December 26, 2004

Tsunamis and Terror

John Hinderaker at Powerline wonders why the destruction wrought by tsunamis in Asia is somehow less shocking than acts of violence.

It's always struck me that casualties resulting from natural disasters inspire less horror than those caused by violence. More people have been killed today by tidal waves in Asia than have been killed in the last year and a half of violence in Iraq. Yet it is unlikely that today's earthquake will stay in the news for more than a day or two. I'm not sure why this is, but, frankly, I share the tendency to pay much greater attention to political violence than to natural disasters.
Political violence is more horrible. In part that’s because human violence of any kind is more horrible.

Think about it this way. Would you rather be killed by a tsunami or drowned by a hit man? Would you rather lose a loved one in a car accident or to an axe murderer? Which would be easier to accept?

Murder horrifies because it’s on purpose. It is tainted by evil. It causes more emotional damage because you know someone is happy your loved one is dead.

A tsunami is a very bad thing that just happens. A murder, a rape, an act of terrorism, a campaign of genocide, is shot through with malice. We recoil not only at the event, but at the mindset behind the event. Tsunamis aren't malicious, and nobody plans them.

The entire world can share in the grief and horror of the thousands dead in Asia. Thousands dead in an act of violence is different. The grief and horror of 9/11, for example, was not shared by everybody. Some people wanted 9/11 to happen. Some people celebrated the toppling of the towers. We all remember seeing Palestinians dancing in the streets that day. And we remember those who said we deserved it.

Some people hope to repeat 9/11. They have our undivided attention. (At least they have the undivided attention of some of us.) If someone had managed to trigger tsunamis in Asia it would be much the same. Partly this is because the event would have been much more horrible. But also because it would mean something is terribly, dangerously, wrong with the world – something that can and must be fixed.

UPDATE: The death toll is now over 19,000 and climbing. God. I can't even process this yet. That's just way too many people to die by a wave all at the same time.

UPDATE: Joe Gandelman has an Asian blog roundup. (Shudder.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 26, 2004 08:11 PM
Comments

Nice Post Michael,

What a horrible day and what an extraordinary example of just how far beyond our ability to control or influence Mother Nature really is. Calling thinks like this Mount Pinatubo, Krakatoa, the San Fran Earthquake etc, "acts of God" really is the only way to get one's arms around such catastrophes. Or maybe its the only way to get past them is to accept a power massively greater than our own will ever be and not worry about it.

But one can't provide a motivation or rationalization to acts of God, only to acts of man. You're correct. Tsunamis have no morality, they just are. They cannot be held accountable. Human beings, or monsters in human form must be.

Posted by: spc67 at December 26, 2004 08:34 PM

Man, what a horrific tragedy.

CNN is showing the CNNI feed right now. And yeah, 4 times the death toll of 9/11 but no where near the "shock value," - and it's not because they were "brown people" who died (although geographic distance probably has something to do with it), as I've seen posited on several Lefty blogs I visit, but because it was a natural disaster.

If al Qaeda killed 12,000 "brown people," the shock value would be enormous.

BTW, an interesting side bar to this story from WaPo reporter Michael Dobbs, visiting his brother's resort of the coast of Sri Lanka:

It Seemed Like a Scene From the Bible

Posted by: SoCalJustice at December 26, 2004 09:11 PM

If that earthquake had hit here in the U.S., about 6 people would have died.

Posted by: David at December 26, 2004 09:20 PM

David says:
If that earthquake had hit here in the U.S., about 6 people would have died.
Er... a 9.0? Probably would have killed several hundred -- maybe more, maybe less, depending on just where it happened and which cities-built-on-landfill happened to get jiggled.
For comparison, the Loma Prieta earthquake was a 6.9, and killed 63 people.
If one of our coasts got hit by a tsunami like that, and the population didn't manage to evacuate, how many would die?
Yes, we're safer here than in many places -- compare Bam (6.3) to San Simeon (6.5). We're still vulnerable to really big earthquakes, which this one was.

