understanding of how we got here.
1. The cosmos began about 14 billion years ago---with a BANG. We don't know how or why.
2. Energy condensed into simple matter. (hydrogen) We don't know what either is. (though we do know how they behave)
3. Matter is attracted to matter by a mysterious force---gravity. We don't understand this force.
(we do know how it behaves)
4. Matter draws itself into balls, and when big enough--crush the matter at its core--releasing energy and a star is born.
5. Crushing hydrogen releases energy and creates helium. Crushing helium (fusion),releases energy and creates lithium. Fusing lithium creates berillium-----and so on--up the atomic scale of elements---to Iron. (Iron will not fuse in a star)
6. Very big stars are (relatively) short lived---become unstable and explode, (a super nova)
(creating in that instant all the heavier elements we are familiar with) and casting its variety of elements out into the cosmos in a vast cloud of matter.
7. The cloud of matter again draws itself together into a huge rotating disc with lumps forming at its center (second generation star) and further out in the disc. (proto-planets)
8. When the new star lights up, its radiating force blows away the lingering "dust" leaving a solar system--like ours, with planets rotating around a sun.
9. When conditions are just right--as on earth---life is possible. In about a billion years the various elements assembled themselves (somehow) into a living cell that could replicate itself.
10. Replication is imperfect--changes occur randomly--and beneficial (adaptive) ones survived. 11. Evolution slowly morphed simple organisms into more complex ones, finally producing US.
Thousands of dedicated scientist over the centuries have uncovered these truths for us. In a nutshell, WE ARE MADE OF STARSTUFF---matter has an inner urge to complexify itself--all the way up to the human brain--to self awareness--(and beyond?) This is the story of us--that science can tell. This is the "situation" we find ourselves in---deep mystery behind us and deep mystery in front of us. It's an amazing, beautiful, and awe inspiring story-----long on HOW --but absolutely empty on WHY----which is what we seem to crave. Only humans seem to care about the WHY.
Not surprisingly, thousands of people have stepped forward to satisfy that craving. (like "rainmakers" during a drought) They make up stories explaining creation, (how and why things came to be), morality tales about how we should behave and the consequences if we don't----stories about the end of time--heaven and hell---various afterlife scenarios----stories of Gods and goddesses---some come to earth to instruct us humans and rescue us etc. Some stories are written down---collected into books and declared to be "holy." Religions arise--to comfort us and control us.
Most intelligent people today do not believe their stories literally or accept the morality they convey as authoritative.
But when we lay all that aside---HOW DO WE (REASONABLE PEOPLE) COPE WITH THE ANXIETIES OF DEATH, GUILT AND MEANINGLESSNESS?
Here's what I do:
1. I boldly admit that I do not know any ultimate answers about origin, destiny, morality---
I acknowledge that I live in a mystery. I believe everyone lives in a mystery, whether they acknowledge it or not.
2. I EMBRACE THIS MYSTERY---as best I can--going about my life as courageously as possible---guided by my deepest intuition--inspired by modern myths/stories/visions/guesses. I do not find it painful to live in a mystery. Perhaps the world was designed to be uncertain---mysterious. Perhaps uncertainty produces better people than a dogmatic certainty.
3. I believe it is possible to be happy, despite having no ultimate answers. (The best book on this subject is entitled FLOW by Csikszentmihaly )
4. I believe we have a measure of freedom to create and improve ourselves---inspire others.
5. I "try on" various metaphysical theories--from time to time--like trying on a pair of glasses--to see how they affect me. Here's an example I find interesting:
Maybe existence is best explained as ETERNITY ADVENTURING IN TIME. Perhaps the Baghavad Gita got it right: God created the world to amuse himself by incarnating into matter---becoming all that is--galaxies, rocks, trees, animals, us ---in a fantastical drama where He's playing all the parts---but is able to deceive himself--so as to experience DRAMA: He created time to experience the interplay of urgencies. We are all bits of God enjoying himself---given a "role" (and some flexibility) as an actor---our challenge is to play our part with all the courage and gusto we can muster. Evil is wired into the game as "plot thickener". (to my friends: when you see me as an outrageous pot stirrer---I'm probably in "Gita" mode.