The human involvement with spiritual matters is at least as old as humankind itself. It peeks out from all of human history, from both the written and Natural record of Man's awareness of his own existence. The Holy Bible speaks eloquently of this awareness but it did not begin there and the Bible itself is but a whispering fragment of the larger story.
Stone Age Man brought with him to this planet a sensing of self which is surely innate in all species. A shrew would never attempt to mate with a mouse, nor a dog with a cat–and that "sensing of species" goes quite a bit deeper than mere sexual selection; it is fundamental to a sensing of self. We all know who we are, in some primal sense. That awareness of self is but a dim fragment of much more ancient antecedents, however–perhaps as old as all the planets and coexistent with the life impulse itself.
That impulse, whatever the species, involves more than mere survival but is connected also to a larger scheme and certainly a larger goal in the cosmic sense. We became human, I believe, as a direct result of those whispers from the heart which not only predated Eden but also produced Eden and all that has come since. The human beast is intimately involved with Spirit because the "beast," too, is a natural and inevitable result of those soul-whispers which dared dream the impossible and knew that its source was elsewhere.
If Man is as old as his dreams then surely the dream predates the man, otherwise how account for the dream? Could something as primal as a dream be thought to spring from an inanimate and insensate source? Surely not. The dream is a reality of its own, as real as a rock or a stream, so where is the dreamer if it has no objective reality?
Nietzche declared, "If there were gods, how could I bear to be no god? Consequently there are no gods." Isn't that equal to arguing, "Dreams are illusions–because, if they were not, how could I bear to live without them?" The truth is, we cannot. The dream (desire) is the energizing force behind every life. In the Neitzchian model, we could not survive as a self-conscious species of life if we felt that all dreams are illusions. Without God, there is no meaning; without meaning, the dream is too terrible to contemplate because it is empty, and an empty dream reduces the entire human experience to an illusion.
The religious quest is the true business of all human life–not necessarily to be holy, per se, but to be involved in the cosmic dream, to be conscious of the drama and caught up in it, inspired by it, fascinated by the possibilities of growth and achievement, committed to the enrichment of all life everywhere because, really, this is the "God game" in every realm. Either we play the game or we lose it by default.
I have no bones to pick with any person who generally treats others with respect and kindness but feels no particular interest in the spiritual quest, nor would I even wish to suggest that only the "best" people will be so inclined. Some of the most admirable people in my acquaintance are agnostic or atheistic and this of itself has never influenced me to feel one way or another about them. It is only the militant atheist or religious zealot who pricks me, and I can allow these their space also if they do not get into my face with it. The ones who bother me the most, it seems, are the so-called "skeptics" who are parading as something else, i.e., as "objective" or professional critics who, really, are advancing some personal agenda of their own–usually at the expense of others. What often masquerades as honest skepticism is actually a malevolent intent to discredit or destroy another's credibility or honesty in a purely destructive fashion.
This sort of behavior bothers me only because the net effect is usually felt by those less equipped or inclined to sort out the truth for themselves and therefore the neediest of understanding and inspiration. This is the most difficult arena of all because our world today is in dire need of clarity and vision–with half of our population starving, too many of us being exploited by political forces, and far too many dying by systematic violence.
Before we can even begin to grapple realistically with problems of that magnitude, we must arrive at some clear sensing of who we are and what our goals should be. Is our experiential world and expectations real or merely illusions to comfort us during occasional moments of trial and sorrow, as some have argued? But if not real, then neither is the dream or the dreamer–and if these are not real, then how can we trust our own existence?–in other words, how can we be real?–and, if we are not, why bother with any of it? Any human being who desires to live has already settled the argument. An honest person who is truly convinced that there is no cosmic connection between Man and God could not bear the alternative; our lives then truly have no meaning beyond the moment of direct experience, so there could be nothing beyond that moment but a false dream.
A cruel paradox is implicit in that view. If our lives–yours and mine–have no objective reality beyond the moment of planetary experience then our entire experience is as fleeting and meaningless as the life of a flea and of no more import in the general scheme of the universe. Why, then, would any rational human wish to doubt that the individual human life could have a universal value which exceeds that of the flea? What is this death wish in some human minds which prefers the certainty of extinction to the promise of immortality implicit in virtually every human culture throughout the world? The question goes far beyond any ordinary argument into religious ideas because no scientist alive can unequivocally prove or disprove any religious theme or any scientific one. It's all up for grabs–all the questions, all the answers, religious or otherwise–so it's all a matter of individual perspective. The most renowned scientist of the modern age, Albert Einstein, spoke of "a superior reasoning power...revealed in the incomprehensible universe" as that which "forms my ideas of God," which rules out only the sectarian images, not God itself, and that attitude of reverence for the process itself is consistent with common attitudes of many of the world's most distinguished scientists.
What we have been discussing all along here, of course, is the process itself, not sectarian icons or churchly proscriptions. It is necessary to understand the distinction because our sense of fulfillment and self-worth as human beings does not come from the earth itself. It comes from the unearthly dimensions of being. Life can be a joy only if we know–in at least some dim center of awareness–that there is meaning and purpose intimately connected to our own existence, that it is a direct connection in no way dependent upon or subject to intermediaries between ourselves and our Source.
Not easily persuaded or convinced; the
philosophical doctrine that all inquiry must
be a process of doubting: the opposite of faith.
I fell into a bright sunset
and watched a golden earth slip past
As wondrous sights and silent schemes
produced the next transfixing cast;
A lover's kiss, a baby's smile,
reminded me that all the while
the worlds's immersed in noble needs
beyond the planet's scattered seeds;
The dream alone makes life worthwhile,
not causes, politics, or fame–
To lose the dream, in any realm,
extinguishes the cosmic flame.
©Copyright 1992 by Don Pendleton, All Rights Reserved.
"The Dream" article was first published in the Peebles Papers, July 1992. This article is protected under Copyright Law and may not be copied, reproduced in any way, or form, and may not be posted to web sites.