Thursday, July 4, 2013

Our need to separate how from why

This thought, prompted by an email, despite it's conciseness, is worth a blog post rather than a Facebook status update. It's something I can't wrap my mind around: How can someone seriously assert that everything happens for a reason while simultaneously denying the existence of God?

Implied by the modern atheistic assertion that there is no God is the belief that everything happens for precisely no reason, that is, everything is accidental and without an underlying "reason." The implications that flow, in turn, from that assertion are horrifying. This is true whether you move in a determinist or non-determinist direction.

In a world godlessly conceived everything happens for no reason, or, to play a bit of a semantic game, nothing happens for a reason! Either way, why are we so intent on always looking for the reasons that things happen? Such curiosity is part of the structure of human consciousness. I believe that in order to make sense of this we must separate "reason," what we might call final cause, from efficient cause. This is merely to recognize the difference between how and why.

To illustrate this point I'll use something that pops up pretty regularly on FB, which is from Aaron Sorkin's show Newsroom: "I only seem liberal because I believe that hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage." This is to confuse how with why, to make a category error. It is this kind of smugness that short-circuits our human quest every bit as much as what it seeks to refute, perhaps even more.

I, too, believe that hurricanes are naturally caused and that earthquakes are the result of plate dynamics. But when an earthquake hits Haiti, or a tsumani swamps a lowly-lying South Pacific country the day after Christmas, or endangers a nuclear power plant in Japan, my questioning goes deeper than merely "How?", but extends to "Why?" This is what makes "Why?" the most human of all questions. We might even say that our need to ask "Why?" is constitutive of our humanity.

As to the why, we need to seek answers in a deeper way, which does not mean taking it upon ourselves to inflict God's punishments on the world, but in the way David Bentley-Hart, writing from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, sought them in the wake of the 2004 tsunami in his book Doors to the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsuanmi? Bentely-Hart takes on the cognitive dissonance that follows such an event, prompting, as they do, the question, How can an all-powerful and all-loving God be reconciled with evil and natural disaster?

As Rich Mullins, who was only a ragamuffin songwriter, lamented in his song "Hard to Get": "I know it would not hurt any less/Even if it could be explained," but only after acknowledging, "I know you bore our sorrows/And I know you feel our pain." At least from a Christian perspective, the former is more important than the latter, as the sacred author of the Letter to the Hebrews passed along: "Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested" (2:18).

No comments:

Post a Comment

"I'm gonna kick tomorrow"

I have long loved the sound of the '90s band Jane's Addiction. While doing some music listening recently, I ran across this acousti...