Is there a supernatural force that guides us or is it just a human construct? Is there an afterlife at the end of this one, or is this the only beginning and end? Did god create Adam and Eve or did we just originate from primitive apes? We could choose a side and jump into an endless debate, without anyone being able to convince the other. And both sides would be equally fervent in their defense of their views.
Globally, the number of people who believe in some form of divine power far outnumbers those who don’t. Most people would like to believe that life is dictated by karma — what you give out shall come back to you, and that an undying soul inhabits this death-bound body. But far more important than the question of whether the universe was created by an all-powerful being, or whether it came to be in a Big Bang, is the question of why people believe in god at all. Why is it so easy to believe in the existence of a power that you’ve never seen, heard, touched?
Carl Jung, the founder of Analytical Psychology, proposed a concept known as the “collective unconscious”— different from the “personal unconscious” (which is composed of a person’s individual experiences, thoughts and memories). This collective unconscious runs deeper; it is “identical to all individuals” and “is inherited.” It passes on to our minds certain concepts that Jung defined as “archetypes”— loosely described as things that are already programmed into our brains; such as the concept of mother , or the concept of god. That is to say, the idea that god exists is pre-programmed in us by the collective unconscious passed on over generations.
But even if you don’t want to delve into analytical psychology and its critiques, just look around. For most people, believing in god is a way to find solace. It’s a way out of despair and disillusionment. Most often, loss and calamity make people seek divine intervention: When you seem to be losing control of your life, you turn to god. Why? Because the idea of god provides hope.
Humans are, by nature, wired against being fatalistic, being resigned. When the chips are down, most of us would try to do something about it. Obstacles and challenges spur you on, but what of the times when defeat is imminent? Feeling helpless claws you hollow. So, when you see a dead end and realise there is no light at the end of the tunnel, what do you do? That’s when most of us pray. More than everything else, it gives us a sense of “doing”. That there’s something we can “do” to change our fate, when nothing else seems to be working. When faced with death — one’s own or a loved one’s — even lifelong atheists have been known to turn a summersault, a la Hemingway’s hero Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms. Yes, it is the fear of death, but it’s also the fear of being helpless in the face of it.
The idea of afterlife, again, is reassuring because it takes away the dead-end. It takes away nothingness from our existence. A destructible body is transformed into an indestructible soul, and we take heart in the fact that the one we lost wasn’t really lost…merely lost from sight. And that our own existence wouldn’t be wiped out from the lives that matter, we’ll still be around in a different form.
In all of this, the one thing we seek is the one thing we get: hope. And that, without doubt, is the most powerful thing in life.