Every now and then, this picture of the universe shows up in my Facebook feed. The universe is a beautiful place, and I like the universe—it’s where I keep my stuff. Even so, I don’t like this particular picture of the universe.
Because someone has written stupid stuff on it. The picture warns me not to get too worked up about politics and religion and money and stuff because these things are insignificant compared with the rest of the universe.
Now this might not be bad advice, if someone were counseling me to keep my small problems in perspective. Did I miss that deadline for getting my syllabuses to the administration? Don’t worry; in the grand scheme of things it’s not a big deal. This picture, however, says something else.
This picture says that you and I don’t matter. We’re all such a small insignificant part of this vast expanse that the person who posted the picture can’t be bothered with us or our “problems.”
Most often, I’ve seen left-leaning folks use this picture to bludgeon conservatives for their concerns about abortion or church-state relations.
This picture of the universe is a shorthand diatribe against those of us so benighted as to believe there is a God.
The idea goes something like this: “I’m sorry that you’re so stupid as to believe there’s a God which makes you impose some arbitrary morality on the rest of us. I’m sorry that you believe fetuses are people who have a right to life. I’m sorry that you care about traditional definitions of marriage. I’m sorry that you believe the government shouldn’t be allowed to monitor the teachings of churches. I’m sorry that you think the government wastes our tax money. I’m sorry that you care about something so small and pointless. There’s no God. There’s just this big universe and you’re so too small to bother with.”
This picture of the universe along with its stupid scrawl is meant to inform us that ultimately humanity’s bickering is meaningless. We’re all just screaming into the void, and there’s no one out there listening. We might as well shut up.
Of course this is a lie, and the people who post the stupid picture don’t believe the lie either. They believe it for other people, but not for themselves. People who attempt to shut down conversation with a post like this will then turn around and vent about their own cause in their next post.
How could we live if the picture were true? The universe is so big that our squabbles are meaningless? Nihilism isn’t a practical worldview for more than one person at a time.
Everyone—right, left, and center—cares about justice. We don’t always agree about the definition of justice, and we don’t always agree who needs justice, but we all agree that it’s necessary for society. If the picture is right, then unborn lives don’t matter—but neither do black lives, refugees’ lives, or anyone else’s. Nothing matters because the void will eventually swallow it all.
But people’s lives do matter. Every single one of them. They matter because they are people. The smallest and most marginalized soul on our tiny little planet matters more than all the stars in the galaxy. Yeah, it’s a big universe out there, and yeah, it’s beautiful. But the vastness of space doesn’t have a soul.
So don’t let people shut you up with a stupid reminder of where you live. Your politics matter. Your religion matters. Your money matters. Your life overall matters. You matter.
Of course that doesn’t mean that all your (or my) ideas about politics, religion, money, and life are correct. It just means that they matter. And since they matter, we should all encourage each other toward seeking and embracing truth, rather than just encouraging each other to shut up.
Carry on with the debate. We’re not merely shouting into the void.