As we grow up, and begin to ask questions, we find ourselves constantly building ideas. From the 3 year old who repetitively asks her parents why to the 17 year old who no longer believes his parents have the answers. We start with foundations. What am I? Who am I? Why am I here? How did I get here? How does this or that work? Once we feel we’ve found a satisfactory foundation stone, we set it in place, conveniently girded up by the stones to the right and left. Then we begin to build on those. We begin to believe things about ourselves and about other people based on those critical foundation stones. You can know this is true by repeating the exercise of the 3 year old. For every belief that arises in your mind, ask yourself why, then do it again. Every reason is a lower stone. Eventually you reach The Ground, where the only explanation left is “just because”.
Here is a classic example from the perspective of a very patient, modernly educated christian parent. I’ll use simplistic language as if speaking to a 3 year old.
Why is it so hot?
Because it’s summer and we get more sun?
Why is it summer?
Because the earth goes around the sun in a big “circle”.
Why does the earth go in a big circle?
Because the sun has gravitational pull and is constantly pulling on the earth but the earth wants to keep moving away even though the sun is pulling on it so it keeps spinning in circles for ever. (At this point the parent picks up the child and swings him around by the arms to demonstrate and to evoke laughter, which we all love.)
That is how God made the universe, so that all things pull on each other with gravity.
Why did God do that?
Because he loves us and we couldn’t exist without gravity.
Why does He love us?
And there…we’ve reached The Ground. The only answer left for the christian is “just because” or “He just does” or “it just did”. Any number or level of different religions, philosophies, or scientific beliefs could have drastically varied this process and made it either shorter or longer but in the end, it all ends up at The Ground.
Maybe there is a good scientific explanation for why young children do this. Something developmental, or maybe they just like our reaction. I like to think that they have an intuitive delight in arriving at the ground.
But we adults do not. Why??
For one thing, every time we work our way back down the walls, we have to see again the stones we placed at one point. The catch is, things may look a bit different to us now than in previous years. Maybe the stone doesn’t fit quite as well as we thought it did. Maybe there is a crack in one that we didn’t notice before. Most frighteningly, maybe we find a gaping hole where we thought we had placed a stone but now realize we only imagined it was a stone in the heady days of our youth and really it was a block of ice, long melted away.
We’ve spent a long time building our structure, whether that structure is a castle, a temple, or a high rise. To see the weaknesses in our walls is to realize the risk of damage and collapse. We would much rather stay on top. This is why only the rich can afford the penthouses on top of the high rise. We love to be above the weaknesses and this lofty position is in high demand and is given high value. Those who know the most and who have the strongest walls are given authority. We all want their advice on what stones we should use and how they should be installed. So we stay on top and continue applying layer after layer of new stones. Preferring to ignore the weaknesses below, and remain ignorant if possible.
Something happens though doesn’t it? Something that shakes it all up, something that pulls us deep into our own structure and pushes our face into the weakest stones. For folks who grow up with and maintain a belief in god, especially the monotheistic god of christianity, this process of getting shaken up and seeing our foundation stones in a new light for the first time could be called deconstruction. If you haven’t reached this point, I’m not here to rush you. It’s not fun. But it can be freeing. See it’s very unsettling to live three stories up and to feel your bed shaking underneath you from an unsettled ground below. Those who have experienced an earthquake know what I’m talking about. So it can relieve that unsettled feeling to find that cracked stone and remove it. However, that leaves the unsettled feeling of void, of not knowing what to put back in the place of the stone removed. Not only that, but once one stone is removed, you begin to see more cracks in the stones around it and those must be removed as well if they haven’t fallen out already.
Our first inclination is to rebuild, find better stones, frantically build a whole new wall if that is what is required to keep our building project going. Why??
Let’s go back to the 3 year old game again. The constant question of why could be framed a different way. If someone were to ask you, do you want your life to have meaning, most of us I suspect would answer right away…Yes! But what do we intend by this idea of life having meaning? Words have meaning, a word stands for a concept. In many ways, the concept is seen as the reality and the word is only a symbol of that reality. For instance, you could explain the meaning of the word rock. You could give me a definition of the word and perhaps a picture or an actual rock. But suppose I pointed to your example and said, “OK, but what’s the meaning of the rock?” You would probably say, it doesn’t have a meaning. It’s meaningless. It is what it is. It’s a rock. This is the same as the “just because” answer I’ve already mentioned. That’s perfectly acceptable to us when referring to a rock. But when we are asking about our life it seems to fall flat. To explore why it falls flat, and why we feel the need to get up so high, in the next post, I want to move my focus from the building to The Ground.