A Christian blog I read recently wrote about an old question asked to public intellectuals in 1908 by G.K. Chesterton. The question was, “What is wrong with the world?” Of course I have a very different take on the question than my Christian counterpart, but I think it is an interesting question to explore.
Back in my early atheism days, I had a mentor who I greatly respected. He taught me a great deal about religion and even atheism. I say that because my friend and mentor was a Christian. He was a Messianic Jew (Jew for Jesus) but he challenged me in many ways and we had great conversations. He knew a lot of things that I did not know and he took me under his wing so to speak and taught me a lot about religion.
One night, we were hanging out with some of our mutual fundamentalist Christian friends and the question of “The Glass” came up. You know the one – Is the glass half empty or is it half full? I argued that Christianity sees the glass as half empty (i.e. we are all evil sinners) and my view of humanism sees the glass as half full (i.e. we are all trying to be heroes in our own story getting sidetracked along the way). My mentor took a different position. He said that maybe the glass was twice as tall as it needed to be.
At the time, I thought that was quite profound. I wasn’t sure what it meant but it sounded quite profound. I guess it means that we are what we are and that we shouldn’t strive to fill the glass. I don’t really agree with that position, but the profoundness of the answer wasn’t the answer itself, it was the way my mentor answered it. He looked at the question differently and answered it differently. He changed the rules of the question and thought outside the box. That was really what was so profound.
Not long ago, Lawrence Krauss took his stab at the question. I really like Krauss’s answer. He commented that the glass was actually full. Half of the glass had water in it and the other half has air. This to me is the best answer.
That brings me to the question at hand: “What is wrong with the world?” I think the question itself is leading. It presupposes that there is something wrong with the world that needs to be fixed. I don’t agree. The world is what it is. It is a very real and hostile place. But it is also a place in which we can live. It isn’t that there is something wrong with the world and it isn’t that there is something wrong with us. It is that we live in a world that is what it is and we have to do our best to not only survive in it, but thrive in it. This means that we have to adapt to this ever changing world.
My Christian blogger friend believes that we have to conquer the sin in ourselves before we can fix the sins of others and the sins of this world. The problem is that we can never become perfect. Perfection itself is a myth which presupposes that there is some way we are supposed to be and that there is some mark we need to hit to obtain this magical perfection.
He has an interesting perspective that I do not hold, but I will share it here:
“Jesus calls us to dig deep down to the very foundations. Anyone who hears his words and puts them into practice is like one who builds his house upon the rock. This is one who will remain standing through adversity. In pursuing God’s call on our life, we are bound to be met with great challenges—the winds will blow and the waves will crash against us—it is only the one who has done the difficult work of beginning to root out the sin in their own heart who will ultimately remain standing through the storm.”
The idea is a good starting point and for a Christian he is a pretty progressive thinker. He wants his readers to focus on fixing themselves instead of trying to fix others. This sounds good and I like that approach except that as I stated before, I don’t believe in the perfect and I certainly don’t believe we can be perfect. So no matter how strong we build our metaphorical house, there will always be a threat.
My solution is that strength isn’t the answer; adaptation is the answer. And here is where I get geeky. The Sith believe much like my Christian blogger friend that the answer is to be stronger and more powerful. They strive to amass unlimited power so that they can be the rock of the galaxy. But they will never achieve ultimate power and so they will always live in fear that someone will become more powerful than they are. That fear leads to anger, hate, and suffering.
The Jedi however not only support the idea of self-discipline, but of adaptation as well. They can adapt to various situations without fear of temptation. Obi-wan is able to go into the most wretched hive of scum and villainy without fear. He’s not a rock, but he is adaptable and he simply isn’t tempted.
Creations like to claim that evolution is survival of the fittest, but it isn’t. It is the survival of the best able to adapt and change to their environment. Dinosaurs were plenty fit and plenty strong, but they are dead now because they couldn’t adapt to their changing environment fast enough. In H.G. Well’s “War of the Worlds,” the same thing happened with the Martians. They built their machines on metaphorical rocks, but in the end, they couldn’t adapt to bacteria.
My point is that a blade of grass has a better chance of surviving the storm than the house made of rock. It isn’t what is wrong with the world and it isn’t what is wrong with us. There is a world that exists with or without us and we have to adapt to this world so that we can live in this world and thrive in this world.