Posted by: Eric Wilner at December 26, 2004 10:14 PM

Actually, most people would rather have their lives end because of political violence than have it end due to some random act of god. Who wouldn't prefer to be a martyr than to be a corpse washed out to sea?

Posted by: Steve Smith at December 26, 2004 10:24 PM

Yes, there is a touch of evil in a murder, at the happiness of the perpetrator for doing a terrible thing.

Like the murders of the 8000 Polish officers by the Russians in WW II. Of course, because FDR needed to be an ally of J. Stalin to defeat Hitler, the murders were blamed on the Nazis. (My wife just finished the book Enigma).

Stalin, as of 1942 the biggest, most evil Monster history had known, was an Ally of the US (& UK) in order to defeat Hitler, another Monster that was also a bigger threat.

The less threatening Evil was our ally then. And I think FDR made the right choice in being Evil Stalin's ally. I mention FDR because of a earlier thread comment about Christianity and the FDR's gov't putting Japanese Americans into US concentration camps.

Many who lose faith in in a Christian God seem to do so because of "Acts of God". Others because those who profess faith in God nevertheless are not perfect. I like Christianity because it claims we have Original Sin/ that Man cannot be perfected. And still others lose faith because Christianity opposes too much consumer sex...

The pro-life people DO think, every election, that abortion means that:something is terribly, dangerously, wrong with the world – something that can and must be fixed.

Posted by: Tom Grey at December 26, 2004 10:49 PM

Gentlemen,

I neither want to be tortured and executed nor sucked out to sea and drowned. Neither die dosed to the gills to avoid the pain of cancer nor stabbed in the gut for my wallet. Neither be crushed in my car in a collision or be blown apart by a bomb.

The only saving grace is that some things can be avoided. That some injuries aimed my way can be opposed. But who can appease Neptune? May we all be lucky as well as vigilant.

Posted by: chuck at December 26, 2004 11:08 PM

What would one expect of a lawyer? ;-)
---
Whether we react or not to natural disasters has NO effect on the frequency of disasters in the future.
(Apologies to those that think we can overpower Astronomic/Geologic system cycles by changing CO2 levels at the margin, etc.)
On the other hand, following 911, how we reacted has had a great deal of effect on the likely frequency of future terror attacks.
We pray about mortals dealing with forces larger than ourselves. (and lend aid when possible)
We act and we vote, and the best of us fight and sometimes die when dealing with the enemy.

Posted by: Doug at December 27, 2004 12:08 AM

"The grief and horror of 9/11, for example, was not shared by everybody. Some people wanted 9/11 to happen. Some people celebrated the toppling of the towers"

Actually, given the large number of western tourists who apparently died in these tsunami's, I half expected to see images of at least some people cheering this as well.

Posted by: Caroline at December 27, 2004 04:14 AM

Human created destruction outrages us more because we think that somehow it is preventable. And yet, even in natural disasters we look to see if there were anything that could have been done differently (more seismically sound construction; better floodplain management; quicker warning systems based upon more accurate modeling) to lessen both the loss of life as well as the devastation of property.

But with deaths at 21,000 and rising, I ponder the veracity of Uncle Joe's statement that "one death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic."

Posted by: bains at December 27, 2004 08:20 AM

Human created destruction outrages us more because we think that somehow it is preventable.

Well, maybe. I tend to think that fighting among ourselves is part of what we are, so being outraged by human destruction with the corresponding urge to wreak havoc on the perps is just how we are. Cats are greatly concerned with the encroachment of other cats and happy to settle things with a fight. It's the cat's world. So it is with us.

Posted by: chuck at December 27, 2004 08:45 AM

I read a Sri Lankan blog that said people on the beach fainted at the sight of the wave approaching them. Surely, they died. It's incredible. I would imagine the Club Med Phuket resort is gone.

It will get more air play here unfortunately only when they figure out a way to blame on the US.

Posted by: Patricia at December 27, 2004 08:49 AM

This is unbelievable, like something out of a bad movie. My gosh, the waves killed people as far away as East Africa. This is likely to be the worst natural disaster of my lifetime.

