LIFE ITSELF AS
OUR FUNDAMENTAL VALUE
In our exploration of values, we have generally taken life for granted and gone on to discuss values that are aspects of it, such as Plato’s explorations of justice and love or Aristotle’s of reason and happiness, when, in fact, none of these values would exist, at least, as a human experience, without life itself. We are sensitive to the natural growth of knowledge, but we also know that earlier thinkers could commit such an oversight, while causing less damage than we may, when life is, moment to moment, threatened with self-inflicted mass extinction.
The foundational beliefs of life itself as a modern religion are, as I see them, Faith In Life, as the expression of our appreciation of life as the natural evolutionary wonder we have learned it is and our decision to trust in its greatness, devote ourselves, with responsible freedom, to the fulfillment of its finest possibilities, and enjoy the mental, physical, and spiritual rewards that derive from living so.
Faith In Life inspires us to live with Devotion To Life, which gives our lives the same purpose that we see evident in the universe itself, which devotes itself to the evolution, sustenance, fulfillment, and renewal of life – activities that, we assume, express the intent of whatever the Ultimate Source of the universe may be.
We also believe in Faith Through Life – that through the care and intelligent fulfillment of life we can most credibly express our appreciation and reverence to its Ultimate Source.
If another life awaits us after the completion of this one, we believe that the best way to merit it is to take good care of this life first.
A SCIENTIFICALLY CREDIBLE
DEFINITION OF GOD
Is there a scientifically credible way to define God? Let’s explore what I call Open Pantheism. The definition unfolds in a way that, I believe, can satisfy our spiritual longings without offense to reason.
First, let’s cover the Pantheistic aspect. We acknowledge that what we consider the universe is really quite super and describe it, as it appears to us in cosmic terms, as the grand molecular structure of our Natural Supreme Being – with the solar systems exhibiting a grand atomic structure and the galaxies a grand molecular one.
Now, let’s ask if the universe is alive. We know that, since we, other animals, and plants are part of it, it’s as alive as the animate life within it. If a part is alive, then so must be the whole. What about the inanimate matter? Don’t even the smallest subatomic particles vibrate and whirl? Have we been insensitive to what we consider their movement and might we be more accurate to see what we call matter and energy as the substance and life of inanimate life, which provides a foundation for animate life and functions, when life-nourishing conditions exist, as the wellspring for animate life? Then we might say that the entire universe is alive, animatedly and inanimately, somewhat like flesh and bones.
This appreciation provides a smooth transition from inanimate life to animate life. It also provides a solid foundation for the religious care of life. Since we regard the universe as our Natural Supreme Being, we consider everything in it a sacred form of the life and substance of our natural God.
Now, let’s turn to the Open aspect of our definition. It addresses our infinite longings. Many wonder whether or not there is a Creator or are Creators beyond the universe and long to have a relationship with what they consider such a God or Gods. We leave the question of their existence Open, because we do not think that, at our level of existence, we have the knowledge to attempt a decision, while we remain willing to accept whatever the answer might be, if and when we ever know it. Thankfully, as beings born to finitude, we do not need to know the answer to understand how we ought to live.
Yet being Open to the possibility of the existence of a God or Gods beyond our experience also provides a foundation for the religious care of life. We can consider everything in the universe their sacred representative and life itself their living one, right among us.
Finally, for ease of expression, we include our Natural Supreme Being and any God or Gods who may be outside of our credible knowledge when we use the term “Creation,” as in, “Since we are beings evolved and sustained by Creation, we ought to have reverence for it and conduct our lives in ways that are worthy of it.”
I prefer the term “Creation” because of its compass and its openness. Its very indefiniteness is, I think, consonant with our place in regard to matters finite and infinite. I also assume that it is, in Aristotle’s words, its own “First Mover,” since it encompasses an Origin that may be naturally within itself, along with whatever Origin may be beyond our experience.
I believe a more definite answer is not only inappropriate to our place in Creation, but also that the question of what may be beyond our experience, dwelt on excessively, distracts us from our more immediate concerns and our actionable gift of life.
THE PURPOSE OF LIFE
We believe we are born to live, not just to tend toward the completion of our lives. When we live with Devotion To Life, we give our lives the same purpose that Creation has, as evidenced in the flowering of animate life in every nook where the environment can support it. We take the tendencies of Creation toward life as an expression of the tendency of whatever its Ultimate Source is, or what we can credibly call God.
