The Myth of Return to Paradise

I’m well aware of humankind’s eternal longing to go back to a state of innocence and bliss. Our own tradition of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is but one of many around the world. Try to name a culture, past or present, that doesn’t have this as one of its major themes. Even in secular countries, “back to Nature” represents this yearning. In a packed and concrete-laden Japan, bonsai and ikebana (flower-arranging) and even O-hanami reflect it. In New Zealand, it seems half the population is drawn to rustic beaches every summer to spend a week or two living in tents. Why? In Polynesia women often wear a flower in their hair, and in the West they sometimes tattoo one on their bodies. And even in atheistic regimes such as the former communist states, the “workers’ paradise” and the “withering away of the state” promised by Marxism reflect a return to a purer and more natural state of human existence somehow lost. Who among us doesn’t dream of heaven of one sort or another?

Where do my books stand in relation to this idea? Am I imagining a longed-for but unattainable Elysian Fields? That is, am I a dreamer? Or do I really believe that we can urge humanity along toward a more fulfilling life here on earth?

To see spirit imbued in daily life, in mundane things, is to me a way of saying that we don’t have to wait for a heavenly afterlife or for God to return to the world to reestablish his kingdom—we’ve got the essence of that right here, all around us. Most of us apparently just don’t see it. (If we did, we’d do things a lot differently.)

If we know we’re divinely interconnected—with each other, with the world around us—this pretty much obviates the need to dream wistfully about some later paradise up in the sky, as it were. But if we’re unaware of or deny this interconnection, it makes a future heaven all the more attractive—and the ability and desire to improve life on earth all the more tenuous. (Certainly an atheist can work for the improvement of life on earth—some do—but without a greater sense of the sacredness of life and the world it inhabits, it’s impossible to expect everyone to do their part.)

As I said before, I’m not a religious person, but I’m not blind to divinity, if we want to call it that. And I’ve tried to describe in my writing how we, a modern, rational people, might better see the reality of that and put this knowledge to use for our own betterment. By betterment, think life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It seems to me that now life is too cheap. (32,000 people die on American roads every year, for example—ten times the loss of the World Trade Center—we’re killing ourselves in far greater numbers than any terrorists ever could; moreover, every year the same number of our people are killed with guns. If we permit our technological tools to do this to us with impunity, beyond our control, life is indeed cheap.) We also have a paucity of true liberty (as I’ve tried to describe to you [with perhaps questionable success] in this blog). And our pursuit of happiness is unfortunately ravaging the environment, diminishes the less than successful in our society (I speak from experience!) and doesn’t lead us to that elusive thing we most crave—fulfillment.

So I’m not looking to point the way to heaven in my writing—I don’t really subscribe to any of the heavenly packages presented to us thus far—but instead I’m looking for ways to understand our existence here, at this moment, and what “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” really means. I’m proposing a different interpretation of it, one which I fully believe we’re capable of working with. I don’t think I’m a dreamer, then, but simply someone who’s thinking and writing about how to better bring the promises we were given by our forebears to fruition.

Do I want to “return to paradise” on earth, then? Not in the least (because I believe it’s impossible). But I do want to appeal to that same longing in all of us so that we might draw on it to help make our current circumstances a bit more ‘heavenly” than they are now. Create the perfect society? Not til the human being is perfect! (Leave the porch light on, but don’t wait up.)

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