Shuck and Jive

Thursday, September 25, 2008

An Earthling's Creed

Do you ever find yourself stepping back from it all and saying to yourself, "What an interesting thing it is to be alive?" At least once per week, and sometimes more frequently than that, I find myself puzzling over my very existence.

Joseph Campbell said that the first conscious human thought was one of delight: "I am!" The next thought was one of despair: "I will not be." Perhaps that is the cause for religion. We cannot seem to bear the realization that we will one day not be.

We think somehow it is not right or just that we will not be. It is not fair. There must be more. Perhaps complex religious systems and philosophies developed to help us cope with the anxiety we feel over our eventual demise.

It is rather childish, isn't it, to demand fairness regarding this? Resurrection, reincarnation, or whatever other beyond the grave hopes that are out there to try to make it all "fair." I suppose at some level these theories work for some people for a while. It might have been easier for some to accept the truth of these theories when we lived in a conceptual universe in which they might possibly be true.

Regardless of whether or not it might have been easier to believe these things at some time the need for these theories seems to be the interesting question. Why do we think that we deserve more than we actually get? Why do we think we need to exist beyond our natural limitations?

Perhaps somewhere along our evolutionary path, humans who asked why ended up being more suitable for survival. Or perhaps this anxiety was a byproduct of consciousness. I don't know the answer as to why we think we need or deserve to continue our existence beyond death.

I do think that it is time, for our own sakes and for the sake of Earth, that we let go of this childish and selfish need. We don't have to feel anxiety about not being. We could accept that this is what it is. Then we could go back to delight: "I am." I am not forever, but for now. Isn't that great!

Some suggest that if we don't have hopes of afterlife or transcendent deities that our lives have no meaning. As I have explored these theories, I am not sure I find them particularly satisfying or meaningful. Do I really want to be reincarnated again and again and again? Do I really want to live forever in heaven? What would I do? "After ten thousand years bright shining as the sun" I'll be ready to check out.

My meaning and my satisfaction are very Earthbound. I have perhaps another minute, perhaps not enough time to finish this sentence, or I have perhaps another 40 years or somewhere in between to live--to be. Then at some point, all will pass: all my worries, all my joys, all gone. I have whatever time I have left to be.

So, how will I be? How will I experience this magnificent gift of being? I am going to be awake and aware as I can. I am going to delight in it. I am going to marvel at the absurdity of my existence. I am not going to spend too much time trying to figure out why I am here, but rather, be aware that I am. According to the ancient psalmist, "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."

I am not so sure about "the Lord" part, but I appreciate the sentiment of delight and acceptance for what is, here and now. I am going to delight in all of Earth's beings. Why not? And because I find it satisfying and meaningful I am going to do whatever I can to help other beings, two-leggeds and four-leggeds, also rejoice and be glad in this day.

Not only that, I am going to do good work, because it is meaningful and satisfying to me, for those who will come after me: the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds and the multi-leggeds and the finned ones and the winged ones. I have decided that my good work is a part of our great work at this point in history: to regard Earth and all that is within it as a sacred trust. Earth is a sacred, holy trust. Every atom of it is a sacrament. As such, I commit myself to the holy, sacred work of honoring it and preserving it for our future generations.

No after life for me. No need of it. No need to be any more than an Earthling.


  1. My God, I love thee; not because
    I hope for heaven thereby,
    nor yet because who love thee not
    are lost eternally.
    Thou, O Lord Jesus, thou didst me
    upon the cross embrace;
    for me didst bear the nails and spear,
    and manifold disgrace,

    And griefs and torments numberless,
    and sweat of agony;
    yea, death itself; and all for me
    who was thine enemy.
    Then why, O blessed Jesus Christ,
    should I not love thee well,
    not for the sake of winning heaven,
    nor any fear of hell;

    not with the hope of gaining aught,
    not seeking a reward;
    but as thyself hast loved me,
    O ever loving Lord!
    So would I love thee, dearest Lord,
    and in thy praise will sing,
    solely because thou art my God
    and my most loving King.

    Edward Caswall

    Its not about heaven but about Jesus Christ, and yes I love life and earth too.

  2. That is a beautiful hymn, Viola. Thank you.

  3. John, have you ever read CS Lewis' "Surprised By Joy?"

  4. Stushie,

    No, I haven't. Tell me about it.

  5. Thank you for this! How hope-full it makes me feel.

    And the poem Viola shared, as well.

