meaning. People strive to achieve a perfect state of being, only to transform into exactly the opposing state they were trying to avoid. They forget that they can't escape their shadow. They forget that the only constant in the world is change.
Remember when the bubble burst, so many people were financially ruined, and corruption and disillusion brought a mighty economy to its knees? Boy, life was tough in 1929 - or was that 2009? Remember a time when the free world cowered in the face of implacable violence, and people blamed the Jews and capitalism for the world's woes? We sure had it bad in 1936 - or was that 2009?
Wait a minute - if things keep changing, why do they always stay the same? It's not so much that nothing ever changes, it's that whenever something changes, it takes us right back to where we were before it became that from which it changed - its opposite. See? This is how we keep going in circles, visiting the same points over and over again - and all because we keep trying to find the answer to something.
Recognizing the human need for meaning, the essential of opposites, the impermanence of all things, and the recurrence of events is the beginning of an understanding of our species and its destiny. A man who lived long ago, named Heraclitus, known for his "flux and fire" philosophy, had some of the same ideas. Honestly, anything you can think up was already thought of by some ancient Greek philosopher. I've applied the Heraclitean world view to modern events in a short photo essay.
You can learn more about the marvelous human story by reading on...
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! - Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2
All sacred passages quoted on this site are from Jesus and Buddha: the parallel sayings, edited by Marcus Borg, Berkeley, CA: Seastone 1997. The bible passages it quotes are from Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
This page copyright Steve Barrera 2001-2017