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Mankind’s quest for understanding ongoing

How we perceive mankind’s place in this universe has been, and always will be, the most enduring question of science, philosophy and theology.

Questions about our purpose, our place, and the uniqueness of mankind, have absorbed all cultures since the beginning of civilization. In fact, it is that very ability to ask those specific questions that separates humans from the other creatures with which we share this earth.

However we came to be, for whatever purpose or by whatever accident, we are what we are at this moment in space and time.

What I find most intriguing about the process is the diversity. From atom to molecule to amino acids to DNA, the building blocks are the same. Yet we stand, not only unique as the human race, but as divinely unique individuals within that group.

How do we obtain our individuality? I think of human lives as rivers. We all begin as a pristine drop of pure water descending upon the Earth. We gather water from our surroundings and, under the force of gravity, we begin to move downstream, down the course of our life.

What are these gathering waters? They are the influences on our lives.

Family, affection and our home life are dominant influences in our infancy. Education, peer pressure and culture mold our youth. Desire, ambition and romance alter our maturation.

All of this is further sculpted by our emotions: pleasure and pain, greed and joy, love and jealousy, ego and faith. The full gamut of human feelings, in varying doses, gives each of us our own personality. Through this process we define our own morality, our own sense of right from wrong.

Like differing streams, some waters are pristine, others are polluted. We all take in this pollution during our lives, but given that we have enough purity of self, we are not overwhelmed by these toxins; for most, they are diluted in our water to a harmless level, and we move on.

Yet others are choked by the pollution in their environment and become toxic to the rest of humanity, dangerous and criminal.

All rivers have a unique character. Some are fast and turbulent, others slow and tranquil. Some are swift and erosive, others meandering and peaceful. Some tumble down cataracts and waterfalls, others flow steady and strong.

The life of a river may be short and chaotic, or long and arduous. Rivers often change character on their journey downstream; some may do so many times. And like human personalities, some rivers teem with life, while others are sterile and barren.

Rivers, like individuals, are unique. They are the summation of all of the influences upon them as they journey to the sea. Whether that journey has been short and tumultuous, long and methodical, tranquil or turbulent, all rivers tend to mellow as they approach the sea.

Finally, reaching that sea, our waters flow free, losing our identity; we become part of a greater whole. Our uniqueness in life dissipates, indistinguishable within the waters of the open sea.

Whatever you may perceive God to be, the question is, does he have a role in all of this?

I see God as a life force, an energy that is exerted upon all living things. Acting on our flow through life, I see him as the propelling force, like gravity upon water, which keeps us moving downstream, constant, eternal and indifferent.

So, in light of the forces and influences acting upon us, are we really in control of our own destiny, able to self-determine our own future, or are we simply at the mercy of fate? Perhaps that question too shall remain forever unanswered.

Randall W. Babin lives in Wallace.