So, by devoting ourselves to life intelligently, we give our lives the same purpose that observation suggests Creation, or God, has.
Book 3 of 4: Additional Thoughts
Selections from Book 3
There are many things we cannot know for certain, but that we are alive is not among them. Life itself is, within the realm we can truly know, our sole verity and the rock on which we can confidently build lives of mutually considerate fulfillment, joy, and reverence, along with peacefulness at its completion. Let us finally commit ourselves to the beautiful and inviting, but woefully underappreciated and depredated, benefactions of Creation on this life-graced globe.
Life itself exceeds our wisdom and continues to reveal its promise. So beliefs we invent at any stage of our understanding are eventually not equal to it. The only belief that is equal to life is belief in life itself, which allows its potential to unfold naturally. All other human conceptions, being unequal to it, finally limit and harm it.
Life itself provides the natural standard by which our beliefs, finite and infinite, can be judged. To decide to dismiss it for any other standard is to decide we are smarter than Creation.
Life is the greatest existent Creation could evolve in the natural universe; it may, in fact, be viewed as the ultimate purpose of Creation.
Find me something greater than life to believe in, and I will show you an errant work of the imagination.
Book 4 of 4: Longer Pieces
Selections from Book 4
A DIALOGUE WITH MYSELF
One summer Sunday afternoon I strolled into Central Park from West 66th Street and, when I was within view of the Sheep Meadow, I sat down on one of the green benches to enjoy the day. I observed the sun-graced people, colorfully dressed and enjoying their leisure – strolling, running, bicycling, walking their dogs, and lying on the grass. I felt a great sympathy for their welfare and considered how we were all now threatened with self-inflicted annihilation, either by environmental depredation or a nuclear catastrophe.
As I sat there, I realized I had once again embarked on one of the many inner dialogues I’ve had with myself about the perilous situation and how we might extricate ourselves. I decided to let it continue.
"Beautiful day," I observed.
"Yes, it is, Charles," replied my other self, who goes by the name of Dr. Blaise. “But you don’t seem as cheerful as the lovely day invites you to be.”
Then he lowered his glasses, and asked, “What’s troubling you – the usual?”
“What else, doctor? I’m sitting here, looking at all the people enjoying the day but unable to stop thinking that we may be on the brink of inflicting a widespread or universal calamity on ourselves. How’s that for a sunny topic?”
“But, Charles, you may be exaggerating. As you’ve often pointed out, the human race is so new upon the earth we still haven’t adjusted to being here. So we hear apocalyptic proclamations by the dozen.”
“Yes, we do. Many of them are an effect of what is still our overall death orientation – and we certainly don’t want to participate in that. But, as you know, I’m basing my concern on natural events.”
“The subject occupies a great deal of your thinking.”
“Yes, it does. And why shouldn’t it? I believe our survival depends on making the change from a species that is primarily death directed to one that is primarily life directed. In fact, I think the change is the pivot of human history.”
“But, Charles, I’ve been having this dialogue with you for most of your adult life.”
“I’m sorry, Dr. Blaise.”
“Oh, no need to apologize. I think your commitment to the subject is commendable.”
“Do you think we can change?”
“I hope so. It would help if we realize that behind the separate causes of the perils we continue to place ourselves in, there is a deeper one: we do not yet value life enough to act to preserve it and devote ourselves to caring for it and fulfilling its finest possibilities.”
”What do you think can inspire us to do so?”
“We must first appreciate life as the biological wonder we have come to understand it is. Then we can sanctify it and thereby save it.”
“But why haven’t we already done so?”
“I believe such an appreciation was beyond reach until we were able to alleviate some of the liabilities of life as it has evolved; for example, through advances in medicine and housing. The inability is evident in, not only the development of religions based primarily on the hope of another life, but also in how the ancient Greek philosophers and, in fact, mainstream philosophers since then have discussed values such as justice and love, reason and happiness, the first mover and the golden mean, pleasure and pain, consciousness and the senses, truth and language, etcetera, without noting that none of these values would exist for us without life itself. The closest philosophy has come is Albert Schweitzer’s still underappreciated ethic of Reverence for Life.”
