Wednesday 9 August 2023

What is basically-wrong with The World? (suffering versus entropy)

Although I harp-on about the dangers of double-negative theology for Christians; nonetheless the positive achievement of Jesus Christ (and his 'message') would not have much traction unless people felt that there was some-thing basically, fundamentally, ultimately wrong with The World - some thing which Jesus (at least potentially) set right.  

And what I mean here is at the level of our personal feelings of what is wrong: What is it (what kind of a thing) that we personally feel is wrong about our life and the world?

(What problem to which Jesus offers a solution?)

There are probably any number of things that might in theory be thus regarded; but I think there are just two apparently common but distinct wrong-feelings that seem to dominate people. 

Probably the commonest (in the Western civilization at any rate) is that suffering is the main problem, the main thing wrong with the world. So widespread and powerful is this idea that it hardly requires explaining - but anyway...

Any or all kinds of suffering might be meant: pain, misery, disablement, fear, despair, humiliation -- different people mostly experience, are most susceptible to, or focus on; different kinds of suffering. 

And the wrongness of suffering my be my suffering, the suffering of particular loved others - whether human, animal, or something else; it may be the totality of suffering in the world; or it may be the wrongness of suffering of any Beings anywhere, ever (i.e. that there ought never to be any suffering).

In sum: this is the idea that the suffering - whether its existence, its prevalence, or its severity - is what is basically wrong with this world. 

This seems to be a hugely powerful and widespread conviction - it is apparently the basis of several religions, and what they claim to cure. Suffering as the main problem to be addressed is the basis of almost all public moral discourse nowadays; the rationale of preventing, reducing, or stopping various kinds-of-suffering (or putative suffering) is the basis of a great deal of all mainstream policy and political action.  

But there is another idea of basic wrongness - less often expressed, but just as real; and that is that the main thing wrong with this world is that nothing lasts.   

Anything that we value will not last; everything will die, or in some other way be destroyed. 

...No matter how large, strong, how long it has existed - it will crumble, it will come to an end. 

All that we value the most - our love, those we love the most, whatever we most love doing, our achievements - will change, will end. All that is most virtuous or beautiful will end. 

And Be Forgotten Utterly.

We ourselves will die, everybody will die; all the animals and plants will die; our living planet, and the mineral planet, the sun and solar system - all will change, crumble, end.  

This aspect of the nature of our world, I often term 'entropy'; and entropy in this sense, is a rival to suffering as the major candidate for what is wrong with the world. 

The "weight of entropy" may be the tragedy of life.  

Yet suffering and entropy as the main problem of life, are each very different in their nature and consequences. 

For example, a selfish person might feel there is nothing wrong with the world at times when he is personally completely-happy (i.e. when he personally is not suffering); and someone might also assume that if suffering could be abolished from the world - then there would be essentially nothing wrong with it. 

But someone who believed that entropy was the main problem would perhaps be most aware of the wrongness of the world at exactly those times when he was most happy, and did not suffer. Because he would realize that this state could not last

(Have we not felt this ourselves, in the first full flush of falling in love? Perfect happiness... all-too-soon undercut by the fear and conviction that it Will Not Last?)

Indeed, the more 'successful' was a Man's life - the more joyous and fulfilled, the more loving and creative -- the more strongly would the fact of entropy weigh upon him; because he would be ever-aware that all this would, for sure, be lost.  

One who regards entropy as the main problem in this life, this world; cannot envisage any this-worldly way in which the situation could be cured - because this world is 'ruled' by entropy. 

No conceivable political program or psychological treatment would make any difference. The better that things became - the more tragic the sense that none of it would last...

This circles back to Jesus Christ; because Jesus did not claim to eliminate or even diminish suffering in this world...

Or, even if you think Jesus did claim this, then the past 2000 years have (surely?) been a massive refutation that He could deliver it! 

Consequently; those who focus the most on suffering as that which is basically wrong with the world, are often those most hostile to Jesus and Christianity. 

But Jesus did claim to offer a way of escape from entropy: this is what Jesus meant by resurrection, eternal life, and heaven. 


Truth to Life said...

Ecclesiastes is all about entropy. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." Thoughts like that disturbed me constantly before I became a Christian, and I didn't understand why other atheists didn't seem to be bothered. As far as I know, Christianity is the only religion that addresses and solves the entropy problem.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TtL - " I didn't understand why other atheists didn't seem to be bothered"

The vast edifice of addictive modern mass-social media is, to a significant extent, designed to stop such thoughts from solidifying.

Because Ecclesiastes is the official but implicit philosophy of the modern world, as it Must be if the official story is that there is nothing other than this mortal life between birth and death (and annihilation).

In its advanced form, this is a PSYOPS of despair: "All is vanity, true; but you might-as-well obey the establishment and have a more comfortable life - rather than disobey and be excluded and persecuted."