Posted by: Todd Pearson at December 27, 2004 09:52 AM

The sick Islamist/fundamentalist culture that created the al Qaeda ‘martyrs’ and the lack of an early warning system that led to this disaster are both something that can and must be fixed.

It made sense to rage against the bad philosophy that encouraged these 'martyrs' because it helps us to fight and dismantle them. Doing this is within our abilities, and we know it.

We can’t prevent or destroy a tsunami, so it doesn’t make sense to rage against it. Providing medical aid ASAP and analyzing what went wrong is the best way to respond. We should also help the survivors by giving aid to build better roads, evacuation routes and warning systems. Flooding, a weak infrastructure and poor roads are a constant problem in these areas, and now is the time to fix it.

(Of course, that's what I would say, being an Architect/Rational iNTp)

Posted by: mary at December 27, 2004 10:45 AM

Actually Michael - the basic question you're raising with this post - already occurred to me a while ago, in Dec 2003 I believe - when the massive earthquake that hit Iran killed somewhere between 15,000-30,000 people (I am not 100% certain about these facts as I am an N rather than an S - and I tend to grasp the larger theoretical/humanistic implications rather than focusing on the specific facts and data). I do know, however, that just prior to that event I was dying inside over every death in the Iraq war and feeling horribly guilty about each and every death (as I supported the war). After that event, however, I thought to myself, "God" just wiped out 30,000 people. Where is his guilt? Where his his suffering? And frankly, something just snapped inside. I certainly agonized over my personal decision that we should go into Iraq, and it wasn't even my decision that got us there! I just agonized along with the decision makers. Then "God" or nature or what have you - takes away 30,000 innocent people just like that. Like I said - something snapped inside. How can "God" get away with something like that while we mortals are forced to suffer over our personal decisions (even when we are not even holding the steering wheel?)! The outcome of this little personal saga? It made me harder. Especially when I realized that Arabs were ready to blow up fellow Arabs right and left, apparently without any conscience whatsoever. Throw in the impact of Sudan - the janjaweed - with not a peep from the Arab world over that atrocity. Am I hardened? You bet. I am not the same person I was 2 years ago. Although apparently, I am still an INTP....

Posted by: Caroline at December 27, 2004 03:20 PM

Interesting comments above.
Actually I want to comment on something that Michael said (that he couldn't process that many deaths) and someone made the comment that an earthquake like that would only kill, like, 6 people here in the US.
I would dispute that. Have any of you ever seen a tidal wave? It wasn't the earthquake that killed all those people this weekend. I would argue that tidal waves are potentially the most distructive thing on earth, at least to coastal areas.
No, this wasn't the monstrosity you see on uber-catastrophy movies out of Hollywood these days. The wave in SE Asia was only 33 feet tall. But tidal waves are not just brief waves like those rolling into the beach, they can be as much as a mile wide (and by wide I mean from the front of the wave to the back. They just keep coming.
A wave like that could take out large parts of Florida (recall that the highest point in Florida is a ride at Disney World).
Also, recall that this wave is killing people in Africa too. Over 3000 miles away.
Now the U.S. has much better warning systems than do countries in SE Asia, but the people in Asia only had about an hour to respond, even if they knew it was coming.
I think the death toll here would be much higher than 6. Really, considering that most people in poor countries live near water and considering the size of coastal cities in SE Asia, I'm surprised that the death toll is not way higher.

Posted by: Richard at December 27, 2004 04:26 PM

I expect the death toll to go higher. Today I saw an estimate in excess of 24,000. I'll hazard it will go to closer to 40,000.

The Earthquake that destroyed Ram, Iran, a couple years ago may have killed 26,000 people, but who's counting?

According to the little factoid things accompanying these stories, 26,000 Japanese were killed by a Tidal Wave in 1896.

