There are two ways to interpret life and to some extent its meaning. The first is to believe that there is a god or some other supernatural equivalent. That in the end, there is some sort of cosmic judge keeping score and what we do on this earth matters if nothing else toward the next iteration of our immortality. For some religions this is heaven or hell, others something in between, and for some, simply what we reincarnate as.
Another view of course is there is no god, godlike creatures, or even overall meaning. There will be no tally of our deeds, no comeuppance, no positive or negative repercussions whatever we do. In that case, despite whatever alternative emotional response we might feel, it doesn’t matter – the fact that one has a good life, a shitty life, or are evil or good ultimately has no bearing on oneself beyond whatever “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” existence one may have. All the drama of romance, war, and politics will ultimately be lost in the tide of the infinite, or near infinite, history of the universe. To quote one of my favorite movies:
“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”
But what if there is a God? For simplicity I will stick to the singular that us westerners are most familiar. What if he does exist and there is some grand plan? Does it even matter then?
I cannot argue that in the long game perhaps it does, the unknowable is the unknowable, but if one looks at the shorter game, the one we call “life”, it’s hard to believe it does in fact matter.
Why? Because at this very moment, a 100 children will die innocently of some horror to which they had no “free will” in. Thousands of adults will come to timely and untimely ends, whether quietly going into that night, or through some great horror never expected nor wished.
The “good guys”, us Americans for instance, routinely commit to wars that while one can debate their ultimate morality or not, one cannot deny bring terrors never dreamed before upon hundreds of thousands (Iraq) if not millions (Vietnam) of both innocent (mostly) and guilty (the few) victims.
In this physical world the bad routinely win, the good routinely lose. The evil live in riches while the good live in poverty (though, not to be too pessimistic, undoubtedly on occasion the reverse as well).
Tornadoes hit, hurricanes batter, earthquakes and landslides bury, planes crash, cancer claims, disease comes and cares not about the character of the victim.
The point being, if God has a plan, that plan doesn’t seem to much care about the characters, much less their worthiness, of those playing upon it’s stage. It takes a great deal of self-delusion to not see that any justice doled out within one’s lifetime is ultimately arbitrary. It is true that in the increasing Ayn Rand-ian worldview (ie: Social Darwinism in another suit), that we believe that the winners win because they are deserving (and such a worldview is certainly convenient to those who are winning, who I will note, generally through money, influence, and literal ownership of the media have the loudest voices). Still, any objective analysis shows otherwise – the winners win at least equally for brutality, hubris, the ability to ignore what others’ consciences would arrest, pure luck (whether of birth or circumstance), and a host of other not even slightly flattering characteristics. Even our heroes, when one fully and honestly analyzes their acts, are often monsters.
In short, if there is a plan relating to ultimate goodness, that plan is not the least reflected in this physical world we live in. What we see looks no less arbitrary than if there were no plan, and no God, at all. In that regard, per the title, there is no apparent meaning.
I suppose some will read this and say this is of no fault of God, or rather, it would look very different if God did not grant us “free will” and we did not exercise that will for evil. But even that falls flat on its face. Again, how many children die of and in horrible circumstances that have nothing to do with human influence? Leukemia, natural disasters, heart defects, you name it. Children that didn’t even have time, nor the capability, to exercise anything resembling “free will”, and that does not even include the millions if not billions of worthy adults who fall to the same.
My point is, there may be some grand scheme where this all has some great and glorious meaning, but if there is, in the here and now of this physical planet, there is no discernable difference from the alternative.
You may have your God, and you may be right that there is some ultimate unknowable glue to it all, but it seems even within the rules of that deity has given, with the absolute anarchy of it all (natural or otherwise), trying to enforce some order seems a fool’s errand. If order on this plane of existence matters, it certainly does not seem seem to be reflected by the ultimate plan, nor does it feel that it matters to the God who created it.
Religion: Beliefs that are logically consistent within an illogical framework.
Insanity: Thoughts that are logically consistent within an illogical framework.
Is a picture like this:
Why, if there is a God, would he make a whole set of other planets like the above? In fact (and more on this in a future post), why would he make a universe of these?
Closest thing to a joke that Jesus ever said:
“A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”
“Oh, I don’t reject Christ. I love Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ.”
