Silence, Infuriating and Tragic

fetus

Public officials must be very careful about what they say and when they say it. They naturally try to steer clear of controversial issues, but when they do touch on said issues, they do so in a tactful way, being careful about both the phrasing and the timing in light of recent events. For instance, if (hypothetically) a crazed person were to run into a Scientology function wearing a bomb vest and kill himself and 30 other people, no one could publicly criticize Scientology for at least two months, no matter how ridiculous the whole Xenu bit may seem to them. Any public official violating this unwritten rule would be obliged to immediately issue an apology.

You just have to be careful – even if you are saying something that would normally make your voter base glow with satisfaction.

This is why I am so perplexed about President Obama’s strong language at a recent Planned Parenthood event. He is normally a man who is very good at stepping only on the right toes in the most politically beneficial way. In his speech, though, he collectively criticized all conservative-led efforts on the state level to place limitations on abortions, accusing conservatives of wanting “to turn back the clock to policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century.” Of course, these words come as no surprise to us: we all knew that he was a strong abortion-rights advocate, and that, unlike his constantly vacillating stance on homosexual marriage, this is something he has been quite solid about. However, in the wake of the media firestorm surrounding the prosecution of Kermit Gosnell, a physician accused of various crimes relating to the deaths of numerous viable babies who had reached a point of development at which they were supposed to be protected by law, one would think that he would have been more careful with his rhetoric. Images of infant body parts being cut off and kept around Gosnell’s practice like trophies – and other such atrocities – should have been enough for even the strongest abortion advocates to take a sudden, shocked breath in response to President Obama’s diatribe.

But President Obama made  no gaffes in front of the Planned Parenthood crowd: his address was carefully framed and calculated. And the backlash? Well, the President is hardly feeling a tickle – because there was no media firestorm surrounding Kermit Gosnell. A psychologically imbalanced mother drowns her children, and it is front-page news on every major news website for months. A (supposedly) sane physician knowingly takes the lives of many human beings in his care – children who have developed enough to be wrapped in a blanket and taken home – and no one is even reporting on it except FoxNews. And this is because, in some twisted logic, our society has decided that anyone who has a problem with delivering a viable, moving, feeling, breathing child into the world and then cutting that child’s spinal cord with scissors is obviously a hater of women and should not be regarded as an enlightened human being. CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and CBS do not report on the Gosnell case because, like our President, they feel that it is a woman’s right to create a human life with a heartbeat and a nervous system that responds to stimuli and carry that life for seven, eight, or nine months – only to then have someone take scissors or a scalpel to “it” and scrape “it” out like a tumor.

When I was a child, my English teacher assigned The Giver to us as required reading. That short novel chronicled a medication-balanced dystopia of bicycles and sameness in which real human emotions were chemically and socially subdued in an effort to avert or ignore real human problems. The most gripping image of just how far the fake heaven has fallen comes when the protagonist sees what happens to imperfect newborns behind closed doors: they are injected with a life-terminating drug and thrown away in a neat white box. This grisly revelation leads to the protagonist’s complete abandonment of everything he has been taught to love and trust – in an effort to save another newborn from the same fate.

Like the protagonist of that book, I stand agape and wonder: Have we really fallen this far? Can it be true that our media and our President flatly ignore something that easily constitutes the most heinous of atrocities – out of fear that they may lose ratings or political supporters? In their advocacy of what they call compassion and tolerance, how can they be so callous toward the most vulnerable members of the human race? As we progress toward what we believe to be enlightenment, to what extent are we forsaking the best parts of human nature and carrying the worst parts along with us? When we reach that destination – whatever it may be – will we read the books of generations past and realize that we have become the very monsters of whom they spoke?

When we stand to be judged, we will have to answer not only for any young voices that we have silenced before they could speak, but also for our own silence. And when we do so – when we look our victims in the eyes – we will again be silent, knowing that our petty excuses mean nothing.

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On Justice and Rational Belief

lazarus

All human attempts to make sense of the universe – whether scientific or otherwise – are based upon a very bold leap of faith: they are based upon the assumption that the universe does, in fact, make sense, and that we simply need to find out how. Rather than accepting a model with missing pieces, pure religion and pure science both require us to operate under the belief that, once all of the pieces are found, they will fit together.

Many times, I have been told something along these lines: “You just need to grow up and accept the fact that there is no great force of justice in the universe and that there is nothing after death. I know it’s scary to think that true justice will never come or that your loved ones who have died are gone forever. It was certainly scary for me at first. But I’ve learned to accept it, and I am better off because of it.” However, as many times as I have heard that assertion, I have never believed it. I am not even talking about how I do not believe in the implications for life, the universe, and everything, while that is certainly the case. Rather, I am saying that I do not even believe in the implications for the person making the assertion: I have never been convinced that any person has ever learned to accept the idea, regardless of what they may say. Such people do of course live their lives in a state of disbelief, but it is a suspended disbelief. That is, while their intellect acknowledges what they feel to be the truth, they still reject it in practice. For example, I have seen many anti-theists seek to protect human life with religious fervor, but if there is nothing of quintessential value to that human life – as a worldview that is truly based purely on science would suggest – such behavior has all the meaning of an MMORPG, in which we commit heroic acts because we like to feel heroic, and not because we feel that we are actually accomplishing anything. Suspension of disbelief is necessary to get full enjoyment from many movies, novels, games, etc., but to require it in every aspect of one’s life would be a depressing thing indeed.