“I think you’ve also noted the adumbration of the idea in a few works of contemporary ethics.”
“Yes, for instance, in the works of Peter Singer.”
“Perhaps our perilous situation is finally awakening us to the value of life.”
“Let us hope.”
”But, as you well know, you’re talking about a new religion. Do you feel comfortable trying to describe one? After all, you are by training a scientist.”
“As comfortable as any writer with a scientific background could feel. I am fortunate to be alive just now, though. The nay-saying to the principal religions we’ve inherited has been done. The need now is to go beyond it to a credible alternative.”
“But, Charles, if you’re going to describe a credible religion based on life itself, you’ve got your work cut out for you.”
“What self-aware soul would decide to embark on such a project? The ideas just began to come to me when I saw how we kill life in war and otherwise abuse and endanger it, at the same time I began to appreciate life as the astonishing existent it is. In fact, one of the difficulties I’ve encountered is having to see myself as a person who would attempt to describe such a religion for the first time.”
“I think you expected to be what I might call a writer with more usual interests. Have there been other difficulties?”
“I think the primary challenge I’ve faced is presenting the thoughts so that they don’t provoke skepticism. As a result, I’ve made a special effort to present them in ways that I consider consistently cogent, in fact, as self-evidently true as I can.”
“Such an approach seems quite necessary.”
“Yes, it does. Thankfully, once we appreciate life for what it truly is, the beliefs become readily apparent and, I think, adequate to our hopes.”
“Sounds good, Charles. Why don’t you recap your thoughts? The review might do you good.”
"Yes, I think you’re right. As you know, I often begin with a variation on Descartes’ cogito. We are alive; knowing only that one indisputable fact, what should we do?”
“What can we do?”
“Develop a complete system of beliefs.”
“But only when we understand the value life.”
“And you hope to persuade people to value it –“
“– By explaining its very naturally miraculous processes and capacities.”
“I think you’ve also decided you’re more likely to convince people who already value life but may not yet have realized it can serve as a foundation for a complete modern religion?”
“I think that’s wise.”
“Can we move on to specifics?”
“My pleasure. I think the two fundamental beliefs of a religion based on life itself would be Faith In Life and an extension of it, Faith Through Life.”
“When we value life, we learn to have faith in it. We trust in its greatness, vow to take good care of it and to fulfill its finest possibilities. By so living, we also express, through life, our reverence to whatever the Ultimate Source or Origin of life is.”
“The ideas are certainly meritorious, Charles. But aren’t you concerned that you’ll be mistaken for just another Right to Life advocate?”
"The possibility is another aspect of the difficulties of extracting life from the dangerous situation it’s caught up in just now. But being pro-life is a subject that is far more expansive than the abortion issue.”
“As long as we’ve touched on the subject, what is your position on abortion?”
“I think a person who is pro-life in an enlightened way takes into account, not only the life of the embryo or fetus, but also the lives of the potential parents. We also realize that an embryo or fetus is a dependent life that can only grow into an independent life with the biological support of the woman who is pregnant.”
“I believe that life has evolved with freedom of choice. So endorsing the freedom to make responsible choices is a vital aspect of respect for life; in fact, life as it has evolved cannot exist without thoughtful freedom of choice. It’s part of the natural life of adults. And, to the extent that we don’t let natural life live, we kill it. I think
we’ve done enough of that and what is urgent is for us to begin to let life live in every mutually considerate way. Finally, the real choice is between making professional
medical care available to a woman who is determined to have an abortion and condemning her to quackery, which could result in the loss of her life, as well as the life of the fetus. I think ethics cries out that we should make the first choice available to her.”
“So, somewhat surprisingly, you’re pro-choice?”
“Let’s say I’m pro thoughtful choice. However, let’s not become enmeshed in the issue. We have much more to cover.”
Book 2 of 4: Poetry
Barnes & Noble.com:
Selections from Book 2
Humankind had urgent questions
Only as illusion prompted:
Oh, flickering stars,
Do you shine for me
And, if so, how?
What is the sun,
The golden eye of God?
And is the moon
His eye by night?
What is the wind
I cannot see?
And why did the flood
Wash over us?
The trembling earth,
What angered it?
And why, oh, why,
Is my beloved
Now pale and still?
