Myriads of people–mostly young people, my fellow vanguards of the future–find themselves overwhelmed by the myriads of belief systems, philosophies, and codes of conduct that commend themselves each to be “the truth.” The usual outcome is an apathetic recession into relativism, a tragic refusal to make inquiries, to continue the search for truth that is definitive of mankind’s existence. In order to discern my beliefs, I need a clear definition of fundamental aspects of the human condition, such as love, death, and the nature of good and evil. I still have much to learn and experience, but from my own memories and observations, I have been able to lay the groundwork, without elaborating on my religious background.
I believe that love is the most important–and misunderstood–aspect of the universe. It takes many forms, but is always essentially the same: valuing someone or something over oneself and the subsequent self-sacrifice for that which is loved. Be it agape, erotic, familial or divine, as simple as empathy for a stranger or the consuming devotion of a mother, it is the constructive force of the cosmos. Love abhors a vacuum; it drives inspiration and the creation of all that is new.
Another central theme of life is its apparent end. Life is a series of transitions, growing upward from one stage to the next. The hardest time in our lives are often rites of passage, tests which prepare us for a higher level of existence. Death is no different from these; whatever might exist beyond our perception, I believe that it is not to be feared as it is by so many.
Having cheated death of its terrorizing nature, I do not have to spend my life worrying about how to prepare for it or waste time avoiding it at all costs. I am free to live, to work hard, to achieve my dreams, to laugh at life and encourage others to do the same by helping them through their hard times. Ironically, it is much easier to love my neighbor, when I keep in mind that it is simply a good thing to do, rather than a way to rack up points for a giant report card. It refocuses my attention from myself to others more effectively.
I also need to differentiate between good and evil if I am to claim “love thy neighbor” is good. I have observed that natural law actually has some credibility in defining right from wrong. It is seen in most cultures past and present, as in a comparison between Taoism and fundamental Christianity, which create an astonishing parallel, though one predates the other by centuries. Some exceptions exist (such as our own society, I’m afraid), and we can/do choose to override our own consciences, but we cannot deny their existence. We have a basic idea of what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious. That should be enough to start with. We need only uphold these things instead of that which is self-proclaimed, self-gratifying, self-idolizing.
I believe that there are no accidents; many things have had repercussions that could not be random. Since coincidence is nonexistent, all of our interactions with one another have an impact, however slight. Our efforts to do good (or otherwise) will ripple through humanity with surprising power. That is how small believers like myself can hope to change the world.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.