17 July 2008

Third Jawa From The Left

I found a fun questionnaire at www.ChristianAnswers.net.  It's a site meant to help kids with the Really Big Questions.  Of course, the answer to all their questions is not only Christianity, but the particular Christianity practiced by the creators of the site. 

These are eleven of the usual snarky questions meant to ridicule the agnostically inclined. The questions are, of course, much more revealing than the answers could ever be.


If you are an atheist, a materialist, a pantheist, or a naturalist, try to answer the following 11 questions: 

1. "If all of life is meaningless, and ultimately absurd , why bother to march straight forward, why stand in the queue as though life as a whole makes sense?" —Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

Um, how exactly is all of life meaningless? Did we skip a step?  Does this "meaningless" thing come from my "no god" thing?   I don't remember conceding that.

Denying the existence of a god, or gods--or, for that matter, the Great Pumpkin--in no way invalidates the meaning of existence itself. This type of question, folks, is known in haughty debating circles as “Your premise is a big, smelly patch of doggy doo.” But why waste my breath here when there’s a variation on a theme to be pounded into the ground..


2. If everyone completely passes out of existence when they die, what ultimate meaning has life? Even if a man's life is important because of his influence on others or by his effect on the course of history, of what ultimate significance is that if there is no immortality and all other lives, events, and even history itself is ultimately meaningless?

Isn't this Question One over again? Actually, this is the prequel to Question One. It Is Question Two: Episode I: The Phantom Presumption.

Apparently, since our lives only go on for eighty or ninety years max, and since human society on Earth is presumably under warranty only until the next big asteroid strike, the things we do just don’t add up to much.  Unless the Great Pumpkin is watching, of course.  Then, poof, lasting relevance... again, apparently.  Judging from these first two questions along, I  imagine  the author of this questionnaire was quite the suck-up while the teacher was in the room and a complete jackass when she wasn’t.


3. Suppose the universe had never existed. Apart form (sic) God, what ultimate difference would that make?

Confusing grammar aside, the author of the questionnaire is clearly some sort of intuitive theological genius. They've got the why and wherefores all figured out. That's impressive considering no holy book ever explains what "difference" is being made by god's decision to create a universe and populate it. In fact, when it comes to the big, ultimate WHY, god's motivation is left out entirely.  Or else I keep getting copies of the bible with that page torn out.

Speaking for myself, ever since childhood I'VE wondered the following: if everyone’s mortal life is only a preamble to their immortal and presumably more important and intended second life, what ultimate meaning has that mortal life? So I guess I beat this guy to the question.

Between Genesis and Revelation, some people live and suffer and die, and others live and write bad poetry and then die.  Same thing happens in the atheist universe, but with less wafer-eating.


4. In a universe without God or immortality, how is mankind ultimately different from a swarm of mosquitoes or a barnyard of pigs?

I trust you do not need to be told how you are different from mosquitoes and pigs.


5. What viable basis exists for justice or law if man is nothing but a sophisticated, programmed machine?

What’s disturbing here is that the questioner thinks being sophisticated and programmed for goodness is a bad thing. Does he/she really believe that a complex harmony of sympathetic organisms is actually a less appealing state of affairs  than a world of evil-minded sinners commanded to follow the rules by an enigmatic overlord?


6. Why does (sic) research, discovery, diplomacy, art, music, sacrifice, compassion, feelings of love, or affectionate and caring relationships mean anything if it all ultimately comes to naught anyway?

What, are we back to here again? You're telling me there’s a Big Scorekeeper that needs to rubber stamp my relationships for them to matter?

I get the sense this person feels they’re pretty important in the Big Story. Like if the Big Story Of Life were Star Wars, he/she wouldn’t exactly be Luke Skywalker (that part obviously belongs to Jesus) but they just might be, say, Lando Calrissian, or at the very least, Nien Numb.

Come on. The Universe is just too infinite for carbon based bipeds to get the sort of starring role you're looking for, Questionnaire Author.  We can't be Han or Leia.  Not even Wedge or Porkins of that snotty guy Vader chokes at the really big table.
Some of us have long ago accepted that, cosmologically speaking, the best a human can hope for is to be the third Jawa from the left and we’re okay with it.



7. Without absolute morals, what ultimate difference is there between Saddam Hussein and Billy Graham?

The trip has been pretty serpentine, but it's comforting to see the author getting around to the standard "morals-come-from-a-book" argument. I’m just going to have to ignore the easy set-up, re: the choices of Hussein and Graham.
 

(Couldn’t you at least gone with someone more clutch and universal? Gandhi, maybe? Or Abraham Lincoln?)
 

Obviously the difference is that one of these men stirred his followers to unspeakable evils and hate against rivals sects, and that the other is Saddam Hussein.

Okay, I COUDLN'T ignore the set-up. 


8. If there is no immortality, why shouldn't all things be permitted?(Dostoyevsky)

I’m going to assume the author's sloppy composition is at work here again and just ignore the word “immortality” here, except to note that not dying is turning into something of an obsession with this person.  (Let’s use the word “god” or “hell” instead.  I’m actually doing the author a favor by making this substitution--it makes their position marginally stronger.  Why would the length of an existence matter in terms of ethics?)

The obvious answer to the question how if there's no hell can people be expected to behave, as I’m sure this person has heard before (see Question 5), is that human beings are conditioned to depend on, and feel for, one another.  It's taken a bit of time for this solidarity to develop and to be sure there have been some stumbles (crusades, inquisitions, reality television, etc.), but without these tried and true empathic instincts (I.e. basic moral laws) we would not have advanced from our primitive existence at all  Knowing that, we all of us recognize that the individual who goes against the common good is a threat and we subsequently deny and condemn him/her.

Or I could put it this way: Do I really need to list to you the endless bad things the Bible does not condemn that you would never do (hopefully)? 


9. If morality is only a relative social construct, on what basis could or should anyone ever move to interfere with cultures that practice apartheid, female circumcision, cannibalism, or ethnic cleansing?

See directly above.


10. If there is no God, on what basis is there any meaning or hope for fairness, comfort, or better times?

For comfort I turn to my fellow living creatures. And it goes without saying--or should, in a more perfect world--there’s always my intellect to rely on. As for fairness, logic, properly applied,  is the only proven source of that scarce commodity I can name.

As for “better times”, they seem to show up about as often as “worse times”. Nobody ever made me any promises. Who promised you “better times”?  And, if you really want your times better, wouldn't it be better to get off your ass and work for them, rather than waiting for a belated gift from a deadbeat daddy?


11. Without a personal Creator-God, how are you anything other than the coincidental, purposeless miscarriage of nature, spinning round and round on a lonely planet in the blackness of space for just a little while before you and all memory of your futile, pointless, meaningless life finally blinks out forever in the endless darkness?

And here’s the fear. At last, the fear, naked and codified for all to see. 

“I can’t just be another lucky accident, I have to be more! Don’t let me be just a secular miracle, a blessed once-in-a-trillion happening! I’m obviously so much more important than that!”

For some folks, it’s not easy being the third Jawa from the left.

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