Addendum on Being Tired of Humans
Recently, I offered a somewhat optimistic reflection on the condition of humanity (some may have regarded it as pessimistic, but I thought I was being rather generous), entitled “When You’re Tired of Humans.” The gist of it was that the human race is, as far as one can tell, the only species that, on a species-wide level, consistently acts against its own natural needs and interests.
Here is how I sought to crystallize the point in that short essay:
No other species, for example, seems likely to have occasion to entertain such thoughts as, “Would a loving god make a world with X in it?” — where “X” equals one or another horror, inanity, or dreariness springing from the minds and actions of the species itself. For no other species acts contrary to its own natural good and interest with such tiresome predictability, or demonstrates so much inventiveness and industry in the cause of ruining its chances to achieve any measure of its telos.
In reply to this, a dear friend said that he would agree with my observation, as long as I would stipulate that by “X” in that account, I mean only the products of immorality or the malignant forms of ignorance, and not the sort of things humans actually rail against the gods about all too often, such as the suffering caused by natural disasters, or the pain of watching a child die of a hideous disease. This request for qualification suggests that a little clarification is in order, as I did indeed mean only the former kind of “X,” not the latter.
That is, when I say the human race is the only known species that would be inclined to ask whether the concept of a loving god can be squared with so much that is ugly in the everyday reality around them (all those nauseating “Xs,” if you will) I mean only such ugliness as derives from the particular self-destructive absurdities of the human race itself — willful irrationality, wanton materialism, destructive avarice, tyrannical impulses, and the like. In other words, I am talking about the infamous “problem of evil.”
This is why I was able to conjecture so freely that other species are unlikely to have occasion to ask themselves the “Would a loving god…?” question. Those other species are governed by instinct, which means by natural goal-directedness, which in turn means by natural good-directedness. They fruitfully strive at all times to do what is genuinely best for them, in accordance with their own natural interests, however limited those may be. Thus, even when they fail to achieve their telos, the failure is only due to “honest” ignorance or non-self-imposed obstacles, rather than to malicious unnaturalness.
The alternatives my friend offered as examples of the illegitimate use of the “Would a loving god…?” question — natural disasters, the death of an innocent child — are not only (as he says) illogical, but viciously so. For doubting or blaming the gods for allowing (or causing) the kind of non-self-imposed pain resulting from natural disasters, disease, or simple failure, is logically equivalent to reasoning that there cannot be a loving god on the grounds that humans have to face the pain and loss of death in general, i.e., that we are mortal.
Such reasoning then — “Would a loving god have allowed me to suffer this pain and loss?” — when applied in response to life’s natural trials, rather than to human evil, is equivalent to doubting the existence of a god on the grounds that we are not gods: “Would a loving god create a world in which everything is not an eternal being, i.e., god?” And this, in turn, is reducible to, “Would a loving god create a world?” No, it is illogical to question the divine intention on the grounds of mere human vicissitudes, as though the very existence of vicissitudes were evidence against divine power or divine goodness.
The only understandable and legitimate form of the question, “Would a loving god create a world with X in it?” is the form that is ultimately directed not at any god, per se, but at ourselves. In other words, the real question we are inclined to ask, and that no other species would have occasion to ask, would, if phrased correctly, be, “Are we worthy of having been created by a loving god?”
Viewed collectively, at the species level, I am half inclined to answer “No.”