Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Cosmic Fugue

Readers of my blog will know that I am fond of writing about spirituality and religion, even though I am not a very religious person myself, in the conventional sense. Why is that so?

Religious beliefs might on the surface appear to be irrational and dogmatic and at times even bordering on the superstitous. Most of the time, religion cannot be defended logically. Furthermore history has also shown that religious people do not always conduct themselves morally. Why then do we bother with religion? Hasn't religion done more harm than good to mankind?

I sometimes suspect that, the world will actually be a much better place if we do not place so much importance on religion. I've discussed this topic before elsewhere: in general people are inclined to be well-behaved because everyone needs the company of other people to survive. If we behave in a destructive manner, we simply eliminate ourselves from society.

Over time, society evolves a set of rules, which determine the well-being and conduct of its members. It allows everyone to be "selfish" within certain limits. It ensures that the stability of the social system is protected, while at the same time allowing the freedom for people to pursue their own selfish ambitions.

However no one can be overtly selfish because in a way, part of what they pursue is only meaningful if there's the approval and respect of the society in which they live in. Many people would not bother to dress up expensively or drive a fancy car if they are not able to show off their wealth to other people. You need other people to trade with, you need other people to work together and collaborate with in order to generate wealth.

So people need society. And society can only exist if it finds ways to maintain its stability without hampering each individual's pursuit of happiness. Behaviour that threatens the stabililty of society is considered "evil" and behaviour that puts society's needs above the individual are considered "good". A society hums along just fine when there's a critical mass of so-called good people. Evil people ultimately eliminate themselves over time. If an entire society becomes evil, then it simply self-destructs.

Now, why then do we still need religion? Isn't good conduct an inevitable feature of any stable society?

Let's explore another aspect of religion: the supernatural. We have to admit that there are phenomena in this world which logic or science doesn't yet provide satisfactory answers. Doesn't that necessitate the introduction of a spiritual or divine side to the world around us? How do we explain why we are born on this earth, and what happens to us after death? What is the purpose of our existence? Isn't religion an attempt to answer these questions?

While I agree that these things do bother us, we also have to ask ourselves: why do they matter at all?

Why do we need a purpose and reason to everything that we see around us? We exist and we die. Can't we just accept that? Why do we need to invent fairytales and fool ourselves into believing that they are true, without demanding concrete evidence? Why not let science discover the secrets of nature slowly, like how it has been failthfully doing throughout the ages? And for the meantime, isn't it better to apply Occam's Razor?

Let me ask you a question: Do you enjoy music?

Of course you do. All of us do. But why do we need music? Isn't music something irrational? In what way does music help the human species to survive? Music doesn't fill our stomachs. Why then are we even willing to pay money to listen to music?

Not a single culture exists without its own music. Isn't this strange? Why do we have this desire to dance and sway to music? Is our response to music something that's hardwired in our genes? Of what survival value does the act of dancing and singing offer to the human species? Similarly with other artistic pursuits such as painting, sculpture and poetry. Are they all not completely "useless" activities?

Religion is like music and other forms of artistic expressions. It is a natural response of human beings to the world around us. Anyone who knows the meaning of beauty or has fallen in love before, already has the seeds of spirituality and religion within him. Artistic beauty and romantic love--these are but tiny glimpses of that greater impulse within all of us, which is spiritual in nature. They are all irrational and "useless" human expressions. But they are universal.

The spiritual impulse within each one of us is like individual voices--all inter-related and interwoven together in a cosmic fugue. Your spirit evolves, one voice among many voices, partaking in that grander scheme, urging you on to find meaning and purpose to your brief existence.

Does the melody know for what purpose it exists? No. It rises and it falls. It has a clear begining and an end. It's purpose of existence is to carry the song that it is supposed to carry.

We all have that religious impulse. The song we carry within each one of us is different. Some hear it more loudly than us. Is there a supernatural being called God, who composed this Cosmic Fugue? It's beyond our ability to know. Do we need to care? When the music is already playing, the composer is no longer important. What matters is the music and the beauty that it expresses.

We only know that each one of us has a melody, a voice within. We hear other voices around us. We simply evolve our individual melodies, in harmony with the others. Like musicians in a jam session, we must not only play, but also listen and improvise at the same time. Then only do we create music.

There are as many types of music as they are religions in this world. Do we say that they are all irrational, useless expressions of the human race? Is one type of music better or truer than another? Certainly not. You are but one voice in a polyphonic fugue.

Why can't we acknowledge the fact that we all like music? Your taste in music is different from mine. But deep down inside we know why we like music. Music in whatever form is always beautiful. Let's not try to read too much "meaning" into music. It is much more important to listen.

And if you listen intently enough, you'll understand why music is beautiful. No words are needed beyond that.

No comments: