The Human Condition
"If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you really make them think they'll hate you." − Don Marquis
Context of Non-Involvement
The facts and logic go like this. I don't remember creating myself or designing my own life. As far as I know I was born a new person in the year 1941. Not only did I not design my life but I didn't design my needs and my desires, and I didn't design my attributes, my traits, characteristics, weaknesses, strengths, propensities, etc. Nor did I get to select my parents, my race, my country, culture, class, or gender. What's equally significant is that I didn't even get to choose my belief system or my value programming; not even the educational content of my formative years in schooling.
I DIDN'T SIGN UP FOR ANY OF THIS! In the shadow of these realities, some psychologists and philosophers will even go so far as to say that we really don't even have meaningful volition, effective free will, but are more like intelligent, sophisticated, ultra-complex but just reacting meat machines.
Context of Evil
And yet we all experience evil in the form of physical pain and emotional suffering, and we agonize to some greater or lesser extent. From moment one in our existence we never experience a complete level of comfort or fulfillment. We are never truly secure, and even those that think they are in God's hands have to say to themselves that it is God's will when something bad happens to them. It is fashionable to look askance at mankind and say that man is never satisfied. As if this were a flaw and we are doomed by our own insatiableness! What is so hard to understand here? OF COURSE WE ARE NEVER SATISFIED, because we never HAVE everything we truly need and desire!
What Are We?
What kind of being is it that is profoundly free and yet whose decisions and actions are profoundly effected and/or affected by forces beyond its control? As we try to answer this, we are swamped by other questions: Are we or are we not ultimately responsible for what we do? What is our relationship to what befalls us? What is our responsibility for how our character, demeanor and lives turn out?
Of course, we have the absolutely indubitable sense of being the author of our actions—and yet it is no less certain that many/most of our possibilities are determined for us, that many/most/all of our thoughts and feelings, needs and desires, come unbidden. Is the correct answer that we are really responsible only for some of our actions? Or are we free and active agents but only to a limited extent?
These are followed by questions about our social responsibility: Do we see ourselves as isolated, separate individuals or instead recognize ourselves as belonging to and depending on society, a wider world? What is our responsibility to the people and world beyond ourselves?
These are high-stakes questions because they affect how we live our lives. In one form or another they have bedeviled Western philosophers since the Stoics. They bear on how we stand in relation to everything that we do and everything we are. Answering them involves sorting out who and what causes various events and results and requires decisive further moral, psychological, and even political steps. It entails deciding who deserves credit or who or what is to blame for the results. It entails taking the world on our shoulders and taking responsibility for ourselves. All this may mean asking what needs to change so that things may turn out otherwise in the future. But it is above all a key question that atheists, agnostics, secularists, skeptics, and freethinkers have to answer for and about ourselves.
Religion and Sacred Writings
Religions, in contrast, are generally founded upon ancient "sacred writings"−admittedly subject to re-translation and reinterpretation−and/or ancient dispensations of authority. Each major religion usually considers each ancient source other than its own to be severely flawed at best, worse fictitious, and at worst, a nefarious, evil-minded and cunningly devised counterfeit to the truth. This is a quite distasteful reality.
As to the major issues that confront man in modern society:
"Most of these issues could be discussed without referring to the biblical heritage, but the Bible is always lurking in the background, and positions have been taken on all of them that ultimately appeal to the Bible as the final word. When that happens, thinking and reasonable discussion stop. We do not know how to proceed after the Bible has been invoked." − Burton L, Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament?, HarperCollins Publisher, New York, 10022, 1996, P. 3
Often when I talk about the situation delineated above people will ask, "What are YOU complaining about? You've gotten a good deal. You were born in the best country, white, male, good looking, athletic, decent build, high intelligence, good genes, talents, great opportunities. You've been raised to generally have good habits, good presentation and you've received an extended formal education. So, you have got to be close to the desirable end of the normal distribution curve. Consider yourself fortunate; few others have it so good." This is when I tell them that we are all really sick, when our favorite, most common method of making ourselves feel good is to compare ourselves with those that are less fortunate! This should make a person feel good, to compare to others not as well off? What kind of psychologically sick ploy is that?
This is not to say that we should wallow in negativity and focus on our victimhood. But acknowledging reality, not denying it is not an unhealthy wallowing but is a healthy response, and lays the foundation for proper action.
Thoughts on Evil
The simple logic is that either the universe is set up, i.e. designed and structured, to deliver the totality of what I need and what I want, or it is not. Of course, these needs and desires are defined here as being legitimate, and some of my desires may be temporarily immature, but that implies that they are not wrong, just not fully developed. Given that my needs and desires are legitimate or can be legitimized by spiritual growth, if the universe is not set up to deliver these then it is a bad place and there is no reality behind thinking the creator to be God!
If the universe IS set up to deliver what I want and what I need, then and only then is it a good place, and I could then legitimately give credit to a good creator for designing the total cosmos–the word means designed system–as a good and wonderful system so that I could live with uninhibited delight, unabated ecstasy, and undiminished morale.
There seems little point to chronicle once again some dramatic evils in the world. Suffice it to say that essentially all people associate destruction−the word is the opposite of construction−with evil. The earth continually experiences catastrophe on an extensive scale; the multiple mass extinctions, and everything from exploding lakes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, droughts, and human wars cause so much human carnage that we are in denial of most of it, we put it out of our minds.
Even worse is the onslaught of evil from the biological world of disease and debilitating sickness, not to mention the relentless debilitation of aging and the final destruction by death. And finally probably the worst is the incredible cruelty and oppression foisted on Mankind by other men. Men generally seeking more personal power and control.
