Death and Unintention

Recently, several of my friends’ parents have been life-threateningly ill.  All of the parents are now alive and well except for one who passed away last week.

We go about life taking it for granted.  I feel like this mentality is mostly a modern phenomenon.  Hundreds of years ago, sustaining your life was a daily task–you toiled the soil or hunted on a daily basis, you were relatively unprotected against the elements, and medicine was very limited.

Now we think of dying as something that happens only when you’re old.  On the off-chance that you get sick before you’re old, then we have the technology to fight the illness.  We all know that this isn’t true, yet none of us expect to die anything but naturally.

When someone dies ‘too early’ it shakes up that framework in which we understand how life works.  It scared me to hear that my friend’s dad died.  He was in the hospital for treatment for a disease he had and inexplicably experienced massive brain damage and went into a coma.  After one week in the coma, they unplugged his life support, and he died the next day.

A family friend was pregnant with twins, and for one reason or another the twins were born very premature.  The boy twin died the day he was born and after 3 weeks of fighting for her life, the girl twin died a few days ago.  Her name was Ariella.

I forget how fragile life is and that my life or the lives of any of my friends/family members could just disappear instantly.  It’s actually a blessing that the modern world affords us the luxury of living mostly worry-free about the continuation of that life. But it also means that we have more difficulty coping with death.  And it means that we are unjustly irreverent towards powers greater than us.

Maybe as I get older and my friends (or I) get cancer, MS, or osteoporosis I’ll gain more reverence than I currently have.

The mother of the family friend who was pregnant has a brain tumor. I haven’t seen her for a couple of years but I have heard that she is not in a good condition and hasn’t been for a long time. I don’t think I was alone in seeing her daughter’s pregnancy as a much-deserved blessing for this family…which made the loss of the twins all the more tragic. They’re such good people and why must they experience such despair and hopelessness?

Last week, my coworkers and I were talking about–essentially–bad things happening to good people. It just doesn’t make sense, does it? Especially if you believe in God and believe that God is good, which 2 of my coworkers do.

They both see bad things happening to good people as a test of God.  “A test of what?” I asked. “A test for the rest of us to do good.” This whole notion that God would test the rest of us at the detriment of someone else seems ludicrous to me. And what happens when we pass the test? What happens if we don’t?

I often think that religious people are less internally tormented because they actually have answers to questions like this. It’s emotionally harder to see life as random and unintended. While I beat myself up over all the things I don’t understand, religious people at least have some type of answer key, if not the answers themselves.

Deep down, all of us know that there are no answers. At least no answers we can know. Maybe that’s what causes religious people to cling to their answers even more–once you’ve chosen to believe a version of the truth, why would you disrupt that inner balance by conceding that your beliefs are just as random as life itself? It is much smarter to believe even more wholeheartedly…it’s not like any other theories are any better.



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3 responses to “Death and Unintention

  1. My favorite person ever commented on the issue:

    I have a ton of his books, you should borrow some 🙂

  2. Arturo

    Read this posting awhile ago and finally decided to comment. Keep in mind some of these comments are addressing some things you said specifically, but others are addressing what might be perceived as the logical extension of your comments or of comments I’ve read made by others adopting the perspective that the existence of bad things in the world proves there is no God.

    I once subscribed to the “God is testing us” theory that your coworkers favor, and now agree that it doesn’t make much sense. Your sister helped me to see that. I have a number of points to make, but for the sake of brevity (sorry, turned out to be not so brief), I will risk not being as thorough as I should be and will only address two main points.

    The first one is easy: I would argue there are agnostics and atheists who believe just as wholeheartedly in their views and cling to them as strongly as religious people, and incomprehensibly, I think their views are as great a comfort to them in their daily lives as a belief in God, along with all that accompanies a belief in a God, is to religious people.*

    As for my second point, I don’t get why anyone would hold the position that they disbelieve in God, because they believe the bad things in our world are evidence that God does not exist because a good God would not operate in such a way that the world is the way it is. In how we see God, we should view our reasoning as suspect as we might view that of a young child who thinks walking into traffic is a good idea. I know, I know, this is supposedly giving God a pass, but when one thinks about it, it’s pretty easy to argue that man’s reason is highly suspect, not so much in relation to understanding the reasoning of other men, but in relation to any attempt to comprehend a creator’s purpose for the world.

    Even as adults, we hardly knows our own minds. For instance, while everyone is different and achieves levels of maturity at different ages, it would be hard to argue persuasively that one keeps the same perspective on life, especially from the age of 18 to death. There are people who look back on their lives decades later and wonder what the hell they were thinking when contemplating the decisions made and actions taken in their lives up to that point. And these are not just people who were screw-ups when they were younger. These are people who were pretty mature for their age, yet had learned so much with the passage of time. While they might argue that they couldn’t expect at a certain age or in a certain environment to know better, plenty of bad decisions are made when one should know better, and even for those that are excused for legitimate reasons, it’s not relevant in this context because it’s still evidence they lack some wisdom even if it’s for good reasons. To be qualified to judge the actions of the creator of the world, one would have to argue for certain that they know they have attained a certain level of wisdom to do so. No doubt, often people reach a point in their lives that they think they have everything figured out, only to be quickly humbled and sent back to the drawing board by life’s events. And those people who don’t constantly change and evolve in their thinking are viewed as stubborn, stagnant and, well, stupid. So the question is, at what point do we deem ourselves ready to figure out God’s ways?

    Of course, age is not the determining factor in maturity. There are plenty of 18-year-olds who have a much better mentality than people decades older than them. But that’s not the point. The point is most people change a lot and that change is often due to a change in how one sees the world and thinks about things. So why would we assume that our determination of whether God exists should be based on our evaluation of whether the world is how we imagine it would be if created by a God? Assuming one believes that God is good (the concept of good makes no sense without a God) and that he is the creator of all things in this world (one must assume this if there is a God and there is only one God), it’s pretty ridiculous to consider ourselves capable of understanding him or his ways.*

    Regarding the suspect reasoning of human beings, it is indisputable that each generation has viewed previous generations as living and acting in ways that they would view as not good. Often, this behavior of previous generations is excused because of the times in which they lived. No matter how much we want to condemn them, we have no choice to excuse them in some part because it is indisputable that a great majority of the so-called good people of those generations held the common views on practices we now condemn: examples being slavery, racism, sexism, etc. While there are plenty of instances of certain people being ahead of the times on certain matters in which they were living, there is no human being I am aware of who was not guilty of holding at least some of the views of their times that almost everyone in our times would object to as evil, or at the least, “not good.” Some would argue that, with regard to certain morals, we’re actually becoming worse over time. I take no position on such a contention, because that is not the point. The point is that each generation has redefined what good is. We are talking about serious changes made by people in how they live their lives that can be distinctly traced to the prevailing morality of the time; not trivial matters like how one dresses or wears their hair.

    In the last century alone, never mind the history of man’s existence in the world, we have drastically changed our views and actions towards others, and have often done so based on our evaluation of what is good for society. And in each of our lives, to a lesser degree, we also change the way we act based on experience, new information, new circumstances, etc. Yet, we feel confident enough to question God’s existence, because we see the world as having too much “bad” to have been created. We reason it is not how we would do it or even how any sane person would do it. It’s just incomprehensible to us that God would act in such a way– seeming to forget we can say the same of the actions of our younger selves and earlier generations. Of course, if you ask the same person at age 20, 40 and 60 how the world should be, you will get different answers by the same person at each age. And if you ask persons from different generations, cultures and environments at those same ages, you will get drastically different answers from each person.

    I believe there are some very reasonable arguments casting doubt on the existence of a creator but this is not one of them. I don’t deny that there are a lot of inexplicable things that happen in this world, and I don’t argue that if there is a God, he does not have a hand in them, because as the creator of this world, he must: it’s just that I have no confidence whatsoever based on my own mind and my own actions — and what I know of the thoughts and actions of all human beings in history — that I am fit, or they were/are fit, to deny the existence of God because his world does not make sense to human beings.

    Finally, I know one might be tempted to argue, “yeah, yeah, I get what you’re saying, but I can’t imagine, if I was able to rid myself of all biases in perspective related to time, race, sex, culture, age or any other determining factor, what possible reasonable theory explains the unspeakable horrific tragedies that have plagued this world millions of times over day-after-day?” Obviously, it’s foolish to ask such a question since our reasoning is subject to all of these factors. So then one must argue that he/she can’t imagine these factors matter in attempting to answer the question. Once one accepts this dubious premise the answer becomes inevitable: there is no God, no creator.

