Monday, May 13, 2013

Are You a "Cosmic Orphan"? - Part 1

If you've been tracking with my Google+ posts for a time and you're not a very "religious" person, you may have said to yourself, "Okay, Harold, what is it with all this God and Jesus stuff?  I mean, I'm with Pierre-Simon LaPlace when he said, '... I have no need of that hypothesis,' and Nietzsche when he declared, 'God is dead ...'."  Well if you're thinking that, outside of appreciating your honesty and candor, I think that your viewpoint is unfortunate and misguided, because I happen to think that we need the reality of God in our lives. Indeed, if we are truthful with ourselves, our inner being longs for the truth of that reality. Here's why I think that way.

Here in the U.S. today, and in other parts of the "modernized" world, we're in a cultural environment that is wholeheartedly and uncritically embracing a metaphysical worldview of naturalism along with its prime philosophical "engine" of evolution ... that is, more and more of us are steeping ourselves in a belief (consciously or subconsciously) that nature is all there is and that we as human beings are the product of a purposeless, blind process of mutation and natural selection.  In an increasingly independent-minded, technologically-oriented and affluent culture (at least here in the U.S.), we have accepted Nietzsche's declaration of deicide (proudly proclaiming that our prowess and capability have killed him), and reduced ourselves to nothing more than a highly-developed accident of nature. Nature is all there is and we reside in an indifferent and impersonal universe, linked to its vastness only through a genetic chain to other vertebrates, alive with no purpose or compass for living other than the drive of our genes and instincts (on the level of other animals), focused on survival and avoidance of pain at all costs, with the extent of our future being nothing more than personal extinction at the hands of an inevitable cruel event called death.

But, that poses a pretty huge intellectual and practical predicament for us ... why? Because this perspective flies in the face of the inductive evidence we all have within our inner beings. As we experience the reality of life, we human beings appear to be the ONLY earthly creatures to demonstrate what anthropologists call "an openness to our world" - an awareness of it that allows us to think and create new possibilities with the people and things we observe and interact with.  And, as far as we know, we are the only creatures in the universe who introspect and ask questions like "Why?", "Who am I?", "What am I here for?" We are not driven or determined solely by our environment or our genetic makeup; we can think, ponder, construct, apprehend reality on a conceptual level, and make choices that can alter our reality and attitude toward what we face and desire to accomplish. In addition, we seem to be creatures who are naturally oriented toward "something" beyond ourselves, and compelled to conduct ourselves in a certain fashion akin to an "ought to," not just a "convenient to." We're also seemingly always desiring to strive toward a thing beyond the finiteness of who we are and what we experience ... always pushing toward an infinite goal; looking beyond time and desiring immortality. And even though we're acutely aware of death's inevitability, we strive to push it out of our mentality, take great pains to postpone it, or deny it completely. We long for an existence beyond death.
"...He also has planted eternity in men's hearts and minds (a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy) ..." - Ecclesiastes 3:11 (AMP)
"You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you." - Augustine
As human beings, our inner nature cries out for both a recognition of a transcendent "something" beyond us and a yearning for immortality beyond time. Yet the worldview that our current culture intensely exposes us  to, and that many of us choose to embrace, is one that completely contradicts and denies the existence of both.  We go against the very nature of our internal makeup, denying the existence of anything outside of nature and believing in a purposeless and unguided existence ... even in the face of not being able to live consistently according to that belief. As American anthropologist and educator Loren Eiseley suggests, fighting against the tug of our inner beings and embracing a worldview that has no place for those longings, we become lost; without parents, as it were - we become "Cosmic Orphans." We're trapped ... resigned to a worldview where nature is all there is, we begin in nothingness and we end in nothingness, with nothing to lend meaning to the brevity of life in-between. And what's that life like? ... well, William Lane Craig puts it this way:
"If there is no immortality, then the life that man does have becomes ultimately absurd.  But to make the situation worse, human life is itself a mixed blessing.  Four considerations come to mind.  First, there is the evil in the heart of man which expresses itself in man's terrible inhumanity to man.  Many who wonder how God could create a world with so much evil in it overlook the fact that most of the evil in the world is the result of man's own choices.  War, torture, rape, and a thousand other sins confound the optimism about man ... Second, there is the problem of disease.  Modern man lives in the constant fear of killers like cancer, heart disease, leukemia, and now AIDS ... with no hope of immortality, life is often painful and ugly because of such scourges.  Third, unless we die first, we shall all confront the problem of old age.  Growing old often brings feebleness of body and mind ... without immortality, that is all we have to anticipate ... Fourth, there is death itself, that great and cruel joker who cuts down all men, often unexpectedly in the prime of life.  Confined to this life, modern man is thus set upon by the pressures of life and plagued by his own evil, disease, old age, and ultimately death."
Historian Stewart C. Easton adds the following:
"Thus man is penned within his earthly world; his life began with a birth before which there was  nothing and will end with a death after which there is nothing ... death marks the end of all the life he will ever know; and though there may not be much left to enjoy on earth, it is better than nothing. ... Thus modern man is hag-ridden by fear and worry, in spite of all the pleasures that his society through it ingenuity and industry provide him."
If you are one who believes that nature is all there is and all there will every be (aka, Carl Sagan), you're a "Cosmic Orphan" because you've lost your moorings ... cut loose from the reality of your intended metaphysical anchor. You've lost focus on that kind of absolute and universal system of coordinates you desperately want, and need, that would allow you to pull everything together (including an understanding of yourself) into a coherent and consistent whole.  Instead, your world, your personality, an understanding of your very being and significance are broken up into separate, incoherent, disjointed and disconnected fragments that correspond to your belief in an indifferent nothingness.  You've lost your "tether" to the reality of a transcendent Creator who has made you in His image and with purpose ... you're lost without God, living in a painful and ultimately meaningless existence (with mixed blessing at best), and death being your only sure future. And, differing from other creatures, you are acutely and bleakly aware of your demise and left to mire throughout your days in the increasingly bitter backwash of your movement toward inevitable oblivion. Again, William Lane Craig:
"If there is no God or immortality, therefore, not only is man a Cosmic Orphan, thrown into existence without purpose; he is also the victim of a colossal and cruel joke.  The thirst for the realities that he needs to give significance and value to his life is built into his very nature as man.  God and immortality - the very realities toward which man is oriented - are precisely the realities which according to his world view, do not exist.  The predicament of modern man is not that he is simply a orphan, but that he is oriented by nature toward the very things he cannot have."
Oh my; a sad conundrum indeed ... what to do! Stay tuned.

Portions of the above content are adapted, and quotes taken, from "Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection" by William Lane Craig (1988 Servant Books, Ann Arbor Michigan) and "Rumours of Another World" by Philip Yancey (2004 Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan).