Saturday, January 16, 2010
How Randomness Can Free Us All
The Interwebs are all aflutter these days because Pat Robinson said that the recent earthquake in Haiti was due to the Haitians making a pact with the devil. Now there is so much wrong with that statement it’s hard to know where to begin. However there are far more capable commenters and bloggers out there who have dealt with this extensively so I don’t really feel like I have much to add.
This whole unpleasant business does however perfectly illustrate why randomness is good. If you accept that the universe is a random and sometimes cruel place, you free yourself from the primitive superstition that bad things only happen because someone angered the gods. Pat Robinson is a prime example of this mindset but the truth is that he is just a very visible symptom of a disease prevalent throughout Christianity. Something bad always has to be someone’s fault. This gets especially bad in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles. Earthquakes, hurricanes and terrorist attacks can apparently be blamed on gays, abortions and people not believing the Bible like they should. Miscarriages, diseases and cancer can similarly be blamed on everything from the premarital sex you had as a teenager to the demons living in ornaments you bought from the (evil) East. No theory can ever be too convoluted, no idea too crazy.
There is a twofold evil to this line of thinking. Firstly there is the guilt it induces. Someone is to blame and usually that someone is YOU. If you prayed more, believed harder, lived more purely, tithed more often, pled the Blood, anointed your house, confessed more positively and wrote more letters to the editors about the swearing on TV – none of these bad things would have happened!! Then there is the slimy, horrible conclusion this line of thinking inevitably leads to – that if you just do enough things right, bad things will never happen to you. If you read your Bible, pray, name it, claim it and write a check to my ministry, you will be shielded from everything bad. This is why I find this entire mindset to be stupid, evil, disgusting and wrong (not to mention utterly unbiblical).
Simply by accepting that lots of things in this world is out of your (or anyone’s) control can free you from this burden. There is a lot of randomness in the universe and sometimes that randomness screws you over. El Niño events can cause droughts and floods half a world a way, movement of the earth’s plates can cause earthquakes, a small genetic copy error can cause birth defects just like it sometimes causes cancer. Sometimes you are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes, bad things are simply random chance events. They didn’t happen because you (or anyone else) did anything wrong and nothing you could have done could have stopped it from happening. Nothing. It is the great common denominator in humanity – terrible things happen to us all and it is often for no reason at all.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m certainly not suggesting everything happens randomly. I certainly believe in causality. Only a complete idiot would deny the existence of cause and effect in our universe. But sometimes – oftentimes – that cause has nothing to do with you and is utterly out of your control. I guess that is what it all comes down to in the end – control. If everything bad in our lives is due to some divine hissyfit or demonic activity then we have control back again, don't we? Cast out the demons, calm down the Lord and all will be well again, putting us back firmly in the driving seat.
Problem is we are not in control and no good will come from pretending we are. Some things happen because of us and others just happen to us. All we really have control over is how we react. So why not stop reacting like cave people? Bad things do not happen because the gods are mad at us. Randomness happens. Good news is that it is not always bad, good things happen randomly too*.
So if something happens, go ahead and look for a reason – after all if you are somehow causing your misfortune you really should stop – but if there is no apparent cause, don’t invent one. Accepting the sometimes random nature of life and our own lack of control can free us to instead focus our energies on the things we actually can control.
It would seem I owe Pat Robertson an apology of sorts. After reading this article on the history of Haiti it seems that their seemingly endless misfortune really was due to a deal with the devil. Though not the devil Pastor Pat had in mind I think...
*This isn’t always good news to everyone though, much of the Psalms for instance consists of bitching about good things happening to people who don’t deserve it. Oh well...