The Drive to Answer Why?

When an awful disaster happens, it’s natural to ask why? This “why” comes from the heart, and has been there since we, as children, learned that life is often cruel and sad. As we grow older, the question becomes more refined–there’s the scientific analysis with a desire to prevent repeats of the disaster, such as studying global warming, the failure to raise and reinforce the levees, etc.

But on the other hand, there is that child’s cry in the heart, why? Many religious believers frame it as “why did God do this?” A natural question for someone who believes that all things come from God’s personal action, although I’ve come to believe it’s entirely the wrong question.

Far worse though, is the urge to eagerly provide answers to God’s supposed motives. The “answers” are already being slung about, as my friend Darrell reported in his blog. Answers seen on the Net claim that God socked it to New Orleans because of decadence, violence, or (horrors!) it was about to host a gay gathering. The folks with the answers to God’s mind have supernatural answers to everything, from why the terrorists struck on 9/11, to the tsunami of last winter.

As a panentheist, I’ve got to say that whenever I hear someone talk about God in extremely “personal” (in the sense of person-like), theistic terms, I have to translate what they say into what they really mean.

And it’s become screamingly obvious that whenever someone talks about “God’s will,” what they mean is what they believe to be their own highest will. The motives of the “personal” God presented in quick answers are invariably a projection of the person’s ideals. Fortunately, most persons identify their noblest ideals as God’s will.

Unfortunately, many of those who have been seriously damaged by religion or otherwise suffered severe spiritual malformation, identify the crueler parts of human nature (intolerance, rejection, punishment, torture), as “higher” than the simple longing of their own souls for love, beauty, peace, and compassion. This results in a wide variety of misery, from self-hatred, to dreadful “explanations” about why disasters occur (projecting what is hateful to the person as the object of God’s wrath), to bigotry and prejudice, to religious violence and terrorism.

So “why?” Although the scientific why? can be very worthwhile, there is no more futile spiritual question than asking “why” a specific event happened. Its immediate causes (if knowable) resulted from other causes which aren’t, and they, in turn, from others still. The spiritual questions to ask are How will I live today? How will I love today?