Current events don’t seem as interesting after the death of a loved one. Much of the news of the day, viewed in the broader perspective of life’s fragility, seem trivial and inconsequential. The larger issues of the how and why of existence tend to get more attention.
In that context, so much of what is considered important appears absurd. The emphasis and time spent on the pursuit of pleasure, power, attention, delusions, and distractions, seem so petty. Remember the song “Is That All There Is?” It poses the right question and suggests an answer: “Then let’s keep dancing. Break out the booze and have a ball.”
But what if there’s more? What if there’s a greater purpose? What if it’s not just a colossal cosmic accident? What if there’s a plan? What if there’s life after death? What if love, truth, justice, compassion, and mercy are not just human rights but flow from a higher source? Is belief in God anymore preposterous than perceived reality? Are the cosmos, evolution, and human development all just a series of coincidences, unplanned and unguided? Lastly, where did stuff – the energy, particles seen and unseen at the source of existence, come from?
I don’t know for sure. But as I look out my window on a beautiful fall day, despite all the confusion, pettiness, absurdity, and madness so evident throughout history, there is just enough goodness and beauty to give me hope. I hope my wife continues to exist in some other reality and that one day I will join her. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but who would have imagined this reality had we not experienced it.
Belief in nothing has something in common with belief in God. They are both convictions and evidence can be cited to support both. Believing requires a choice – an affirmation based on one’s understanding of reality. It is an act of will grounded on perceptions. It is faith when associated with hope - religion or a belief in God, or denial, when reality is viewed as meaningless or distorted by false assumptions.
ISIS is a complex example of both. It is faith misguided, belief in an irrational, intolerant, cruel deity whose love is conditioned upon strict adherence to profoundly disturbing doctrine. Christianity has evolved while radical Islam is an aberration, rooted in the 7th century. Any deviation from the rigorous application of its harsh doctrines is considered heresy and nonbelievers are outcasts who, as infidels, deserve severe punishment. It demands a choice under duress between a God of love or a God of retribution.
Some believe that there is more evil in the world now than at any time in human history. I believe mankind has always been intolerant, cruel, and misguided. Today the instruments of violence are more pervasive and more powerful and we are more aware of the harm they cause. However, the slaughter of innocents in World War II by Nazi Germany, a Christian nation, far surpasses anything before or after. Seemingly good people either participated in, or failed to protest, mass murder on an unimaginable scale.
For centuries, human beings were bought and sold in this country until a bloody civil war ended that wicked trade. Native Americans were almost wiped out as immigrants to the new world expanded westward. As bad as it is, and it is very bad, what is happening today only underscores the conflict between love and hate at the root of the reality we occupy. While hate gets all the attention, I believe that the quiet, unnoticed goodness that exists among us in so many forms will prevail. It happens as people think a little less about themselves and a little more about the well being of others. Those folks are not as rare as you might think; just look around.
I see them all the time in schools, hospitals, churches, courts, businesses, in offices, and on the street: The legions of good people who care as they quietly go about their daily activities.
The “news” is about conflict but, rest assured, it is a relatively small part of the human condition.
We are all here for a higher purpose: to search out the goodness in ourselves and others.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.