18. NEW SCIENCE
With secular minds, we will treat life less as tragedy than comedy, a deep comedy, the human comedy. People will deal with the flaws in human nature with more humor and less revulsion. Devoted Sancho Panzas will protect their beloved Don Quixotes.
We will accept our turning points as comic resolutions. For humor manifests in all resolutions. We feel it bubble up in the experience of relief itself. To be occupied totally by a laugh in a crucial moment, liberates the energy for creative achievements.
Humor puts us in the present. A good laugh clears the mind. It makes the foibles of our struggles for authenticity tolerable. Kierkegaard, in his early life, before he was distracted by religion, wrote that in the hardest times mastered irony has redeeming power. It “limits, renders finite, defines, and thereby yields truth, actuality, and content… He who does not understand irony… lacks eo ipso what might be called the absolute beginning of the personal life.”38
With ironic detachment, we can laugh at the power of our emotions to tie us in knots. The laugh, while it lasts, or when we recall it later, teaches us not to grieve over our deficiencies and inadequacies. It sees the grief as another trick of the mind to keep us out of action. With irony, we cut ourselves down to size. Kierkegaard concluded
“In order not to be distracted by the finite, by all the relativities of the world, the ethicist places the comical between himself and the world…The ethicist is… ironical enough to perceive that what interests him absolutely does not interest the others absolutely; this discrepancy he apprehends, and sets the comical between himself and them, in order to be able to hold fast to the ethical in himself with still greater inwardness.”39
Happier, more self-deprecating, in closer touch with the engines of history, and with a better understanding of our own temperaments and motivations, we may yet develop new kinds of “spirituality”. We’ll withdraw the projection of gratitude from an unfathomable Beyond. We’ll start to grow up. We’ll understand why the Buddha launched a spiritual movement that treated God as a mental projection and taught his students that deeds undertaken for a mental projection were actually deeds done for oneself. I am not espousing an atheistic or agnostic position here. God keeps his own mysteries. If the Creator wants to speak to me, I’m ready to listen, even if it kills me. But doesn’t there come a time when the baby must learn to walk on his or her own? Mightn't even a good God, with a providential interest in humanity, withdraw His hands from supporting us so that we can know what it is like to stand or fall on our own? With our sense of meaningfulness in our own hands we would have to use our evolved equipment to lead us not back to God’s cradle but ahead to life in community. For loving community is our soundest spiritual home. Love and wisdom are designed by nature to hold us together in it. In the arms of community genuine happiness, meaning, creativity, moral choice and full belonging can thrive.
As Einstein wrote,
“In their struggles for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests. In their labors they will have to avail themselves of those forces which are capable of cultivating the Good, the True and the Beautiful in humanity itself.”
(Albert Einstein Science and Religion. 1941.)
Ursula Le Guin has her main character wrestling with this problem of terminology in The Telling. Travelling as an observer among the suppressed indigenous people of the planet Aka, she notes:
“There are no Akan words for God. Gods, the divine,” she told her noter…”On Aka, god is a word without referent. No capital letters. No creator, only creation. No eternal father to ward and punish, justify injustice, ordain cruelty, offer salvation. Eternity not an endpoint but a continuity… No afterlife, no rebirth, no immortal disembodied or reincarnated soul. No heavens, no hells. The Akan system is a spiritual discipline with spiritual goals, but they’re exactly the same goals it seeks for bodily and ethical well-being. Right action is its own end. Dharma without karma.
“She had long debates with her noter about whether any word in Dozvan or in the older and partly non-Dozvan vocabulary used by ‘educated people’ could be said to mean sacred or holy. There were words she translated as power, mystery, not-controlled-by-people, part-of-harmony. These terms were never reserved for a certain place or type of action.”40
As with the Akans, our spirituality will be secular and non-theistic someday. We will build it on our direct experience of the transience of the self, an illusion-free spirituality. We will get to it not by recovering truths from ancient times but in a series of scientific discoveries. Our demeanor will not have the ‘late imperial’ tone of Roman Stoicism. It will not be skeptical, cynical, ascetic or epicurean.
