Meandering thoughts about life

As we continue to progress into the 21st century, we’re going to hear people say more and more that God is dead and nothing is sacred. For various reasons, religions and God are becoming cloaked by an absurdity – how can people actually believe this stuff?

But such a dismissive attitude, while closing the door to traditional conceptions of religion and spirituality, actually opens doors to far more oppressive ideologies. If nothing is sacred and the universe is run solely by forces of scientific law – why should I do anything when I could just wait around to die? Does anything really deserve my best effort? If all I am is random collisions of subatomic particles, what’s the point even?

Commentary by Jake Prinsen Opinion Editor
Commentary by Jake Prinsen Opinion Editor

It’s a stomach-level sadness that creeps in around 20. The thoughts that seep through the back of my mind while I’m walking to class – the constant questioning. Why am I here? Do I really think I’m going to accomplish anything? Why do I want to accomplish something in the first place? The cynical questioner never stops.

It gets to the point where I have to ask myself if I feel a spiritual connection to anything anymore, so I stop and think.

I feel a spiritual connection to infinity. The fact that when I look up at the stars at night, space goes on forever. That’s a pretty mind-blowing thought. Infinite stars forming infinite galaxies, collectively forming the universe with space, time and matter.

But who’s to say it’s even real? Everything I perceive is filtered through my subjective consciousness as my thoughts. I ascribe meaning to my experiences, turn them into memories and then the memories turn into a pool of consciousness that makes up myself.    

The presence of the self is another question that always sifts through my mind on my way to class. In the grand, cosmic scheme of things, do I really exist at all?

I can remember having this existential breakdown when I was very young. It all started with this dissociation I made between my name and my actual self. I think I was blowing up plastic army men with firecrackers in the sandbox when I thought, who am I? I probably answered myself with, well, you’re Jake. But who’s Jake? Of course, Jake as my name and Jake as my actual, eternal self are two completely different beings. Jake as far as my name goes is just a tag, like a label at the grocery store – a name for my physical being. Jake as my actual self is something much deeper than that. My actual self is my experiences, my emotions, my memories, laughter, sadness, love and hate – every abstract concept that language and philosophy so desperately try to describe.

It makes me wonder, does the mind outlive the body? Is it possible for consciousness to continue after death? There seems to be something in us that desperately wants to answer ‘yes.’ Yes, it keeps going once you die, but why wouldn’t we desperately want to believe that? Maybe when you die, it’s like before you were born. Nothing. A gentle darkness caresses you into non-existence just like before you were born.

But in the same way there’s a stomach-level sadness in not knowing, there’s a stomach-level hope in being able to write about it. Isn’t that what we’ve been doing since the beginning of time anyways? Trying to ascribe some kind of meaning to this life? Every sacred book, every religion is out trying to sell you the same thing. They’re trying to tell us that there’s still meaning to this life – that it’s not all for nothing. It’s a universal, human quest for truth. We’re all just kicking and screaming, trying to convince ourselves that there’s something to hope for in this absurd universe.

With advances in science and technology, we might become increasingly dissociated from spirituality and religion. Maybe all we are is 75 percent water, evolved from recycled star dust, but at least we can still hope for something after.

The Bible says something along the lines of God gave us faith, hope and love. Faith is fine, and love feels cliché sometimes, but hope is something we can go all-in on. There’s something sacred in being able to hope for something.