Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"Everything Happens for a Reason"

On his blog, Ryan David Jahn tells a fascinating true-life tale about a recent encounter in Los Angeles. (Go read it. It's a slice of life cut at a very strange angle.)

After recounting the incident, RDJ observes:

But it doesn’t mean anything. There are no epiphanies to be had. You want there to be some purpose to life and the things that happen in it. This is why people say obviously false things like “Everything happens for a reason” when something shitty happens. But I think most of us know everything doesn’t happen for a reason.

Well, I dunno. I'm not too sure how the universe is organized. Maybe everything does happen for a reason.

My problem with people who say "Everything happens for a reason," is that I suspect all of them are starting from the premise that the universe is not only purposeful (as reflected in their mantra), but that it is also:

1) Benevolent, and
2) Gives a damn about us as individuals, and,
3) Doesn’t dislike them in particular, and
4) Is essentially fair.

There are other, less comforting hypotheses that explain all the facts while still assuming that "everything happens for a reason." Here's a dozen. I'm sure anyone can add more.

1) The universe is malevolent and is messing with us, and in situations where that appears not to be the case, the universe is setting us up for a really big, nasty surprise.

2) The universe is highly personalized, as in the case of the Old Testament Jehovah, and huge volumes of suffering, pain and death occur just so God Almighty can win bar bets with Satan (cf. Book of Job, and also Archibald MacLeish's play J.B.).

3) The universe cares strongly about certain people at certain times and is quite willing to wipe the floor with the rest of us. Much like what we as writers do with our secondary characters. As the Qabalists say, As Above, So Below.

4) The universe is gradually evolving a species of superwasp that will wipe out all life on Earth before colonizing the rest of the galaxy, and everything that happens is in support of that.

5) The universe is run by an evolving power that presently has the overall maturity and attitude of a very young human, probably male. The Bible tells us we are created in God’s image. Why should we be surprised when he/she/them/it decide(s) to pull our wings off and stomp on us?

6) The universe ensures that everything happens for a reason, but a universal idea of what constitutes ‘a reason’ doesn’t quite agree with ours.

7) The Egyptians (or perhaps the Yanomamo in the Amazon) worshiped the only true gods, and we are all heretics who are being punished.

8) There’s a reason, but it’s based on the branch of quantum physics called statistical mechanics, and it doesn’t care much about the trajectories of individual particles.

9) Sartre and Camus were right; everything happens for a reason, but it’s up to us to create that reason.

10) HP Lovecraft was right. Nyarlathotep and Azoth and The Old Gods are still out there and dreaming, and sometimes they roll in their sleep and one of us gets crushed. Despite this, be glad they are still asleep; were they awake, they would flay you and hollow out your bones to make pipes upon which they would play, among the gibbering half-mad spirits in the cold spaces between the stars, as your soul twisted in eternal torment.

11) God is sloppy. There are innumerable instances of this in the Bible, where The Lord gets annoyed with an individual and wipes out whole cities. Precision isn’t his forte.

12) There is a reason for everything, and the universe is essentially benevolent, but it’s run by a bureaucracy whose performance leaves much to be desired. The wages of sin are death. Quit whining and be glad that the taxes of sin aren’t a bigger percentage of your paycheck.

I don't know why I took the time to post all this. But I figure it happened for a reason. Probably because it's time to go upstairs and write Chapter 14.


Tim Stretton said...

12 is just like where I work, but bigger. It fits the facts...

Deborah Swift said...

Or it could be all of the above depending on what mood you're in. Mood seems to have a lot to do with how a person views the world! And as writers we can play God and give all our characters different takes on life.
I liked this post - clever to extrapolate a nice archetypal twelve different reasons from the general muddle of human thinking.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Tim--

Occam's Razor!

David Isaak said...

Heya, Deborah--

I think you're right. Writers are particularly prone to having shifting worldviews, which is probably why we set up surrogate universes and try to work it out on paper...

Frances Garrood said...

If you were religious (I'm a lapsed Catholic, which is a religion all of its own, so I don't really count), you might say that everything happens for a reason, but the reason isn't necessarily clear. If you are not religious, then there is no God to do the reasoning, and thus no argument. However, in my lapsed Cathlic state, I do occasionally wonder if things just might happen for a reason, although on the whole my jury is still out.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Frances--

I like the idea of "lapsed Catholicism" as a religion of its own. That would be a pretty funny basis for a book.

As to the matter of this all being determined by whether or not one believes in God...well, see my next post.

Frances Garrood said...

A lapsed Caholic doesn't go to Mass, but defends his religion to the hilt, and wouldn't dream of being anything else. And he wants a priest, plus all the bells and whistles, at his deathbed. Just in case.

As it happens, my WIP is about lapsed Catholics.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Frances--

Nice definition, and I look forward to the novel. Are there practicing and non-practicing lapsed Catholics?

I've had quite a few lapsed Catholic friends over the years, as well as a few of their Jewish equvalent (usually called secular Jews). I've heard some pretty funny debates between them over which group carries around the greatest burden of generalized, free-floating guilt--each side claiming, of course, that they are the guilt champs.