Philosophy and Psychology20 May 2015 10:55 am

The better people can predict and understand their surroundings the more likely their continued survival. This fact underlies our age old desire to answer the question why and propels our interest in science, religion and philosophy or any other inquiry increasing our knowledge of ourselves, others and nature. Our desire to survive and have a good life underpins our inclination to make sense of things and create societies providing justice, freedom and protection.

Humankind has spent a great deal of time and energy searching for ways to mentally and emotionally cope with and understand death, suffering, disease and physical harm. People have theorized many reasons why people die or endure great suffering and misfortune. In myth, religion and mysticism we find many roots of misfortune. Sometimes it was a form of punishment due to the breaking of a law, taboo or divine interdiction. At other times misfortune came to one due to a curse placed on oneself or one’s ancestors, or as a result of magic. At other times it was attributed to a stain or contamination that has occurred, often without one’s direct knowledge. Vestiges of such ancient explanations remain in modern times in theories and beliefs regarding of sin, karma and the existence of evil.

While death is hard to accept under any circumstance it was and is particularly difficult to deal with when it pertains to the young and innocent. Humankind has always struggled to explain and justify the death or disability of a young child or infant. Death may be inevitable, but suffering and misfortune do not happen to everyone, and man has often had a hard time justifying why bad things happen to good people.

The great majority of misfortune and suffering was observed to be beyond the powers of human control and intervention. Therefore, it was common to hand over the reasons and causes of death and calamity to beings with powers which greatly superseded the capabilities of humans.

People all over the globe formed belief systems on how best to protect oneself from the ill will of higher powers. Aligning oneself with, winning the favor of, appeasing, placating, or even sometimes fooling the powers or gods became the general means of insuring oneself a favorable fate and averting suffering and misfortune. Some cultures focused on making sacrifices to the gods, others on learning the ways of power and controlling them through magic and sorcery, others focused on the benefits of revering and begging the mercy of the powerful spirits.

While humankind as a whole was not able to completely overcome the capriciousness of ill fortune, individuals and sometimes entire tribes could engage in activities and rituals which brought them good fortune or averted suffering or “unnecessary” harm. Religion and spirituality are full of legends, stories, allegories and myths which describe events and strategies of heroes, gods and common people who have found the means of averting danger and soliciting good fortune.

The gods of greek and roman mythology shared many of the same traits and emotions as the humans that worshipped them. The apparent capriciousness and irrationality of fate was made understandable when controlled by beings that lusted, had pride, were vain and had a need to be revered and adored. The human quality of the gods, while making them less reliable and consistent, made it possible for the faithful to find ways to win their favor or have them intervene on their behalf. So, the myths of roman and greek gods both explained why fate was often so cruel and filled with suffering, and at the same time offered a means by which people could improve their lot in life through worship, heroes, and rites and rituals.

In monotheistic religions or those that focused on a sole creator the supreme power seldom retained any weaknesses, fallibilities or human personality traits. The creator God was all powerful, perfect and good. Many of the creation gods were also promised eternal life and salvation for all of the faithful that lived a good life. In this way the injustices of fate were often made tolerable by the fact that eternal life awaited those who remained devoted and faithful to God and his wishes. While prayer could occasionally result in divine intervention, even ill fortune and injustice suffered in this life would be rectified in the here after.

While an all good and perfect God may be both worthy of worship and the title of divinity, there are numerous drawbacks for the faithful. If God is perfect and all good, than anything wrong in the world in due to our fallible and sinful nature. A perfect god is incapable of capricious, petty or malicious behavior. Any perception on our part of injustice is either born of our ignorance or as just recompense for some offense we have committed.

If god is perfect, then so is his creation, and since we are the only creature bestowed with a free will, than all sin and fault is ours and ours alone. When God and his creation are perfect and good then the irony of having a free will is that the only way we can express our individuality is through doing something un-godlike and imperfect (sinful). If we put everything that we did, think and feel that differed from a perfect god into a bag, its contents would only consist of error, sin, stupidity, vanity and all other forms of imperfection and non-goodness. So, while we are told that we are made in God’s image, our entire individuality is expressed in the negative, in sin and in evil.

Belief systems involving a perfect God usually include a story of the fall of man in which evil entered the world and the idyllic relationship between God and man was severed. Often this severed relationship is when evil entered the world, and permanently stained all generations of man with this original sin.

I’m not saying that the above is explicitly stated by all religions and belief systems involving a perfect God. Yet, the conclusions reached are the logical ramifications and implications inherent in a perfect God of which I am not the first to recognize or state. In fact, the belief that man’s nature is basically sinful and base has often been expressed by prophets, sages, saints and holy men throughout the world as reason and need for us to obey and praise God as well explaining why we should never question him/her.

When accepting the existence if a perfect god there are only two answers to the question, “why do babies die?” One answer is that it is a mystery that far surpasses our feeble and imperfect understanding. The second answer is that it is our fault that babies die due to our natures and that all suffering and evil entered into the world through our thoughts, actions and feelings.

Our belief in a perfect god comes with a price to our own sense of worth and value. A child who is told by their parent that they are sinful and evil and that they have nothing to offer but obedience seldom ends up being a healthy, loving and productive adult. So how does our sinful view of ourselves induced by our revering a perfect god impact the way we live and feel about ourselves and our ability to solve social problems and live in harmony with others?

If we have a free will it should be viewed and exercised in a way in which we can be happy with ourselves and harmonious with our contemporaries and with nature. Our choice shouldn’t be between arrogant pride and self-degradation, or between conceit and subservience. Admitting that we are limited and fallible does not mean that we are incompetent or toxic, but only that we are vulnerable and are capable of making things worse as well as making things better.

Jim Guido

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