There is meaning to life. Throughout time consciousness is expanding toward a goal and humanity is progressing. Most human progress is so gradual it goes unnoticed in day-to-day affairs. Some even argue there is no progress—but if we make it a point to look carefully at where we are now as compared to where we have been the picture changes.
Let’s begin with considering that in primitive man, the earliest signs of awareness and consciousness were directed toward nature and survival. His identity was not personal but rather as part of a tribe or clan wherein all outsiders were considered ‘enemy’. At what point was there a growing longing for ‘something more’? We can’t see back that far but get hints from stories and myths carried forward in the oral tradition (such as Gilgamesh and various Creation stories).
Then a phenomenon occurred during the first millennium BCE, roughly between 800-200 BC, there was a change in human consciousness throughout most of the inhabited world. It was the period of time in which rigid and closed tribalism gave way to dynamic human interaction that became civilization as we know it. That period is now called the Axial Age, so named by the philosopher Karl Jasper in 1870 as that period represents a pivotal change in human thought with the birth of philosophy and all major religions. Jasper wrote: “The spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and independently in China, India, Persia, Judea and Greece. And these are the foundations upon which humanity still subsists today.”
That in itself seems curious . . . there was no intercommunication between these remote areas, yet it was almost as if it were ‘time for humanity to wake up’. What caused the awakening? . . . the seed to break out of its shell, the butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis? . . . Clearly the time had arrived! Was it the invisible hand of God guiding humanity to the next step needed for civilization to emerge? Or was it simply what was required by the circumstances of having become more densely packed? Or was it individual persons thinking more deeply about the ‘something’ of their longing? Or was it all of that together? Whatever the forces at work, it happened; there was a consciousness change that brought deep questions, a searching for meaning and the discovery of selfhood apart from ‘tribe’.
Now, lets look at what might be considered human progress. It is easy to acknowledge technological advances—things that didn’t exist but once discovered changed humanity and the world: the humble loom, printing press, steam engines, the sewing machine, electricity, telegraph & telephone, airplane, computer . . . all introduced by the human.
Those are things produced by human ingenuity and are readily accepted as examples of progress because of the direct benefit they give. The human progress is less obvious, moves at a slower pace and is resisted because it comes at a cost and demands change. But we can chart its progress: Where there was once unrestrained use of brute force to overpower neighboring territories to rape and plunder and lay claim . . . that mitigated to a less obvious conquest mentality of explorers planting a national flag and ‘claiming’ a newly discovered ‘primitive lands’, pushing back or enslaving the natives . . . which changed again with developed nations ‘colonizing’ territories, treating the natives a bit more kindly and ‘civilizing’ them while harvesting whatever valuable resources the land had to offer (not exactly embracing humanitarian compassion but baby steps to ‘less cruel’) . . . and now, colonization is frowned upon and technically abandoned in the 20th Century—the increasing respect for human rights shows advancement.
Social change is slow and hard fought but when evaluated through the eye of justice, and given time, we come to the right conclusion. Slavery was an institution since the beginning of time, yet in the mid-1800, following a bloody war it was finally acknowledged by society that slavery was incompatible with civilization. That view, however, did not extend to discrimination which took another 100 years to reach public awareness as unjust and was overthrown without violence by way of peace marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. There is so much more yet to be done but this gives evidence to humanity’s progress. In one of Dr. King’s inspiring speeches he spoke these words: “The Arc of the Moral Universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” That is the nature of human progress—humankind choosing to move toward Justice, Truth and Love is the expansion of consciousness.
--endorsing education for all, not just the privileged
-- realizing an obligation to care for the sick and wounded
-- philanthropic concern for those in need
--the UN formulating the Declaration of Human Rights
-- using diplomacy and striving to end war
These give evidence to human progress—to become less cruel and more compassionate, to move toward positive values . . . it will never be complete and never absolute but progress is measured by humans collectively choosing for the good.