May 8, 2010
“In the beginning”, Saint John tells us in his gospel, “was the Word.” Now, I’m not a religious person, but I’ve always found that simple statement compelling. Over the years, I’ve pondered the statement from both a spiritual and a scientific point of view.
The Greek word translated as Word in the gospel of John is logos. John goes on to say, this Logos was with God, was God and, later, he says, this logos became flesh and dwelt among us. In looking into the word, logos, over the years, I found a library of philosophical, metaphysical and religious opinion on the meanings of the word. In ordinary Greek, it can mean anything from thought and reason to a tale or story.
“Aha,” the storyteller in me said, when I read that. “In the beginning was a thought that, somehow, became The Story.” Which immediately raised the question, where did that thought come from and how did it become that story?
The book of Genesis tells us it came from God and started a six-day “telling” spree that culminated in our own creation. Science says it came from a singularity – an infinitesimally small, infinitely hot, infinitely dense point of energy – containing all energy and matter, space and time that suddenly inflated and, over the next thirteen billion or so years, cooled and expanded into, well, everything we know as the universe, including us.
As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, science doesn’t care much for the religious story because it posits a hypothesis – the existence of a God – that can’t be disproved by scientific methods and religion doesn’t really like the scientific story because without God they cannot find an explanation for the existence of rational laws, self-awareness and morality in the universe. I’m sure both people of science and people of religion (and perhaps even people who are religious scientists) will see this statement as simplistic, but it’s my view at the moment.
What is a storyteller to do in the face of these conflicting views and the thousands of arguments and opinions that have been put forth? Why, I’ll tell you a story and it goes like this:
Once upon a non-time, (for time and space didn’t yet exist,) there was a singularity – an infinitesimally small, infinitely hot, infinitely dense point of consciousness that cried, “Tell me a story.” And, in the sudden inflation of the thought that occurred, the universe was born.
All of time and space, of energy and matter that would ever and will ever exist came into being in that story. All of light and dark, love and hate, fear and faith, good and evil, creation and destruction – all of physical and moral law that we, in our evolution, have devised or discovered – existed in that thought and the story it cast forth from the void. For, if all these manifestations of conscious thought had not already existed as the singularity, how could they exist in the universe the singularity created?
As an atheist, I’ve asked myself, is that initial point of consciousness what we call God, or was god merely one manifestation of the thought that took place as it brought about the universe? I’ve settled, uneasily, I confess, on the latter. I see the existence of that energy point in the void as natural, not super-natural. I can even imagine that other points of consciousness – other singularities – are thinking other universes into being as I write this. Natural occurrences in that void beyond the time/space of our universe.
Where does that leave morality? Are there Moral Laws that exist a priori, as the Laws of Thermodynamics and other natural laws do? Are there moral laws that can’t be broken without the inevitable consequences that breaking natural laws bring? I can’t define them, but if everything we can imagine existed in that initial thought, then I would expect that a priori moral laws did, too.
Why is it, then, that even when we develop – with great certainty – lists of moral laws such as the Ten Commandments, or even a single, encompassing law like the Golden Rule, we can break them with so little consequence at times, that we have to constantly threaten ourselves with the specter of Hell or the threat of legal punishments in order to keep society running?
Well, it took us a while to define and consistently apply those natural laws that we have learned, so far. Neanderthal man couldn’t send his fellow Neanderthals to the moon. The matter we call his brain simply hadn’t evolved far enough in its interaction with the energy of consciousness to imagine that part of The Story. So it is, I think, with those Moral Laws that Consciousness imagined back there, in the beginning. Our brains had to evolve the neural connections between the limbic system, the tempero-parietal areas and the frontal lobes that could produce conscience – our ability to not only do unto others what we would want others to do unto us, but to imagine it in the first place. I think we are still in the process of developing a collective conscience that can define and consistently apply those moral laws.
What does any of this have to do with doomers? (You knew I’d get back to that eventually, didn’t you.) Quite a lot, I think. Doom has always been a part of The Story – from the explosion of a supernova to the collapse of a nation to our own inevitable deaths. Our own short history as a species is a litany of dooms – extinctions, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, war, famine, murder and genocide, resource depletion and economic collapse …
So what’s new? Most doomers will tell you that, this time, because the world population is fast outstripping the earth’s carrying capacity, our economies are so intertwined, our environment so compromised globally, doom will come on a global scale – full of bloody violence, betrayal and death.
Over the last two years, since the worldwide economic downturn, I’ve heard portions of William Butler Yeats’, The Second Coming, quoted so often on doomer sites and in the articles posted there, it might well be renamed, The Doomer Anthem – especially that first verse:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
I, too, see the falcon turning and turning in the widening gyre, that the falcon can no longer hear the falconer, that things fall apart. What I question is the certainty the center –our collective struggle toward conscience – will not hold, anarchy and the blood-dimmed tide will be loosed, the ceremony of innocence drowned; death and violence on a massive scale is all we have to look forward to.
Why, in the face of all that’s going badly in today’s world, would I question? Because, for every story of corporate greed, political corruption, individual and group cruelty and avarice, of apathy – public and private – toward the mounting problems we face, I can find a story to counter it.
For much of my life, I’ve been fascinated with the ways people choose to handle doom, whether it affects only the person and his or her loved ones, or is part of some wider disaster. I’ve come to believe that how we handle doom is intimately connected to the smaller stories we’ve told ourselves throughout life that make up The Story of Me and whether our Story of Me binds us to the collective struggle that makes up The Story of We or leaves us individually adrift. I think it possible that, whether the center holds in the coming days, or whether the ceremony of innocence is drowned will largely depend on what we tell ourselves and each other when that struggling collective conscience whispers, “Tell me a story.”