I will always remember the 1966 movie Alfie, starring one of my favourite British actors, Michael Caine.
The thought-provoking theme song, Alfie, was played at the end of the film, and sung by the velvet-voiced Cher.
“What’s it all about, Alfie
Is it just for the moment we live
What’s it all about
When you sort it out… Alfie”
In other words, let me know when you’ve decided what life is about, Alfie.
Today’s troubled and uncertain times push the big question into very sharp relief: what, for goodness sake, is life all about?
The traditional religious view claims that God created the world to be our home. God wants us to serve and bring glory to God’s name. God is in control of everything.
This begs the question, if God is in control, then God is not doing very well at present… The scientific view is that it will eventually be possible to explain everything in the universe.
There is nothing beyond the capability of mathematics and physics, particularly as they are enabled by sophisticated computer modelling techniques.
The sound logic of science is very compelling, but it doesn’t offer much emotional comfort or security.The atheistic and humanistic view is that there is no God, and human beings are the authors of their own destiny.
People are more than capable of flourishing without any outside help.
This begs the question, if humankind is so imminently capable, then why are we trying to deal with a vicious global pandemic in the 21st century? Many of us have reached a time in our lives when we are suddenly completely stumped.
There appears to be no satisfactory explanation for our current predicament.
We thought that modern medicine had everything covered, but we have been blindsided by a deadly, novel virus. Life threw us a curved ball, and we had forgotten that there is the great unknown.
When we stood on the threshold of the new year, we tried to ensure that our expectations were realistic.
We understood death, divorce, illness, accident, unemployment, financial hardship, etc, were possibilities, but believed they were not necessarily probabilities.
A few months later, we found ourselves facing a completely new foe.
It is good to face the future with realism and confidence, but our thinking should always be tempered by the knowledge that “the wheels can fall off”.
We will not always get our own way, and indeed we shouldn’t. The origins of the pandemic have shown how dangerous it is for human beings to simply carry on exploiting and encroaching on the world’s green spaces.
I don’t know about you, but this is one of the few occasions in my life when the words I really want to hear are those of my mother when I skinned my knee: “Everything will be alright, my boy”.
There is nothing more comforting to a child than the reassuring words of an “all-knowing” parent. However, I have grown up and learned that there are no easy answers.
As the easing of our lockdown regulations begin, it may be a good time to reflect on the experiences of the past few months.
What have we learned from this lengthy period of isolation? Are we any closer to finding an answer to the big question, what’s it all about? A wise person said that the only thing we learn from history, is that we don’t learn from history.
We will only learn from our experiences, if we reflect critically upon them.
This analysis must take place at every level of society; it must be a priority for international agencies, national governments, community organisations, faith communities, commerce and industry, sports and recreation.
The world has an incredible opportunity to take stock, examine the way it has been doing business and plan for a more sustainable future.
That’s surely a given, but what about us? What can we do to ensure a better life?
What have we learned from this strange experience? Has our world view stood the test or do we need to reimagine our faith?
I have reached the conclusion that nature has no mind. It is neither benevolent or malevolent. The molten lava follows the path of least resistance. The tidal wave empties itself onto the nearest beach.
The rogue virus is quickly transmitted by an available host without their consent or intent, and unsafe living conditions do not imply culpability.
I have therefore adopted a world view that rests on the uncomfortable acceptance of a changing reality and the certainty of uncertainty.
It is impossible to know what lies around the corner, what will emerge from the left field, what new scientific discovery will disprove the previous one. It is an uncomfortable ride, but sometimes a very exciting one.
My world view is based on the importance of self-dependence and interdependence, devotion to truth and reason, respect for the environment, treating others with kindness and respect, and belief in a broad spiritual dimension present in and around everything.
May you have the courage to critically examine your beliefs and actions. May you have the desire to thoroughly reimagine your future.
May you be willing to once again ask yourself, what’s it all about? Shalom!
Rudyard Harrison is a retired Methodist minister, and counselor at the Ruach Centre in Somerset West.