My parents had me late in life — my mom was 42, and I was their only child. My dad taught me to read at an early age, and I devoured every book I could get my hands on.
Most of my cousins were five to ten plus years older than me, and I inherited a lot of their hand-me-down books. This was fine with me as well as my parents — save for one book that my dad took great offense to.
It was a picture book about dinosaurs. I’ll never forget one illustration of a drop in a bucket, representing the miniscule amount of time humans have lived on this earth compared to the reign of the dinosaurs before us.
My parents had a big argument when my father wanted to throw the book away. My dad was something of a “closet” fundamentalist — he was from Arkansas, and had quiet beliefs, but they were deep-rooted. He didn’t attend church and I never saw him pray, but he was adamant about this matter. At the time, I was too young to understand what the argument entailed, and I don’t know in retrospect that I really grasped the whole dinosaur thing at the time. The phrase “intelligent design” had not been coined yet — but today, people argue just as fervently about the issue as my parents did.
Nevertheless, my dad was not completely inflexible. He believed Christmas was a "pagan holiday," but he didn't disabuse me of the notion of Santa and Christmas presents. When the now "extinct" Esso gas stations came out with a blow-up dinosaur that was bigger than I was, he bought one for me which I cherished for years to come. Go figure.
Truth be told, it’s hard to reconcile organized Western belief systems with the view that we are just a blip in the universe. It’s rough on the ego to think we are so “insignificant” — and it contradicts what many of us were taught as children. And for those who believe the Bible is literal gospel, it is well nigh impossible to look at current scientific fact — at least as we know it — objectively.
My boyfriend BG was brought up Catholic, and his mom is devout past the point of reason (at least to most observers). BG and his siblings don’t subscribe to her extreme viewpoints, but despite his more rational intentions, a lot of what BG was taught as a child still colors his beliefs — especially about the "afterlife." Part of him still seems to see G-d as an old white guy with a big beard sending down lightning bolts from the sky. Heaven and hell were very real concepts to him as a child — and they still hold sway over him.
Being a painter, one of BG’s biggest influences is Francis Bacon, a 20th century British artist whose bizarre but still “representational” art flew in the face of the American craze at the time for all things abstract. Being in the enviable position of achieving fame and fortune during his lifetime, Bacon lived large. Although he said that he was “optimistic about nothing,” he emphatically and unapologetically believed that there was nothing after death.
BG has a hard time wrapping his mind around that concept. After all, if that’s true, what’s the point of our lives? The thought that we vanish into nothingness after a mere 70-odd years is not a comforting thought to him — or to most people.
Knowing just a smidge of non-Western philosophies — and somewhat more about astrology — I’ve often debated with him that even if we cease to exist after death, we do live on in a metaphysical sense; if we have children, help others in ways large or small, or create a great work of art, we are “immortal.” If in our short lifespan we’ve tried to leave the world a little better than we found it, we are still “here” long after we’re “gone.”
Has John Lennon’s assassination meant that he is no longer “exists?” Quite the contrary; he (or his “spirit,” if one prefers) is still very much with us whenever we hear a Beatles or Lennon song, even for those who were born after his death. Musicians who were influenced by him keep him alive as well by indirectly carrying on his incredible legacy. The remaining Beatles even brought his “ghost” back by “accompanying” him on unreleased compositions he wrote like “Free as a Bird.” And when BG and I gaze at a Bacon painting in the Museum of Modern Art, his presence and energy are still palpable.
As a Jew (since my mother was Jewish, I’m considered Jewish too by my people), I prefer to concentrate on good deeds (mitzvahs) while I’m here. Jews have a complex philosophy and belief system, but there is little talk of the afterlife, and the concept of “hell” is not really a Jewish thing. But for all that, “believing” Jews are adamant about the continual presence of G-d in their lives, while many secular Jews still carry on the philosophical underpinnings of an avid love of learning and questioning which produced such ground breakers as Freud, Marx, and Einstein.
But what brought this all to mind yet again was a new research finding claiming that “a collision 160 million years ago of two asteroids orbiting between Mars and Jupiter sent many big rock chunks hurtling toward Earth, including the one that zapped the dinosaurs.” Moreover, it is estimated that the dinosaurs themselves existed for about 165 million years before they became extinct due to this cataclysmic event.
William Bottke of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, one of the researchers, is quoted as saying: “"Was humanity inevitable? Or is humanity just something that happened to arise because of this sequence of events that took place at just the right time? It's hard to say."
Many believers feel we are entering the “end of days.” Others simply feel that our evolution has produced incredible marvels as well as the potential for our own man made extinction.
My personal belief? If we don’t kill ourselves off, we can continue to evolve. If we now use only a fraction of our brain, it is quite possible that the future might hold the key to cultivating “superhuman” abilities, including psychic ones. And perhaps our "animal" instincts, including our fierce territoriality — leading to, among other things, the continual spectre of war — will one day become extinct as well.
But if we kill ourselves off, will another “humanoid” creature eventually rise out of the rubble? And if so, will it be more adaptable to survival?
Like Bottke, I believe “it’s hard to say.” Whether you are a believer in the “mysteries of the faith” or the mysteries of the universe, for me the questions still linger — and the debate rages on.