Monday, December 17, 2012

We Don’t Live in an Ordered Universe

By: Jack Sorensen

What transpired in Newtown, Connecticut this past Friday was mind-numbingly horrifying. I can only describe my reaction as resigned to disbelief. I acknowledged the reality of what happened, but I could not fully accept it. After turning off the news, I felt an emptiness. The only question I can ask is, “Why?”. There is not an answer, at least not so soon after the tragedy.

Try as I might, I could not avoid slices of the 24-hour news cycle. It was on everyone’s lips, both on and off screen. Commentators prattled on about a possible motive. Journalists interviewed friends and family of the deceased. A shadow hung over a town as every camera focused on its grief-stricken citizens. The journalists were only doing their jobs, but it felt too soon.

It is safe to say that nearly everyone who heard about this searched for an answer. Many of them looked up. A friend sent me a text asking, “Where was God in Newtown?” He was expressing anger at those who tried to fit this massacre into the framework of some divine plan. Both he and I are agnostics. We are searching for the truth, but we are wary of those who claim they have it.

Of all the explanations offered for this shooting, two stand out most prominently. One will only receive a passing glance in this piece because of their status as a fringe group, but it warrants mentioning. The Westboro Baptist Church blamed, as they blamed most things, on what they call “fag marriage”. They reason that God caused the death of 28 people because gay folk can get married. That is absolute nonsense, and I will not try to reason with extremists.

The second response came from Mike Huckabee, the former Governor of Arkansas and contender for the Republican nomination for President in 2008. On Fox News, he argued that the tragedy was caused because “we have systematically removed God from our schools”. He left mental health and guns out of his equation.

Mike, schools minus God does not equal the death of 20 children, 6 women, the mother of the shooter, and the shooter himself.

It seems safe to say that Mike and many others believe in a benevolent God. One to whom people can pray. One who will reward the pious. One who protects his flock. If that is the case, why would a just and loving God take away the lives of 20 children before their lives barely began? I do not mean to lessen the importance of the other deaths, but this tragedy is compounded by the deaths of those children. All of those futures are gone.

I cannot reconcile a belief in a benevolent God with a plan with the actions of a disturbed 20-year-old who had access to some terrifyingly powerful weaponry. How can that be? How can a massacre of that scale be divinely warranted?

The world is too chaotic to warrant that kind of belief. Just across the pond in China, a crazed 36-year-old man stabbed 22 students and an elderly woman. Where was God there? What about the shopping mall in Oregon? The theater in Aurora? Columbine? Oklahoma City? Why would all of these needless deaths happen on His watch? And how would a godless education be the catalyst for such carnage?

My understanding of thermodynamics is rudimentary, but the second law holds that entropy increases or stays constant. Put differently, as time progresses, things gradually slip into disorder. I do not ascribe to the notion of an ordered universe in which a gun-toting 20-year-old kid kills his mother and then breaks into a school to kill 26 women and children before turning the barrel on himself. Some speculate the death toll might have been higher had the police not arrived.

I am making no statement on God’s existence. I honestly do not know whether or not God exists. I do think that a creation presupposes a creator, but how that creator interacts with his or her creation is up for debate. At least, it needs to be debated now that the Sandy Hook massacre is an unfortunate part of our reality.

It is both terrifying and liberating to think that we do not live in an ordered universe. We are responsible for our actions. A 20-year-old kid is responsible for 28 deaths. The reason cannot be shifted to the divine because that is too easy.

We have to deal with this reality.

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