The markets are rattled. Investors are nervous. Uncertainty pervades. To find comfort and answers, there are two ways to go: the poetry of the ancients or Matthew's Gospel.
A common thread among people who don't believe in God (or are just unsure) is that fear of death spawned belief in a higher power that would deliver us an afterlife. But I don't think death is the thing here -- it seems to me that we really fear randomness. If we all knew that we would live to a fine old age and die peacefully in our sleep, death would have no sting. But, in fact, children die, and young parents, and good people who have done no harm. Even more lose limbs, suffer mental incapacity, and face countless challenges that appear frighteningly random. Coping, it seems, is a central force in life.
In The New Yorker, writer Stephen Greenblatt looks at death and uncertainty through the eyes of the ancient Roman poet Lucretius. His 2000-year-old essay-in-verse, called "On The Nature of Things," helped spark the shift in Renaissance thinking when it was re-discovered in an Italian monastery library in 1417.
Lucretius was an advocate of randomness; life, he said, had no meaning or plan, so worrying about it was simply ludicrous. His advice: embrace the day, because that is all we have; every moment spent focused on anxiety about a future over which we have no control is a moment we can never get back. Lucretius was no atheist; he just believed that the gods of ancient Rome and Greece were too high and mighty to much care about the daily goings-on of humans scurrying about on the crust of the Earth. But, as Greenblatt writes, that outlook was taken up by later philosophers who used it to challenge the existence of Heaven, Hell and God.