Here are some more notes on the Problem of Evil and on different attitudes towards human suffering.
"Show me the meaning!"
As a species, we are 'infovores' and in 'explanation-seeking creatures' and seem constitutionally unable to view 'chance injustice' and 'freak accidents' as just that: random. It seems as though people find misfortune coming from a consciously malicious agent easier to rationalize and accept than misfortune coming entirely by chance. In other words, it may not just be the notion of benevolence that draws people to concept of God, but the usefulness of this concept as one single answer to every unnerving "Whodunnit?". People, therefore, bizarrely seem to find the idea of a capricious even casually malicious God more acceptable than the idea of no God.
In the formulation of the famed 20th century psychiatrist Viktor Frankl
Quote:Desperation = Suffering - Meaning
In this 'arithmetic of desperation', suffering is something that may well be a matter a chance, but the meaning we endow it with remains a matter of choice and this choice can be exercised by us to prevent and cure despair. That remains the central thesis of Logotherapy
, which almost literally means 'Meaning Cure'. The founder of Logotherapy was not averse to finding meaning in 'Providence' while freethinkers over the ages have been. Prof. Dawkins derides the question of whether there is a uniquely ordained 'purpose of life', as about as ridiculous as asking "What is the colour of jealousy?". 'Purpose' is a human construct and a worthwhile project is to devise one that is free from theological fictions and at the same time genuinely useful in times of distress.
False consolations and white lies
Religion's palliative to help people unable to cope with the finality of death is the consolation of an afterlife. A contemporary example of an avowed atheist facing impending death and yet unconvinced of the utility of this consolation of an afterlife is Christopher Hitchens and he offers a take on why an endless afterlife isn't much of a consolation at all, in this video
. While most atheists share this sort of intellectual conviction that the afterlife myth is a crutch we will discard, there remain atheists facing dilemmas like "Would we lie about heaven to comfort a dying child?
Parting as friends and being friends during departures
Solidarity in times of ailment and bereavement is something which ideological differences should not stop well-meaning believers and non-believers from offering across the fence. Christopher Hitchens says that the one thing ideologues must avoid is conniving to engineer death-bed conversions
and recruiting born-agains when their opponent lies low, and also magnanimously commends the efforts of Francis Collins
who did not let his evangelical persuasion come in the way of offering therapeutic advice to perhaps the best-known atheist debater of our times.
Giving credit where it is due, longtime debate opponent of Hitchens, Rabbi David Wolpe too agrees that it is out of form to press ideological differences during times of distress. Quoting from here
Quote:Despite our shtick, there are real principles at stake each time. That is Hitchens's gift: a dance between mockery and erudition. In his world, God is a fabrication and a cudgel. In mine, God is a solace and a guide. I was reminded of this distinction when I heard the sad news last week that Hitchens is about to undergo treatment for cancer. I have no doubt that he will face it with the same stoic courage with which he has met other challenges. There is no reason to suppose it will change his convictions; I have undergone neurosurgery and chemotherapy with my faith unshaken -- why assume he could not emerge with his unbelief unchanged as well?
Even if we maybe people attempting to practice atheism in one's life under all circumstances
, this need not stop us from tempering our critiques of those who do not share our convictions out of deference to the human need for a silent pause in times of bereavement
Rabbi Wolpe continues in his article
Quote:In the meantime, on we battle; Hitchens challenges me with how much evil happens in a good God's world. I talk about religion's contributions, its spur to altruism, and point to the mystery of consciousness and the wide testimony of religious experience.
We can address the omissions in the learned Rabbi's narrative by adding that freethinkers too are spurred on to altruism through simple empathy rather than any religious injunction, and that disbelief in an afterlife brings to freethinkers more eagerness and urgency in savouring the mystery of the one life we do have. We acknowledge the need for meaning and insist that it must built on less insecure foundations than Bronze Age myths and we also acknowledge the need for human solidarity which we believe can be maintained without positing any heavenly parentage or 'heavenly plan for humanity'. This well over an hour-long podcast "Grief without God
" by Thinking Atheist features many personal tales from atheists on how they found meaning and solidarity in times of distress.
As for the inevitability of death, Prof. Dawkins in the passage he has chosen to be read at his funeral
says that the very fact that we are going to die is a testimony to the fortune we have been endowed with. Neil deGrasse Tyson, in this moving reply
to a query about his attitude towards death, says that he seeks no entry to Heaven but only a return to the Earth and instead of seeking an 'afterlife' we would like to offer up his remains to Life.