Monday, November 30, 2009

Does the universe owe you anything?

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"

"However," replied the universe,

"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."

~ Stephen Crane ~

I tend to agree with this poem.  The evidence is all around us.  The universe does not seem to take a personal interest in our individual lives.  Whatever universal creative intelligence exists, be it energy, be it god, 'it' does not seem to 'feel' any obligation to intervene in the personal existence of humans, countries or the planet.  No intervention from on high has saved dying and starving babies in third world countries.  No intervention from on high is preventing global warming and the melting of our polar ice caps.  What happens during our mortal existence, and to the planet seems to be pretty much in our own hands. 

It is a bitter pill to swallow - to contemplate that there may be no big daddy 'up' in the sky watching over us and feeling obliged to protect us.  It is also a bitter pill - to recognize that we are not special - and that truthfully nothing, on a universal, planetary or individual scale is owed to us and no ultimate rescuer will intervene on our behalf.  We all long for 'someone to watch over me', as the old song says. 

One of the 'givens' of human existence is that we are ultimately alone.  No one can experience your wounds for you.  No one can step in and face illness or death for you.  No one can learn for you.  No one can grow and develop for you.  No one can or will step in and face the realities of ageing in your place.  You must do all these things on your own.  This is an existential given.  

We must also come to terms with our basic aloneness in facing the realities of life on planet earth.  Many of us try to escape this bitter pill by numbing ourselves with substances, distractions, material possessions or busyness so that we do not have to experience our basic aloneness.  Many of us turn to magical thinking or religion to soothe our fears of being alone to confront life.  We comfort ourselves with religions' soothing beliefs and promises of a rescuer and a heavenly, immortal reward.  Recoil as we many from the harsh reality of our ultimate aloneness, sooner or later we have to face it.  Better to come to terms with it now than on one's deathbed, is what I have concluded.  If there is another form of life, after we face death, what a delightful surprise that will be!

How do you feel about Stephen Crane's above assertion? Do you believe the universe owes you anything? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

Mixed Media Painting entitled "Nebula" by Bonnie Zieman, 2009

Afternote:   After reading the comments, most seem to agree with Stephen Crane's statement and my existential stance.  Generally, I think we comment where we agree or relate to the post and abstain from commenting where we do not.  However, I would really love to hear all points of view, and will, of course, even if I don't agree, treat them with respect.  I value diversity and am honoured by the time and energy you invest in commenting.  All perspectives are sought and welcomed here.


  1. Hmmmm..interesting Bonnie..I guess I agree that we are alone in the sense that we walk through this life alone..that we must find our own place, gifts and path..but I only partially agree with the assertion that belief in a higher power ..whatever that might be is pointless.

    I would define myself as Buddhist leanings would fit in with this quote..but my life experience tells me there is more than aloneness offered up and I struggle with the concept of magical thinking. I agree there is lots of it out there (magical thinking) but also see that there is much to be discovered beyond our logic and worldly experience. So as a good Libra..I have argued both sides and will have to say I can see both sides of this. I do however come down on the - I prefer to see a higher power as a guiding force rather than a controling force in my life side..magical thinking or not..I'm ok with a bit of magic in my life.. Wonderful thought provoking post hon!!I am rambling....
    Hugs, Sarah

  2. No, I don't think we are owed anything, but I do think we are here for a reason. I started studying NDE's (near death experiences) in the 70's. It changed my view of life, and started my search for meaning. I totally agree with you when you say we are alone, and must experience all of these things for ourselves. The question is why?

  3. Dearest Bonnie, In this moment of time..."Alone" - All One with the universe. The ultimate confront of self with SELF. Yet it is the air we breathe that becomes One with our living, the food we eat, the water we drink. Alone yet All One with the gift of time we call life. Yes, our experience can only be ours and yes, there is no obligation, no moral or legal directive binding the Universe. Life alone to be its own companion. Daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, ever in the presence of many, yet known only in glory to SELF. Widowed, children grown, I needed to face being "alone" and what I realized that "alone" was an illusion, a concept of separateness that I need not live, and so I chose the path of All One. In the most silent hour life holds me in its embrace, I am not alone.

  4. Bonnie, I think his words are pithy....and dead on. What followed that, in your own words, is also dead on. It is a refreshing to read something so rational where the 'universe' is concerned. I do not understand the it when otherwise intelligent, rational people suspend their judgment in the matter of a belief in a higher power, benevolent god or an omnipotent creator.

    You and I had a brief discussion about karma a few weeks ago, and I agreed that the idea that those who suffer war, famine, disease are on the karmic receiving end as much as those who are much more fortunate is disturbing.

