A Temple Built on the World of Fact
The strength of humanity has been the ability to find meaning in a chaotic world saturated with suffering – to build a temple of ideals upon the unpredictably shifting ground of unyielding, unconscious Nature. However, this strength has also been a burden on humanity.
Across the world, at different times, tribes of humans built their own temples, each tribe thinking it was the ultimate possessor of the one true Temple. They spilled each others’ blood as they plunged the world into darkness over imaginary crimes. Even those who genuinely wanted to know the universe with the tools of science were swallowed up in the carnage. The atmosphere in those days was toxic to an unorthodox thought.
But, the light of reason, although nearly extinguished, sparkled for long enough to bring about the modern age from the jaws of the Ages of Faith. Human progress accelerated at an unprecedented pace. Some resisted this modernization by seeking refuge in the antiquated temples from whence a recent fireball ignited a global powder keg of passions.
Some proclaim and hope that the end is near. They see a Plan underlying all the ruin. They say it must get worse so that the world may be redeemed. And, that their Savior will come down to make it all right, or that their Way shall finally triumph. Because in the end, they thought, there was a preconceived plan for it all. Extraordinary comforting hopes are usually born of extreme circumstances, but the situation of humanity is more grim than that.
As troubling as it may seem, no amount or intensity of sincere belief and want can preserve human achievements for eternity, much less keep the human personality from the relentless pull of mortality. We all come to an end, including our hopes and wants, and our fears and troubles – no matter how much we wish to endure beyond the grave.
The whole of humanity’s greatness will be swept away by the forces that change matter and energy. These harsh words are the foundation for humanity’s unquenchable despair. Yet, these same forces of matter and energy, by the accretion of billions of mindless accidents over billions of years, are the ones that gave rise to humanity.
While we are here, we are free to enjoy the countless wonders the cosmic forces have produced. We can experience: beautiful nebulae, ringed planets, gigantic spheres of burning nuclear fusion, the cells that make up the universe of our bodies, the forms of life on Earth, the picturesque sunrises and sunsets, the worlds that lay beyond our eight-planet neighborhood, making music and poetry, falling in love, raising our children, and knowing right from wrong. Indeed, it is a miracle to just to be alive. Out of the nearly-infinite possible codes of genetic material, ours were the lucky ones. We now have the ability to: imagine, criticize, reason, enjoy, explore, discover, and know about our world. These abilities are what give humanity freedom in the face of a hostile universe. To squander this freedom would doom humanity to ending itself.
There are many who wish to abolish this freedom. Humanity has been beholden to the utterances of people who think they have a special line to the Infinite. They told humanity to submit to them no matter how unreasonable their decrees, or how impossible the miracles may seem. These people abhorred free thought, and called it heresy. They said eternal punishment awaited the doubters, thereby putting the shackles on the human mind.
The dogma of hellfire has been perhaps the most pernicious blemish on the face of humanity. It is unworthy of any civilized person to believe it today. It is consistent with the barbarism of the ignorant men who devised the creeds that a finite offense deserved an eternal punishment. That unspeakably terrible dogma is worse than any weapon that has ever been invented. It is arguable that no idea has cost more lives, and been the cause of so much suffering, especially to the young children who have been taught to believe it. The sooner this virulent dogma is abandoned, the better for humanity. Many lament the fading away of this scourge on humanity because we now have evidence that the first humans evolved from now-extinct apes; not fashioned out of clay by a divine potter in a garden with an evil talking snake who tempted them into their Fall.
This has a dire consequence for the churches: if there is no Fall of Man, there is no need of atonement; no atonement, no need for a savior. Once we realize that no help will come from above, we can set our sights down here below knowing, as a great intellectual once did, that a pair of hands working is better than a pair of hands clasped in god-fearing prayer.
But, no church creed can survive using the threat of hellfire alone. Eternal reward and joy is the incentive for belief. This is sort of the ‘freedom of thought’ offered by the churches – their way of showing how faith “moderates” reason, and how reward replaces evidence. We have free will, we are told, but if our choice is deemed sinful, we will be eternally punished. This is the sort of ‘free will’ offered by the churches.
