The word “credo”, in Hebrew ani ma’amin, means “I believe”, and it sometimes helps to spell out what we believe, why we do what we do, and why we are what we are. This, briefly, is my credo.
I believe that life has a meaning, that neither we nor the universe are here by sheer happenstance. The search for meaning is definitive of the human condition, for we are the only life forms yet known in all the vast universe capable of asking the question “why?”
From this, something momentous follows. The meaning of any system lies outside the system. The meaning of chess – why people play it, and why some devote their lives to it – is not to be found in the rules of chess. They tell us how the game works, not why it is played. The meaning of a credit card is not to be found in its physical properties, the plastic of which it is made and the markings it carries. The internal workings of any system do not explain the place the system holds in human lives.
If, then, the meaning of a system lies outside the system, then the meaning of the universe lies outside the universe. That is the revolution of Abrahamic monotheism. Monotheism is not about the mere mathematical reduction of many gods to One. It is the leap of transcendence that for the first time conceives of a reality beyond the universe. This alone has the power to redeem life from tragedy and meaninglessness.
Since we are creatures of the universe, that meaning will always be imperfectly understood. At best we have intimations. Yet history has given us those rare souls whose inner ear was attuned to a deeper music: the prophets and patriarchs, sages and saints who heard the call of the beyond-within that is the voice of God in the human heart.
If the universe was brought into being by One beyond the universe, then it was created by a being who desires to bring things into being. The simplest way of expressing this is: God created the universe in love. For it is love that seeks to bring new life into being. It is love that makes space for the other. God’s love made space for the universe and for that astonishing sequence of events that produced us.
If so, then each of us is here because of God’s love. That fact transforms the human condition, rescuing it from ultimate solitude. We are not alone. We exist because someone wanted us to be, someone who believes in us even when we lose belief in ourselves, who knows our fears and hears our prayers, giving us strength when we falter and lifting us when we fall.
And just as God creates in love so he asks us to create in love. The Abrahamic monotheisms are the only systems to place love at the heart of the moral life. There are other codes of ethics: every civilization has them, whether they are secular or religious. All civilizations have something like the golden rule: treat others as you would wish be treated. Many of them have forms of justice: treat equals equally. But only a vision that sees the world as God’s work of love, makes love the highest value. Love God with all your heart, soul and might. Love your neighbour as yourself. Love the stranger for you know what it feels like to be a stranger.
And yes, there is another way of seeing the world and our place within it. The universe came into being for no reason, and one day for no reason it will cease to be. There is nothing special about humanity: we are mere primates with a gift for language. There is nothing special about any of us. We are born, we live, we die, and it is as if we had never been. Our ideals are illusions; our hopes mere dreams. We have no souls, only brains; no freedom, only the hardwiring of our genes. And the biggest illusion of them all is love, the smokescreen created by humans to hide the fact that we are here to reproduce.
I know which I prefer. Better is a world built on love than on the Darwinian struggle to survive. Greater the mind that lifts its eyes beyond the visible horizon than one that refuses to believe anything that cannot be measured, mapped and scientifically explained.
(First published in The Times)