    I have a friend, a well-educated Catholic with a strong faith, whose son suffered a accident that left him a quadriplegic. She now no longer believes in a benevolent God because he did not protect her son, but what struck me was that she DOES still believe in God the being!

    Your story of growing up as a JW makes me think that religious indoctrination as a child does a grave disservice to a child's naturally rational mind. (You might have another perspective on childrens' minds, though!)

    I do understand the comfort that drawing together in community affords, but to wish for, or actually believe in a munificent, protective presence is incomprehensible to me.

    The American Buddhist Robert Thurman simply calls belief in a higher power 'irrational' and I do agree with him. Now I'll step down off my soapbox.

  5. You sure like your topics to be hot. :-) But it was this short sentence that caught my attention amidst a very balanced and thoughtful post: 'to recognize that we are not special'

    Forget about the universe and God. Some fellow humans will always struggle with that idea. To be ignored is worse than being hated. So, even if the universe thinks nothing of you, at least you could aspire to being loathed. But being brushed aside? That's a bitter pill to take.

    I agree with the core of your argument. And it backs up my theory that human beings are primarily individuals (not individualist, I hasten to add, I have had very heated debates because people tend to confuse both terms) and gregarious after. I will come back to read the other contributions. I loved this post. Many thanks for the poem, too.

    Greetings from London.

  6. Good morning Bonnie,

    No, the Universe owes us nothing. Why should it. But, at least we know that the Universe exists.
    I also believe that there is no supernatural being taking care of us. Like you, I believe we are on our own and create our own luck or misfortune. Some of us are luckier than others, that's all. I know someone close to me who believes that there is a God who has a special eye out of him and his family which doesn't make everyday conversation at all easy, so i keep it to a minimum.

    It is simply too hard for some to realize that we have to stand on our own feet throughout our life, so a comfort blanket, a crutch is therefore needed. There is also the promise of a better deal in the hereafter, which helps to make the present less of an ordeal.

    As you know, all that doesn't stop me from celebrating the grand feast days of the Catholic church of my childhood; my explanation is that I adore opera. i love pomp and circumstance and ritual. There's no grander opera than a Latin Mass.

    I didn't realize that JWs didn't celebrate Christmas.

  7. So its time for us to grow up, in other words, and solve our problems on our own.

    Maybe by doing nothing the Universe is giving us a gift after all.

  8. Maybe that's the wrong question -- maybe it should be "Do I owe the Universe anything?" Who knows. From as early as I can remember, I came to the conclusion that I would never, could never know anything about things like "Why do I exist? Is there a God? Etc." But after letting that sink in and seeing that I was still breathing, I decided that it might be more fun if I believed something. And I would have to make it up. Magical thinking? Spirituality? Belief? I've enjoyed creatively interacting with the Universe. I seem to do better when I believe in God so most of the time He and I get along fine.

  9. I don't believe in a father figure 'god' that looks after us, I don't believe in an intercessor 'god' that pleads for us either. But I do not feel alone. I am a part of a great whole and the energy that enlivens me is the same energy that suffuses everything. Life is what I will make of it.

  10. Sarah: Your 'ramblings' are full of significant thoughts. I, too, see the value in looking at both sides and in so doing can totally understand coming down on the side of a 'guiding force'. It is a comforting thought - and based as you say in the knowing that there is so much our little minds cannot know.

    I think when we have considered the options of believing or not - then whatever we choose is a conscious choice and not a kneejerk one and that can only be good.

  11. Nancy: Like Sarah said in her comment there is so much that logic and learnings cannot explain - although I have read theories about the physiological basis for near-death experiences which makes sense to me.

    The questions 'why?' is an interesting one. To many of life's tougher questions there is no answer as to why? I have observed with my clients that those who cling to needing to know why are often the ones who suffer the most. Why questions can raise your anxiety. The better question might be 'how?' . . . it is more likely to produce an answer.

  12. Rose Marie: I totally agree with your beautiful expressions. I think the 'alone' that the existentialists are speaking of is alone in psychologically and emotionally coming to terms with the givens of life. However, that does not mean that we are not supported in our journey on planet earth by all its bounty, beauty, truth and goodness.

    I, too, bask in the knowing that I am made of the same elements as everything around me. That we are 'one'. That life supports life - as trees give off oxygen and breath in the carbon dioxide we exhale, for example. The patterns, precision, synchronicities are exquisite and life supporting and they do 'hold' us if we allow them.

    AND, as I am 'held' I still must come to terms with the fact that everything I love, I will either lose or leave. That is the way of it.

