Sunday, June 22, 2008

L.A.E: The Cruelty of the gods

I never indented for the Life After Eden idea to be more than one post. As I said before, I realize that all “proofs” of God and the spiritual are subjective and there is no absolute objective proof to be had. Yet in recent weeks I realized something else that might (again, subjectively speaking) show that there is more to this world than what we can weigh and measure. Whether or not this is proof of the existence of God I am not wise enough to say however. Theologians often make an argument from the existence of beauty, but personally I think a better argument can be made from the existence of cruelty.

After spending a reasonable amount of time in this world, one soon realizes that it is not all sunsets and rainbows. At some point we all learn that this world has teeth and it is looking for ways to devour us. It’s not just that things go wrong either, it’s the way in which they go wrong. Sometimes things go wrong in such a specific way that it almost seems planned that way, especially when things don’t simply go wrong but they go wrong in the worse possible manner. In times like these it’s tempting to think that there might be someone or something out there who takes sadistic joy out of watching us squirm. Sometimes it seems this someone or something takes great pains and goes to unimaginable lengths to be cruel to us.

Then again, maybe you have never felt this way. Yet I am clearly not the only one or the first one to feel this way. From my admittedly sketchy knowledge of anthropology it would seem that from the moment mankind became aware of the numinous they were convinced that it was out to get them. It would seem that throughout human history people have been convinced that there was something out there that was making their lives hard and so they had to do things and kill things in order to keep it happy in order to keep it from ruining their lives. This also seems to be a running theme in all ancient myths, in fact at times it is almost as if the various pantheons of gods and goddesses were invented for the sole reason of explaining the seeming intelligent behind the cruelty of life. The gods may have been beautiful, powerful and wise but you did not want them noticing you for they were equally capricious and cruel. From the myths it seems that every time they became involved things tended to go horribly wrong for all concerned. Being a judge in a music contest between gods could land you donkey ears and judging a beauty contest between goddesses could lead to the destruction of your city – it was just a no win for you if the gods happened to be aware of your existence.

The idea of someone out there being responsible for your misery was not just found amongst the pagans either, you can find plenty of that in the Judeo-Christian faith as well. Take the book of psalms for instance, you can paraphrase a substantial amount of them as:

“Why God why?? I’ve done all I can to please you and yet I am miserable – while those who are wicked live utterly charmed lives. Why do I have to suffer like this? Why God why?”

Then of course, there was Job… Lets face it, there is a reason why we even have sayings like: “If you want God to laugh, tell Him your plans.”

I have to admit, I know what these people – both pagans and psalmists – feel like. I’m not one to wonder why things go wrong, I accept that this is an imperfect world and that things don’t always work the way we want them to. I don’t waste time with stupid questions like “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The answer to that should be obvious – bad things happen to all people its just that we only call them “bad things” when they happen to “good people”. When they happen to “bad people” we call them “justice”. However recent events in my own life have made me wonder why things go wrong in the horrible way that they do. As I explained in previous post, I had some health problems and had to go for surgery. Now this was surgery to my thyroid and I dreaded it because the removal of my thyroid would mean I would have to go on medication for the rest of my life and suffer all the unhappy consequences of not having a thyroid gland anymore. However my life was in danger and I accepted that whatever needed to be done had to be done. Then, things took a turn for the better – they only removed half of my thyroid, I needed no medication and the surgery went perfectly and I didn’t suffer any damage to my vocal cords (or any of the other inherent risks to thyroid surgery). I have to say I felt pretty good, I had an incredible sense of forward momentum – something important that needed to be done had been done now (very successfully) and now it was time to take care of the rest of my life. Two weeks later I returned to the hospital for a follow-up and since no one had called me (as they told me they would if they found any cancer) I happily assumed that this was the end of it, I would have my stitches out and be on my way. That’s when I found out it was in fact cancerous, I did need more surgery, I was going to lose my entire thyroid and I may still have a long road ahead of me. Suffice it to say I don’t feel like I have that much forward momentum anymore. It’s not because things went wrong. It’s because things went right before they went wrong again that makes this seem, well, cruel.

So then, what are we to do with this notion that things do not simply go wrong but they seem do so in a way that suggest a malicious intelligence behind it? Well there could be more than one explanation for it.

  • It could be mere coincidence, just statistical probability and the law of large numbers working together with natural laws (like entropy) to create what seems to be malicious intent in situations that in reality have none. Maybe this whole “something is out to get me” mindset is an outdated part of the human condition that we need to move beyond. Maybe we just need to accept that it’s nothing personal, its just life in an imperfect world.
  • Maybe these things just seem like cruelty. Maybe we are looking at these things the way a toddler looks at the rules and discipline of a good parent. Maybe we just think they are cruel because we are unable to see the big picture. Although I have to admit this makes me think of a scene in Evan Almighty where Evan (after losing his job and family and with the whole world ridiculing him) looks up at the heavens and says to God: “I know, whatever you do, you do because you love me. Do me a favor, love me less.”
  • Maybe the world really does have teeth. Maybe our primitive forebears were right, maybe there really is something out there that is horrible and cruel and seeks nothing but our harm and our ruin. Maybe Peter really meant it when he talked about the Devil walking around “like a roaring lion, seeking someone he may devour”

Now, which of these is right I cannot say and I do not fancy myself wise enough to hazard a guess. I may never be. They may all be right in some way, they may even all be wrong. There might yet be another, truer, reason that I cannot grasp yet. All I know is that from time to time, there truly seems to be more to the cruelty of life than mere coincidence. The teeth of the world may not exactly be a proof for the existence of God, but I can’t help but feel it does somehow point to the existence of something beyond the world of our senses.


TPluckyT said...

I'm sorry to hear your news . . .

I've wrestled with these questions for years and come up with no good answer . . . I'm at a point in my life where I've found some measure of peace by choosing to believe in God's love and goodness no matter how foolish it feels at times. I tell myself if it was easy it wouldn't be called "faith."

That being said, it certainly is no picnic . . .

Have you ever read C.S. Lewis' book A Grief Remembered? He wrestles through some of this and it is the best work I've read on the subject.

Eugene said...

Thanks Tim, I appreciate the support. I guess all things considered, my news wasn't THAT bad, but as the song goes "If I hadn't seen such riches I could live with being poor"

Its also good to know that I'm not alone in this - although the book of Job should have been my first clue! I mean its a 42 chapter howl at the unfairness and cruelty of life. Not the kind thing we generally put in the "Welcome to the Faith" brochures... Considering its content I am at times amazed it even made it into the canon in the first place!

I will see if I can find CS Lewis's book, I always enjoy his take on things, thanks for the reccomendation.

GumbyTheCat said...

At some point we all learn that this world has teeth and it is looking for ways to devour us.

My mother once told me my moment came when I started to read the newspaper as a young boy.

Really nice post.