No Good Reason

Why do things happen? For no good reason, that’s why.

Confronted with the patent failure of the world to square with simple decency, ancient people concluded that the gods were not nice. The Egyptian gods sometimes got drunk when molding new people, negligently creating deformed babies. Zeus tortured Prometheus, the only god who could be said to be on humanity’s side. YHWH lied to the people he created in a failed attempt to keep them ignorant and then cursed all humanity for the transgressions of these two people. To the ancients, the world wasn’t perfect and (or because) the gods weren’t perfect.

As metaphysical thought has developed over the millennia, people have demonstrated a fondness for thinking of the universe as fundamentally just and for believing that God is perfect. I blame the Greeks. To square this preference with the plain facts of everyday life, people have invented various explanations for things going wrong.

Hindus say that reincarnation explains it. Suffering, they say, is painful but well deserved.

Christians say that the circumstances of this world are trivial compared to the disposition of the immortal soul in eternity. This life might be defined by injustice, but justice is done in the big picture. People are free to choose Heaven or Hell.

Christian scientists say that there is no suffering, that idea is just an error. Further, there is no error, we just think there is.

Mystics say that the universe is unfolding exactly as it should, we just don’t have the enlightened perspective necessary to appreciate that this is so.

Wiccans say that all acts are repaid threefold, so when it looks like injustice is the rule, that’s just because the whole story hasn’t played itself out.

Common among these various explanations is their reliance on some unverifiable past or future events to “square up” everyday experience with expectations of justice. It’s like balancing an unworkable physics equation by adding an arbitrary constant to one side.

Materialists and other people that take life at face value say that things happen for no good reason. Humans try to create just societies where lots of things happen for good reasons, but that’s up to us. The universe isn’t going to create a just outcome for us.

This basic difference in how one understands the world generates political differences regarding how government should regulate society. On one hand are those who want to pass laws based on how they wish the world were and believe it to be. Liberal idealists wish that everyone would share their wealth and work for the common good. Conservative idealists wish that everyone would conform to traditional codes of conduct. On the other hand are those who want to pass laws based on how the world apparently is. Idealists want a welfare state or abstinence-only education (depending on the flavor of idealism). Realists want personal economic incentives and condoms for teenagers.

December 2004