Paradoxically, perhaps, I am a person of faith.
According to Wikipedia:
Faith is trust, hope and belief in the goodness or trustworthiness, of a person, concept or entity. Religious faith is a belief in a transcendent reality, a religious teacher, a set of teachings or a Supreme Being. Generally speaking, it is offered as a means by which the truth of the proposition, "things will turn out well in the end," can be enjoyed in the present and secured in the future. Consequently, religious faith appeals to "transcendent reality," or that reality which is beyond the range of normal, physical human experience (e.g. the future). "Transcendent reality," therefore, constitutes a reality which is off limits to the rigors of scientific inquiry such as falsifiability and reproducibility. However, atheists and agnostics criticize religious faith as superstition, categorizing it with other forms of belief that are not based on measurement of material things.I trust that the universe is on the right path... whatever that may be. I do occasionally wonder if this means I have some kind of residual theistic tendencies, but I think if that's the case, it's certainly far more pantheist than theist in a traditional sense... but the point is that I do, in fact, have faith that the universe will "end well". Since that's a completely non-scientific, unprovable notion, I must call it faith, and it's not one I can get rid of. ...nor do I have a strong desire to. Think of it this way: if I'm biologically programmed to have this kind of faith, then it's probably for a good reason, and it's not an instinct I care to shut down.
I've been giving this some thought, lately, and it occurs to me that I also believe that if I believe the universe itself is on the right path, I should logically believe that the constituent pieces of the universe (most usefully, the Earth and its inhabitants, and more proximally, me) are doing "what they need to do" to get to whatever end-point the universe as a whole is pointed toward.
Specifically, I've been contemplating whether or not this constitutes a kind of moral compass. That is, if whatever it is my life is supposed to amount to is a "good thing" in light of the "Big Picture", then I should probably continue doing what it is I'm doing.
Begging the question as that clearly is, I still find it pragmatic and useful... an interesting line of inquiry, as it were, into a deeper understanding of my own personal moral compass... my "intuitive morality," as it were. As I continued to think about this and try to hone the question a bit, what I was left asking myself was, "what qualities go into my definition of the word 'better'?"
This is, I think, a useful question. I believe every individual is entitled to their own definition of the word. ...That is to say, I don't believe there is an absolute universal (meaningful) definition of "better". ...But this line of reasoning I've found myself on does justify (fraught with fallacy as it may well be) understanding one's own definition of the word.
Of course, all the conflict in the world is borne of differences in opinion about what would be "better"... from "it would be better if the world comprised of an Aryan master race" to "it would be better if I didn't have to listen your drivel about philosophy, Jeremy." Some absolute, universal guidance on what's better would be tremendously useful in terms of quelling everyday stress, if not global violence and strife. But, alas, as someone who believes that the universe is on the right course, and there are no obvious answers as to what's ultimately "better", I'm left trying to accept that everyone has their own sense of the word, and in the grand scheme of things, that's for the best. ...ironically.
Regardless, the utility in an understanding of my own tendencies has been of tremendous benefit. (Or, at least, if feels that way.) After asking myself a series of "what would make ____ better" style questions, I found some recurring themes for what I consider "better":
- parts contributing to the whole
- an awareness of a system's context
- steady challenge which isn't overwhelming
- adequate size (leaning toward the minimal, here)
- a level of diversity ...as an ideal example, I point to the biodiversity of a mixed temperate forest as an ecological model: clear order with "standards," with complex and interesting outliers that fit into the whole.
- understanding a majority of salient elements, with a trickle of mystery as new elements are discovered
- general comfort, with only occasional excitement
- acceptance of what clearly is, with a general, low level of measured growth
- maximized beauty, without ruining functionality
- as much creativity as can be managed without burning out
- an emphasis on future possibility, second to an enjoyable present state (and a de-emphasized history)
- excellent constituent parts in the system
- a (reasonable, modest) sense of meaning