Monday, November 29, 2010

How to Score a Touchdown-Doesn't God Have Better Things to Do?

I love watching football but over here in Korea that hasn’t really been possible. Most of the games that are played on Sunday happen while I’m asleep. So when I wake up Monday morning for work all the 1 o’clock games are finished and it’s about half time in the 4 o’clock games. On Mondays I don’t have any class during first period so I usually come into work and just watch football highlights of all the games that are finished until my first class starts.

Of course when you only watch highlights you only see the big plays including most of the scores. As I’ve watched touchdown after touchdown this season I keep noticing that so many players point up at the sky after they score or kneel down and bow their head so as to give credit to God or thank him or whatever. And I want to just ask them if they truly think God helped them catch the ball or run through the tackles? If the answer is yes I would be curious to ask them why they think God seems to help them on some plays as and not on others? How does God decide who should catch the ball or break a tackle? Or better yet why does God care about football at all?

There’s something about watching athletes thank God for some vain success that magnifies the problem of evil to me and just how much needless suffering exists the world, which if God is up there he truly seems to ignore.  Obviously if there really is an all-powerful being sticking its nose into football or any other sport it does not prevent it from doing other things but still at the end of the day if these athletes are right and their god does meddle in sports it does seem to make that all-powerful being come across as fairly shallow and ridiculous.

If that god were real I would tell it to wake up, stop hiding and deal with some real issues. 

And if that were too much and it needed to be involved with football at least help the Broncos win. Wait...maybe I just need to start pointing up at the sky?   


Talk about perfect timing. I wrote this post yesterday and then today I got to read a story about Bufflo Bills reciever Steve Johnson who dropped what would have been a game winning touchdown in overtime against the Steelers.

Johnson tweeted after the game saying to God;


I couldn't help it I laughed out loud.

Now there was a huge response to this Tweet and Johnson tried to calm things down today by Tweeting;
"I learned A lot Within 24hrs. Saw Both Sides.(Ups&Dwns) I AM HAPPY & THANKFUL 4 YESTERDAY! w/out Sunday iWldnt have grew closer w/The Lord!!

And No I Did Not Blame God People! Seriously??!? CMon! I Simply Cried Out And Asked Why? Jus Like yal did wen sumthin went wrong n ur life!

Spoke To Friends Fam Teammates and Most Importantly I Spoke With My Wife. I Honestly Believe Evrything Happens For A Reason! Everything!

S/O To My Real Friends And Fanollowers! Also Major S/O To Them Bills Fans! I Don’t Play For Myself and AnyOne who know ME knows That!"

He definitely made a good effort to move away from appearing like he was actually "blaming" God for the drop but the fact that he maintains such a strong connection between football and God makes his god look foolish. He said "everything happense for a reason! everything!" which means he truly believes he dropped that ball for a reason thus while he can say he's not "blaming" God for the drop he is attributing the action to God and his will. So I guess that means God has a reason for causing or allowing certain teams to win each and every game, each and every week in each and every sport. Maybe he's just got a lot of money riding on these games in Vegas.  

Friday, November 19, 2010

J.L. Schellenberg-Why Am I a Nonbeliever? I Wonder...

This is an essay written by J.L. Schellenberg. He’s a Professor of Philosophy at Mount Saint Vincent University in Canada, and the author of several books on philosophy of religion, including Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion and one which I greatly desire to read called Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason. This essay is a personal one discussing his journey from a Christian believer to an atheist philosopher. I am particularly drawn in by his story because in many ways I feel it mirrors my own or rather since I am the younger one it is my journey that mirrors his. He is moved by both his head and his heart and I truly admire the path that he chose. His generous spirit pours through this essay and so I share it gladly hoping it will be yet another piece demonstrating both the unlikelihood and ultimate needlessness for any form of the Abrahamic God. 

Why Am I a Nonbeliever? I Wonder...-By J.L. Schellenberg

Plato says that philosophy begins in wonder. What he doesn’t tell you is that many things end in wonder too. One of the things that ended for me as I sought to conform my life to an ever-expanding sense of the world’s wonderful complexity was religious belief. And with each succeeding - often exceeding - level of discovery, such belief has come to seem even more a thing of the past.

