Thursday, September 08, 2011

This World of Dew

This world of dew
is only the world of dew
And yet... oh, and yet...

- Issa

The propensity for reflection also goes deeper still. Insofar as we reflect on our lives, we need to be able to make sense of them in the context of some wider framework of beliefs. This is a role which has traditionally been played in most societies by systems of religious belief, but these have over time become increasingly implausible, and the need remains. Most people are not intellectuals, and their alternative to religious belief often turns out to be an exceedingly vague and inarticulate thought that “There must be something”.

But there are questions which cannot be evaded, even if our answers to them are, like our life-narratives, implicit in the ways we live our lives. We need some way of understanding the place of human beings in the natural world, as a part of it or as set apart. We have either to see ourselves as subject to some higher purpose or as responsible for our own lives and our world. We have either to see our lives as a prelude to some future mode of conscious existence, or as ending with death and the merging of our bodies with the rest of the natural world.

...In conclusion, though, I want to switch perspective and say that as a humanist I find it annoying when people claim, as they frequently do, that none of this is enough, that a life of creative activity and supportive relationships, taking on a determinate shape over time, is not enough, because it lacks the essential element. It leaves out “spirituality”, people say, and has no room for God. What basis do they have for the claim that it’s not enough?

Regardless of what name they give it, what people seem to be saying is that it's not enough because it's not permanent. If the things that matter most to us don't have some sort of everlasting, unchanging significance, they're pretty much worthless. But this is a problem that comes from viewing time as an abstraction, something to want more of. It diminishes our sense of importance to think of the world moving on as always once we're gone, erasing us from its collective memory. But the things that matter most to us can't be justified by recourse to longevity or unchanging essence. They are their own explanation. They exist, at least for a brief period of time. That's enough.