  13. Deborah: Confronting our mortality and basic aloneness is one of the main sources of anxiety for humans. When humans find the anxiety intolerable, they develop beliefs, behaviours, habits to help attenuate the anxiety. We humans are very creative at repressing our anxieties!

    To be an adult and face the realities of life means we must find our way to tolerate a certain amount of anxiety. If we don't, we are prone to give up our independent thinking and opt for ready made solutions/ideas that allow us to believe we are special (saved?) and have an all-powerful protector looking after us.

    Of course, the purveyors of these ideas let us know that this soulagement/comfort has a price - we must conform to the rules and laws of the institution that disseminates the ideas. To alleviate the anxiety we can make the dangerous bargain to remain children and turn over all control to an almighty parent.

  14. Cuban: As I say in my sidebar - I love a little controversy and commiseration!!

    If you feel brushed aside (and I do realize you are using the term as an analogy) it would say to me that you are taking it personally. I don't think it is personal - it just is.

    Wanting to feel special is an interesting ego-defense against trembling under the harsh realities of existence. If I can believe in a god, who knows me, protects me, intercedes for me, will invite me to be by his side for all eternity then surely I am special. I am then special, too, because I will be exempted from dealing with the realities of life on the planet.
    Feeling special is a defense that attentuates anxiety. Humans have great difficulty tolerating the feeling of anxiety and develop all sorts of creative ways to manage it!!

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post - I appreciate your comments. In fact, this post has elicited some amazing perspectives that provoke thought.

  15. Friko: I had gleaned from reading your posts that you held such views. I, too, enjoy the pomp, circumstance, ritual of many of the religious holidays and our family celebrates them in a secular way as a vehicle for family meals, conversations and sharing.

    JWs don't celebrate Christmas because as you hinted at in a recent post, they say it is based on the Roman celebrations of the rebirth of the sun - and they claim Jesus was actually born in October - and, therefore, JWs should not participate in what is a 'pagan' celebration. The goal is to keep JWs separate and apart from non-believers, in my view.

  16. Friko: I had gleaned from reading your blog that this was your point of view. I, like you, do not limit my relationships to only those who think as I do. That would be too boring!!!

  17. Barry: What an important point! Everything is set up to help us evolve, develop and grow. To embrace life fully, we need to move toward it with the mindset of an adult. You provide us with an ongoing example of that. Thank you.

  18. Bagman and Butler: I agree. And, maybe it is not either/or, but both. Both questions need to be asked by us, of us. What am I expecting from the universe? and What am I offering the universe? Our contributions to the universe, life, the planet are sorely needed now.

    I really raise this topic for people that have not previously asked themselves the question. For people, like yourself, who have struggled with the difficult questions - then the answers you come to are arrived at consciously and to be respected.

    I have contemplated the same choice that you outline, saying to myself: If we are truly alone and unprotected, and the knowledge of that produces anxiety in me - could I not just decide that I will consciously choose to believe something plausible that would comfort and sustain me? I think that is what Sarsh describes in the first comment to this post.
    I'm not there yet - but I am entertaining the thought! :)

  19. I firmly believe in a 'presence' that we are made from and of. I also see that we were given 'free will' and therein lies the reality that though we are not alone ~ ever, we are accountable and responsible to find those things that speak to us, or resonate with us on an individual basis. I consider myself to be spiritual and non-religious, though funny, I carry with me certain remnants of a catholic upbringing. Very few though. My strength comes from what I have lived and the learning of the fundamental truth that we control our own thoughts and ultimately decide to be either negative or positive, or someplace in between. Negativity put me in a bad place. I felt that something else was in charge of my happiness, and until I came to the realization that I was in charge, life was challenging. I do believe we have help, we have guidance, but ultimately it is us that leads this life. I have moments where I feel alone, but somehow, I know there is a presence that works with me in partnership to live this life. I also believe we are the living expression of that presence. I could go on, BUT I won't!

    Now that was 'rambling'...:)

    Have a great week, Bonnie!

  20. Ellen: I so agree. The thought often comes to me that perhaps we are each little cells scurrying around doing our part in the body of the universe - each a little note in the 'one-verse'. I certainly feel part of the universe - connected and attuned to its vibrations and energies. I just question whether we are 'protected' by it.

  21. Calli: Thank you for 'rambling' here! I think we have all felt that 'presence' you are talking about. As you say, that is a whole other discussion and one that would be fun to explore too. I think there is more than one way to understand that feeling. Another topic, for another day. Thank you for sharing your hard-won beliefs here.

