Grief: The Irrational Clue to Humanity’s Origins

Grief.

It makes no sense from an evolutionary standpoint.

When we suffer loss, we rage at the cruelty of fate and grieve for an imagined future that will never be.

Why?

When our dreams shatter, when we fail ourselves and each other, when shit happens, when the universe rubs us out like a bug, we grieve.

Why?

Are We Beasts?

People are shitty to each other, and we act like it’s wrong. But when animals prey on one another, it doesn’t bother us in the slightest.

Why do we expect people to be different?

It’s perfectly normal for the strong to prey on the weak. Doesn’t nature herself – sharp of tooth and red of claw – teach us that this is so?

When the strong devour the weak, why do we not shrug and say, “glad it wasn’t me”? That would be the normal, natural reaction to a creature that was entirely of this planet.

We don’t label the killer whale is “evil” when it grazes on dolphins for breakfast. We don’t call wolves “evil” when they run down the weak elk in a herd for lunch.

Strong men who prey on weak men are no different than killer whales or wolves.

Are they?

“Things Should Be Better”?

So why this universal belief that “things should be better”? Why this conviction that “there’s got to be more to life than this”?

Why do we expect that “things should be better” when the entirety of human history tells us that better almost never happens?

If we are the result of a cosmic chemical accident, then the whole idea of “should” is meaningless.

Should implies alternatives.

Chemical reactions don’t have alternatives.

We act for all the world like we believe we don’t belong here.

We should have no reason to do so, and yet everywhere you go in the world, we believe in good and bad, we believe in justice and fair play and honesty.

Yet these are evolutionarily useless beliefs.

It is clear that those without conscience and without remorse are far better suited to getting what they want.

So why do we consider it “wrong” to live without conscience and to act without remorse?

So how to explain the almost universal belief that life is not as it should be?

I think the only reasonable explanation is this:

Because it is true…

Fallen From a Great Height

I suspect that we as a race are somehow fallen from a great height. Else why would we even have the sense of missing something? Some genetic, generational memory must be at work in us – a distant echo and shadow of a place our race used to live, a place that was paradise by comparison.

The only answer I can find is that we really are descended from a race that was better. I think there is something written into our DNA that we remember.

We know about justice because justice is inside us.

We sense the difference between good and evil because it is written into our cells.

I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but I am certain we are not mere descendants of our animal cousins.

I doubt we are cousins at all.

Life After Death? Hmmmm..

“Life’s Short. Heaven is Forever” – I saw these words on the back of a Hyundai as I drove back from lunch at Lobbys Burgers, (2 stars for food, 2 stars for atmosphere, 4 stars for the website).

I rhetorically asked the driver, “How do you know?” And the answer is, “you don’t.” You just assume Eternal Rewards and Eternal Punishment and off you go, living your life to get as much of the former and as little of the latter as possible. 

So many of the decisions people make are based on the belief that “Heaven is Forever”, but there is absolutely no way to know whether or not that is true. No one has ever come back and reported it, (non-verifiable accounts notwithstanding.) There is just no way to prove it.

It leads me to ask myself a question, “how many silly, life-altering decisions have I made based on something I cannot prove?” For me, the answer would be “a lot.”

Fear is the prime motivator here, and control is the object. People quite naturally fear eternal punishment – and really, what could possibly be more dreadful than facing an eternity of torment – and will therefore do almost anything to avoid it. Convince a person that unless he eats/drinks/speaks/thinks/believes the way you command him to or he will face eternal torture, and you can completely control that person. Or at least control that part of them which is subject to their own internal control.

The part not subject to internal control is the biology of desire. You can control what you do. To a lesser extent you can control what you think. But no one can control what they desire. And this – to me – is where most religions fail the sniff test. To be sure, belief in eternal rewards and punishments is powerful motivation, but oftentimes the rewards and punishments are doled out based on the content of our desires. If in fact we actually desired the things that religion tells us we should desire, then doing the things we are told to do would be easier and the Rewards should pile up like frequent flyer miles. But our desires – which we cannot control – are at odds with The Commands.

The gods of some religions don’t care what you want or what you think; they only care what you do.  These gods are apparently far more interested in appearing to be good than in actually being good, a situation that calls into question what it actually means to be good. Other gods care more about your internal life than your external life, which is all well and good until you realize that your internal life is the place where the conflict rages and the only thing you really have control over is your actions. You can make yourself do the right thing, but you cannot make yourself want the right thing. That situation calls into question the sanity of the god who makes such demands.

We tend to desire what is forbidden, be it food, sex or control.

Yet the same people who tell us that God forbids what we desire, also tell us that God is the one who created us; that we are each and every one of us God’s Special Creation in whom He delights. It almost leads me to wonder if some Priest or King looked at the strength of biological desire and said, “we shall forbid these desires and thus plunge our subjects into shame and despair, and through their shame at their own humanity, exercise complete control over them.”

But that would be pretty cynical, wouldn’t it?

I recall the words of the Apostle John from his first epistle:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

And I wonder, why the maniacal obsession with eternal punishment?

I have no answers, just questions.