February 2012 Archives

February 9, 2012

If There is a God, Why Do Bad Things Happen?

tl:dr: you.

This question always seems to be a touchy subject, but I thought of it the other day and wondered what was so strange about it. In retrospect, perhaps the question of why bad things happen in the world is taboo because we’re afraid to cast blame.

I think the first step is to analyze the question, saving variations for later:

“If there is a God, why do bad things happen?”

The primary idea our question asserts is that God is supposed to make everything good, or has made everything good. No one asks, “if there is a sun, why do bad things happen?” because no one expects the sun to have any real impact on good and bad things. So the first thing to consider is your preconceptions of what a god would be like.

The next thing is less obvious because we are focused on the conditional “if there is a God.” But really: why do bad things happen? In all seriousness, bad things happen because we do them. It’s not rocket science; when we don’t do bad things, bad things don’t happen.

“But,” you may counter, “we don’t make earthquakes and famines… we don’t make wild animal attacks or even death in general. We don’t make cancer or debilitating illnesses.” This is naive. Natural disasters, while not human-crafted, are often human triggered. The catalyst we create may be building for generations, thus less visible to the casual observer. Even animal response to man is our doing. And these “act of god” disasters, while tragic, seem microscopic in number when compared with human-inflicted travesties. If all I had to worry about in life was hurricanes, tornadoes and animal tramplings, I think this world would be much closer to perfect than I can imagine.

The less than perfect scenario for this world would be the one that the question implies is the best—a world where a god solely allows good to occur. In this alternative, bad things couldn’t happen because God wouldn’t let them. I fail to see this as ideal; our ability to learn wouldn’t exist—I can’t learn from mistakes because mistakes are bad; moreover I can’t be lacking in knowledge because that’s a bad thing as well, so I’d need to immediately know and be able to apply everything in an optimal way. I’d be a machine, with no alternatives except the ones that were designed for me.

I believe that we were given the ability to choose precisely so we could be more than just a routine. This means we will have amazing successes as well as horrible mistakes. We also have the capacity to learn from both and constantly improve.

Unfortunately, we have learned to only look at things from a selected few perspectives: our own, what media tells us, and those that are convenient to us. I will not say that we live in a perfect world, but I will question whether our world is getting better or worse. Human longevity has increased, health and education as a species has improved overall, and we are able to exist in numbers far higher than were possible even a century ago. We can’t see the change in Djibouti or Caracas or Nagano; we can only see change through our parents getting old, the news of war and loss, and our associates’ perspectives. These few glimpses—which is often all we have—are forming our understanding of “bad things.” And we never even consider what would happen if these things never occurred.

In short, If there is a God, he has given us equal opportunity to make things bad or make things good through the ability of choice. We have created systems to persist; the purpose of our system is made visible in its output. We have created marvelous things and have pumped out some awful byproducts along the way. But because we are given dominion over this world we have the ability to mitigate the bad and amplify the good. Taking this challenge, rather than asserting that any challenge is indication of the lack of a higher power, gives us the opportunity to learn and grow. It gives us the opportunity of self-realization. I hope, perhaps, that leads to greater understanding of God as well.

There are variations to the question.

“If God is good…” Well, we have yet to understand ourselves fully, let alone God’s plan for us. Yet though we do not even know God’s intent we assume his nature? And should we be able to fully comprehend and articulate God’s being? Would that not make God something we can create? I posit that this is what many “God-fearing” individuals may be doing now in their push to make others believe in their God.

“…why does evil exist?” Hmm. In the same way, our definitions of “bad” and “evil” are based on limited information, and therefore are hard to a) label as a fault, and b) imagine the absence of. It is my hope that our efforts towards good will be critically analyzed to help us further understand the optimal and chart our way towards it.

February 3, 2012

Change your Mind

Every year I change my bio on Twitter to a new personal credo. Recent ones have been:

  • People are behind everything
  • On a treadmill called life: getting stronger, going nowhere
  • Honesty, Craftsmanship, Good Intent
  • Exploring lowest common values

This year, like others, I see a shift in emphasis…

Change your mind.

In a general sense, it is a call to action, encouraging all who read to be the catalyst in the development of their being. I believe this is important because, with the understanding that change is the only constant, the sole alternative is for your mind to be changed, to be formed by external forces rather than by your own.

More personally, it is an acceptance of failure. It is permission to accept error; to move forward. In watching an interview of Twyla Tharp recently(#), I was struck by her defining success and failure by the amount of time it takes to accept failure and move on. In personal reflection, I am notorious for analyzing and rehashing what is past; beating myself up for stupid mistakes long gone.

I don’t want to grow old before my time. I need to let go of the sins of the past by changing my mind. It may well be that changing your mind could be the hardest thing to do when you’re old (and unpracticed). This year I want to put into practice the ability to be free abandon sinking ships, to change sides long before loyalty prevents me and to grow as a result.