Thursday, October 19, 2017

Nature is beautiful and terrible

This morning I went to let the dog out, as I do every morning.  Normally he runs over to where his chain is and I clip it onto his collar.  He stays out there for twenty minutes or so, does his business, and then I bring him inside again.  I wish we had a fence, but it isn't really practical with our set-up.

We do, however, have a fenced garden -- a high fence, to keep out the deer.  But lately I've left the gate open, since nothing much is growing in there and we haven't had a problem with deer getting in.

Anyway, I opened the door and let the dog out, but instead of going to his chain, he bolted into the garden.  There I saw three deer, browsing on the weeds in there.  When they saw the dog they went crazy, trying to leap away but crashing into the fence, too agitated to find the gate they came in by.  The dog went nuts, lunging for their throats and seizing their legs in his teeth.  I screamed and screamed at him but he had gone completely wild, ignoring me in his lust for prey.

I did, eventually, with a help of a long garden stake, beat the dog off the deer and drag him inside by the collar.  But for a little bit I thought, in my fear of getting bitten by him or kicked by the deer, of just letting him kill the deer.  It's nature's way, right?  I could stand there and watch him tear their throats out and see them die in terrible pain, just like those horrible nature documentaries.  I'm glad I didn't, but even though these deer got away, many wild animals did get torn apart by predators today.

In theory, I like nature.  It's perfectly balanced; the wolf eats some deer and some deer live another day, the deer eat some plants and so the plants grow some more.  On every level, nature is intricately complex, balanced, and beautiful -- if you don't particularly care about any of the beings involved.

But if it's close up, if you care about the person infected by that beautifully flourishing germ or if your heart has been softened by that adorable harp seal in the documentary ... it's the opposite of beautiful.  It's hideous and heartless.  Nature is beautiful in a very cold, uncaring way. It's an alien sort of beauty that would be created by a very alien sort of mind.

Someone told me yesterday, "If God actually intervenes directly to control the exact outcome of everything, he's kind of a douche."  They felt that a God who actually meant our world to be as it is must be cruel and sadistic, because after all our world is full of suffering and awfulness.  But I don't believe so. There's also breathtaking beauty, and I don't think a sadist would come up with anything like that.

But if you're trying to deduce God's personality from nature alone, you'd have to attribute to him all the coldness and impartiality that nature has.  Nature, by keeping the balance between the harp seal and the polar bear, has to be impartial.  It isn't swayed by the cuteness of the harp seal or the intelligence of the polar bear.  It isn't swayed by the suffering of a child dying of measles any more than it has any particular love for the measles virus.  It lets us all fight it out -- in fact, it demands we fight it out.  The only way we can survive -- and we must want to survive; nature requires us to -- is to throw all our efforts into beating all the other creatures.  God does not protect us from smallpox or hurricanes; that is entirely up to us.  Our own efforts can save us, while God won't.

Yet at the same time, God isn't biased against us either.  He simply is (if he is at all).  He builds (or allows to happen) all the complex, beautiful systems we see.  And that includes things repulsive to humans.  He lets my dog tear out the throat of a helpless deer.  If that is to be prevented, it's up to me.

I don't hate God or nature.  But at the same time, I think it would be madness to expect whatever power is behind the universe to be on our side.  We can appreciate the beauty of nature, but we shouldn't expect her to be a friend.  There's no placating her, but she isn't out to get us either.  Sometimes I look at the universe, or whatever parts are nearby, and feel awe and wonder.  But I don't pray, because I can't believe it cares.  It isn't loving or kind.  It's beautiful and terrible.

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