– Mahatama Gandhi
About the character of God, as represented in the New and the Old Testament:
Our Bible reveals to us the character of our God with minute and remorseless exactness. The portrait is substantially that of a man—if one can imagine a man charged and overcharged with evil impulses far beyond the human limit; a personage whom no one, perhaps, would desire to associate with, now that Nero and Caligula are dead. in the old Testament His acts expose His vindictive, unjust, ungenerous, pitiless and vengeful nature constantly. He is always punishing—punishing trifling misdeeds with thousand-fold severity; punishing innocent children for the misdeeds of their parents; punishing unoffending populations for the misdeeds of their rulers; even descending to wreak bloody vengeance upon harmless calves and lambs and sheep and bullocks, as punishment for inconsequential trespasses committed by their proprietors. it is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere. It makes Nero an angel of light and leading, by contrast.
It begins with an inexcusable treachery, and that is the keynote of the entire biography. That beginning must have been invented in a pirate’s nursery, it is so malign and so childish. To Adam is forbidden the fruit of a certain tree—and he is gravely informed that if he disobeys he shall die. How could that be expected to impress Adam? Adam was merely a man in stature; in knowledge and experience he was in no way the superior of a baby of two years of age; he could have no idea of what the word death meant. He had never seen a dead thing; he had never heard of a dead thing before. The word meant nothing to him. If the Adam child had been warned that if he ate of the apples he would be transformed into a meridian of longitude, that threat would have been the equivalent of the other, since neither of them could mean anything to him.
The watery intellect that invented the memorable threat could be depended on to supplement it with other banalities and low grade notions of justice and fairness, and that is what happened. It was decreed that all of Adam’s descendants, to the latest day, should be punished for the baby’s trespass against a law of his nursery fulminated against him before he was out of his diapers. For thousands and thousands of years, his posterity, individual by individual, has been unceasingly hunted and harried with afflictions in punishment of the juvenile misdemeanor which is grandiloquently called Adam’s Sin. And during all that vast lapse of time, there has been no lack of rabbins and popes and bishops and priests and parsons and lay slaves eager to applaud this infamy, maintain the unassailable justice and righteousness of it, and praise its Author in terms of flattery so gross and extravagant that none but a God could listen to it and not hide His face in disgust and embarrassment. Hardened to flattery as our oriental potentates are, through long experience, not even they would be able to endure the rank quality of it which our God endures with complacency and satisfaction from our pulpits every Sunday.
We brazenly call our God the source of mercy, while we are aware, all the time, that there is not an authentic instance in history of His ever having exercised that virtue. We call Him the source of morals, while we know by His history and by His daily conduct, as perceived with our own senses, that He is totally destitute of anything resembling morals. We call Him Father, and not in derision, although we would detest and denounce any earthly father who should inflict upon his child a thousandth part of the pains and miseries and cruelties which our God deals out to His children every day, and has dealt out to them daily during all the centuries since the crime of creating Adam was committed.
We deal in a curious and laughable confusion of notions concerning God. We divide Him in two, bring half of Him down to an obscure and infinitesimal corner of the world to confer salvation upon a little colony of Jews—and only Jews, no one else—and leave the other half of Him throned in heaven and looking down and eagerly and anxiously watching for results. We reverently study the history of the earthly half, and deduce from it the conviction that the earthly half has reformed, is equipped with morals and virtues, and in no way resembles the abandoned, malignant half that abides upon the throne. We conceive that the earthly half is just, merciful, charitable, benevolent, forgiving, and full of sympathy for the sufferings of mankind and anxious to remove them. Apparently we deduce this character not by examining facts, but by diligently declining to search them, measure them, and weigh them. The earthly half requires us to be merciful, and sets us an example by inventing a lake of fire and brimstone in which all of us who fail to recognize and worship Him as God are to be burned through all eternity. And not only we, who are offered these terms, are to be thus burned if we neglect them, but also the earlier billions of human beings are to suffer this awful fate, although they all lived and died without ever having heard of Him or the terms at all. This exhibition of mercifulness may be called gorgeous. We have nothing approaching it among human savages, nor among the wild beasts of the jungle. We are required to forgive our brother seventy times seven times, and be satisfied and content if on our death-bed, after a pious life, our soul escape from our body before the hurrying priest can get to us and furnish it a pass with his mumblings and candles and incantations. This example of the forgiving spirit may also be pronounced gorgeous.
