Within the human species there is an insatiable desire to know, understand and draw conclusions—some call that a ‘God Search’. It requires quiet time, but in this crazy fast-paced world of information overload, who has that quiet time? And that search has been relegated to ‘unimportant’ in our secular world . . . but is it?
We all know that life is a limited experience. We each come into being by way of an unfathomable chain of events; then, unknown circumstances will play upon us until the inevitable extinguishing of our mortal self. We know this, but do we actually realize it? Fact: with few exceptions, the allotted time for each of us averages some 75-85 years and only rarely exceeds 100. Such a tiny piece of time! Individually we enter and exit the flow of life that stretches beyond our vision in both directions, backward and forward. Why are we here so briefly? Why do we have consciousness to ask the question ‘Why’?
The majority of people are unconcerned about deep questions of existence, they are engaged in the survival struggle and ask only questions about immediate concerns . . . but for those who do ask the deep questions there seems to be two conflicting answers. The first answer that came long ago, was to consider that some guiding spirit or spirits ‘made things happen’, controlling and watching the human struggle. The spirits were identified differently by different groups of people, but the unifying idea was of ‘something more’. The second answer came later, it was to consider that there are no spirit guides, humanity is alone in a meaningless universe without pattern or purpose—life appeared on this planet through random happenstance. Our coming and going is just that brief experience without value, purpose or hope.
We seem to be caught between those two answers even if we personally aren’t engaged in the search. The first answer seemed to offer hope and promise in the ‘something more’, but it became tangled in the definitions and rules of the institutions that grew around the idea. The second answer came supported by science and seemed lofty, intelligent and, Oh so rational!—but dark and unsatisfying . . . Nothing more? Meaninglessness?
Currently, among progressive thinkers a new question is being raised: Are we experiencing another Axial Age? A pivotal time when there is a fundamental shift in thinking about the universe and our part in it? So, to address the question below that question, what IS an Axial Age?
The German philosopher Karl Jasper coined the term Axial Age in reference to the period of time roughly between 800-200 B.C. He wrote: “The spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and independently throughout most of the inhabited world” . . . in that time the great intellectual, philosophical and religious systems emerged [i.e. Greek philosophers, Hebrew prophets, Confucius and Lao-Tzu in China, the Buddha in India, Zoroaster in Persia . . .] that shaped subsequent human society and culture. Each chose different patterns of behavior yet held similar attitudes of respectful relationships and ultimate concerns beyond mere survival. There was a shift or turn away from the violence of mere self-preservation characteristic of tribalism, shifting to living cooperatively with those who were different and speculating about the fate of humanity. There emerged a new concern for the individual person evidenced by some form of the ‘Golden Rule’ expressed in each of the cultures. (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.)
The New World Encyclopedia defines this era as: “the time in which all foundations that underlie current civilization came into being. The Axial Age plays a central, foundational, or crucial role in human history.”
What is the significance of the Axial Age with regards to the God search? It is a piece of evidence that supports the hopeful position that life is unfolding in accordance to a discernible pattern or plan. From the study of science we see and understand life has evolved from simple to complex forms; when we observe long-term human behavior we can see a pattern of advancement from lower to higher states of consciousness. The 1st Axial Age shows that without direct communication, these diverse groups of people, although isolated from each other, chose advancement from barbarism to civilization—it implies a knowing directive force behind the flow of history, and bespeaks intentionality that affirms a God leading humanity to a higher purpose.