I am non-religious, but I understand the appeal of religion.
Everybody wants to find meaning. A cause to fight for, a moral code to live by, a purpose in life. Some people turn to religion, others float in meaninglessness.
And many of us choose to create our own meaning.
Our faith lies not in the words of a supreme being, spoken through a chosen prophet, but in ourselves. We trust in the truth that lies within our own hearts, what it tells us is right or wrong; and our intuition, informed by the knowledge and experience we have accumulated about our lives and the world around us.
Our chosen path can be more confusing, perilous and lonely than those mapped out by people who have come before us. We can lose our way, get it wrong more often than not and become mired in the quagmire of wondering why we bother with it all in the first place.
Why not just go through the motions? What is the point of caring when we exist in what can only be described as an indifferent universe?
Stanley Kubrick said it best, in reply to the question: "If life is so purposeless, do you feel that it's worth living?"
Yes, for those of us who manage somehow to cope with our mortality. The very meaningless of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a lead; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism - and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But if he's reasonable strong - and lucky - he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life's elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death - however mutable man may be able to make them - our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfilment.
However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.
Heaven is a place on earth; let's embrace it. Discover things we love to do, and do them. Enjoy books and friends and food and conversation. Fall in love with those around us. Learn everything we can about everything. Fight against injustice. Sustain the environment. Generate ideas. Share them. Grow older and wiser and happier and sadder. Forge a little slice of paradise, right here, right now, in this magnificent, complicated, ambiguous world of ours.
Henry David Thoreau once made a statement which makes me desperately sad on behalf of those for whom it is true: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." So let's sing our songs; loudly, joyfully, meaningfully, wisely. We owe it to ourselves.