We are told that the two halves of our God are only seemingly disconnected by their separation; that in very fact the two halves remain one, and equally powerful, notwithstanding the separation. This being the case, the earthly half—who mourns over the sufferings of mankind and would like to remove them, and is quite competent to remove them at any moment He may choose—satisfies Himself with restoring sight to a blind person, here and there, instead of restoring it to all the blind; cures a cripple, here and there, instead of curing all the cripples; furnishes to five thousand famishing persons a meal, and lets the rest of the millions that are hungry remain hungry—and all the time He admonishes inefficient man to cure these ills which God Himself inflicted upon him, and which He could extinguish with a word if He chose to do it, and thus do a plain duty which He had neglected from the beginning and always will neglect while time shall last. He raised several dead persons to life. He manifestly regarded this as a kindness if it was a kindness it was not just to confine it to a half a dozen persons. He should have raised the rest of the dead. I would not do it myself, for I think the dead are the only human beings who are really well off—but I merely mention it, in passing, as one of those curious incongruities with which our Bible history is heavily overcharged.
Whereas the God of the old Testament is a fearful and repulsive character, He is at least consistent. He is frank and outspoken. He makes no pretense to the possession of a moral or a virtue of any kind—except with His mouth. No such thing is anywhere discoverable in His conduct. I think He comes infinitely nearer to being respectworthy than does His reformed self, as guilelessly exposed in the new Testament. Nothing in all history—nor even His massed history combined—remotely approaches in atrocity the invention of hell.
His heavenly self, His old Testament self, is sweetness and gentleness and respectability, compared with His reformed earthly self. In heaven He claims not a single merit, and hasn’t one—outside of those claimed by His mouth—whereas in the earth He claims every merit in the entire catalogue of merits, yet practised them only now and then, penuriously, and finished by conferring hell upon us, which abolished all His fictitious merits in a body.
– Mark Twain
“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own – a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.”
– Albert Einstein
“But Jesus and Christianity have a tenuous relationship at best.”
– David Javerbaum
“Old Man” talking to “Young Man” regarding the so-called selfless generosity of giving 25 cents to a needy woman from “What Is Man and Other Essays”:
Very well. Now let us add up the details and see how much he got for his twenty-five cents. Let us try to find out the REAL why of his making the investment. In the first place HE couldn`t bear the pain which the old suffering face gave him. So he was thinking of HIS pain–this good man. He must buy a salve for it. If he did not succor the old woman HIS conscience would torture him all the way home. Thinking of HIS pain again. He must buy relief for that. If he didn`t relieve the old woman HE would not get any sleep. He must buy some sleep–still thinking of HIMSELF, you see. Thus, to sum up, he bought himself free of a sharp pain in his heart, he bought himself free of the tortures of a waiting conscience, he bought a whole night`s sleep–all for twenty-five cents! It should make Wall Street ashamed of itself. On his way home his heart was joyful, and it sang–profit on top of profit! The impulse which moved the man to succor the old woman was–FIRST–to CONTENT HIS OWN SPIRIT; secondly to relieve HER sufferings. Is it your opinion that men`s acts proceed from one central and unchanging and inalterable impulse, or from a variety of impulses?
Yes. This is the law, keep it in your mind. FROM HIS CRADLE TO HIS GRAVE A MAN NEVER DOES A SINGLE THING WHICH HAS ANY FIRST AND FOREMOST OBJECT BUT ONE–TO SECURE PEACE OF MIND, SPIRITUAL COMFORT, FOR HIMSELF.
– Mark Twain in the guise of “Old Man”
Sadly I think it’s true. Even if the story of Jesus is real, Jesus gave his life for a “cause” – that is to receive a “prize” (the comfort of knowing he had saved souls).
There really is no such thing as “selfless generosity”. But once you understand that and embrace it, it doesn’t really tarnish acts of kindness. There is beauty in finding acts that are both self-fulfilling and aid others. The key is to try to find the balance the aids the later more than the former.