Typing "worst earthquakes" into google, gave me a site with these stats:
Date, Location, Dead
1290, September 27 Gulf of Chihli, China 100,000
1556, January 23 Senshi Province, China Over 830,000
1667, November Shemakha, Caucasia 80,000
1693 Catania, Sicily and Naples, Italy 60,000 and 93,000, respectively
1908, December, Messina, Italy 75,000 to 80,000
1920, December 16 Kansu, China Over 180,000
1923, September 1 Toyko-Yokihama, Japan Over 140,000
1932, December 26 Kansu, China 70,000
1970, May 31 Northern Peru 50,000 to 70,000
1976, July 28 Tangshan, China Over 242,000

And they left out the Great Earthquake that destroyed Lisbon, Portugal in 1750's that killed around 50,000 (I guess it didn't make the cut).

Now, the last two have occured in my lifetime, (infact, I remember hearing about the 1976 quake), so how's them numbers for ya?

So in the 20th century, close to a million people were killed by earthquakes. How many people were killed by other people? 100-200 million?

What's the real problem here?

Posted by: Eric Blair at December 27, 2004 05:14 PM

How can "God" get away with something like that while we mortals are forced to suffer over our personal decisions (even when we are not even holding the steering wheel?)!

Well, because He's God and we're not.

Posted by: spc67 at December 27, 2004 05:17 PM

Yes well spc67 - then why do we suffer from guilt if God (presumably) does not? If we are created in God's image - should we cease our suffering and become as (presumably) callous as God is? Certainly many of our fellow men have no problem with that whatsoever. Explain to me why I should suffer over every individual death in Iraq ( for reasons that these are rhetorical questions to begin with I ipso facto exclude the deaths of our own soldiers from this equation) - when God apparently pays no mind to wiping out 30,000 in an earthquake a year ago and up to 30,000 people this weekend? Meanwhile, pardon my lack of PC but Arabs apparently couldn't give a damn about how many Iraqis their fellow Arabs blow up everyday. Not a tear shed there. Not a tear shed for the Sudanese, or the Palestinians killed by the Jordanians, or the Iraqis killed by Saddam - and if I were a better googler/historian I could no doubt come up with a list of Arab on Arab violence that would rival the list of earthquake victims posted by Eric. And all for what end? So what I am saying is that I understand the aims in Iraq. It would seem from a relativistic perspective that the casualties are well worth the goal. Does God agree? And if not - who is he to judge when he has wasted so many lives to no end?

Look - believe it or not I am NOT an atheist. I do believe in a greater power - call it God or what have you - that I fully admit I don't understand. I am quite open to any education on these theological issues. (Its still Christams season - why the hell not?).

My apologies to our host but Michael - frankly you opened this can of worms!

Posted by: Caroline at December 27, 2004 05:48 PM

Is man himself nature? Is an evil man killing another human being just a coincidence of the nature? More specific, of environment and what he has been learn so far - right or wrong...

Can it happen to be that even the most evil dictator in some way believe he is doing good when he is murdering a lot of people? That evil simply is an effort to do good? Goodness headed in a completely wrong direction, of course!

And is there any ways that we are allowed to try to understand the roots of violence? Of course it can be an effort in the wrong direction, but for example, the hijackers in a school in the Russian city Beslam, can their violence be an expression built up from the completely nonunderstandable terror and oppression of the Chechnyan people from the Russion army? Is this oppression and the terror a coincidence of no relevance in the judgement if there are reasons behind the terror that if they are eliminated will reduce the tendency of terror from these violent chechenyans?

It is however hard to see that the terror against US and Israel from islamic fundamentalists have the same kind of driving force behind it as the terror from the chechnyans. US and/or Israel does not bring terror to the arabs, but instead just wish them the joy of freedom of speech and a more open and everyone accepting society. But of course the poverty in the countries where al Qaida (the rich bin Ladin) get young men to serve the terrorist organization is a reason why they in first place decide to use violence against the western society. Thus its not right to completely deny that there are reasons of terror that can't be dealt with. Or?

(BTW: I don't like the most idealistic and non-realistic neoconservatism or libertarianism, although principles in these ideologies can fit in well.)

