WHERE WERE YOU?
Where were you when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated? Or when the Romans were building the Coliseum? Or when the Solar System sprang into being? The obvious answer to all but the most imaginative among us would be: nowhere. Nowhere, because you didn’t exist when those events occurred. Does the apparent fact that you did not exist when Tyrannosaurus rex roamed the earth cause you any sleepless nights? Not likely. Why not? Maybe this most gargantuan of monsters was chasing you across a savannah. Preposterous, you say? I agree. Especially since all scientific evidence points to the fact that you weren’t around in those days.
Okay, so how about this: Do you have residual nightmares of incredible suffering and pain at the time the “black death” - the plague that was sweeping through Europe, consuming perhaps as many as half of all the humans in its path in the middle ages? Again, you say, “That is no concern of mine.” And you would be right, especially since modern science has all but eliminated such plagues.
Admit it. Whatever transpired on earth or elsewhere prior to your having become a sentient being is not something over which you agonize, because, deep down, you know that you did not exist before some specific point in time, whether that be your birth, your conception, or the manufacture of sex cells inside your mother and father. In fact, the mere idea that you should be concerned about the nature of your existence before you existed is preposterous - to most of you at least.
So here’s the most profound question, so far: if the quality of your “experiences” before you were born cause you no distress whatsoever, why are you so worried - fearful - about the "experiences” that will befall you when you eventually cease to exist? And you almost certainly are, aren’t you?
Homo sapiens can arguably be said to be the most unfortunate of all species of life on earth. Why? Because we are the only one of the billions of species that have ever existed to know that we are all, some day, going to die. But let’s get back to the opening query: where were you?
As I suggested previously, it is unlikely any of us were around when Lincoln died; when the lions were eating Christians in Rome; or when cosmic dust was agglomerating and spiraling in our lonely region of the vast universe. But, strictly speaking, this is not entirely true. We were - all of us - present during those events and all other events since the beginning of time. We of course, weren’t in the same condition we are now. But our atoms were.
Each of the 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 - give or take - atoms that now constitute your body was somewhere doing something. It may have been a hydrogen atom making up a water molecule tumbling over Victoria Falls in Africa. It may have been a carbon atom deep under South Africa being pressed into a diamond; or if the pressure was insufficient for that, a lump of coal. It may have been a nitrogen atom floating in the atmosphere. And it may have been - WAS - an atom being propelled from an exploding star - a supernova. Yes, that’s right. Every atom now performing incredible feats in your living body was once rocketing through space, destined for who knows what, except, eventually, to be a part of your body. And, at this moment, this lone atom, along with countless numbers of its kin is busy. It may be busy helping your heart to pulse, your lungs to pump, or your muscles to contract. And most profound of all, It may be busy enabling you to read this text.
And aye, there’s the rub, as Shakespeare said. This is what condemns us all to fear what our atoms are going to be doing after they stop doing what they are doing now. So what do we do - have we done - about it? We have invented the notion that our bodies do not depend on the atoms that presently constitute them. We have invented religion. We have invented gods.
For most of the people reading this book, there is but one god and He is God. Ask any Muslim, or any Jew, or any Christian. Don’t ask any ancient Greeks or Romans, though, because they were pantheistic; they had a separate god for every contingency - a complicated pantheon of supreme personages. They had gods regulating fertility, the weather, and any number of earthly pursuits, including love. Today, most westerners have simplified the whole thing into a religion where one supreme being controls everything.
And this provokes some interesting questions. Did He (always a “He”) bring the aforementioned “black death” that wrought such unimaginable suffering? Did He allow the lions in the Roman arena to rip Christians to shreds? And, most significantly, did He round up all the atoms that drifted in our infinitesimally tiny corner of the universe and roll them up in balls as big as the Sun and as small as Pluto? Then did He set them to moving in such a way that the smaller balls traced elliptical orbits around the biggest ball, and all in the same plane? Did He do this solely for the benefit of a single species among billions? If so, couldn’t He have found a more efficacious way of doing that?
Only one species on earth has religion; that’s because only one species knows its eventual fate. Religion - all religions - have one ultimate purpose and one only: to alleviate the fear of death by implying that life goes on, in some fashion, after mortal expiration. That fear overcomes, for most people, all other considerations. It matters little to fearful folk how utterly ludicrous is the notion of a god. It matters little that, despite thousands of years of dedicated effort by millions of people, not one single scintilla of evidence has ever been produced to suggest, much less prove, the existence of a supernatural, overarching, intelligent being anywhere in the universe who is directing the fates of each of the 7 billion humans on this planet. It doesn’t matter because there is the one thing that destroys all reason: the reality of death. Nearly all people fear returning to the way things were before they were born. Think about that for a moment. We fear something for which we can find no reason, based on past experience, to fear. But that is not true of all of us. Marquis Pierre LaPlace, the great 19th century French mathematician and astronomer, was once asked why he didn’t believe in god. He replied, “Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis.” Neither do I. Neither should you.