Nietzsche once famously said that someone who knows their ‘why’ in life can endure any ‘how.’
For thousands of years, mankind’s answer to ‘why’ was a given. There were immanent and physical meanings for our lives: the survival of my family, the flourishing of my tribe, etc. But there were also transcendent ones: we understood in one way or another that life was structured in some way by a powerful Spiritual Being(s) who gave purpose and meaning to life under the Sun.
In most cases, the immanent meanings of life were directly tied to transcendent meaning. For many pagan religions, the prosperity of one’s family or tribe was intimately bound with one’s service to the tribal gods. In the case of Judeo-Christian monotheism, our morals, values, ethics and flow out of an understanding of the imago Dei: the image of God. Mankind’s purpose in this view is understood to come from a direct reflection of who God is. Who He is, we ought to be.
For most of human history, it was this combination of transcendent and immanent meanings which provided the ‘why’ for all of human life. Yet within the last few hundred years, our understanding of meaning, value and purpose has changed drastically. With the changes that followed in the Scientific Revolution, mankind began to acquire unprecedented power. It wasn’t before too long that a new idea popped into our heads. What if we aren’t made in the image of God, but we actually have the power to remake nature in our image instead? The imago Dei was replaced by imago Homo, and nothing has ever been the same since.