And then comes the inevitable response: “It doesn’t matter whether it is depressing or not. It’s the truth, and that’s all that matters.” But this statement leads to a string of questions that the people who make it cannot answer:

  • If the truth is that there is no real point to anything – other than what we invent for ourselves – what’s the point of knowing the truth anyway? If nothing is of ultimate importance, how could anything be of any importance? If nothing is of any importance, why are we even having this discussion?
  • If the truth is that there is no ultimate justice, what is your standard for immediate justice? If you have no such standard for justice, how can you define injustice – other than by some private definition that is always going to be different from someone else’s? If you cannot define injustice, how can you use injustice as an excuse to reject the existence of Deity?
  • How can you place such value in the effort of making sense of the universe through verifiable evidence and empirical reason when you have already decided that the universe makes no sense?

As an illustration of this fallacy, Sam Harris, militant anti-theist, once wrote the following:

Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of 6 billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl’s parents believe at this very moment that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?

No.

The entirety of atheism is contained in this response.

The first thing we should note about this statement is that, while many atheists would insist that their worldview is not fundamentally pessimistic, Sam Harris has clearly stated otherwise. Aside from that, though, we should note that Sam Harris is clearly appealing to a sense of right and wrong to show us how there can be no God. This matter could lead to any number of discussions, but the central point to take note of is the fact that even the most militant “non-believer” still tends to have a sense of ultimate justice and rightness – not because scientific evidence defines it for him, but because it just feels right…which is a very unscientific basis for any perspective.

People like Sam Harris argue that relying on God to bring us justice only causes us to become indolent and fail to enact justice on our own. There is certainly some validity to this sentiment. However, there is another side to it: while Sam Harris would enjoin us to fight injustice, his worldview also requires us to accept it. For instance, a likely outcome of his scenario is that the perpetrator will never be arrested for his crimes. And, according to Sam Harris, the victim will never get the real justice that only comes on the far side of recovery and wholeness. In his mind, she has been violated and destroyed, and the carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen of her body will soon be spread across the world as if she never existed. (Not that human existence has any real meaning.) In his mind, only by accepting this fact can we lead meaningful lives. (Even though meaning is a matter of perception rather than reality.) In his mind, the only thing that makes sense is to assume that the universe does not make sense.

I believe. I believe in God, in ultimate justice, and in life after death. I believe in these things not because I am irrational, but because I am rational: I believe in them because, like any scientist who has a passion for what he does, I know that the universe necessarily must make sense. How is it rational to assume that the equation does not balance? I am not so foolish as to believe that I can avoid all harm by following God’s will; any religious person who does believe this should probably think some more about his religion, as he will surely be disappointed at some point in the future. However, I do believe that everything will be made right in the end. I believe that justice – true justice – will be served, not only for the perpetrator, but also for the victim. I believe that innocence lost due to the sins of others can and will be restored, and that those whose souls have seemingly perished in misery can rise again like Lazarus, as if they had never died, without the slightest blemish on their countenances. To believe otherwise would be like believing in the creation or destruction of matter or energy: it would be utterly opposed to the idea that we live in a universe of action and reaction and immutable natural laws.

The immediate response to this profession of belief would be to say that justice is not *real* per se: it is something we think of and experience, but it is not a natural force or phenomenon like gravity and the refraction of light are. Therefore, it is not subject to natural law in the way that *real* things are. The intended implication of this argument would be that justice, not being *real*, does not actually *mean* anything. But if that is the case, why is Sam Harris – like every other vocal atheist I have met – so adamantly fixated on the idea that it does exist and does mean something, such that he places it at the very core of his worldview? Why get so worked up about something that is not real? If justice is simply a figment of our imagination, how is a worldview founded upon a belief in justice any more rational than a worldview founded upon a belief in an imaginary deity?

The reason for which Sam Harris and others are so preoccupied with the perceived injustice of the world around them is precisely because they feel that it is something unnatural, something that does not make any sense, and something all too real. While they may say that their refusal or inability to believe in ultimate justice is a sign of their intellectual maturity, it actually seems to be the opposite: they assume that, because the equation does not balance on their terms, it must not balance at all. Reality must make sense, however – even if it does not make sense to us – and the equation always must balance.

When I say that I have faith, I do not mean that I assume things to be true just because it is pleasant or convenient to do so. Rather, when I say that I have faith, I mean that I know that everything necessarily must make sense, even if I do not now completely understand how. Such an assumption should not seem foreign to the scientific mind, as it is actually integral to scientific pursuit. However, a worldview that accepts an imbalanced universe in which natural laws exist only to a limited extent – such that they are needed but not present – is both juvenile and irrational. This is as true for justice as it is for gravitation. Yes, I do find the idea of ultimate justice comforting, but that no more disqualifies my belief in it than does the comfort I feel in having a periodic table or a multiplication table without gaps.

As I make my case for ultimate justice and faith, though, please note that I am not defending religion in general: I do not advocate false religious ideas any more than I advocate false non-religious ideas. What I advocate is the implicit truth, which is that, in a universe with rational laws that cannot contradict each other, justice must be a reality – even if we do not quite understand how or when it will be achieved. All of the unjust suffering of this world, all of the loss that feels so unnatural and innately wrong, will be redressed. The equation will balance. Wholeness will become evident, though I do not understand the method through which this wholeness shall be achieved. I have faith in this fact precisely because I am a rational person who believes in a rational universe.