  22. To answer your question... no, the universe doesn't owe us anything... there are no "guarantees" in life of anything. But am I spiritual? Sure. I would even say religious, although I find myself exploring these beliefs more widely as I try to encourage and teach the minds of young boys I am trying to raise. I too have had many experiences that just don't have a logical explanation. One most recently was when I decided to forgive a friend from the past... I wanted to be free of judgement from something between us many years ago... and after not seeing her for 25 years... I ran into her the other day... the first thing she said is she had a dream about me two weeks prior and has been thinking of me... it was an awesome experience :) :)

  23. Vicky: There are amazing experiences such as the one you describe. Just as there are invisible energy systems (acupuncture meridiens) in the human body - there are clearly manifestations of energies from us, from the planet, in the air we breath, whatever . . . that give our minds access to more than what we consciously perceive. We have the choice as to whether we ascribe those energies as divine intervention or not.

    We do start to ask ourselves very serious questions when it comes time to explain what we know of the universe to our children. This is a serious responsibility. Then comes a time, like I am now experiencing with a son studying biology, where he brings his knowledge to explain aspects of the universe to me. I love it!

  24. intriguing post...its easy to think the universe owes us something, we are human after all and it is all about us...unless of course it isnt and we accept that. would i love for a column of fire to appear and intervene making world hunger go away, probably not. because then we would just expect more...and more...and more...and never really take the initiative ourselves, and i think that would be bad for our hearts, and we would miss out on the touch of the universe that resides there...smiles.

  25. Brian: What an important and beautifully expressed perspective!

    It is true, that not expecting an outside source of rescue - we are called upon to dig deep into our hearts for compassion and the will to make a difference.

    So what both you and Barry are suggesting is that there is concrete value for humans to live in a universe that does not intercede - but that allows us to step up and develop the best of ourselves.

  26. i am with i believe, i think intercession happens sometimes, yes, i have seen too much it hard when it doesn't, yes...are we somtimes better for going through the hardness, i have plenty of questions about why things happen, yes...

    ok, i am starting to sound like a yes man...smiles.

  27. Brian: I love questions! Questions are open, inviting, the beginning of an exploration - rather than the end. I do not pretend to know THE answers - I only express a point of view and invite other expressions. Definitive answers may provide relief, but they often are the end of exploration and discovery. When it comes to the universe - I think we need to remain open, full of questions, eager to learn . . . . That way we get to hear other points of view - like all the wonderful ones that have been expressed here today. Thank you Brian. Thank you everyone!

  28. What a timely post! My son is working on a paper for his philosphy and religion class at the moment and has come up with some great questions- having answered them - for the moment- as answers do the end-I agree that we are just here- nothing makes much sense - perhaps we, it, all, are simply chemistry and when the brain unlocks a part of itself that has not been tapped before, it is seen as miraculous, halucinations can seem so real! What sense does it make to evolve- to think- to invent...must it be supernatural? Some grand plan- WHY? What sense does it make to think that there is some big cheese behind it all? It just is, and like other species, humans will die out, the planet will be engulfed by super nova and the energy will keep on spinning without meaning or consequence. So what? Be here now, seems to make the most sense, because we just are, IT just is, if you are having a good time- that's cool and if there are challenges that can not be dealt with- end it.Perspective is helpful. Is a challenging time better than no time at all- is the sunrise worth another day of being committed to put one foot in front of the other? I think so.

  29. Love that nebula painting Bonnie. As to whether the Universe owes us anything - why should it. We are a part of nature and that is all - we are born, we live out our lives to the best of our ability and then we are gone, back to the earth. That is how I view it all.

  30. Wow! You are tackling the universe and mortality. I don't think of the universe as a being, supernatural or otherwise, but I believe humans still should respect nature and not assume the divine intervention will cancel out our mistakes. We shouldn't take more than we are willing to give. I believe in balance, harmony and generosity.

  31. I am owed neither by any other being nor by the Universe. I am an animal, and therefore subject to the same rules as other animals. I might thrive or fail, day to day, season to season. I am as alone among my fellows as I choose to be. I believe there is A Plan. That Plan might be administered by God, or by Nature, or by Who Knows What. I do not think that if I live properly according to my lights I deserve happiness or fairness from Life. I do not think that plan means that nothing painful should ever happen to me; some of the most painful experiences of my life...and some of them lasted a long, long time...strengthened me. They taught me that every day that my eyes open is another chance. If the grand happinesses elude me I learn to take pleasure in smaller joys. My life is a lesson that will last as long as it needs to. I don't know what happens after we close our eyes for the final time, and I don't think that matters. I am here to learn to be my best self, and from that wisdom to help others to become their best selves. I think the greatest lesson is to be appreciative.
    I could go on and on about this.

  32. Linda Sue: So true . . . none of us know for sure, but we do know what happens on this plane and that our time if finite. So . . . 'be here now' . . . sounds like away to maximize life while we have it!

