Jared Witt | April 23, 2020
Times are tough for humans. It seems like we’re being blamed for almost everything these days and for no good reason. I mean, evolutionarily speaking, we sort of did crash an all-day wedding celebration in the last minute or so of the reception, right as everyone was starting to clean up, ate all the leftovers, poured champagne all over the mixing board so the happy chimpanzee couple couldn't get their deposit back, and then started pumping toxic gas into the room, for some reason. So there’s that. But never mind it all, no more human-bashing for the remainder of this blog. There’s gotta be an upside, right?
The world might’ve been a happy little utopia without us (it wasn’t, but let’s just say). The question then becomes, would the world have known that it was happy? What good is happiness, if there is no one around to ponder to themselves, “Wow, I’m really happy.” Does happiness even exist, if we never take conscious note of it? What is happiness if the universe never becomes aware of itself?
By the way, if you’re answering that question to yourself by projecting some other self-aware race of aliens in some other galaxy, you’re just moving the same problem to a different planet, and you can rest assured that that self-aware race of aliens is also out there producing too much non-recyclable litter and cluttering their streaming services with too many reality dating shows. Something about the same intelligence that causes us existential dread almost automatically results in such things. Hopefully, the wisdom to deal with them comes later, but the race of alien that is born knowing that they could invent Styrofoam but which has the wisdom not to do it in the first place is almost inconceivable.
Sure, animals too experience pleasantness and unpleasantness. I’m a dog lover. And you’ll never convince me that the look on my dog’s face when she’s “happy” isn’t night and day from when she’s “sad.” But with her, those seem to be immediate sensory responses. I’ll even give her credit for feeling anticipatory pleasantness the moment I start walking over to her food dish. But I don’t give her credit for registering the happiness and deriving from it a more lasting sense of gratitude and joy that hers is an existence of abundance and blessing. Even little kids need to be taught to have gratitude, and the parents I know tell me that It. Is. A. Struggle. But if we can’t note the experience with a longer lasting gratitude, then the value of the experience ends the moment the stimulus stops stimulating. My dog might now be experiencing the pleasantness that is having a full belly, but she’s not looking back and marveling,
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is dog that you are mindful of her [or him, but she’s not very PC in her poetry],
and the daughter of dog that you care for her?
Yet you have made her a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned her with glory and honor.”
The Rabbi Harold Kushner points out that, of all the animal kingdom, as far as we know, humans are the only ones who mark birthdays and anniversaries on a calendar. We don't just pass the time and survive. We assign meaning and value to our time. Once humans get in the game, the universe doesn’t just march along blindly until it collapses and starts over or cools to nothing or whatever. We take note. We remember. When our memories provoke a sustaining sense of gratitude, we even dare hope.
What is the universe like without humans? The second creation myth in Genesis doesn’t say it in as many words, but you get a heavy sense of God’s loneliness and boredom in the the first few verses: “When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up…and there was no man to work ground…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” Is the God who is perfect, simple, immutable, self-contained also living in a Groundhog's Day nightmare of tedium where the days all bleed together and where there is no one around to note what happens, so nothing really ever happens?
It has also always fascinated me that God wants Adam to start naming animals. They say in Hebraic thinking, to name something is to create it in some sense. Why let Adam help with creation? And if that's so, I still have to think realistically that the ancient Hebraic mind would still see that God has just done all the heavy lifting of actually making stuff. And God has just named this newest creature adam or “dirt boy,” so clearly, God doesn’t mind naming the stuff. Why delegate the task and risk the basic managerial conundrum? Once you delegate, you risk them doing a crappy job. What if dirt boy names the hippo “poop cow" or the tortoise "walking chair"? If that doesn’t make it clear that God was in a bit of a pre-creation malaise, perhaps it’s God’s own exposure to monotony which informs the recognition, “It is not good that dirt boy should be alone.”
Then of course, I’m not the first person to ask, why introduce the variable of the tree of knowledge in the first place? It’s like everything is running smoothly, so God starts bating shenanigans and nonsense to occur.
Ok, I’m projecting a lot of things onto the divine right now. In another blog, I’ve probably written how I hope God is operating at a whole other level that doesn’t include boredom. But even if we assume that God is above such things, that still doesn’t answer the oldest philosophical question, “Why something and not nothing?”
By the way, if you’re answering that question to yourself right now by simply taking God out of the picture, that just displaces the same problem onto waves or quarks or strings or what have you, which are now required to take on the role of God and create themselves. In other words, you haven’t taken God out of the picture at all. You’ve just stripped her of all competence and then asked her to do the thing anyway.
So at risk of speaking well above my pay grade (like I haven’t done that already) my heavily quarantine informed theory is this: there is something rather than nothing because nothing is boring. Stuff is less boring than no stuff. Stuff that grows and adapts is even less boring than inert stuff. Mobile and animate stuff, stuff that has “the breath of life” breathed into it, is even less boring than the stuff that stays planted in one spot. And the least boring of all is stuff that has consciousness, self-awareness, knowledge of good and evil, stuff that takes note of time and its value.
Honestly, all the problems start even before that last step. As soon as you have things that can move in on each other’s space and have the sense of pleasantness and unpleasantness to feel the inconvenience, it all starts getting pretty “red in tooth and claw.” Humans can hardly be blamed for that.
And yeah, a lot of things start getting even dicier from there, once we come into the picture. But assuming the world had been a nice little utopia where everything worked the way it was supposed to work beforehand, what's the point if it's all so boring?
Whatever your feelings on humans and all our...collateral damage, you gotta admit, we keep it interesting, don't we?
It’s a tradeoff. Maybe the reason for Genesis 2:7 and everything that follows is the same reason my dog flips out every time I return home from the store. When I'm gone, she just sleeps, because why not? The party doesn't start until you throw a human into the mix. And apparently, God is into a little bit of crazy.
“Hey, here’s another tree. It’s delicious. Make sure you don’t eat from it though."
Cheers and Peace,
A blog that is too churchy for your drinking buddies and too drinky for your churching buddies.