Why? Why? Why? From an early age, we're all obsessed with finding the reason for things. I remember being driven almost crazy by my daughter when she entered her "why" phase.
"Why are you filling up the bathtub?"
"To give you a bath."
"Because you're dirty."
"Because you played outside all day."
"Because your friends came over."
"Because they didn't recognize what an irritating little girl you can be when you keep asking why when someone is trying to wash your hair." (OK, I didn't actually say that; but I'd think it).
Today I got to a chapter about causes in the book that I've been reading, and enjoying a lot: The Mystical Mind. Eugene d'Aquili and Andrew Newberg, the authors, talked about the brain's causal operator.
Basically this is the neurological function that makes little girls ask "Why?" It also spurs grown-ups to pursue philosophy, science, and – notably – religion.
We humans have an inherent urge to seek causes for what's happening around us. If the mind can't determine the cause of something from sense data and logical inference, the causal operator keeps on chugging away regardless.
Until it comes up with a satisfying myth or other explanation for what can't be explained. What happens when we die? No one knows for sure. But this nagging question won't go away once a self-aware human brain raises it.
So religions do a booming business in providing mythical answers. They generally don't make much sense. However, our desperate search for why's causes us to cling to just about any answer that's emotionally satisfying.
Why is my life so screwed up?
Don't worry, Jesus has a plan for you.
Oh, thank you. Now I feel better.
Many other words can be substituted for "Jesus." God. Allah. The guru. Destiny. The Tao. Providence. Karma.
Whichever, they all point to a pleasing alternative to chaotic unpredictable unknowingness. Somebody or some force is in charge of things, including what happens to us.
We may not know what's going to pop into or out of our life at any given moment. But the belief that all this popping has a plan behind it is deeply reassuring. Hence, the popularity of religions.
I was initiated into this mystical-meditational form of spirituality in 1971, after my wild and crazy Flower Power '60s years. Suddenly I went from flowing freely with whatever happened into a worldview where everything had a place, and there was a place for everything.
Morality. Diet. Worship. Theology. I no longer had to struggle to figure out what to do or what to believe. All the answers were in the books, magazines, tapes, and videos that I filled my brain with.
My causal operator was being fed just what it wanted: answers, reasons, causes.
Consider karma. This is a marvelous explanation for everything and anything, though in truth it doesn't explain much at all – about the big questions of life, at least. "Instant karma" is a decent explanation for the course a ball struck on a pool table takes.
That's because you can see the cause and effect. However, saying "that was your karma" when someone has an auto accident really doesn't add to an understanding of the situation.
Still, it can give the person a feeling that life makes sense on another level. Not the level of everyday experience, where the general rule is stuff happens, but on a mythical plane of reality where life's events are being planned just so.
There's nothing wrong with desperately seeking causes. Without that urge, science and philosophy wouldn't exist. However, religion shortcuts the seeking.
And that's bad. We end up satisfied with explanations that really aren't satisfying. But they're available, so we hang on to them for dear life.
Like the song said, sort of, "If you can't be with the cause you love, love the cause you're with."
Well, that's fine, so long as we realize what we're settling for: a second-rate date with religious mythologies.