Monday, May 25, 2009

The Thing About Chaos...

It's fair.

The Dark Knight almost certainly didn't intend to be taken this way, but I found it to be a very humanist-friendly film.

Here we watch a battle between two men who both believe that only Man can decide if the world flourishes or burns. One believes that Man can rise above his chaotic, violent instincts, the other doesn't.

The Joker is an excellent portrayal of the mentality some theists expect to see of atheists. "There is no God, thus, there is no purpose, thus, everything is permitted." He does more than accept and cope with the chaos of the world, he revels in it. More than that, he does everything he can to enhance it so that everyone else will see it and be unable to deny it. No one freaks out if everything goes according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying.

Batman, on the other hand, understands the chaos of the world and has taken it upon himself to help the world cope. He knows his battle can never be won. To paraphrase a prolific comic book writer, Warren Ellis, "The world can neither be perfect or doomed, but it can be better." He understands evil will always return and wreak havoc on the innocent, but we can make incremental progress. We can stubbornly continue to rebuild the sand castle, knowing that the tide of chaos will eventually roll back and smash it to bits. Most, importantly, only we can rebuild that sand castle. Batman is the epitome of one person standing up and deciding to take responsibility, rather than waiting for someone (or something) else to handle it for him. Batman is action, as opposed to prayer.

One man is trying to make the world better, the other is trying to make the world worse. The point is that they both know the choice is theirs. The world is ours to do with as we see fit, and as our natures dictate. There is no cosmic authority to watch over us and decide the results of our actions - they're in our hands.

When we glimpse the pain that chance can inflict on us, will our minds snap like Harvey Dent's? Or will we rise above our anger and put our experience to use, like Bruce Wayne?

When chaos appears, will we devour each other like the gangsters who made a deal with the Joker? Or can we maintain our faith in our fellow men and work to overcome it, like the people trapped in the wired boats?

This was part two of supervillains and religion.


I apologize for the huge gap between posts of late. I'm a very reactive person. When I'm in an environment conducive to atheological reasoning (such as at my last job, where I'd openly talk about it with co-workers, and I'd spend most of my time driving around and listening to books or podcasts on the subject), I have a lot of inspiration to write. Subjects come up and I want to address them. New job doesn't really have that same environment. I can't listen to books or podcasts because the job requires me to focus mentally, so they'd just be background noise. I do like the new job, but it's definitely making my "free-time writing" suffer.

That said, I've had a few experiences worth noting. Foremost in my memory are the instances of selective praise. We've all heard it before, and it feels weak to discuss it again, but it's so common I think it's worth touching on.

A horrific scenario occurred in the family of one of my colleagues in another office. Her 4-year-old daughter developed a malignant brain tumor. I became aware of this when I received the company-wide email from her, explaining the story so far. Her daughter was to go in for surgery on the next day. She asked for our prayers.

Setting aside the fact that prayer can cause harm in such a situation, I didn't think much of it. A religious person is speaking religiously, hardly news.

What irritated me was a few days later, after the surgery, when she announced its smashing success. I was glad to hear her daughter was going to be alright, but rather confused that she gave all the credit for the effective surgery to God and prayer, and none to the doctors who were actually there, doing the work. Those doctors who spent their lives training so they might help people in just such a way - yeah, those guys.

It raised the obvious question - why did God feel it appropriate to give a brain tumor to a 4-year-old in the first place? Why, after the surgery, did he allow malignant, microscopic cells to remain? Why did he allow her to faint and smack her head on the sink faucet, prompting another trip to the hospital? Where's the gain in all this? Is it so the company can come together as a community, hoping the little girl gets better? Isn't that just sick? By that very reasoning, a kidnapper is committing a morally laudable act by providing a community with the hope that its children will be returned safely.

We're right back to the problem of evil and the question of motivation I addressed in my last post. Causing pain to get a reaction isn't accepted by society (except for the Bush administration, apparently), why do we accept it of God? Are we victims of Stockholm Syndrome on a cosmic scale? Why do we cling so strongly to the idea of a Creator that we will make excuses for the evil he created? For being guided by a benevolent being with a plan, the world certainly appears awfully chaotic and unfair.

The girl is still in poor shape. They're asking for more prayers. I hope they're not telling her about them, I imagine she's frightened enough without knowing that dozens of people think only a miracle will save her.