Not only is there no god, but try getting a plumber on weekends.
- Woody Allen
I have been thinking a lot lately. As my wife will tell you, this is a dangerous situation, which usually ends up badly.
Sometimes I think in the shower. Or in the car. Or standing in line. Always during the brief moments during the day when I am not fully engaged in the business of living.
Obviously, I don’t think much.
But recently there has been much to contemplate. And I have not been thinking about mundane things like how to fix the leaking faucet in the bathroom. I have been thinking about but big things. Really big things.
Like Connecticut. Like god. Like the meaning of life.
It occurs to me that more adults believe in god than believe in Santa Claus. I am wondering if this is not backward. When unspeakable tragedy strikes, we often wonder whether god has left the building. Yet Santa shows up packing joy every year.
Given that I can’t really prove or disprove the existence of either, in times of senseless sorrow it seems more beneficial to believe in the guy with the white beard and red suit who swoops in from the North Pole with no other intention than to bring happiness to children.
I don’t even know what god looks like. Or what god wears. Or where god lives. Or what god wants.
A number of years ago in New York City I passed by a bearded homeless man dressed as Santa Claus gesturing wildly against the grimy white tiles of a subway station wall. He wore a red oil-stained coat with mottled fur trim and a red stocking cap and mismatched tennis shoes wrapped in duct tape.
He was preaching psychotically to whoever would listen. No one really did.
“The answer is in our ignorance!” he shouted. “Only from shared senselessness can intelligence rise.” In front of him was a cardboard sign proclaiming the end of the world in 2012.
I didn’t hear much more than this. I had to catch a train. I moved quickly past him without even acknowledging his presence or dropping a quarter in the collection sack slung over his shoulder.
But for some reason his rants stayed with me.
I learned later that he might have been speaking of the concept of emergence. Emergence explains why colonies of simple ants exhibit complex behavior and flocks of mindless birds swirl in fantastic cohesive patterns against the sky and why billions of firing neurons create something infinitely more unique than a cellular soup of gray matter in our heads.
According to the theory, somehow intelligence emerges from large, complex networks of relatively simple parts.
So here is what I have been thinking: If intelligence is born from the interconnectedness of things—even non-thinking things, then the billions of stars in the universe made up of billions upon billions of atoms made up of billions upon billions upon billions of supernatural subatomic particles must be doing something other than burning for eternity in empty space.
If the subway Santa was correct, then the universe itself must be intelligent beyond our wildest imagination.
Of course, given the circumstances, Santa could just be a raving lunatic.
Like many people who have at one time or another contemplated the infinite heavens on a dark, star filled winter night, over time I have come to believe that in the scope of the incomprehensible universe, man is pretty insignificant. Growing up I learned that humans are not the center of the universe as we once believed, that the sun does not revolve around us, that we are but precious anomalies searching for meaning and survival in a vast, energy-laden cosmos.
But what if intelligence emanating from the interconnected universe created us? And what if we are each a link in some emergent chain born of some process we don’t understand? And what if collectively we are stewards of the universe, meant to ensure its perpetuity? What if we are, in fact, the very purpose of the universe?
It’s probably just as well that I don’t think all that often.
This is the time of year where phrases like “peace on earth” and “good will toward men” and “joy to the world” deck the halls of our consciousness. They are not empty expressions, but it is hard to extract meaning when circumstances around us suggest otherwise.
Still, collectively, as a large, complex congregation of interconnected parts, maybe each day we emerge more intelligent, more compassionate, and more powerful, without ever understanding why. Maybe we can’t help but be our own saviors.
I think this is called faith. And I think god is in there somewhere.
Maybe Santa too.
I need to think about this a little more.
God bless us, everyone.
– Tiny Tim