If the universe is a bad place or designed to be an experience of evil, structured around a bad or evil system, then we have no idea how bad it really is, or how bad it CAN get or be for us. Whatever vicissitudes we may be experiencing or suffering through in this life may be only a small sample of greater evil and pain that we may have to endure in any future life.
The possibility for evil to be multiplied by being reincarnated over and over again into a new body and a worse situation is unfathomable, and the mind naturally turns away from consideration of such a situation. On the other hand, the situation that we experience now has both elements of goodness and evil. Again the simple logic is that if the universe was designed perfectly then something has gone tragically wrong.
Creator Decoupled from God
There are a handful of ultimate issues. One of these issues should NEVER be whether there is a creator or no creator. The alternative to intelligent design is to believe that all the aspects of the universe beyond the basic material particles are emergent properties. All the multifarious facets including the intangible and spiritual aspects of a human being have to be considered to be “happy accidents”. By this type of thinking, a marble is an emergent property of sand, or a beautifully organized garden is an emergent property of soil and plants. Can you really go there? I can’t!
But, a creator is not necessarily a God, because the term "creator" ONLY implies design and production capability. It says nothing about purpose, intention, or values. Only the term God incorporates these human value dimensions; therefore the term "creator" must be decoupled from the term God. Consequently, one of these ultimate issues is whether there is a God worthy of the title, or no God.
Now is the time for me to say that dealing adequately with the ultimate issues cannot be undertaken successfully unless one has taken the inward journey to fully understand and embrace his legitimate needs and desires. There is no other valid point of perspective!
There are actually three phases to the inward journey, one being to look into the dark corners of your own soul to see how bad it really is and to be humble. This takes a deal of courage.
What takes even MORE courage is the second phase; to look into your own psyche or soul and to see what YOU really want and what YOU really need. What I am supposed to want by God, or by society, or parents, or church, or whatever agency, cannot be germane here because I have no legitimate basis for believing that these desire limits imposed from the outside are any more legitimate than what MINE are. This is me here now, wanting and needing. Of course my desires and needs involve other people and involve the well-being of other people. One of my highest desires is that we all maximize the quality of our lives, the enhancement of our lives, our morale, and that our lives be sustained.
The third phase is to come out ofr denial and accept and embrace that I am a victim of the human condition; I did NOT cause it but was born into it.
There are according to some experts over 100,000+ different identifiable religions existing in the world today. There are no majorities, only this spiritual fragmentation. The number of religions and paradigms of reality are greater than I can reasonably assay during my lifetime, and so it makes sense that after I identify what I want and what I need, I ONLY consider those systems of thinking or belief that promise to deliver the package of what I want and what I need. If you want a vehicle that will navigate mountain roads and rugged terrain for geological exploration, or for camping or hunting, you do not go to the Cadillac agency or the Mercedes agency or the Lamborghini agency to look for a vehicle to buy. You go to the Jeep and the Land Rover agencies and look at their vehicles. See The Challenge for Modern Philosophy
This Package Must Be Offered
This simple logic is again that if there is a God worthy of the term, then that God would have an easy, reasonable way for me to succeed by the definition of fulfilling my own needs and desires. Thus the simple logic is that if we do not define God for ourselves, we are at the mercy of multifarious versions from "out there" and can have no reasonable expectation of recognizing God even if we were introduced. There are lots of different gods out there, and simply casting around for God based upon the various promises of mystical experiences, or the enthusiasm or intensity of the spokesman, or the majesty or impact of the organizational structure, cannot fill the requirement.
I have identified the complete package of my needs and desires, and this package is signified by the acronym: IF-I-SEEK-US, standing for Imminent Fulfillment, Immortality, Safety or security, Empowerment, Equality, Unity, and Society. Of course immortality stands for sustained biological functionality and an uninterrupted continuation of life activity, not just some mystical existence that we can only try to imagine, and fulfillment pertains to the complete spectrum of our health-generating needs and happiness-generating desires.
The reality though, is that I find myself born into a dirty, messy, pathological, dangerous, troubled, insane world under a sentence of death. Of course I don't like that! What reasonable person would? In order for the creator to be God he would have to care enough to communicate with us, with me, in a way that a rational, logical, reasonable person could understand and appreciate adequately. Theism is the word that expresses this concept, and it signifies a SPECIAL revelation that is other than or beyond what can be implied by looking at nature, including ourselves.
Value of Philosophy
What good is philosophy in this context? Well the word means love of logic or love of wisdom. Philosophy is concerned with thinking right, believing right, and acting right. Right, of course, is defined as doing that which supports the sustenance and enhancement of life. How can we not be concerned with, how can we not deeply care about philosophy? Theology, a branch of philosophy, is concerned with thinking right and believing right about the creator. How can we not be concerned with theology?
Are we willing to sleepwalk through life, not being concerned about anything other than the mundane concerns of keeping body and soul temporarily together and having our little triumphs? Are we willing to steadily march toward the grave while aging and dying and only being concerned about being "normal" and having our little successes? Are we willing to keep our eyes to the ground, being only concerned with Mammon and having our little pleasures? Is this all? Or are we truly locked into an agenda set by God leaving us waiting for pie-in-the-sky in the by-and-by? Or an agenda set by a reality that forces us into this grim un-requested victimhood?
Yes victimhood! Most people don't like to think of themselves as being victims. They go to great lengths to jack their thinking around so that they don't have to admit victimhood. But victimhood is simply being forced to do something that you don't want to do, to experience something that you don't want to endure. If you truly love aging and dying while working hard for fulfillment but being only partially rewarded, and while staggering from one vicissitude to another in life, then maybe you are not a victim. But I don't buy it!