By John McConnell
The founder of Earth Day
As we approach the New Millennium, what is the most important question facing humanity?
When I was a boy, my father, who was an evangelist, preached a sermon on "What's Life All About? Now, as we prepare to begin another Millennium, this is the ultimate question that confronts us. Why are we here? Where are we going? Why is there a Universe?"
The question is a big one and people of different creeds and cultures view it differently. There is a massive amount of data about the human adventure. Hundreds of good books have been written about our planet and its people. In many cases they complement one another, but often they present conflicting views, partly because no one mind can assimilate all the facts.
* "Wisdom, imagination and virtue is lost when messages double, information halves, knowledge quarters,..."
There is just too much information for even the greatest genius to pull it all together. At the same time, there is broad recognition around the world that civilization is at the greatest cross-road in history. We have grave problems that could result in the demise of humanity. At the same time, we have amazing progress in technology and progress in scientific discoveries that wisely employed could bring a new utopia.
With the approaching end of the millennium, now is a good time to look at the whole picture: human history, its failures and achievements, its present dangers and opportunities and whether, or how, we can continue the human adventure.
Now, how or why should I feel qualified to address this issue, I am not a scholar, scientist or theologian. Well, perhaps my effort will encourage others more qualified to address the issue. On the other hand, I have a long history of interest in the subject and have been called sensitive and creative by some leaders in public life. As founder of Earth Day I have tended to try and see the whole picture.
To address this issue we need to recognize two levels of reality, the physical and metaphysical.
Through the years scholars have come up with different conflicting ideas about what is real and what is important. There are many differences about the existence or nature of God, the soul, life after death and the possible purpose or cause of creation. While there is phenomena that suggests another dimension of reality, conflicting explanations lack scientific confirmation.
We generally agree the cosmos exists. There is considerable agreement that creation requires a creator. Extensive mathematical experiments with giant computers have demonstrated that order cannot come from chaos. There is chaos in the cosmos, but within the chaos we find beauty and order at work. There must be a God somewhere!
The wisdom needed for creation is greater than anything we can imagine. It would be easier for an ant to understand the mind of Einstein than for a person to understand the mind of God. On the other hand, many scholars consider the greatest wisdom we know is the wisdom of love. God must be a God of love.
Dorothy Sayers classic, "Mind of the Maker" makes a great case for the idea that in his creation God is like a playwright. Shakespeare said, "All the world?s a stage." Examining the drama of history we find many amazing stories of tragedy and triumph. The greatest story ever told was about the "Babe of Bethlehem." Belief in what Jesus said and did has repeatedly played a vital role in social progress, better relations, and great music!
When it comes to the question: "What caused the cosmos and why are we here?" There are many hypotheses, but no answers that intelligent minds can agree on. In matters of religion opinion depends mainly on place of birth. I was born in the state of Iowa and became an evangelical Christian. The Dali Lama was born in Tibet, where people believe in reincarnation.
In 1996 it was my privilege to meet the Dali Lama in Budapest. I expressed my warm appreciation of his efforts in behalf of peace and the stewardship of Earth. But in our conversation I also said, "I want you to know I do not agree with your belief in reincarnation. However, I do not have a video of what it's like in heaven and I do not believe you have an X-ray of a soul waiting for reincarnation. The Dali Lama laughed and warmly agreed with me.
When it comes to ultimate questions about spiritual or metaphysical matters we are confronted with profound mystery. Intelligent people from different creeds and cultures come up with conflicting beliefs.
Truth cannot contradict itself. In trying to get around this fact many today are contending that all truth is relative. That the Hindu, the Christian and the atheist just see the truth in different ways. "There is no absolute truth." The fallacy of this is quickly seen if you add that, for example, the Nazis just had another way of looking at the truth.
Another view that is not given much attention, but is widespread, is that there is no answer to religious metaphysical questions. A friend of mine, who supports my environmental efforts, will not discuss religious question of life and death because he "will not waste his time on things that are unknowable." His case is a strong one. But I have found that in my own case and the witness of many others, a belief or faith that provides greater meaning for life is of great benefit, even though in all honesty you recognize it is only a working hypothesis.
Let me share with you some of my struggle to understand what life is all about. When I was a child the teaching of my father (an evangelical minister), which greatly influenced me, was based on the words of Jesus, "Seek first the kingdom of God." That meant you were to seek for the rule and reign of God's love in your life and in the world. While my life has had its ups and downs, I keep coming back to this and can testify to the great benefit that comes from constant listening to the "still small voice within."
At times what I believe is the presence of Christ has been very real to me. Back near the end of World War ll, at a time when I was facing the most difficult decisions of my life, I was sailing my 38 ft. yawl from Florida to Honduras. It was a beautiful star-lit night and I was thanking God for His help in what I was doing. I seemed to feel an arm around my shoulder and experienced an inner glow.
Through the ups and downs of the years I have found benefit from practicing or believing the presence of Christ is with me. And on rare occasions I experience amazing answers to prayer. I struggle over and over again with the question of what it all means. Is it real, or as some would say: the power of positive thinking. The mystery remains. But in my case, in spite of repeated disappointments faith is repeatedly confirmed.
In all of this we are dealing with phenomena that has many different possible explanations. Some believe miracles of healing and answers to prayer are just the result of psychic ability. We are confronted with amazing phenomena from different countries that cannot be explained by medical science.
There are strong arguments for another dimension of reality. But thus far, it does not lend itself to scientific methods of proof or broad agreement.
Let's act on what we do know and can agree on. We agree on the need to take care of our planet and take action to eliminate poverty and pollution in the new millennium. Any help in life that your religion provides can be commended, without necessarily agreeing with your creed.
Let's put first the important matters in which we agree. Then we can avoid catastrophe and rejuvenate our planet in the new millennium.
To be successful, we now need a moral equivalent of World War II. The way to achieve this is the Earth Trustee way, set forth in "The Earth Magna Charta" (www.earthsite.org). Then, in the new millennium, peaceful progress will enable us to continue the search to know, "What's Life All About."
To friends and other interested parties. This is a pilot project with great promise. We hope you will help make it work.
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