I will tell you,
Said a shaman,
For I can read the sky
And know the ways of Gods.
And in time a train of them
Produced The Book of the Dead,
"Now, give your lives
To raise a monument for Pharaoh,
So he may go well
To his new life
And then, exhausted,
You may deathward
Lean your humble way."
Then came those
Impatient with illusion,
Who sought to understand the nature
Of the heavens and the earth.
The earth and sun
In terms of true cosmology;
Galileo stood for his view
And clarified the telescope;
Kepler saw more exactly
The revolution of the spheres;
Bacon’s Instauration defined
The way of science;
Medicine went from intuition
Harvey revealed the circulation
And Gray anatomy,
Jenner discovered vaccination,
And, only recently,
Life became more understandable
It had revealed,
For those who would see,
And might now be seen,
Not as an eternal punishment,
But as a gift, perfectible.
Yet science, having taken the lead,
Had raced ahead of art,
And no one came forward to write,
“Life has revealed its promise
Just as we might destroy it.
Let us now turn our eyes from death
And consecrate ourselves to life.
Then we may save it
From our own wrath and waste,
Lead self-sufficient lives,
And may also
Though our care of and joy in life
Please its ever-silent source
And merit whatever good
May welcome goodness
When life’s journey of fulfillment ends.
The first humans sat hunched in caves
While rain fell endless days and nights,
Food ran out,
And there was yet
No fire to warm them.
Some began to shake
And a few grew still.
In another season,
The earth dried to dust,
So food was scarce
And burials abundant.
The men went forth,
As bravely as their strength allowed,
Hoping to kill and carry back
Some beast that, eaten raw,
Would serve as sustenance,
While mothers waited
With crying, dying children.
Sometimes, a lion grabbed
Or a mammoth crushed
Her hunter husband,
But he returned triumphant
Frequently enough for us to endure.
Such was our beginning,
But how else could it have been,
Risen, as we were, from molecules,
On one planet in the far-flung universe?
But, generation after generation,
We learned the possibilities
Of stone, timber, and metal –
How to build a sanctuary
From the elements
And to heat it with fire,
So that seasons would pass
With some comfort;
And how to shape a weapon
That could drop,
From a safer distance,
The fanged and fearsome lion
Or enormous, lumbering mammoth.
Though we have continued
Our discovery of enhancements,
Down to the life-saving balms and conveniences
Most humans still believe
We’re just passing through
An exile of tribulation,
Much as we concluded
When we were still in dawn-dark caves
Or had just moved beyond their dank shelter.
Yet we have, without yet knowing it,
Begun to make the earth our home.
OFTEN HAVE I GONE IN SEARCH OF GOD
Often have I gone in search of God,
From childhood altar boy to conning scholar,
Read word by word testaments old and new,
Words of God,
Many still believe,
From Middle East to Far,
Describing deities major, minor,
And, in all, innumerable;
Also, philosophies about the same
From the Pre-Socratic’s to Spinoza’s pantheism,
Lucretius’s, Hume’s and Russell’s skepticism,
And James’s middling-twiddling
Will to or not to believe –
That it takes as much knowledge not as to –
Until I turned my eyes
From contemplations of the skies
To estimations of experience
And asked what might I believe
If no one ever had, in truth, penetrated finitude;
If, in fact, we are the children of it,
Empowered to find our meaning in it?
Then I began to look for values
That might satisfy my longings –
Finite and infinite –
And found them,
Not on the far side of the farthest star,
But right in life itself,
By thinking over what it really is
And appreciating it –
In litany, the processes innumerable
That produce and sustain it,
From subatomic particles and molecules
To cells and organs majestic,
Beings entire and the biosphere,
Suns and planets, swirling galaxies,
And all the interdependent aspects
Of the total life-supporting
And, in time, life–annihilating universe,
Itself a part, as it seems to be,
Of the universal cycle
Of energy compounded with matter:
Birth, life and terminus.
If the universe is logical, I told myself,
And I assume it is,
Since we can write equations to describe it
Down to infinitesimals,
Life must logical,
With an origin, a reason, and a purpose.
I considered what might be mighty and magisterial
Enough to account for it
And then considered the gifts
And dependence of its creatures.
