Tuesday, November 16, 2010

God Is Great....ly exaggerated

Somehow, people are able to see the suffering of a child and feel ennobled by it. (Boy, was I slammed over that one: read the comments and decide for yourself.) To me, it makes a pretty clear case that if there's a god, she cannot possibly be omniscient, omnipotent, and loving, as most of the religulous would have us believe. I know nearly first hand how the pain of a parent witnessing the dying of a child demands some kind of safe haven for the soul. God has a special plan; in her suffering we see the beauty of life. (Somehow.) But I can find nothing -- NOTHING -- redeeming about the death of a parent via Alzheimer's disease, and if it's not absolute proof of the non-existence of god, then it sure as hell is proof of a very incompetent or a very distracted or a very nasty one.

Yeah, okay, they watch a child die of brain cancer and in her obedient expressions of faith, which she knows are helping her parents cope (which is not to say they're not also helping her as well), witnesses can find some sort of grace. (And take the unspoken inference that their kid could be next.) I don't, not even hardly. But I understand the need and the way in which, for parents, it eases the intolerable pain (and for bystanders, provides a chance to reassure and relieve themselves). If it works, more power to them.

But the slow descent through Alzheimer's disease is completely beyond any such rationalizing. This is an old person, one who's lived her life, whose death is not inconsistent with what we expect; it's in the order of things, it has inherent meaning. To whom goes glory when the death is extended over ten years of robbery? Where is the meaning or evidence of godly love when the person so destroyed has no ability herself to address or understand it? And what person could find any sort of solace watching and participating in the darkest of human comedies as their loved one first denies, then fears, and finally painfully slowly helplessly sadly then dumbly succumbs to the loss of everything they once were, to the end of dignity. The confusion, the incomprehension, the cruel incremental relentless transformation from highly capable and active participant in life, a contributer, into one who can neither recognize nor appreciate the help gladly but so sadly given. If it is a part of life that children eventually become the parents of the parents, in what way is this particular variation of any good to anyone?

I accept that it's often a part of life, and I did whatever I could to make it easier. Who wouldn't? But there is no sign of a loving god in it, surely there isn't. One who didn't plan carefully for the end of life, sure. One who actually takes pleasure in the purposeless suffering he can create, maybe so. Because this can be seen as nothing other than cruelty, were it part of any sort of design. Or, at best, evidence that this creator-person lost interest, checked out, or simply doesn't care about old people. (He's a Republican? Who knew? I'd have said Jesus, anyway, was a Democrat. But it's not really my area.)

The dying girl, called before her time. Of course, we say, there's meaning here. God brought her home, sending us a message -- especially if the family can convince the girl to hide her pain and love God, so we who watch will be pleased. (Why it has to involve such physical pain and suffering for the child, well, it's not ours to ask.) But an old person, already headed there, in whose death there'd be sadness but not a sense of cosmic disorder? Where in god's name is god in such a death, robbing the person of who she was, skinned alive slowly with a dulled knife. Threatening to replace her family's best memories with ones of sorrow.

I didn't need convincing: I'd long since seen the contradictions in the generally-held views of god and found myself unable to ignore them. But how does a believer rationalize such a thing as death by Alzheimer's disease?

I enjoy fiction; I enjoy fantasy; but to enjoy it I do expect a modicum of internal consistency. If the story makes sense in its own context and follows a kind of logic that, if not based on reality, remains constant throughout the story, I'm on board. As a kid, I relished The Foundation Trilogy, marveled at the creation of a whole set of rules, an entire civilization that neither existed nor was possible, but made complete sense within the walls of its world, on every page. I like a good mindless movie as much as the next guy, and I don't expect much in return for being entertained (especially now that I qualify for senior rates.) But watching a movie like the latest "Bourne Redundancy" I can't help but be bothered when they make not the slightest attempt to explain plot jumps that are impossible.

Belief in god, by definition, isn't supposed to be rational. But why can't there be some sort of connection to what we observe of life? It is not possible -- IT'S SIMPLY NOT POSSIBLE -- to reconcile the idea of an 1) all-knowing and 2) all-powerful and 3) loving god with life as we know it to be. Not to mention with free will or answering prayer. It's not impossible, it seems to me, to have belief that makes some sort of internal sense, so why not? Too unsatisfying, not soporific enough? The Greeks and Romans with their gods fighting and screwing and generally causing chaos and running wild were consistent with life. Native animism, too. Buddhism is mostly a philosophy of humility; its reincarnation idea is sort of a side dish which is neither consistent nor inconsistent with observation. Doesn't negate itself the way Judeo-Christian insistence on the three-fold god characteristics does. (In fairness, Jews sort of punt on the idea of afterlife, and I give them a thumbs-up for that. Not in terms of belief per se, but in morality: if there's no reward, no punishment to follow this life, then doing good is for its own sake. The highest ethic, if you ask me. A religion that doesn't promise heaven and hell asks more of its flock.)

And if, for the sake of simplicity you prefer the idea of one god (although most who do seem happy to complicate it with saints and angels and devils and demons), why not just settle on the idea that he's a mean s.o.b. (in that, you'd stand firmly within Biblical teaching), or that he doesn't always pay attention, or that there are things of which he's simply incapable? Because that view would be consistent with what we know of how life works: it's random, it's unfair, it's, finally, neutral. If the ultimate answer to the obvious contradictions between life as we know it and God as we prefer to imagine it is simply that we can't know, then what's the point? No answer is no answer: it's just a drug. Or this.

Anyhow, I just thought I'd mention it. Do I need a reason?


Pieter B said...

Not believing that there is anything awaiting me after death makes this life not bleak, as some argue, but all the sweeter, since I truly believe that this is all there is.

In my very adventurous youth I accepted the possibility of sudden death, but was brought up short and changed my ways by realizing that being maimed was something I hadn't considered.

What terrifies me now is the possibility of wearing out slowly and painfully, with Alzheimer's a close second. I hope that by the time I see the grim reaper in the middle distance I will have the option of making a dignified and pain-free exit at a time of my choosing.

I've done the final favor for many pets over the years; it's considered a duty for a responsible pet owner. Why is it a crime when it comes to our own species?

Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...

I am so sorry for your loss. And I know so well what you and your family have been through.

I am watching my dear sainted mother decline in the throes of both dementia and chronic pain from post herpetc neuralgia. This is a woman who spent her life believing everything the church told her to believe, who prayed every day and more, and still prays, though now it is to ask god to take her. But she lives on. For four years she has lived with unremitting pain unresponsive to any and all medications and treatments. God only knows what part of her worsening demetia is from pain and what is alzheimers.

If there were a god, there is no way he would have let her suffer this way. No way.

Sid Schwab said...

How truly sad for her and for you, Margaret. Of some things there is simply no making sense.

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