Clearly we humans--at least at the present--cannot conceive of ourselves as not existing. Is this belief an evolutionary adaptation or merely a byproduct of something else? After all, blood didn't have to be the color red. An article worth reading was in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine, written by Robin Marantz Henig and entitled "Darwin's God."
The fictional character Maximus in the movie Gladiator advised his troops that it was "a good day to die," as the final battle with the unruly barbarians was about to begin. Maximus was reassuring his soldiers that the Elysian Fields awaited the warrior that fought bravely. Immortality, never-ending existence will be ours. Of course it's reassuring; it's the ace in the hole. As Proximo the slave catcher says to Maximus, "Ultimately we are all dead men..." Yeah, but maybe not really dead.
Some environmentalists have been told not to paint too gloomy a picture of global warming because people will merely throw up their hands in resignation or "make merry" until the end. Ultimately the fallback position of the majority of Homo sapiens is that some ethereal paradise awaits all of us ... well, maybe not all of us. Henig states in his article that logic and rationality have nothing to do with these beliefs.
But what if "most" of us did not believe in the supernatural at all? Death becomes quite literally the end--no consciousness whatsoever, of any kind, anywhere. Would nature still be just another commodity, to be shopped around for the best price? But perhaps nothing would change.
Would stewardship of the land be taken seriously if that were to become our lasting legacy? If there were no chance to reach the gurgling brook in the ether, would we treat our surroundings (including other humans) any better than we do now? Would we still have to be careful not to upset our neighbors when discussing responsibility and the "nature" thing? But maybe we're just wired not to really give a damn under any circumstance. Ultimately we're all dead. But what if we really are....