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Why Should I Learn This?


Elen Turner 

I have always been interested in history, ever since learning about the
Victorians and the Romans and the second world war at primary school. I wish
they had taught me about the French Revolution and the Elizabethans and the
seven wonders of the ancient world. But all of that I can teach myself. I will get
around to it eventually. I wish they had taught me why...

"Why" is the biggest question, the biggest mystery of them all. To every answer
to every question, a why can be attached. It is the word that annoys parents
when their child asks it after being told to do something he does not want to do.
You may be fooled into thinking that the why chain can be broken by no
answer, a blank space, an "I don't know." But why don't you know? And so on
and so forth...

So what exactly does this powerful little word mean? According to the Concise
Oxford English Dictionary (new edition for the 1990s - not so new now, is it?) it
has a number of meanings: 1a) for what reason or purpose (why did you do it?);
b) on what grounds (why do you say that?); 2a) for which (the reasons why I
did it); b) surprised discovery of recognition (why, it's you!); c) impatience
(why, of course I do!); d) reflection (why, yes, I think so); e) objection (why,
what is wrong with it?). But for this essay, I shall focus on the first two - 1a) and

Most of all, I wish I had been taught why. To everything. Why is it so
important that I learn how many electron particles there are in the nucleus of a
calcium atom, or how to factorise 4p+10qp+2rp? Why? Because I might need
that knowledge one day (this is what I am told). A wise old sage by the name of
Mr. Fitzgerald (my school principal) once told us a story in assembly about
three travellers...

After travelling all day, the travellers come to rest at night. Their horses are tied
up and they are almost asleep, camping under the stars, when they spot a bright
light, descending from the heavens. They sit upright, excited, as they have
heard of the wonderful things that can happen to people after encounters with
visitors from the heavens. What do you want? asked one of the travellers. Do
as I say, replied the angel. Anything! shouted the three men. Collect together as
many pebbles as you can find and fill your saddle bags with them. The
travellers looked at each other, confused. They shrugged and told the angel that
they would do so, but could not help but feel a little disappointed. Fill their
saddle bags up with pebbles?! What kind of wonderful advice was that?! They
collected up a couple of handfuls from the ground around them, placed them in
their bags and went off to sleep. The next morning, everything was as normal
and they continued on their journey. At midday they stopped in a small town to
collect some water. They opened their saddle bags to throw away the pebbles,
but they were no longer there. In their place were handfuls of gold coins! One
for each pebble. The travellers were very glad, but also very sad at the same
time. They were very glad about their new wealth, but they were very sad that
they had not taken the angel's advice seriously and filled the saddle-bags with
more pebbles. 

In reality, the pebbles are, of course, the things that we learn in school. Right
now, I cannot see where I might ever need to know how to solve simultaneous
equations, it is just another pebble. But it might turn into gold one day. So I
have kept quiet and learn it anyway. That is the answer to this particular why.

I want to learn why we are here on Earth (doesn't everybody?). Were we put
here? Why were we put here? Did we evolve and develop from monkeys, or
even reptiles? How did we? Why did we? Is there a God? Why is there a God?
So many questions, so many answers. So many whys. Not enough answers...
Has anyone ever stopped to think that maybe there isn't a point to it all? I know
I have. Maybe we did just crawl out from the seas and evolve over time. And it
was just luck that we were given intelligence beyond instinct. Intelligence in
the gene pool could have been random, and we just happened to be the ones
who got it. It could have just as easily been given to elephants. This is one

Or how about this - humans are the only animals arrogant enough to
come up with the notion that since we are so great, a perfect being - an
omnipotent one - must have created us. I am not sure if I really believe either of
these statements. It is hard to know what and whose word to trust with so many
different ideas being thrown at us. Those theories that I just mentioned are not
necessarily what I believe. But they could be. I haven't decided yet. Was it us,
humans, who created these religious beliefs? Why did we do it? Why do we
have the need, the instinct even, to believe in some kind of divine being? Can
we not just accept the theories of Mr. Darwin?  We were monkeys not so long
ago. We developed and changed over thousands of years to become what we
are now - Homo sapiens. 

But why trust the word of scientists? They, like everyone else, have their own theories. They appear to have proof of what they claim, but who is to say it is correct? And why is it not possible that it was the divine being, the omnipotent - God, Allah, Jehovah or whatever you choose to call it - that created evolution in the first place? It put the oxygen and the hydrogen in the air, the fish in the seas and the monkeys in the trees. It manipulated our growth and transformation over the years. It created evolution that It would, in turn, reveal to us. Perhaps it was to test our faith in It. 

Sift out the good from the bad. The true believers from the liars and the hypocrites. Why is this not a feasible theory? It is as conceivable as any other, if you ask me. If It, He, She really does exist, I believe She would do it. That is one thing I can believe. It is figuring out whether or not He exists that is the tricky one.

Why do I keep on switching the personal pronoun? We do not know that He is a He or She is a She. It may well be an It.

If it is possible that He invented we, why is it not equally possible that we
invented He? It is. In general, people do not like unexplainable things. That is
why we use why. With the idea of God to believe in, it immediately becomes
explainable. "It" being life this time, not the Almighty. And to correct the
wrongs of an unpleasant society, all that needs to be added is the element of
fear. Honour thy father and thy mother; thou shalt not kill; neither shalt thou
commit adultery; neither shalt thou steal; neither shalt thou bear false witness
against thy neighbour; neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, neither
shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his
maidservant, his ox, his ass, or anything else that is thy neighbours. And the
consequences? Eternal burning in the fires of hell. I know it would be enough
to scare me into being a good girl- if I believed it, that is.

But neither of those theories- God, science or both- whichever you believe,
whichever I believe- explains why we are here. Albert Einstein had an idea (in
fact, he had many): "A human being is a part of the whole, called by us
Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts
and his feelings as something separated from the rest- a kind of optical delusion
of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our
personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must
be to free from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all
living creatures and the whole nature of its beauty."

And Marianne Williamson has another view: "Love is what we are born with.
Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and
prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential
reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience
love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life."

But to believe in any kind of spiritual meaning to life, to accept that there is a
purpose for us, other than to procreate, is to acknowledge that we were put
here by someone, something, whoever. Whilst we are here, it would be a good
idea to acquire what Einstein and Williamson stated, but surely it cannot be the
reason why we are here, can it? What kind of a God would mold us to the way
we are just to love one another, and for no other purpose? A very bored one
maybe, with nothing else to do but to play an advanced version of Barbie and
Ken. Why would this omnipotent waste His, Her, Its time in that way? I wish I
had gone to a school that could have taught me the answers-told me why. But I
did not, I do not. So I will just have to continue to try and figure it out for

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