Edwin Hubble, for whom the space telescope was named, once said that we don’t know why we are born but we can find out about the world into which we were born. This quest to discover more about our world reflects something of our innate desire to learn more about ourselves and our place within this world. The quest finds it’s expression in various fields – but perhaps most notably in science and in religion.
Visiting the British Museum in London some months ago, I was struck by how many of the pieces on display seemed to make reference to the religious or spiritual side of life, holding particular meaning for various religions from the East and from ancient civilisations such as the Egyptians. While all these pieces are to be found in a museum, the search for the spiritual is not an endeavour consigned entirely to the past – it is very much alive and it is flourishing in our day.
The Sixties and the Seventies had an assortment of famous celebrities who had discovered their personal guru and who now wanted to share their joy with the rest of us. The Eighties and Nineties was the time of some minor religious groups growing and – for some, at least – going into the mainstream. As before, some of these were associated with well-known names and faces. This seems to imply that wealth and fame do not, of themselves, offer any answers to the deeper questions of life.
Most recently, the James Webb Space Telescope has begun to enthrall humanity with the first of many images of deep space and some of the vast formations within it. Along with these stunning images there is the perennial question we always seek to answer – are we alone in the Universe? A definitive answer in either direction has particular consequences for our perception of ourselves and our place within the cosmos.
Mankind is always searching. You could argue powerfully that the need to search is perhaps built into us, that it is written on our DNA. We cannot help but question and search.
The greatest question of all – “is there a God?” – is the one which drove the creators of all those religious pieces which now rest in the museums of the world. The same question no doubt played a part in the great space telescopes and their journeys beyond our world; if there is a God, everything is planned and ordered – otherwise, it is all chaos and accident. And in that case then we, too, are accidental.
For those who hold religious beliefs of any sort, they are generally based on faith and on hope; we believe in ‘something’ (whatever that something might be) and our hope is that we are correct. Our faith allows us to make sense not only of ourselves but also of the world around us. A friend of mine, who is presently grieving the death of his wife, recently commented to me that he cannot fathom how people without any faith are able to get through life. Faith, he said, gives everything else meaning.
The quest to at least acknowledge – even if we are unable to decisively answer – the deeper questions of life drives us forward; humanity will forever be on that journey, as it has been until this moment in our human history.