Deep Theological Thoughts in the desert…

Terrible things happen in wild country, most commonly on a micro scale you can step right over without noticing. Last night I was out with Little Bear on his evening walky. He was moving cheerfully down the driveway toward the wash – we were still in the yard – when he literally skidded to a halt on the gravel, executed a graceful 180, and headed for a clump of bush we had already passed. I was looking around not paying enough attention to what had caught his nose, and didn’t see that he had his schnoz down in a possibly dangerous hole.

Now, LB is normally very good about avoiding snakes – I have joked that he fears nothing on four legs except bulls, but he fears everything with two legs or none – so I didn’t expect him to stick his nose into a snake’s fangs. But still, this was poor management on my part. I should have watched what he was doing more carefully. The hole – and his muzzle – was covered with ants. He came up snuffing and shaking his head. He had found something dead in that hole, and the ants resented the intrusion.

He held still while I wiped the ants off his face, and I went back to the hole in time to see a larval rat emerge, also covered with ants and apparently not enjoying its very short life. I assume the mother was dead inside, but the ants weren’t waiting for the baby to die before consuming it.

I walked away pondering Deep Thoughts about how incompatible such scenes – repeated millions of times daily around me, as I know but don’t usually have to witness – are with all the talk about a loving biblical god. There’s a glib theological answer to the question of why there’s evil, suffering and death among mankind, but what did that baby rat’s ancestors do to piss god off? If life is the result of design, as it might well be for all I know, it certainly didn’t have a designer who gave a shit about individual lives.

That was kind of a depressing thought to end the day on. But then I got to thinking, there’s exactly as much hard evidence for the notion of reincarnation as there is for the Genesis story, right? And if we assume reincarnation, then maybe that writhing, suffering rat baby really contained the soul of, say, the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Yeah! Still working his horrible way through karma, from his first long-ago post-death incarnation as a bit of fauna in the gut of a dung beetle, rolling its treasure under the wheel of a moving Somali technical…

It’s mean, but it did kinda cheer me up.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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10 Responses to Deep Theological Thoughts in the desert…

  1. MamaLiberty says:

    Pretty much my thoughts as well, Joel. I tried hard to see the loving, personal god, but the more I studied, the less I believed any of it.

    Mother nature is the creator’s wife, I guess. She’s extremely generous to the earth itself and the various families of creatures and plants, but deathly harsh on the individuals. And if the individuals don’t work mighty hard to adapt in order to survive, she has no real problem dumping whole tribes of them.

    I think that if people piled up all of the prayers and expectation for “miracles” from god… and compared it to a much smaller pile of verifiable answers to those… rather than the perceived answers, of course… I don’t think there would be any question about it.

    But each to his/her own, of course.

  2. trying2b-amused says:

    I can accept that the Universe is indifferent. Maybe I’m just a naive Pollyanna optimist, but I cannot accept that the Universe is overtly sadistic – as Walter Kaufmann points out WRT “a loving biblical god”:

    Consider St. Augustine’s claim that all men deserve damnation; that God elects a few for salvation although they do not deserve it; and that the damned cannot complain that God is unjust. After all, says the saint, nobody is punished worse than he deserves, and the fact that a few fare better than they deserve merely shows the infinite mercy of God.

    Such reasoning is specious. First, such arbitrary inequality of treatment is what philosophers call a “paradigm case” of injustice. For it is a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition of “just” treatment that like cases are treated alike. Second, Augustine’s God exemplifies anything but infinite mercy. In connection with this last point, consider Dante, whose concern with proportioning punishments to crimes was second to no man’s. He gave the most beautiful and eloquent expression to the traditional Christian view of justice. In his sublime inscription over the gate to the inferno he stressed the eternity of suffering – the word “eternal” recurs three times in the nine lines – before concluding:

    Abandon, as you enter, every hope.

    But it is the central triplet about hell that requires comment here:

    Justice moved my Architect above,
    What made me was divine Omnipotence,
    The highest Wisdom and the Primal Love.

    The power of Dante’s poetry in the original Italian evokes admiration, and almost twenty centuries of Christian teaching have helped to keep most readers from being struck by the enormity of this incredible perversion of the meaning of justice and love. The only parallel that comes to mind is bound to sound like blasphemy, but it requires some shock to awaken those who are not shocked by Dante’s lines and by the Christian view. Over the gate of Auschwitz those who entered saw the words: Arbeit macht frei – “work liberates.”

