OK, I’ve had it with the Universe.
A stranger does something nice for you: Thanks, Universe! A parking spot front and center at City Market at 5 p.m. on a Friday: Thanks, Universe! Years of networking, perfecting your craft, applying to dozens of positions, and toughing out a couple dead ends to finally get you to your dream job: Thanks, Universe! A curious click on Match leads you to the love of your life: Whoa, Universe!
It seems pretty popular among folks in my circles: Thanking the Universe for conspiring in your favor, showing you signs for this, leading you around with clues for that, bringing good fortune. Frankly, I’m just not on board.
It strikes me as odd that the Universe is so popular these days, especially among people who don’t exactly believe in an omniscient, meddling, white-bearded God whom they have no problem rejecting for its antiquated paternalism. Instead, a similar amorphic faith is put into the Universe, filling in the gaps of human knowledge and existence with quasi-mysticism and magic.
The biggest issue I have with this mode of belief is that it bypasses the complexities of life, all the little steps it took to get us to each moment in time. These complexities – actions, decisions, influences, the way the human brain operates – are what make life interesting.
I like to think of the creation story in the Bible compared with the scientific explanation of how life on Earth began. In one, God created the heavens and Earth in six days, fully formed as it is now. In the other, life developed slowly and incrementally over billions of years, each step scientifically accountable. I never understood why these stories had to be mutually exclusive. Of course, anything involving big bangs and evolution couldn’t have been written into the Bible, as that knowledge did not exist on Earth at the time of writing. What was written was a simplistic story to make sense of how we got here. And knowing what we know now, it’s incredibly boring: God gets a little adventurous and – boom – stars, Earth, animals. Why can’t God’s six days be 14 billion years?
If we know how we arrived at this moment in time – how the mountains and trees got here, the matter we’re made of, how life is a delicate balance of elements – the natural world becomes inherently more interesting. Ignoring the complexity makes the world less miraculous.
That’s what gets me about giving the Universe so much credit. It makes us passive actors in the world, hoping the whims of the Universe will smile kindly on us. When we chalk things up to the Universe, it weakens us, makes us reactive, ceding control to the things we think might be swirling in the atmosphere. It leads us to turn the explainable into the unexplainable. (For instance, humans are evolutionarily equipped to notice patterns, making us susceptible to such things as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, where we encounter an odd piece of information, object, or occurrence, and then seemingly encounter the same thing again, repeatedly. Note: There’s nothing magic about it.)
This, instead of connecting seemingly unrelated dots; acknowledging real, actual events and circumstances that shaped us; accounting for the choices we’ve made; the chemical makeup of our brains, all of which have put us in the physical places we’re at, leading us to be the people we are right now and going forward.
I won’t pretend to believe that humans have everything figured out about why the world is the way it is. There’s plenty we still don’t know about how we relate to one another, the forces that draw us together and pull us apart, the interconnectivity of all living things, or the influence the natural world has on us. That is, there’s still plenty of room for God or the Universe, or whatever you want to call it.
But there’s plenty that we do know that doesn’t rely on faith, or magical, mystical, or superstitious thinking.
I may be accused of being too rigid and rational, overly pragmatic, and concrete in my thinking, and that my outlook will lead to a begrudging, sad, hopeless existence.
I see it as just the opposite. Pondering what we already know and theorizing what we have yet to discover brings me great happiness, hope, and a sense of wonder. But we don’t need to look to the stars to make sense of what’s around us. So often, it’s happening right in front of our eyes.