Friday, August 13, 2010

Hitchens on his death and deities

It saddens me to see this video, not because of anything Christopher Hitchens says, but because he is dying. As he points out, so are we all, he just a bit faster and in a more certain way.

Mr. Hitchens is a fascinating writer, albeit one with whom I have some strong disagreements. But I found him to be a friendly man when we meet a bit over a year ago. And he most kindly inscribed one of his books for me with some kind remarks, remarks I would share with you except I have the book packed away for a move that I must make.

Your blogger is going through quite a rough and difficult patch at this time requiring some medication and lots of rest. But as so often is the case I am reminded that, no matter how dark my horizon may look, I can see others vanishing into the darkness.

The last time I had a very, very difficult time in my life I was deeply depressed and worried. At that time I learned that my good friend Libby Husemeyer was dying of brain cancer and the injustice of this cruel, godless world angered me. I remember wishing it was me instead. I felt then I had little reason to continue living and she had so many, that I would have happily traded places. But I also recognized that, as bad as things were for me, they were far worse for her. I took little comfort in that because I had lost the will to live, but lacked the courage to do anything about it, and she was fighting for every minute of life left to her.

As I sit here, partially in drug-induced relaxation——all with a legal prescription I might point out——I again think that the world would be a better place if I could somehow trade places with Hitch. I can understand the situation I face, it is the result of something that simply strikes me as vicious and intentional cruelty. But for Hitch, there is no such reasonable explanation.

And when there is no reasonable explanation for why something happens, we turn to the god of the gaps. It is simply the will of some deity, certainly those praying his death would like to think so. But, I doubt that is how the world works, and Hitch certainly doubts it as well.

When I wrote of Libby's death I said the following:
The natural processes of life lack justice. I can not conceive of there being intelligent design when good people suffer needlessly. Cruel and vicious people survive far too long and good people go far too early. We are all willing to acknowledge the great achievements but we ignore simple goodness. It saddens me deeply when a genuinely good person dies. I know she loved her family and was glad they could be with her till the end. My heart goes out to them. I know that many, many people who knew Libby will be saddened today. I know I am.

I will insist that Hitch is wrong on some things, right on some things, but regardless he struck me as a decent and good man. I wish there were some cosmic justice death exchange system in place——somewhere where we could swap a good person facing death with some cruel, vengeful type who seems in good health. Certainly if that were possible I know who would be carrying Hitch's cancer in his place. His life is valuable to me, this other person's life, perhaps of no value at all, at least not to me.

I don't expect cosmic justice; I hope for it. But I don't count on it. Existence has no conscience, it has no sense of right or wrong, of decency or cruelty. It just strikes randomly and without any intelligence behind it. While men like Hitchens, who bless the world with their talents, face their deaths, there are petty, cruel people seeking to harm others over some slight they imagine, or merely out of spite.

This utter and complete lack of justice in the way that the universe behaves is a strong indication that there is no deity behind it. That is the most comforting thought one can derive from the existence of such things. For if there is a master designer behind this systemm he is capricious, cruel, vindictive and malicious. Bad things, often very bad things happen to good people, while real bitches seem to thrive. The idea that such injustice is some "higher" form of justice, devised by a deity, is utterly offensive.

What deity could take pleasure in imposing cancer, or unleashing floods and tornadoes? Cruelty, however, is a very human trait. It is a sign that we are far from divine. The lack of a sense of justice in reality implies that any designer who created the system would, of necessity, be lacking a sense of justice as well. Hume once speculated that the flaws of our universe might suggest, not intelligent design but "the first rude essay of some infant deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance" or perhaps the effort of a "dependent inferior deity," or even the production "of old age and dotage in some superannuated deity."

Some substandard, inferior deity might well wind up a world such as the one we live in. But it is not the work of some all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful entity. Everyday we witness too many injustices to know this is the case. In intelligent design the cruel would consistently face the consequences of the pain they intentionally inflict on others. And while there are often such moments they are as random as many other things in life. Cruelty often does thrive and that it does indicates to me that any deity in charge of this universe would have to be as cruel and capricious as the viciousness he allows — or perhaps, as I suspect, he simply is not there.

Note: The medication I was given pretty much knocked me out for six hours. And now, rested and awake again, I have gone through this piece and cleaned up some pretty awful typos. Given the medication involved I'm pleased that the main problems were minor typos and not entirely incoherent sentences—though I do suspect my religious readers may well accuse me of that crime out of principle. I am on this course of medication for the next 15 to 30 days and it may knock me out each time, and it does play games with the mind. I will post when I can and then try to clean it up when the effects wear off. My apologies.