Rationalist in Difficulties

D D Karve

One of the usual arguments of those who advocate the existence, not only of a god, but of one endowed with the qualities of kindness and goodness, is that such a conviction is bound to serve as a consolation to a large number of people when great calamities attack them and threaten their very existence. Let us examine this position a little more closely.

When difficulties make the path of life not so smooth as before, when the fun and joy of living seems entirely remote, different ways are found of consoling oneself. There a type of people who is prone to say—“well, the ways of the Almighty are unknowable and what is my misery now may possibly be for my ultimate good. I must, therefore, resign myself to his will and suffer my pain in silence.” Of course, if the sufferer is really honest in his conviction that what happens (or, in his words, what God orders.) is always for the ultimate good, he may probably feel some relief from the sorrow. Whether this kind of conviction IS based on any reasonable grounds is an entirely different question, For, after all, “ultimate good “is a term that will have no end. The destruction of an individual may be good for a family, that of a family for a village or even of a whole province” for the world. That the very arrangement of things by which the misery of one should mean the happiness of another, cannot be the work of a merciful god, is a point of view, which is probably beyond the comprehension of a blind believer in God’s mercy. However, granting that a person has the honest conviction about the ultimate goodness of all God’s actions (i.e. of all happenings in the universe), he can find a sort of consolation in every difficultly. It must, however, be admitted, that it is based on ignorance.

There is, however, also a more rationalistic way of achieving the same object. If we trace the history of the universe, or even of this little earth from geological times to the present day, the causal development of all natural phenomena will become evident. The succeeding events in the history of the world, the evolution of life, its manifestation in various forms, the appearance and disappearance of new species, the treatment meted out by one species to another, the behaviour of human races and other small groups to each other, the effect of forces of nature and of other forms of life on human beings, all show us clearly that they form an unbroken chain of cause and effect, without any ultimate object or goal which can be deduced from the phenomena themselves. In other words, the world is not teleological but only casual in its development.
The happenings, either in the material or the animal world, can therefore be assigned values only in so far as they affect us human beings. And even then, these values will be entirely relative to the particular standpoint of the person who assigns them. The death of a soldier during the war must have been looked upon as a great calamity by the members of his family, but probably as a good thing by his enemies, who in fact must have been instrumental in bringing about that event.
To the thinking man, it is thus clear that events in space and time are happening because of causes that have taken place, and that these events in their turn become the causes of other events to follow. It is this unbroken chain, the beginning and end of which neither philosopher nor scientist has been able to unravel, which confronts us in our every-day life. Events are neither good nor bad by themselves, they can be so only in relation to a person or persons whom they affect (The same applies to other conceptions of values. In a recent discussion on the obscenity or otherwise of a certain book, a statement to the effect, that obscenity cannot attach to a thing or word, per se, but can only exist in the mind of the observer or reader  as the case may be, was strongly objected to by a writer of the orthodox school. It is quite clear that a thing or a printed word, in the absence of any living being near about can have no conception of value attached to it.) If then nature is obviously aimless and is neither good nor bad, the best way to console oneself in difficulties is not to rely upon the imaginary ultimate mercifulness of a problematical god but to resign oneself to the inevitableness of the same and to take the help of our fellow humans in order to prevent, if possible, similar occurrences in future. I would then say to myself “it is a great pity that calamity has taken place; I mast try to forget it as soon as possible, get out of it, with the help of others, if necessary, and again take up my work as a useful unit in this human fraternity of mine. There is no divine help I can expect; everything that takes place is doing so without any reference to my feelings. Natural laws are neither good nor bad. They are simply there and I have got to d just myself accordingly.” -That is the rational way to face difficulties.

Courtesy: Reason, Aug 1934