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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Worldviews: Question 1 — Origins

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth … God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

In my last post, I promised to say something further about worldviews. I noted that a thing called “Worldview Analysis” is gaining currency in Christian circles and well beyond. I said that I’ve found it a very helpful way of looking at life: one that provides some key answers to profound questions that all people have.

I pointed then to the Lord’s words concerning himself in John 8. You will recall that there he says three things: (1) I know where I come from, (2) I know where I’m going to, and (3) I know who I am.

I suggested that this triad of statements was not only key for the eternal Son of God, but also for all human beings, for he too was (and is) human, and his teaching is given as Head over the human race. So we can find something very important in the way he laid out the problem of identity here.

Launch Point

Today I’d like to make some progress with the first of his three great questions. I’ll put it very simply. It’s “Where do we come from?” To know our own origin is to know a whole lot about why we exist, what we’re for, and where we’re going. Let’s start there.

First, we should understand what the question is really asking. It’s not asking us to explain who our parents were or in what culture we were raised, or even at what point in history we appeared. It’s about the ultimate “where” and the ultimate “we”. Not “I came from the salutary friendship of Phil and Cindy Bernstein”, nor even “I came from my grandfather’s celebrated return from the war”, but where did we all come from, at the start of everything? Where did humans come from?

Alternatives

To this question, there can be three answers. They are as follows:
  1. We are the product of a deliberate action of a Supreme Being.
  2. We are the product of an eternal dual separation in the Divine Principle of being that is the true nature of reality.
  3. We are the product of a cosmic accident, originally from an explosion called “the Big Bang”, and lately from a series of equally happenstance events known as “evolution”.
I know of no other possible answer. There are some that have been suggested, like “We are the seed of aliens”, or “We are the byproducts of a war among multiple gods”, but such answers aren’t really answers at all, because inevitably they boil down to one of the three I’ve suggested. After all, if aliens created us, then the obvious question is “Who created the aliens”, or if it’s multiple gods, then we need to ask how these multiple gods came to be, which then requires the defenders of the view in question to either revert to one of the explanations above or else say “From other aliens or gods” — in which case we have the metaphorical “turtles all the way down” (if you recognize that old children’s story).

However, some people simply say, “Well, we just don’t know”. That sounds very reasonable and honest; there’s just one problem with it. We all have to choose. There simply is no way to know how to live your life unless you decide what you are. You will have to make choices in life — as the Existentialist philosophers put it, you are “condemned to be free” — and whatever choices you make will inevitably reflect your genuine belief about what and who you are.

You can’t escape it.

So you have to choose. You may not ever be 100% certain when you do so; however, the choice cannot be avoided. Even to refuse to choose forces you to commit to a belief in the unavailability of answers, and hence to a view of the universe as irrational and absurd, so you’re going to have to “pick a horse and ride it” here. Everybody does.

Anthropogeny

In technical philosophical terms, this problem is known as the Problem of Anthropogeny. That means “the problem of human origins”. Everybody has something that they are carrying around in the back of their heads in answer to it, whether they know it or not. It’s part of the human condition. It inevitably issues in their actions.

So the fact remains that we face three possibilities: either we were deliberately created by God, or we are some splinter of a universal Divine Principle, or we are an accident. Take your pick.

The first option is, of course, the Christian answer. But it’s also the answer of Jews and Muslims, and of other believers in a single God. (Of course, they don’t all agree on what kind of God he is — what his character is like — but they do agree he’s one, and that he has a particular character.) They also think he has an interest in who we are and what we do, and an intention for how our existence works out.

The second option is the Eastern option — primarily Hindu, but also Buddhist and Taoist, again in different forms. Hindus claim millions of gods, and some Buddhists claim no “gods” in the Hindu sense at all; but all of these views hold to the idea that the universe itself is divine — essentially, that it is a god — and that we humans are, in one form or another, a splinter of this god-quality, perhaps struggling endlessly to return to unity within the Divine Principle, but quite hopeless to do so because of the eternal necessity of the duality of spiritual and material. Yet we are essentially alone in our struggle, save for other humans; the Divine Principle itself has no “interest” in seeing us return to its bosom permanently, for that would collapse all existence. Rather, the human and the divine must coexist in eternal tension. Individuals may be allowed personally to escape from this, but others, inevitably, cannot. It is a requirement of the nature of existence itself.

That’s a lot to process, I know. But don’t worry: we’re not trying to exposit all the complexities of the Eastern religious views here; all I’m pointing out is the idea they all teach that we come from some already-divine source that remains eternally in tension with the human realm.

And the last option is much easier: we are an accident. I don’t mean that unkindly, but it’s the simple fact of the view. Atheist materialists believe that at the beginning of time, impersonal scientific laws interacted in some way and accidentally produced a universe. They don’t know how this happened, but they insist it did, and because of this, we are free to investigate our origins scientifically, but there is absolutely no point in asking what we are here for: nothing “intended” us to be here, and when we are gone there will be nothing to lament our passing. That’s just how it is.

Why Your Answer Matters

In the present space, I obviously cannot expound all of these views properly. I can only paint here in broad brushstrokes. You can investigate further if you wish, of course, and I encourage you to do so if you have an interest in it.

But for now, all that’s important is this: that which of the three answers you choose makes all the difference in the world.

For example, someone who believes in the first answer can intelligibly ask the question, “Who is this God, and what does he want of me?” Someone who believes in the second is more likely to ask, “What is secretly going on behind the appearance of reality here, and who can tell me how to get out of it?” Someone who believes in the third answer …

I don’t know. What can he or she say? There is no purpose to existence. Not only that, but there is no direction to it. No one can tell us what life means, because life inherently has no meaning. We shall have to invent one ourselves, but since we know we are only inventing it (rather than, say, “scientifically discovering” it) we shall always inevitably be aware, at least at the deepest level, that we are believing in an illusion. Even if we discover all the scientific facts about how the universe, and we, came to be, this will never go a single step in giving us a “why”. For the truth of the matter has to be that there is, ultimately, no “why”.

Next Step

I’m going to cut off there for the moment. I could go a great deal further in this line of thought, but we don’t need to right now. The sufficient point, if I have made it successfully to you, is that what you believe about your origin is a very, very important shaper of who you think you are and where you think you’re headed. In fact, it’s the starting point of everything else.

The Bible says, “The fear (i.e. reverential regard) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding”. And so we find it to be. Our view of our own origins provides the first and most important anchor point for what we think about life, the universe and everything. As we move on, we shall see how this question interacts with the two others eventually to provide what we call a total “worldview”.

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