My friend Mark responded to my recent “Me of Little Faith” post with the following:
Dave! While you were “Facebooking,” you wrote:
“Alternately, we’re all just tiny, briefly-existing specks in an incomprehensible vast and uncaring universe who have created gods in our own image to keep the nightmares away.”
But, you forgot to write the most important part of your comment! Namely:
” . . . and soon, Cthulhu will awake, the seas will boil off, the continents will shake like gelatin, the electrons in the carbon atoms that comprise our bodies will be forcibly torn from their orbits, and our souls will be used as the clay for his obscene and inscrutable purposes. Have a nice day everyone.”
I’m reposting this not only because I think it’s funny, but because Mark correctly identified the intersect between my personal beliefs and the writings of author H.P. Lovecraft.
I’ve long been fascinated by Lovecraft. At first it was mostly due to the absurd names he gave to his indescribably horrible horrors. (Oh yes, I’m so very terrified of Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.) Later, I came to recognize the massive influence he’s had on horror and fantasy literature, comics and movies.
The central themes of Lovecraft’s body of work describe a universe which is incomprehensible and, at best, uncaring. Mankind is neither the first intelligent life to walk on the Earth, nor will it be the last. Cosmic forces lurk in the gulfs of space and in the most inhospitable parts of our globe, biding their time until “the stars are right” and they reemerge to smite victims and followers alike.
Now, I don’t believe that extradimensional nightmares with far too many consonants in their names are anticipating the day when they can squoosh humanity between their rugose and squamous toes. But the notion of a universe that defies understanding has stuck with me.
When I think of our relationship with the seemingly infinite voids that surround us, I cannot help but be reminded of ants. Ants do some of the things that humans do: form castes, build structures, farm and fight. And their senses allow them to perceive much of the larger world around them.
But does that ant crawling up your pant leg comprehend the surface upon which it treads? Does it recognize you as another living creature? Can it have even the tiniest inkling about how denim is made, or about the Chinese sweatshop in which your garment was assembled?
I think that humans are perhaps a bit better off than ants in our understanding of the universe. We have complex equipment that has allowed us to look deeply in the darkness, and a scientific method that analyzes data and tests hypotheses.
But I believe that the universe is simply too large and too weird for us to ever truly figure it all out. And it strikes me as supreme arrogance for any of us to declare that they understand the nature and purpose (if any exists) of our shared reality.
If someone today arose from the rabble and claimed to be the living embodiment of God, we would (rightly) laugh them out of town. Well, most of us would, anyway. But a great many are all too willing to accept hearsay testimony on behalf of people who once claimed to have first-hand knowledge of God…or even to be God. And these people conveniently lived thousands of years ago, before mass communications or sensitive scientific instruments were invented, in a part of the world that, to be blunt, most modern-day Americans don’t exactly trust.
I hope you’ll pardon me if I say that I don’t believe that any of us understands it all.