Oliver Sacks writes in the current New Yorker re his battle with drug addiction during the 50’s and 60’s. He introduced the subject with a very thoughtful note re mankind’s quest for meaning:
To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see over-all patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or, at least, the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology, or in states of mind that allow us to travel to other worlds, to rise above our immediate surroundings.
This adventure we are caught up in, from which we cannot escape, is just an incredible, mind-boggling enterprise. It has been delightful to spend my life pondering over the inimitable mysteries of life, poring over history and discovering that even thousands of years ago men and women looked up at the stars and felt the same overwhelming awe that I often experience.
We are such fragile little creatures who somehow have climbed to the top of the food chain, a success which now presents us with profound existential questions all of which can probably be summarized as this quest for meaning. And this quest for meaning inevitably tempts us with its antithesis…meaninglessness…and the struggle between the two often leads to some really poor decisions, individually and collectively.
We lost our religion in the 20th century and our culture is showing the wear-and-tear that happens when this happens to a tribe. Now, it is true we needed to “lose” our religion in that it had become moribund, primarily consisting of, “well-worn words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness.” (Conrad Aiken) But now the task is to find spiritual roots again and these roots can be found often in the very religious traditions that we have discarded.