  33. Weaver: Yes, and what a delight it is to be a part of nature! I'm glad you like my painting! Thank you.

  34. Sarah: 'Balance, harmony and generosity' are key. Thank you for your input.

  35. June: " . . . I am here to learn to be my best self and from that wisdom to help others . . ." is THE goal, as far as I'm concerned. In all my pondering about "why" am I here, or how do I make my life meaningful, the distilled answer I have found is: to be of service to life . . . and that can be broken down into many specific actions . . . but to serve life sums it all up for me.

  36. I watched a really interesting documentary last week about how evolution is killing religion. As a species in the 21st century we know scientifically more than we have ever know before.
    I don't believe the universe owes us anything either. We are in control of how we manage what is dealt to us through life.

  37. Such an interesting discussion thread. I am alone; I am part of the whole; in this life,I will never know for certain whether or not there is an intelligent guiding force; the studies suggest that people who are ill have a better outcome if they are prayed for, even when the "pray-ers" are unknown to the patient and the patient is unaware that s/he is being prayed for. Coincidence? Why are we here? Cosmic accident? Ultimately, why probably isn't as important as what we decide to do with our time in this dimension, on this earthly plane. What do we owe the universe as rent on the space we occupy?

  38. Bonnie - your posts don't sound the least bit whiney or self pitying so forget that!
    What a question and what comments! What can I say? I think I thought there was a god when I was a teenager and knew nothing about anything. I am now agnostic at best. I believe God is a fairy tale and have no choice in that belief. My eyes have seen. If there is a god he is one mean son of a bitch. Strangely enough I sometimes find myself thanking god for good health or a good friend or whatever. I do believe in miracles so maybe that makes me "spiritual"? Strange unexplainable things happen with a fair amount of regularity.
    I am 75, alone and sometimes lonely. Needed only by my sweet little dog most of the time. I am most fortunate to be healthy and happy more times than not. However, I do wish I had a magic pill that would give me an easy death [after a hard life - lots of tragedy] if and when I feel that to be the best solution for me. An neighbour recently had a stroke and lay there for 2 weeks unable to make herself understood. She was lucky compared to some, maybe most deaths. It scares me.
    I am going to be alone this Christmas and I think I will invite my little JW friend over and we can watch art movies or paint up a storm. I will encourage her to go to university because of you and your words. Thanks. I will let you know how it goes.

  39. Liss: Well evolution has not helped religion, but I think religion has done an excellent job of discrediting itself.

  40. Meri: Great questions. Funny, many seem to think that synchronicity, compassion, unexplained events, powers of the mind, powerful intuition can only be accounted for by a saying god did it - or some such. Can there not be energies (like gravity or electricity) that operate in us and through us that are simply a part of all that we experience on this incredible planet?

  41. Betty: Yes, there is so much that remains unexplained, so much we may never understand.

    Some of the topics you mention would also make for interesting discussions in the blogosphere! E.g. choosing the time and place of our death; how to dispel loneliness; our fears of dying; etc. (I do think the existential given of being 'alone' in the context of which I am speaking, is quite different from being lonely - not that you mixed them up.)

    Since you feel healthy, inviting others over to join you is a great way to not feel too lonely at Christmas. I hope the little JW girl can join you. I would love to hear how it goes.

    Thank you for dropping in!

  42. I do believe the universe does not owe us anything. We are here to live within that universe and habitate with those around us. I do, however believe that we all have a purpose in this universe to make things happen. I believe we shape as a collective what does happen in the universe more so than what it does for us.

  43. I have always felt this way. Even when I went to church and heard about the "loving Father in Heaven," I knew I was essentially alone in the world, and this was just another nice little story. That's why I have such a hard time around people who feel like they are "chosen" and have special entitlements because of their religious beliefs.

    However, that doesn't keep me from knowing that there are many mysteries we are currently incapable of understanding. I realize that, while alone, each thing on earth, animate and inanimate, is still connected somehow.

  44. It's about time this got another airing Bonnie. I've said it before: you are a clever girl. This is stated succinctly and humanly. A thought we all push aside and refuse to think on most of the time.
    The human dilemma is that we have the transient body of an animal, and the transient spirit of a god. Trying to balance those two opposites is impossible. That is also a given.
    We are spurred on by the latter throughout our lives and have to surrender to the former at times during our lives and definitely at the end.
    To me the Universe is merely a tableau, even though it is in constant motion. A mere backdrop for the drama of life. The belief in Deity comes from within ourselves and is not much more that a self defence mechanism. A prop without which life becomes impossible. I would hate to be an Atheist and only rely on Self.


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