    I suspect there is a physiological reason we tend to need eternity with us in it, as a species. Basically (and I may not be eloquent in the details, so forgive me!), when we envision the our world without us in it, we are still seeing it through our eyes - albeit from the end of a very long telescope. Even if I try to place myself outside the Universe, looking in, I'm still there. As long as one's perspective is a part of the perspective, so to speak, we must always be. Does that make sense?

    When I was young (8, 9, maybe), I used to lay awake and devil myself with sadness, projecting into a future where my parents were gone. "How will I live without them?", I used to think. Well, at 9, I couldn't have lived without them - or someone in the caretaker role.

    Human consciousness may now just be at that stage, where we must think about how it may be while at the same time trying to convince ourselves that it won't.

    Another thought is that we may innately understand that, as a species, not individually, we will be carried on. Sort of the reverse of "ontology recapitulates phylogeny" - maybe "phylogeny anticipates success"?

    One of the greatest crimes to spring from the concept of an afterlife/eternal caretaker is the idea that we can "talk about suffering here below and let's keep following Jesus" - or Whomever. That a group can be oppressed or our planet be exploited, but hey, don't worry, God will make up for it in the next. Boy howdy, if THAT isn't convenient for the exploiter!

    Anyway, I've mentioned before on this blog that I find great comfort in the notion that once I'm done, I'm done. Yeah, I will no longer be able to experience my being, but it just won't matter, will it? It will be the ultimate loss of loss, so to speak.

    But I don't want that to happen any time soon - this is just all too much fun!

  6. Lewis was going through some of your ontological journey and then stepped back from it to let God in. It may give you something to ponder.

    God bless.

  7. When I was young (8, 9, maybe), I used to lay awake and devil myself with sadness, projecting into a future where my parents were gone. "How will I live without them?", I used to think. Well, at 9, I couldn't have lived without them - or someone in the caretaker role.


    Thanks for this. This, and your whole comment, is insightful. I think this helps to explain why we cling to our religious and/or other ideologies so fervently. Until we can develop and grow to some sense of autonomy and confidence, we need beliefs of perhaps a "divine caretaker" and cannot imagine existing without one.

  8. Lewis was going through some of your ontological journey and then stepped back from it to let God in. It may give you something to ponder.

    I guess that has to do with what we mean when we use the word "God."

    My journey at this point has taken me back to Earth. If "letting God in" has to do with being at peace in my own skin and of being aware of Earth as sacred or as Thomas Berry puts it, seeing Earth and all beings as "a communion of subjects" than I am with Lewis.

  9. John,

    That, I believe, is what living by faith is really all about.

  10. I agree with your comments about how sacred Earth is, but I don't agree that everyone who believes in existence after death does so out of entitlement.
    I hope for infinite consciousness because I don't think my human brain can know all I want to know. Human existence impedes spiritual understanding. Maybe some deeply spiritual gurus can attain that wisdom, or oneness while on Earth. But, I'm not one. As observant as I am in my role as Mom and Earthling, I still hunger to know all the answers.
    Nothing's to say that dying will prove educational or enlightening when it happens. But, it seems the only hope I have to finally get it.

  11. Welcome Mother Wit! Thanks for stopping and commenting. Good thoughts.

  12. I so agree that the earth is sacred. I feel a strong connection to the natural world. My husband, and I live in the N. Appalachian mountains. When we first moved here, I walked all around our land, and noticed every tree, all the flowers, even the chipmunks.:)

    We are all part of this web of life, and creation is a blessing. For me, the hope of the resurrection has never caused me to devalue our lives, or the earth in the here and now. I think it's all connected, part of a continuem.

    To my mind, God has made us for Himself, and put eternity in our hearts. We instinctively know there is more.

    I had a terrible riding accident when I was young, and could have died. I remember lying on that operating table, and being told that I was bleeding internally, and the doctor needed to immediately operate.

    I was absolutely terrified, just paralyzed with fear. I couldn't even make a decision to give consent. All that I could think of was to cry out to God, "Help me, I don't want to die. I'm not ready, not now."

    And, then, John, God actually showed up there in that room. I don't mean physically of course. But, my whole mind was suffused with a sense of His love, and presence.

    And, I knew, really knew that no matter what happened on that operating table God was there with me, and in me. His love is so constant. I saw that when my time to die came that I would be ok, because God would cause me to be ready.

    In life, or death we are the Lord's, and for me that is the hope of the resurrection.

  13. In life, or death we are the Lord's, and for me that is the hope of the resurrection.

    I couldn't agree more.