The sentiments I inferred by the comparison
Were of the origin abundant love and mercy –
Assuming it’s at least as cogent and considerate
As little I,
And decided it must be far more –
And of the creatures, gratitude
And the resolve to live in ways
Worthy of the ample benefactions
Now, this took me to the contemplation
Of whether life could be, as the ancients saw it,
A curse, or if it might, in fact, a blessing be.
What could I infer if I looked at whatever
Evidence I might find in finitude?
I counted life’s liabilities, the usual litany,
Such as disease and death,
Accidents, storms and quakes.
But that enumeration, if emphasized,
Intimated a God unsuited to the august role
Of Creator of the universe and all its creatures.
Maybe if I could understand the tribulations,
I could place them within a view
That would let me believe life must be,
Overall, a gift so great we ought
To love and sanctify it.
To arrive at a perspective that might
Allow a convincing comparison,
I now began again to count life’s blessings,
Beginning with what generates it,
The body – home and holy temple, too,
Of our whole lives –
And the gifts that it allows
Of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell;
The mind, cognitive and creative,
The spirit, sensate and communicative;
The body physical, with, when healthy,
A thrilling sense of well-being
And capable of astonishments
A marvel in motion,
Awesome in athletics,
Splendid in sex,
And potent in procreation.
Yet it was, no gainsaying, mortal.
But were we being fair to disregard
Its choir of blessings and dismiss
It as “mere mortal clay”?
Weren’t we skipping a plentitude benefactions?
And doesn’t such a lament, sanctified,
As “dust to dust”
Neglect the precious interlude of life itself?
And what of our insistence
That there must be more?
Could it be based on our never
Having known enough to appreciate
How much life truly is?
Could life be, I dared to ask –
Against traditions, sanctimonious and skeptical,
And wreak upon my really rather tender self
The sardonic quips of superficial sages –
A gift to be enjoyed and distinguished?
But then what of the drawbacks?
Oh, I saw the wholeness then.
We were born with minds astonishing,
And bodies dexterous,
And what had we done in time
But as gifted creatures would,
In expectation, do –
Learn to cure disease, live on average longer,
Discover virtues such as fellow-feeling,
Make activities safer, limit damage
Wrought by storms and quakes –
Overall, improve on life as gifted,
Naked, rude and hard but with potential,
And by so doing prove that life’s improvable.
I understood, of course, in ancient times
That life was often short and sullen,
And our ancestors could not know
The promise of it.
The realization is of our time –
Just as we have learned how
We might wretchedly defile
Or, worse, annihilate
What we have so far rejected
As unworthy of our reverence.
Now I saw dismissal of this life
And longing for a better place
As understandable but only in its time
And that now we must embrace life
And by so doing rescue it
From the depredations
Of our sanctimonious indifference to it.
To do so, do we need to give up
All hope of a life beyond
The one we have been gifted with?
No, because nature never does provide
A bridge from all our knowing
To what may be beyond
The locus of our lives;
But we must reprioritize our emphasis,
So that we begin living,
Not primarily for another life,
But for the one in which
We find ourselves.
Then it came to me.
What better way could there be
To merit any afterlife,
If there is one and it can be merited,
Than by taking care of this one?
But would such a redirection
Be enough to satisfy our sacred longings?
What, I asked, might this life be
But the living representative
Of whatever made it?
Then I knew the surest communion
We could have
With what is credibly our God,
As the Ultimate Source of life,
Is in and through life itself:
By having Faith In Life
As the miraculous gift it is –
Living with gratitude for it
And at peace in it;
Enjoying its copious blessings
While reverencing it –
And thereby offering,
Not indirectly but most directly,
As Faith Through Life,
Our worship to its Creator.
So I came to understand
Life itself as the true inspiration for
And unshakable foundation of
What we most need to save ourselves
From our own depredations
And our imperilment of life,
Our only truly sacred gift:
A credible and compelling modern religion.
Then, quite by surprise
And somewhat uncomfortably –
As, after all, I am a writer who is also
A scientist and lifelong philosopher –
I found my mind alive with the ideas
And the urgency to describe
What I perceive
As this necessary development.
THE EARTH, OUR NATURAL PARADISE
We are, perhaps, the stewards of the earth,
At least, within our span upon it,
Enabled by our intelligence
And necessitated by our numbers
And our depredations.