    It’s interesting that religious people are accused of taking the easy way out of explaining the ways of this world by believing in God. While views and experiences of believers differ, most of them tend to believe that they are constantly offending some creator they’ve never seen or heard; that their creator allows all sorts of bad things like death, destruction, and illness to plague them and the people they love; that they are to thank this same creator for any pleasure or happiness they experience despite not ever actually physically seeing this creator do anything for them or give anything to them; and, that they must submit to God and praise him constantly even as his ways mystify them. Apparently, in comparison, Atheists have it really difficult because they disbelieve in God and the ramifications of such a realization are deeply troubling for determining their purpose in the world. Not quite sure why, when examining these two belief systems, one would conclude that by having a few more answers, religious people have it easier since the few answers they have only lead to deeply troubling questions — as in, if there is a God, what the hell is he doing and why must I assume I know nothing in comparison to him?. Of course, the mysteries of God’s ways do not make the case for his existence, but they don’t bolster arguments for his lack of existence either, especially if it’s premised on the notion that he’s both an easy out and hard to understand.

    *I say, incomprehensibly, because I don’t understand why, in a world like ours where such horrific things like the death of children and countless other atrocities occur, why anyone who believes in goodness would want to continue living in it if they have concluded there is no God. All of the arguments I’ve heard for doing so seem selfish and indefensible. I’ll spare you my reasoning for taking this position.

    *When it comes to some bad things that happen to people, I don’t think it’s relevant in some circumstances if the person harmed is not good. As in, even if I thought someone was bad, I would not want their children to die or think their children deserved to die. Assuming there is not a God with a greater purpose that is unknown to me, I would think such a world where really bad things happen to anyone is unjust. Obviously, though, if someone did something bad and then a bad thing of a similar proportion happened to them as a direct result of their bad action, one could see the justice in that. Some might even see justice in a bad thing happening to someone, not as a direct result of their bad actions, but by coincidence, if the bad thing that happened to them was of a similar nature to what they did.

    *One might try to argue that a creator exists, but has limited power and knowledge and is not responsible for bad things that happen to people, because people have some power independent of God or because there is a Satan who can act outside of God. After hours of debate with your sister, she has convinced me that this theory does not make sense. As creator, God has power over all things and always has. Obviously, this is not an argument, just a statement, but I’ll spare further explanation for this belief.

    • throwinginthetowel

      there is validity in your point that humans are incapable of understanding the reasoning/actions of a god. But, like you said, that is a convenient argument, and if you’re starting from that viewpoint then we can’t really go in any direction from there, which is fine, but intellectually frustrating.

      This thing was so long that I can’t possibly address all your points, but it’s important that you know that my post was in no way a criticism of religious people. It was, if anything, envious of them. Like I said, no one, including me, has the answers that we’re all looking for, but rather believes the things that make the most sense to him/her. And I think believing in a creator god that is good answers a lot of the questions that I still have because I don’t necessarily believe that. You do make a good point, though, that believing in a god creates all other sorts of questions for those who believe in him/her/it. This causes me to then ask the greater question of why do some people believe in God but some don’t, and I don’t think you or anyone could actually answer that.

      To address your point about God having to be a creator…I don’t see it that way. If I believe in anything god-like, or maybe some people would call it spirituality, I believe in the immaterial connection that all humans have the potential to share. I could maybe call that communion “God,” but it’s obviously a different use of the word.

      About the concept of “good” coming from God…the notion of good has always existed in this world, but the notion of God (especially one god) has not. On top of that, people who don’t believe in God are oftentimes good people. How could it be that we only know what ‘good’ is because God put it into this world? Couldn’t our concept of good have arisen independently? There are many evolutionary explanations for why humans do good things, for example.

      Finally, I see what you’re saying about how within a person’s life and between generations people come to believe and stand by different moral standards and worldviews…so in such a psychologically mutable world, how could we ever think our reasoning methods are strong/consistent enough to question God, the creator of us all? But on the other hand, if you see God as created instead of creator, that argument is rendered irrelevant. It is my personal belief that it makes more sense for humans to have created the idea of God than for God to have created us…and in that case it does make sense to question God’s supposed motivations and ‘plan.’ However, that doesn’t mean a God couldn’t exist independent of man’s conceptions of what God is…I just don’t know what that God would be like, obviously.

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