Handprints on the cave wall…

On June 29 (I think), this portrait appeared on Humans of New York  (http://www.humansofnewyork.com/post/90268158526/ive-been-a-deep-believer-my-whole-life-18-years ), featuring a former Southern Baptist turned mainline Protestant turned ordained pastor, essentially renouncing his faith because of all the terrible things that happen on the planet — plane crashes, hurricanes and the like — and the inherent cruelty of a God who could allow or author such events. (Props: I saw it because Margo Morrison posted it on Facebook. Thanks Margo.)

As I commented on Margo’s “share”, this argument, which a five year old’s sense of justice is sufficient to uphold, is like chalk on a blackboard to anyone trained in Roman Catholic theology.  Like many Protestants, this dude, in his theology and his counter-theology both, doesn’t understand or even allow for the function of human agency, the action of free will. And free will too from the atomic and molecular levels on up — which sperm, hitting the outer walls, does the egg allow to penetrate? which way does the typhoon turn? It is difficult to grasp intellectually the necessity — in the workings of the physical universe — of what a mathematician or a physicist or even a logician would call randomness. If you do not believe in an omniscient and omnipotent creative force behind the existence of the universe, behind the riddle of time and the vast mathematical precision and simultaneous chaos of things, there are plenty of rationales: primary among them that throughout human history we know of no definitive, proved sighting of or communication with this figure (though we have the testimony of thousands who claim such contact). But people dying in plane crashes and in natural disasters are not, collectively, a reason to conclude such a creator doesn’t (or, in this pastor’s view, more like ‘shouldn’t’) exist. Air — and who even understands air? — swirls about the planet, its only true manager being time: in our scope of understanding, where the air has been it cannot be again, not the same arrangement of the same molecules at the same moment they were there the first time. Thus weather is the function of random movement. There cannot reasonably be a god pushing the tropical storm centers around the planet aiming them at certain swaths of the population.  So too with tectonic plates, and brains that go haywire. These things occur in time and randomly: any creator of the universe must exist outside of time, purposefully.  But there is no reason to create a universe (or series of universes) already knowing and having executed, as it were, the universe’s entire history. This would be like writing a novel you’ve already read. We have been written, and so are known: but we weren’t known until we were written, and as any creative writer worth her salt will testify, characters tend to do what they will, not what you plan for them.  If a creator such as is perceived in the Abrahamic tradition actually exists, we understand him/her/it only by virtue of imitation. Thus we make things. What doesn’t exist we make exist. We make an ink from the red clay and place the print of our hands and images of ourselves on the flickering torch-lit walls of all the caves we occupy: nowhere we go does this not happen. Just as the child imitates the parent, with but the slimmest understanding of the parent’s psychology or designs, humans imitate some higher, more purposeful, more metaphorical, more therapeutic and more powerful being, or state of being.  How else could there be mathematics? Or irony? Or love? We didn’t invent these things, we discovered them, diving, diving, diving to the bottom of the sea. And all the while, “Our gaze is submarine, our eyes look upward/ And see the light that fractures through unquiet water./ We see the light but see not whence it comes.”**

 


**(This quotation is from T. S. Eliot’s “Choruses from The Rock” — The Rock being, if I remember correctly, a never completed verse play prepared for some kind of medieval church fair. You can check it out on this site: http://www.arak29.am/PDF_PPT/6-Literature/Eliot/Chtherock_eng.htm )

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