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DE WAAL, Frans

The Bonobo and the Atheist

Our vaunted imagination is like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it causes desperation in a situation in which an ape might remain unworried, but it also gives hope as it allows us to envision a better future. We look so far ahead, in fact, that we realize that our life will come to an end. This realization thoroughly colors our existence, leading to a permanent search for meaning as well as bitter jokes along the lines of “Life’s a bitch, and then you die!” Would we have developed a belief in the supernatural without this cloud hanging over us? A partial answer comes from research showing that the more aware people are of their own mortality, and the more they think about it, the more they believe in God.