Humanity's Rite of Passage

Chandra Pulsar Hand

UPDATE: Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow riffed on this topic as the title of their episode of their NEW WEEKLY PODCAST series, "America's Evolutionary Evangelists," launched August 13, 2009.  You can listen to that podcast online, or subscribe to the free RSS feed.

Until recently, answers to life's biggest questions ("How was that mountain or ocean or everything created?" "What's real and what matters most?") and access to life's most cherished and important emotional states (trust when I think about the future, gratitude when I think about the past, inspiration to be in action in the moment no matter what chaos may come my way, comfort in times of sorrow or grief, etc)—for 99% of human history these fundamental benefits (what I call "core bennies") could only be obtained via mythic, dream-like, pre-natural stories. Now, for the first time in human history, we have meaningful answers to life's biggest questions and access to life's most cherished emotional states via measurable knowledge that can unite us rather than mythic beliefs that so often divide us. I predict that this fact will be among the most significant factors helping humanity survive its rite of passage into adulthood.

Two transformations in thinking are essential, it seems to me, to the process of maturing from childhood, through adolescence, to adulthood. The first is shifting from thinking that the world was made for us to celebrating that we were made for the world. The second is moving from belief-based views of the world to knowledge-based understandings informed by evidence, experience, and the perspectives of others. Most of us have navigated these two shifts in our own process of maturation.

As children we naturally think the world centers around us. As adults (assuming we mature in a healthy way) we quickly recognize that our own happiness and joy is largely determined by our impact on others and on the world around us. More, our success in life is largely judged by history—that is, by the legacy we leave.

Similarly, as children our beliefs are given to us by trusted elders. Evolution would have it no other way. As adults, however, we gain a wider perspective and come to realize that our personal understandings and interpretations of reality are not the only viable ones, and that we can benefit enormously from taking into consideration the viewpoints of others, especially those outside our in-group. Real knowledge, real intelligence, is a collective endeavor.

Much of the chaos that we are experience in our world today stems from the fact that, collectively, as groups and as a species, we're smack in the middle of making these two shifts. Ironically, it's the New Atheists who are playing a prophetic role of calling religious people, and religion in general, to "get right with reality."  I'll say more about this in future posts.