Posted by: Magnus Andersson at December 27, 2004 07:37 PM

Yeah, this conversation has gone in an interesting direction.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at December 27, 2004 07:56 PM

Lots of God discussion. Nice to see for a (super secularized?) North European as me :-) (A bit Christian although...)

The comparison with 9/11 and that this earthquake will be forgotten within a few days. Do You remember two million killed in the southern of Sudan during the last decades, or more than 900 000 killed in Rwanda a few years ago? May be the latter. May be...

Now a number of 2000 Swedes are still not found in south Asia. If they are dead, than 9 million swedes has 2000 persons killed, which we will remember very well. (A really big thing compared with the number of 9/11.) We also remember an estonian ferry that sunk about ten years ago in one of the worst boat-catastrophy ever, with its 900 casualties (about 300-400 swedes, as I remeber). Most of us has "forgot" the WWII (our defence is too close to zero, I'm afraid), and people just forget whats not close to them and/or what doesn't matter to them any more. Human violence or not. But some criminal storys does interest us, but an early warning system in all the oceans of the world might save more people than to remember cruel criminal cases, or? But is that a too utilitarian thought?

I just think that there is no reason to easily instrumentalize death, as some death superior to another'. If, for instance, rich people can avoid death by a tsunami early warning system but not doing that, does that makes more sence than US troops not stop the "etnic cleansing" i "former Yugoslavia" or in Sudan today? Maybe, because the tsunami is just an annual risc, not a present on going situation - but thats it, or?

I'm sorry for my probably somehow bad english...

Posted by: Magnus Andersson at December 27, 2004 08:17 PM

Hi!

The mumbo-jumbo of an Estonian ferry and that swedes has forgot WWII (not in war for a period of 200 years, as we are! :-o ) was because I'm from Sweden - a very native swede, sort of! ;-)

Posted by: Magnus Andersson at December 27, 2004 08:26 PM

(Correction: "... less sence than US troops", I think it should be in the last paragraph of my comment above.)

Posted by: Magnus Andersson at December 27, 2004 08:45 PM

Caroline--

God was flogged, crowned with thorns, mocked, ridiculed, spat upon, and then executed, nailed to a cross. Maybe that helps...

Posted by: Matteo at December 27, 2004 09:59 PM

There was a distorted, sickening attack on your humane posting on the Crooked Timber blog. I saw that you had replied, but I also posted a response, because I was no outraged by the callous unconcern witht the suffering and tragedy in Asia that characterised almost all the comments.

Posted by: CHarlie Bourne at December 27, 2004 10:09 PM

Yes, Charlie, I saw that. Thank you.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 27, 2004 10:30 PM

Yes well spc67 - then why do we suffer from guilt if God (presumably) does not? If we are created in God's image - should we cease our suffering and become as (presumably) callous as God is?

Because being made in God's image is not the same as being made the same as God.

Posted by: spc67 at December 27, 2004 10:49 PM

Yes, alot of God talk. Very very interesting.

I hesitate to put in my two cents on this. I love to talk about sex and politics, but religion gives me pause. I consider myself to be agnostic. I think there probably is a God or something besides this reality. The way I see it, we exist. The odds are in our favor that, given we exist, other existences are possible. For me, it's the same principle that says, "There's life on this planet so there's likely to be life on other planets somewhere, too." It just makes sense. I can't prove it though, so I'm open to all the possibilities: Atheism; Monotheism; Polytheism; a God that loves us; a God that hates us; all of it, the best and the worst.

As all of this pertains to tragedies like what just occured in South Asia, if there is a God, I figure he or she or it owes us a big fucking explanation. Human suffering on this level is so pointless and devoid of reason. I don't have it in me, emotionally or intellectually, to make sense of it and I never will.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at December 27, 2004 11:13 PM

Okay, one more thing...

Everyone keeps hitting on this idea that "tsunamis have no morality". Sure. Fine. Human beings do and tsunamis don't. That I can accept. But if you also accept a belief in God, and that God created the universe, what does that say? If you're God and you can design the universe however you want, and you choose to design a world of physics such as this with natural disasters and catastrophes that randomly kill tens of thousands of children for no good reason...well, doesn't that kind of make you a monster, too?