Yet how may we, so used to believing
We are transient victims of our own ineptitude,
See ourselves as capably as we must?
Let us recognize that we are the only species
That can assume the role
And inspire our stewardship
By appreciating that the earth
Is the home of all the life
That we can know with certainty –
And thereby begin to sanctify
The creatures and the plants,
Which embody life,
And the water, air and land,
Which help support it.
Let us appreciate, finally, that life itself
Is our natural holy of holies
And that within it
We may find the golden tablets,
Minted and inscribed to actuality by ourselves,
That tell us how to conduct ourselves –
In our daily doings,
To care for and enjoy life,
And, in our immortal longings,
To know that life is the living representative
Of its directly unknowable why.
Let us learn to live
In the joy and service of life
And in so doing come to see ourselves,
Though frankly mortal,
As the capable and considerate
Natural gods and goddesses of the earth.
Let us recognize that the other life upon the earth
Has also been invited to enjoy a share
Of life’s blessings, irreplaceable,
And to find our true distinction in the care
And worshipful awe of all of life.
Yes, let us see, at last, the earth,
Not as our place of banishment –
A life-demeaning, as well God-demeaning,
Inept speculation of the ancients,
Seeking to understand
Without the light of modern knowledge –
But as the natural Paradise
We have been born to
And still inhabit.
To see oneself in this inspiring light
Is to feel even one’s hands,
Though gradually over-spotted with age,
No longer as “mere mortal clay,”
As earlier humans, failing to understand
The miracle of life,
Demeaned the body, life’s very tabernacle –
But as holy instruments
Of life’s own care and improvement
And, by extension, holy instruments
Of whatever God made us and all of life.
Sentient and capable now,
Let us commit to our urgent calling,
As we begin now
To settle into this life-graced globe
Within the billion-billion whirling galaxies
That, in their own distant, winking ways,
Help support us and our blessed biosphere.
YOU ARE YOURSELF A UNIVERSE OF LIFE
You are yourself a universe of life –
Of atoms, molecules, cells, and harmony –
A demigod of the living universe,
Our natural God,
And a sacred form of it.
Look only at your hand, your foot, or eye
And you'll see more life than ages
Enjoying all their separate lives
And giving you your life
With its potential for satisfying joy
And love for other life.
So when you ponder
What you have or are,
Even when some grievous loss
Has emptied you,
Think of all the life
You have been gifted with –
Your constellations of divine being.
You only need to know all that you are
To want to care for and fulfill your life.
I AM A MAN OF MODERN FAITH
I am a man of modern faith,
Not harking back to former times
But looking at the place where I now am
And finding in my empathy
An “I and Thou” that seems
True to what we know:
The “I” my Faith In Life,
The “Thou,” life besieged,
Which cries out,
“Why must I die?
My death is undeserved.
Have I not by now revealed my promise
Or, at least, enough of it
For you to see in me,
Not a banishment as punishment,
But a blessing, benevolently bestowed
And improvable by your own good work?
Oh, then save me, save me, please –
And in that holy act yourselves redeem!”
A FAITH COMPOUNDED OF TWO PARTS
I have a faith compounded of two parts,
One for my care of life –
As you and me and every living thing –
The other for my spirit,
All natural, I suspect,
With openness to things I cannot know.
The one I call my Faith In Life,
The other, an extension of it,
My Faith Through Life –
The first to guide my every day,
The second to satisfy my wonder
At the enthralling amplitudes of being
And ease whatever fears
That yet may adumbrate
At the margins of my mind.
And with this bipartite faith
To grace my life,
I delight in life ongoing
And am at peace with its certain ending.
THESE ARE THE POEMS I WROTE
These are the poems I wrote
In an endangered time,
In the service of life –
And, appreciated as we
Have come to understand it,
The holiest existent we can know.
Science, be my guide and guardian:
Lead me to the side
Where thought and truth are one;
Protect me from the pressing
Errors of former times;
Shield me from ignorance with authority –
Simple, sad, and stifling;
Help me fulfill my finest possibilities;
Rescue me from the grip of sickness
And harbor me in rougher times;
Allow me to discover how Creation works,
Solve the questions of what and how
And one day, perhaps, the very why of life.