If the churches do not instill fear, they bribe their followers without any regard for evidence or for that cursed demon, Reason. Believing for reward is the capital act against the freedom of the mind. It follows from believing something for reward that those who support freedom of thought and expression should be punished. One who is unsure of their beliefs punishes other-thought, and retreats further into their own cocoon. A brave, free person asks for reasons. The cowardly hypocrite asks for reward. All the sermons that preached that belief would bring eternal joy have been one more tightening of the pious coil around humanity. They have corrupted the moral sense, and dulled the mind.
The churches had to deal, eventually, with the people who doubted. Whenever doubt arose, it was labeled “a test of faith” instead of “the mind breaking free” with its native intelligence. When this was not enough to foil doubt, they put a dictator in the sky, who would separate the “sheep” from the “goats” at the End of Time. Among the goats would be the thinkers who had freed themselves from his tyranny through their doubt.
Then, humanity was told that it would become wicked if it did not hold to the dogmas of faith. Actually, the opposite has been demonstrated through experience. We find that the more intense the belief, the more dogmatic the people, the worse has been the state of humanity. Imaginable cruelties were inflicted upon thousands, countless people were burned as witches. To speak that the Earth was not the center of Creation was an abomination. Such were the times when humanity was benighted by the ideas of those who feared truth and progress. Therefore, it is the duty of those who love liberty to make their minds their own churches, and to work for the liberty of other minds. Only by encouraging an open forum of ideas can we wither away at our problems, and proceed with attaining our noblest goals.
The failure of the imagination, fear of death, the unknown, and defeat, the seductiveness of anti-rationalism, anti-intellectualism, and the dogmas of militarism have enchained humanity since its primitive beginnings. It is the duty of those who want to remove these chains to conquer fear, which is both the parent of superstition and cruelty and the enemy of truth and progress. To move forward requires the acceptance that there is no one else who will look after humanity except for humanity itself – that humanity is but one voice of Life in a life-less solar system.
The universe is not for humanity, and reality is not its friend. To grasp that the temple of ideals is separate from the world of grim and unpleasant fact is an act of independence of mind and sheer courage that most will resist and avoid. For to live in a world of comforting illusions is a fool’s paradise, which the fool will end up paying for in the end. But, to staunchly preserve a mind against the tyranny of the forces humanity cannot conquer is the true paradise, for in vanquishing the timeless forces, the mind can truly be free. We can try to understand this world, to master some of its forces with our own intelligence, and to make it a more fit place to live with our own hearts, instead of trying to looking for invisible means of support.
Why should we try to understand the world and question it? Firstly, bad ideas are one of the principle causes of strife and suffering in the world. Secondly, they do not allow us to reach our goals. Lastly, truth is better than falsehood. Happiness that depends on deception is the same as living a pitiful lie. But, to be happy in the face of truth is the conquering of slavish fear.
This uncaring universe abounds and surrounds us with tragedy. It is tragic: that we lose those whom we love, that all our possessions can be lost in seconds, that our achievements may be unappreciated, that sorrows await at every turn, that we must suffer the vagaries of natural forces we cannot control, and that we make friends who vanish from us as quickly as they came. But, there is an austere beauty in this tragedy. During the brief time we have with our neighbors, we can decide to lighten their lives with our affection, wisdom, and strength without a regretful hankering after soothing falsities. When their time is over and become part of the irrevocable past, we can know that we treated them with love, endured their sorrows with them, consoled them, encouraged them when they were struck with inspiration, and shared our joy with them. We inhabit a blue speck traveling in the vastness of a cosmic darkness: let it be us who show some more empathy and kindliness towards our fellow travelers.This is how, regardless of the exigencies of blind and deaf forces, we may endure the challenges to our survival and happiness.
Once we acknowledge that all of our genius and all of our creation on this planet will pass away as an ember in the growing Sun, we can realize that we all share a common end that separates no human from another. Then, among the individuals of humanity a strong may be formed, yet this bond will not come about by: abolishing regional cultures, submitting to slavery and tyranny, denying the flaws of the human mind, believing in the superior virtue of the oppressed, disabling our critical thinking, bending our knees to phantoms, prophets, and popes, upholding sacred cows, or espousing Utopian ideologies. Instead, by the realization of an undeniable fact: that humanity will come to an end. This is an inescapable fate that binds us all. From that fate, we may find our own life’s meaning, and our own strength. And we may also find cause to show sympathy, share pleasure, and shed sunlight upon the paths of those who we meet on this tiny fragile vessel, our home.