It is very difficult to be a sentient human being just now and not wonder occasionally or, well, obsessively: “Why is this happening to us?” I’m not speaking of the scientific questions of how Covid began and spread, how it is like and unlike other viruses, how it works, how it spreads, how… well, there are a million scientific questions and we read about them every day. I don’t mean those, but the more existential question. How do we make sense of it all?
It is is less of a problem for naturalists, who do not believe that there is anything beyond the physical universe (in any sense), any non-material superior being, for example, or any non-material thing at all, that has any dealings with it. For hardcore naturalists, the universe and everything in it, living or not, is all particles; sometimes the particles line up in ways that are not conducive for us to survive, let alone thrive. And so the existential “why” something happens, for many naturalists, is a pointless question. It’s only a scientific question to be answered in terms of natural law and probability.
The “why” questions are much deeper and debatable for those who are not absolute naturalists, deeper because they go beyond scientific demonstration – even among supernaturalists who absolutely subscribe to science in every way – and more debatable because … well, for the same reason. They go beyond scientific demonstration. Even today, the vast majority of Americans are still in this category; around the world, apart from parts of Western Europe, it is even more so.
The major “why” question has been well known for thousands of years, and has never been answered to everyone’s satisfaction. It is the standard question of “theodicy” – how does one explain suffering if there is a God (or gods), a loving divine being in the world. If he (let’s call him a he, since most people do) is loving, then he wants the absolute best for people; if he is all powerful he is able to provide the best for people; but people suffer in horrible, horrible ways. Why is that? Three obvious solutions: he is not in fact all-loving; or he is not all powerful; or there is no suffering. People take all three positions. But most people who believe in God accept the premises and try to explain.
Members of the blog and people who contact me from other social media and just random folk who write me emails out of the blue regularly want me to know “the answer.” Especially now, during the pandemic. Almost always they genuinely don’t seem to understand why I find their answers completely unsatisfying. Often these notes begin with “Have you ever thought that maybe….?” But almost never, ever do I hear an answer that hasn’t been batted about roughly forever.
Recently I had a back and forth with someone who wanted to convince me that Covid-19 was a “test” from God. God wanted to see if ….
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