I don't mean to offend. I'm just saying.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at December 27, 2004 11:32 PM

Grant, I think you are demonstrating the biggest sin of the intelligentsia--Pride.
It's quite easy for me to recognize it (having seen it so often; when I shave, for instance).

The Earth is not heaven. I don't understand it either, or God's will, or why it "must" be like it is. But I still believe in a Goodness, transcendant beyond humans, described more truthfully in Christianity than other religions, though perhaps not perfectly.

If you want the Truth, you can only find it by faith. Including a faith in No God, if you're an atheist. (Most "agnostics" are actually cowardly atheists.)

If you want the world to be better place, it's reasonable to look at different faiths, including Secularism, and see how societies influenced by such faiths respond to reality. The faith I strongly support is the one I see doing the best, in the real world.

Watch how the Christianized cultures, as compared to the Islamic/ Jewish/ Hindu/ Buddhist/ Shinto/ Secular Left/ cultures actually respond to the real tradegy. I predict far more Christian support than from any other group. And love for, and support for, the poor and wounded is at the heart of Christian faith in action.

Posted by: Tom Grey at December 28, 2004 01:50 AM

Maybe the point of something like this is similar to the Zen master who suddenly slaps the initiate, causing him to instantly "awaken". The tsunami (and other natural disasters) are like koans! If the earth didn't move under our feet now and again we might just get a little complacent and forget why we're here. Frankly I sort of think thats also the point behind aging. Its supposed to be a blow to the ego. I'm sort of opposed to the whole plastic surgery stuff just on those grounds. It makes it too easy to avoid moving beyond the ego if you're never forced to suffer the ultimate humiliation of old age.

I am also prepared to entertain the notion that there is neither good nor evil(including human evil)in this world- that its just our limited human (judging/conceptual)brains that see it that way.

"If, for instance, rich people can avoid death by a tsunami early warning system but not doing that, does that makes more sence than US troops not stop the "etnic cleansing" i "former Yugoslavia" or in Sudan today?"(Magnus)

good question. Also, I'm sorry to hear that so many Swedes may have been lost in this tragedy. To be truthful I have never been personally comfortable with Americans' tendency to seemingly elevate their own losses (like 9/11) above others. Badly phrased but since its a controversial point I'll leave it that way so maybe noone will notice what I'm saying.

Sorry about the God stuff. Chalk it up to PMS. Puts me in a foul mood. I am generally of the mind that atheists are simply people who are having an extended really bad day....

Posted by: Caroline at December 28, 2004 02:11 AM

I’ve always believed in a God that was omnipresent, but not omnipotent. It’s very hard to believe in a separate, all-powerful God-being that can create earthquakes, tsunamis, change the traffic lights so that you can get to work on time (if that’s His/Her whim) and bring forth life when He/She wills it. We can all see that God-as-life exists, but the concept of an all-powerful Being in charge of all events just doesn’t make sense.

Proof that of an omnipresent God is described in this essay, written after 9/11, by Stephen Jay Gould:
Complex systems can only be built step by atep, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the "ordinary" efforts of a vast majority...

..I will cite but one tiny story, among so many, to add to the count that will overwhelm the power of any terrorist's act. And by such
tales, multiplied many millionfold, let those few depraved people finally understand why their vision of inspired fear cannot prevail over ordinary decency.

God, the Great Asymmetry, or ordinary decency, doesn’t get enough credit for existing. We don’t appreciate the effort it takes for most people to get out of bed, go to work, build things, create things, etc., until that effort stops.

This Asymmetry is always here, among the majority of people - Buddhists, Christians, Atheists and Muslims. We rush to help people when they fall down. When something drops on the floor, we pick it up; we bury our dead, we give birth, we devote years researching ways to cure diseases that we will personally never suffer from. We fight to defend our family and our community and we all want to offer help after a huge disaster like this. That’s the closest thing that I can see to God.

