Religions typically tell us that we are shards of the divine here on earth. Shards mixed up and dirtied by all the worldliness of the world. And that we should look up and away toward the divine from which we really came. This story, in what ever form, tells us a story that makes sense out of the unfairnesses in the world, and gives us instructions about which impulse to embrace and which to shun. In Hinduism an ancient unfairness, the caste system, is explained, so everyone can be told a comforting story about why things are so unfair. In Christianity a patriarchal system of property is reinforced by a story we are told about a God who really doesn’t like people to have sex and the terrible eternal suffering that awaits those who enjoy it. These stories, and ones like them tell us about our place in the world and help make emotional sense of our lot in life, but there frank impossibility has made them useless to many of us. And no one has bothered to retell our genesis with an eye towards Both the truth of our creation And the emotional needs of their listeners.
So what are we, really? And what lessons should we learn from those facts? Because we were not created from someone’s rib, nor did we spring from someone’s armpit. If we had then it would make sense to attend to that fact and learn about ourselves what we could from it. But we, my dear readers, evolved. We are a very recent addition on the tree of life, a product of 3 billion years of striving and accident. But this is not an insulting story about apes, nor is it an aggrandizing story about how we are the pinnacle and purpose of evolution. It is the story about an ape who learned to talk, a “monkey with shoes”.
And there are lessons to be learned from that story. Cautionary tales about violence and self control. About the beauty of compassion and the dangers of tribalism. Corrective tales to tell about why sex isn’t bad, and how to treat people so that they won’t grow up to be antisocial. About the role of narrative in the creation of self, the importance of emotions to our ability to function and how best to engage with them. Lessons about our intellectual strengths and weaknesses, when to trust our instincts and when to measure twice.
There is a story about ourselves that is both based in facts, and is a story. It would not be The Truth but it would get us closer than religion, and closer than having nothing.