We will have epiphanies and ecstasies and we will trust their wholesomeness. Our spiritual system will affirm the power of turning points, personally and historically. We will accept their cosmic role in restoring wholeness. We will take on the Cabalistic principle that the turning from below evokes a turning from above. A turning from here, now, a turning that turns the whole from within.
With secular spirituality stabilized by a firmer hold on inwardness, the ethical mind will flourish. We will live more modern and venturesome lives than we do now. We will experience the convergence of love and wisdom.
In practice, these changes will expand the ‘aggredi‘ of good aggression and prepare us to enter new fields of action safely.
Should this happen, we will have changed the human nature in ourselves by ourselves, changed it as we did before in the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. And new deep currents will stream through us into the world. We will be a little older, just out of childhood, adolescents perhaps, but no longer infantile. (Childhood’s End has been a recurrent theme in science fiction.) Our 6,000 years of recorded history will turn out to be an early stage in human history. We will have taken ourselves to the beginning of our young maturity.
We will still be wild, untamed, restive and bold, barely out of our teenage years, but our creative juices will be flowing. With nationhood and religiosity behind us, we will build a new planetary culture with vigor and hope, precisely the spirit befitting a young world civilization attaining its first maturity.
Then the global civilization, conscious of the approach/separation, withdrawal/return and dispersal/aggregation rhythms that move us through the natural world, will reach the threshold of its next stage. We will leap off the planet. The age of space colonization will begin wholeheartedly. We will find our way to the moons and planets of the solar system, and then beyond, in the great pulse of dispersal, roughly analogous to the Renaissance mariners’ discovery of the New World that led to the modern world. The great dynamic of human civilization will continue to unfold: migration followed by settling, followed by migration, followed by settling. As Freeman Dyson put it,
“The destiny which I am preaching is not the expansion of a single nation or of a single species, but the spreading out of life in all its multifarious forms from its confinement on the surface of our small planet to the freedom of a boundless universe. This unimaginably great and diverse universe, in which we occupy one fragile bubble of air, is not destined to remain forever silent. It will one day be buzzing with the murmur of innumerable bees, rustling with the flurry of feathered wings, throbbing with the patter of little human feet.”41
On this pathway, our main achievements will not be in biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, space travel or any of the other amazing technologies. Those advancements may come, they almost certainly will, but we will take them in stride without celebrating them as the apex of human accomplishment. They will give us new products, treatments, processes, vehicles that take us where we want to go; they will be means to an end and not ends in themselves. The important thing will be where we want to go and why. The power sources for it may be solar arrays or nuclear fusion plants. But the call to adventure will be the real energy and the choices we make with it will come from the creative power of the ethical mind expressing its good judgment in community life - which means that our real breakthroughs will rest on new family, marriage and community relations. And the outflow of our new emergent skills will be nurtured in those venues.
In those days, the wider expressions of human nature will come into the world with less dependency on mechanical devices or techniques, because love and wisdom will be their sources and we will gather them as essentially moral energies in the time sensitive freedom of our turning points. We will feel more comfortable living a full community life. We will trust its benefits and let ourselves enjoy real safety.
On this cultural avenue, we will live compliant to the times. With fuller consciousness, we will learn to recognize and connect with our real opportunities and to seize them when they come. And we will find these close to hand, because doing what is close to hand is our perpetual starting place and there is always something to do close to hand.
Our transformational changes inevitably enter the world where our feet touch the ground, where we wake from sleep, where we first make eye contact in the circles of affiliation around us. However, not everything close to hand ought to be undertaken because not everything is relevant or ready.
We will develop skills for knowing the right moments and the right combinations. We will know both restraint and license. We will become proficient users of low-mediated intentions. The baby will learn to walk.