Posted by: mary at December 28, 2004 09:08 AM

I think you missed the mark on this one. The reason terrorism is more shocking is in the reaction. In a natural disaster, the only reaction is one of recovery, relief and repair. There is no one to blame. When terrorism is involved you can add another R-word. Revenge. It is the revenge that gets us so worked up. Planning revenge, getting public support for the revenge and exacting it.

Posted by: Llew Roberts at December 28, 2004 09:56 AM

The revenge argument was interresting! Is it possible that war is less shocking because it is whole nations or ideas (or ideas of the nation) that cause wars, or because decisions are made by leaders/dictators which later become dismissed?

The revenge needs an object which can be personally blamed and punnished, or? But I also think that revenge is part of human interconnection, where for example responsibility wouldn't exist without some kind of public shame as a result of non-moral decisions.

For example Timothy McVeight and Osama are two symbols of dangerously wrong-thinking and extreme positions, but if the elimination of these guys males us feel better and secure, the case can be the opposite. To eliminate them from acting in the society is of cource crucial but I'm not so sure that punnishment frighten their extremist "camrads" as much as it makes an ordinary citizen enjoy The Revenge. And reasons for the danger extreme ideas (poverty, bad education and things like that) might still remain and cause more problems.

But a victory and revenge against a symbol for a ideology can of course also delibirate society, but probably only if there is a force towards new ...points of views. (Milosevic might be one example. I'm afraid the islamic fundamentalists wouldn't cease to exist so easily if Osama did'.)

Posted by: Magnus Andersson at December 28, 2004 11:02 AM

"That’s the closest thing that I can see to God."

Mary - FWIW - I liked your post. You also said "I’ve always believed in a God that was omnipresent, but not omnipotent." The implication of your post is that we ARE God - correct me if I have misinterpreted you here. But if thats what you meant - I would be inclined to agree. If God is omnipresent then he is most certainly present in US and our small daily acts acquire a significance that can then only be described as "sacred" (presumably if we have a certain "frame of mind" in carrying them out?). But then I still wonder about the human emotions of "guilt" - for instance in the way we might suffer over every death in Iraq - and how to reconcile that human emotion with the apparent absence of guilt (on anyone's part)vis a vis a tsunami wave that wipes out (is it now 60+ thousand people?). So count me among the still confused and the woefully still unenlightened.BTW - I have not forgotten that most essential concept of "free will" with which I was raised in the Catholic tradition. But alas -like so much of my Catholic upbringing - it fell on basically deaf ears. I don't condemn the concept - I merely condemn the vehicle by which it was taught.

Posted by: Caroline at December 28, 2004 03:25 PM

I think your spot on. I have had friends die in accidents (even car accidents without alcohol involved)... I only grieved....

Having had a person plan the death of a loved one would have caused pain on totally different levels... and denied closure (unless the hypothetical ‘people’ involved were punished)...

Posted by: Tomas at December 28, 2004 10:54 PM

Good comments again, but...

How does being agnostic make one a "cowardly atheist"? I've always seen it the other way around. It takes just as much blind faith to NOT believe in God as it does to believe. Either way, you're making a claim to knowledge I just simply don't think we're capable of having.

Maybe the true cowards are the ones who look at and see the vastly incomplete set of data that is the world around us, yet deny their own ignorance with hugely unqualified claims to truth. In this regard, I tend to lump atheists and believers into the same group. Both are too cowardly to meet and face up to the rational conclusion: That we are completely oblivious, really, and always will be.

I tend to think that, if something exists beyond this life, it obviously has to be much bigger than we could ever wrap our minds around while we're here. We're completely and utterly ignorant, in other words, and I think that funadamental fact is something far more terrifying than the idea that God doesn't exist. Knowing that God doesn't exist would, in a weird kind of way, comfort me because at least I would know. Not to point fingers, but I hardly see how any of that makes me a coward.

