In a previous article, I revealed that I’m a non-theist, who does not believe in the concept of a benevolent father-figure sitting on a throne judging all we do, and instead argued for a belief in a god revealed to us through science. This begs the question of what form such an entity might take, and while I’m certain this entity does not conform to the standard descriptions found in most mainstream religions, I’m less certain of what form it would actually take. The closest term that would adequately sum up how I view such an entity would be “force” but I hesitate to use this, as I do not want to summon references to Death Stars or Jedi warriors, which such a term might evoke. Perhaps a better term would be “presence” though this, too, seems woefully inadequate to underscore how an entity responsible for establishing the laws under which the universe works might manifest itself.
Maybe the answer is that such an entity would not manifest itself in physical terms. The term deus ex machina, or “god in the machine” might suffice. Perhaps the entity which we refer to as “god” does not have a physical form; does not think; does not reason; at least not in the way humans do. Perhaps it exists in all the dark space in between galaxies and solar systems. Scientists have demonstrated that atoms are held together by a tremendous amount of energy, and by splitting an atom, an extraordinary amount of energy is released. Could it be that the energy binding the universe together is the essence of that entity we refer to as god? To me, that’s at least a decent place to start.
Imagine for a moment, a universe in which no one is pulling the strings; no one is controlling the outcome of events. It sounds frightening on one level, but on another, it’s exhilarating. Remove the concept of destiny, and suddenly our lives become completely undetermined, subject to our own guidance and reason. Remove the elements of heavenly rewards, of celestial oversight, and suddenly, we find ourselves alone, without direction, except that which we determine for ourselves. History demonstrates that humans have always regarded themselves as special, as somehow destined for the greatness they have claimed for themselves. All religions make humans the chosen species, the ones for whom the world and everything in it was designed. Remove that certainty and humans become nothing more than another in a long line of species which have inhabited the world; no more or less entitled to the riches of the earth than were our dinosaur predecessors, who existed on this planet a lot longer that we’ve been here. Think of the earth as a house which has had many owners over time, all customizing things to suit their needs, until the next occupant comes along. Conceptualizing things in this manner makes humans less important in the broad scheme of the universe, perhaps putting us in our rightful place. Once we’re gone, the earth will neither mourn, nor will it miss us. It will continue on as it always has, until the next species becomes prominent.
Still, humans seem to have one element that other species have not demonstrated. We are aware of our position, of how we conduct our affairs on the planet. We know history, can observe its lessons, and hopefully learn from these lessons. We can see the effect we’re having, and, if we’re insightful enough, can realize the devastating effect we’ve had on the earth, and continue to have. History has shown that whenever humans make an appearance, anywhere on the planet, species start disappearing at an alarming rate. It happened with the moa in New Zealand, the dodo in Mauritius, and is happening with the white rhino, among countless others, in our own time. When humans first showed up in North America, there were mammoths, wooly rhinos, and giant sloths, and within a few centuries, all were gone, except the humans. To say humans had no effect on this is naive.
It is said that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The tragedy for us is that if we do not learn from history, we won’t be here to repeat it. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as entitled, as somehow ordained for the gifts of the earth, and instead realize the unique position we have on the earth. In being the only species who can understand the effect we’re having on the planet, we should become more judicious in our stewardship of it, and stop assuming everything will turn out for the better because otherwise it won’t. If the entity we refer to as god exists, it existed when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, and did nothing as they perished. Since no one living has ever encountered a Neanderthal, we cannot know of their level of spiritual development. Evidence has shown Neanderthals buried their dead, along with artifacts of the individual. Did they pray to a god, ask for its guidance, and its protection, and if so, why did this god abandon them when they most needed it? Our earliest ancestors might have known the answer, but, if so, they didn’t bother leaving behind any record of it.
Instead of being the arbiter of human affairs, I believe the entity we refer to as god is passive, present but unconcerned with who we are and why we’re here. It is up to us to determine what our role should be. There are those who believe that god will intervene before we destroy ourselves and the environment in which we live, but to those I say, consider the Neanderthals. Who intervened for them? Who prevented our ancestors from contributing to whatever happened to our distant cousins? Modern humans may or may not have been directly responsible for what happened to the Neanderthals, but they certainly didn’t help. Given how eager humans have been to deny the humanity of other humans with slight differences in looks or behavior, one can only assume the attitude they’d have had toward a species that probably didn’t look or act at all like them. Guided by a survival instinct modern humans increasingly deny even exists, our ancestors have carried out numerous atrocities against their own species, so why is it a stretch to assume they’d have been any less ruthless against a group which seemed nothing like them?
For us, the challenge is to overcome this instinct and stop waiting for “god” to save us. It’s in our hands to save ourselves, or destroy ourselves, and we need to make the choice before it’s too late. Granted, it may already be too late. Despite the fact that humans are the chief species on the planet, the effects we’re having continue to wipe out other creatures that we don’t yet recognize as essential for our own survival. We need to stop regarding ourselves as masters of the earth, and instead, start listening to what the earth has been trying to tell us. If we fail, we probably won’t destroy the earth beyond its capacity repair itself, but we may damage it to the point that we won’t be able to live here any longer, and if this happens, what other options do we have?