    One can still wander about this camp for hours, walk through barracks, stare at mountains of shoes and hair, at ovens, and then see those words when leaving. Those who take language lightly and have no love for words may feel that this inscription adds nothing to the horror. Yet it is the ultimate in brazen cynicism and dishonesty – a final, almost unbelievable, affront.

    The whole Third Reich lasted barely more than twelve years, Auschwitz only about three – a drop in the bucket compared to the eternal torments of hell. But what on earth could one liken to the Christian hell if not a concentration camp? And what to the Auschwitz inscription if not the infinitely more fateful claim that eternal tortures are compatible with, and were actually devised by, the greatest love that ever was – and by justice?

    The whole book is very much worth reading.

  3. Anonymous says:

    God made the earth perfect and holy. MAN let the devil have it and he (the devil) has distorted, twisted and destroyed most all of the good that ever was…. NOTHING bad on this earth is Gods fault, NONE. OF. IT.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The “man” mentioned is Adam, in the garden of Eden.

  5. Claire says:

    “God made the earth perfect and holy.”

    If god made everything perfect and holy, then man — being part of the perfection and holiness — couldn’t possibly have screwed it up.

  6. Claire says:

    But Joel, I hear you on the mindless savagery of nature. Your image of the “larval rat” covered in devouring ants is painful. I can’t get it out of my head.

    I went to bed last night after reading about six members of a family who died when their van was washed away in the Houston flood waters. The story went into poignant detail about the nature of the extended family and how a few mistakes led to the tragedy. I didn’t sleep for a long time, thinking of both the dead and the suffering of the survivors (particularly the one man who survived the accident, which was largely the fault of several bad decisions he made; the guilt he’ll live with for the rest of his life is unthinkable).

    I tried to tell myself that humans are mistake-making animals and sometimes they have to pay for their mistakes. But there were four children, ages 6 to 16 in that van. What mistakes did they make? And their parents, who were elsewhere; what mistakes did they make to deserve to lose their children? If that accident was the result of mere human error, it’s bad enough. Same with your little rat being a victim of some natural circumstance beyond its control. Horrible, but just part of the mindless action of nature.

    If these things were the work of a perfect, holy, all-seeing, all-capable god, they’d be the acts of a monster.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Clair, I am sorry, but you havent a solitary clue what you are talking about when it comes to God, your words prove it beyond a doubt… If you dont understand something, your opinion of it cannot be valid, you are spouting off words with no knowledge behind them… If I knew nothing about a subject, then ANYTHING I said about it would just be guesswork, which is what your words about God and how things work in the spiritual realm are, just useless conjecture and falsehoods that have no truth to them because you dont understand the subject…. If you wish to become knowledgeable about God and how spiritual thing work, I would be happy to help you learn..

  8. bmq215 says:

    Anon – Your refutation of Claire’s statement seems to boil down to “you’re wrong because I say you’re wrong” with no argument to the contrary. You also seem to have evaluated the whole of her theological knowledge based on a single sentence. Seems like a pretty thin argument to me but perhaps you didn’t have a better one? Still, it seems like you should be able to say WHY you think she’s wrong…

    Joel – Posts like this are one of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog. For a hermitty journal there’s surprising depth and your readership only furthers that by making the comments section something worth reading.

  9. Joel says:

    Still, it seems like you should be able to say WHY you think she’s wrong…

    Yeah, but please don’t. At least not here.

    Joel – Posts like this are one of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog. For a hermitty journal there’s surprising depth and your readership only furthers that by making the comments section something worth reading.

    Thank you! Compliments, like contributions, are always gratefully accepted. 🙂

  10. Claire says:

    ” I would be happy to help you learn..”

    Since you’re merely spouting things you learned in Sunday school, everything you said about my comment applies to your own fact-free borrowed opinions. I’d ask you to explain your belief using verifiable facts presented in a framework of logic, but you couldn’t do it and we’d be abusing Joel’s hospitality.

    bmq, thanks for your defense. I agree. Joel, I’ll shut up now.

To the stake with the heretic!