And this is just the way I see things, by the way, so please, everybody, feel free to disagree with me. That's fine. Don't try and convert me, I won't try and convert you, and we'll get along just fine.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at December 29, 2004 03:30 AM

“In this regard, I tend to lump atheists and believers into the same group. Both are too cowardly to meet and face up to the rational conclusion: That we are completely oblivious, really, and always will be.” (Grant McEntire)

From Jiddu Krishnamurti: The First and Last Freedom:

“Belief is a denial of truth, belief hinders truth; to believe in God is not to find God. Neither the believer nor the unbeliever will find God; because reality is the unknown, and your belief or non-belief in the unknown is merely a self-projection and therefore not real.” (205)

“Reality is not a thing which is knowable by the mind, because the mind is the result of the known, of the past; therefore the mind must understand itself and it’s functioning, its truth, and only then is it possible for the unknown to be.” (98)

“Only when you discard completely, through understanding, the whole structure of the self, can that which is eternal, timeless, immeasurable, come into being. You cannot go to it; it comes to you.” (119)

Posted by: Caroline at December 29, 2004 05:22 AM

God, I seriously love this thread! It kind of takes your site to a whole new level, Michael.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at December 29, 2004 01:18 PM

FWIW - I liked your post. You also said "I’ve always believed in a God that was omnipresent, but not omnipotent." The implication of your post is that we ARE God - correct me if I have misinterpreted you here. But if thats what you meant - I would be inclined to agree.

Thanks Caroline. I’ve always thought that God was more equivalent to life in general, and that our ordinary existence contributes to God. Planting trees is a contribution, cutting trees down and making a chair out of them contributes, but starting a forest fire does not. Acts that are meant to deliberately destroy life are also things that people do, but they’re definitely not a contribution.

Our response to any form of destruction should be to repair the damage and prevent it from happening again. A response to terrorism is like an early warning system for a tsunami – it’s a way to keep the destruction from happening again. Revenge gets a bad rap in most religions. It really a way to defend ourselves and our community from repeated attacks.

But Grant is right, we are working with a vastly incomplete set of data. Because we’re so limited, we should just be pragmatic and use whatever belief system works for us.

Posted by: mary at December 29, 2004 01:46 PM

"Planting trees is a contribution, cutting trees down and making a chair out of them contributes, but starting a forest fire does not" (Mary)

I don't mean to continuously toot Krishnamurti's horn (admittedly the man has a very intersting history - many think that he was in fact the second coming of Christ or the Buddha reincarnate but to his great credit he repudiated all such speculation) - but as Krishnamurti would say - Where Love is - right action will follow. That means that the frame of mind in which something is done (which I generally take to be "no-mind" or absence of Ego/Self ( the latter being inextricable from material "Mind") has everything to do with the quality of the action and its objective "goodness" as it were. That would suggest to me that even planting trees - if done in the wrong frame of mind - say to choke out the light to someone's field - if done without this particular quality of love (God as it were) - hence would be wrong. In other words, quality of mind precedes judgement of outcome. Therefore - I have to assume that a tsunami wave - its causes lying completely outside the realm of human Ego/Mind - is morally neutral.

Does that help me understand it? No. But I suppose it would mean that if my mind were like a tsunami wave - absent Ego and therefore morally neutral - there would be no need to agonize about the consequences of my actions. I guess then I would be like God. Well - perhaps I would even BE God - in some small way. But the basic point still applies to our small everyday actions (even to something like war in Iraq). Quality of mind in action is everything. Hence, to the extent that Ego is involved, the action departs from the good.

OK - my bad - I swear no more God talk from me - until I just can't help it anymore :)

This is why I love dead threads. Pay no attention to the crazy woman behind the curtain. She will eventually drift off into cyberspace....

Posted by: Caroline at December 29, 2004 07:03 PM

I think I agree - when something is done just to make an individual, or Ego, happy, it won't necessarily be 'good' (or Godly). When something is done to help, benefit or defend others (Love) it is usually a postitive thing. The big things are important, but the little things we do everyday, or our collective response to the big things, are more important.

.and yes, there are nice things about dead threads.

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