Tag Archives: purpose

The Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Trees

[Warning:  no birds or trees appear in this essay. This is poetic license. The poet in question is songwriter Herbert Newman.]

A friend gave us a beautiful bouquet of flowers on Christmas day; white and purple daisies and lilies, in a purple vase.  Because the weather has been so pleasant, we put it on our patio table.

Today I saw a bee hovering over the flowers, now a week old but still beautiful and fresh-looking. The bee then landed on one of the lilies and climbed down into its center.  She** then repeated the action with several other flowers, and finally flew away.

A bee visiting a flower is a beautiful thing to see.

But this seemed odd to me.  The flowers are technically dead, having been cut from their plants many days ago.  But they looked alive to the bee (and me) so she stopped by to fill up with nectar and pollen.  It must have been satisfactory, because she repeated it with several flowers.

There must be a lesson in all this.  The flowers, cut dead in their prime of beauty and sweetness, continued to sustain the bee…for a while.  As Shakespeare wrote, “where the bee sucks, there suck I.”  I, too, can be sustained by the beauty of a vase of dead flowers.

But another thought arises.  As far as we understand, flowers have beautiful colors and make sweet nectar in order to attract and feed bees. The flower does so not because it loves the bee, but because the bee helps propagate the flowering plant by carrying away its pollen. The bee spreads the pollen not because it loves flowers, but because the pollen sticks to the her legs.  The bee seeks sweetness; the flower seeks the bee.

The flower has a purpose in creating nectar, just as the bee has a purpose in spreading pollen, though neither of them know of their purpose. And what about me?  Do I have a purpose? Would it not be odd if every living thing – except me – has a purpose for what it does?

Unlike the bee and the flower, I can and do wonder about my purpose.  And once that wondering starts, it leads inevitably to wondering about God.

Do I, like the bee and the flower, exist only to seek sweetness and propagate my genes?

If I exist for any reason beyond that, then God must be part of the answer. Otherwise, why do I wonder?

And yet many people, perhaps most, never seem to ask the question. They seem quite unconcerned by the amazing fact that they exist.

I don’t get it. Like so many other things. But, confusing and troubling as it can be, I am glad that I wonder.

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*As you may remember from school, all worker bees are female. It would be unsound to draw too many conclusions from this fact.

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My Life Among the PABGoos

I have traveled a long road from my Methodist childhood, into my atheist, Marxist radical youth, and into the world.  There I battled through a lifetime of real-world practicality comforted and cushioned by the shreds of an ideology that no longer worked or made real sense of anything.  And I end up here.

I now find myself on the doorstep of a return to the truths of my childhood belief, still unable to cross the threshold.  (Of course, I wonder just how fully I ever really believed back then.  Tolstoy wrote somewhere about his religious beliefs evaporating in an instant when his older brother, seeing him kneeling by his bed, asked “You don’t still pray, do you?”)

Anyway, here I am.  Like Chesterton, I wanted always to be in the vanguard of new thought, always ahead of my time, only to discover that I was 20 centuries behind the truth.

I now find that there are only two consistent philosophical standpoints that are not in serious conflict with the facts of human nature.  Two tenable views.

Either God made us with souls, with a purpose.  Or we exist as accidental results of random materialistic evolution.

If we have souls and a purpose, then morality is a possibility, a choice that our souls can make to be in conformity with our purpose.  If we are evolutionary accidents, then we have no souls, no real purpose, and morality is whatever works.  So real morality, with legitimate authority, becomes impossible.  Moral anarchy is the only possible outcome.

There is of course another, much cheerier world view, one which believes that People Are Basically Good (hence “PABGoo”).  PABGoos believe that all our problems are caused by bad political or economic systems, or not enough social science grants or psychotherapy or public education or whatever.  The fact that it is publicly refuted countless times a day in every city on the globe has not stopped PABGoo from becoming the default feel-good philosophy of our age..  Every time you hear John Lennon singing “Imagine” on a store Muzak system, you are being PABGooed. By now you probably don’t even notice.

Becoming a Political Agnostic

When I graduated from college, I was agnostic on the question of God and religion, and 100% certain about everything else.

This was especially so about politics and economics. “Social science” clearly bore the only real truths.   So I knew that only a selfish, evil, or stupid person could fail to see these plain truths.  I knew that humanity was a malleable object which we, the clever enlightened ones, could mold, shape, and adapt to our higher purpose.  Our purpose was whatever we decided it to be, so I felt no need to search for any purpose higher than my own preference.

And so, I set about building a better world – that is, one more suitable to my tastes and more likely to place a high value on someone like, say, me.

A lot has happened since then, and I have observed and thought about some of it.  I am now a believer in religion and a near-believer in God (more – much, much more – on this later). So it is no surprise that I have grown agnostic on all politics, economics, and virtually everything else I was once so certain about.  (Indeed, I find that “social science” may be the least scientific thing ever thought up. More later.)

In political debates, I see few issues on which I can whole-heartedly take sides. I see few politicians on whom I would comfortably confer even a small amount of power.

But I know with absolute certainty that men will always make themselves miserable in the absence of a legitimate and consistent system of morality.

What else do I know?

I know that men are driven to make themselves the center of as much of the world as possible. The will to power, egotism, libido dominandi, call it what you will.  It makes men selfish, uncaring, and aggressive.  This drive can be described in evolutionary terms as easily as in religious ones (All the great apes display conduct that is chillingly familiar in these terms.)

I know the institutions of our civilizations are all constructed to restrict these urges and to channel them toward positive results.  Family, religion, government, society of peers, all reward good behaviors, punish bad ones, and attempt to channel energies away from destruction.

I may know a few other things too.  But I don’t yet know the big thing, the thing I really want to know.  I’m still searching.  And I’m getting too old to be too casual about the search.