The world never had any difficulty inspiring wonder in me. But as a boy and as a teenager and right into early adulthood, I felt a sense of wonder filtered through belief in God. It was the majesty and glory of God I heard in the keening winter wind, and saw in sunlight spreading across waves of prairie grass after a thunderstorm. Having believed in Christ since I lay in my crib, listening to my God-intoxicated father singing me songs he wrote about Jesus, I tended for some time to organize my religious experiences Christianly. I was moved by the dramatic, wonder-inducing juxtaposition found in a book which summed things up this way: “The humble carpenter of Nazareth was also the mighty Architect of the universe.”

But everything changed when I stepped away from my isolated and isolating life on the Manitoba plains and broke my childhood pledge never to live in a city or darken the doors of a university. What I swiftly discovered was that my Christianity had sought to confine the world within a rather small package. The world could not be thus confined! Carefully smoothed into a Christian shape, it kept bursting free. And I discovered that, even without God or Christ, wonder remained.

From biblical criticism and the history of the ancient Near East I learned that the New Testament was decidedly a human construction, a shining record of personal liberation in places, but also pockmarked with all the prejudices and proselytizing aims of its authors, through which the voice of Jesus was multiply refracted. That voice might, historically speaking, have had any number of cadences: gentle Jesus meek and mild might actually have been an apocalyptic prophet; the smooth-talking rabbi of tradition may very well have been an illiterate (though no doubt charismatic) peasant. Careful academic study showed, moreover, that what were for me central Christian doctrines could not be found clean in the pages of the Bible but came to us through a complicated and often compromised process, in which the emerging Christianity sought to define itself and – in the very effective but rather unloving ways – suppressed dissent.

But could God still work though the flawed vessel of Christianity? Could an experience of God mediated by Scriptures somehow confirm ideas whose divine origin was cast into question by history? Such arguments might have had a chance with me had it not been for all the other things I was discovering. Religion and religious experience, I noted, were found throughout human history and around the world in many forms that could hardly be reconciled with Christianity. And despite the horrifying behavior that had often received religious sanction, examples of ethically vibrant lives could be detected in all of them. Moreover, Hindu wisdom, Buddhist wisdom, Taoist wisdom introduced interesting new ideas, at least at the practical level, which did not always sit well with Christian teaching as I knew it. Lao Tzu’s thoughts on working with the grain of nature, for example, arguably mark out a different path from the agonistic, sometimes bulldozing, mainstream Christian approach.

Had I remained enclosed within a Christian community, feeling a loyalty to religious kith and kin or my former self alone, I might have turned a blind eye to all of this. I might never have explored these new facets of itself that the world was seeking to reveal. But instead, walking through row after row of library books which beckoned to me, seeing in my imagination and on the street the faces of honest and sincere souls from around the globe, I moved further and further from my Christian beliefs, discovering (in what I still regard as a very discerning youthful zeal) a new loyalty to intellectual integrity come what may, and to all who seek to embody truth, whether Christian or non-Christian, religious or non-religious. Ironically, I was aided and abetted in this by the values of humility and honesty and commitment to what seems deeply right that came with my Christian upbringing. Walking this suddenly redirected path wasn’t easy. It hurts to have your neat picture of the world torn to shreds; your emotions left jangling. But no on said that a commitment to live in wonder, straining for real insight and understanding, comes with cost.

With the messiness of the world more clearly in view, and having set aside the theological cookie-cutters that would have returned a tidy order to my view of things, I truly saw the problem of evil for the first time. Part of the puzzling complexity of the world, itself capable of inducing a kind of numinous state when seriously engaged, is the horrific suffering it contains. This needs to be faced openly. When thus faced, it is hard to combine with the idea of a loving personal God. And so a much more fundamental religious belief of mine – belief in God – came to be directly challenged. During the tumultuous time when I was losing Christian belief I remember looking at the Sun and saying to myself “Well, at least I still believe in God!” But that was not to remain the case for long.

Not on the problem of evil threatened belief in God. I soon sensed another problem – the hiddenness argument for atheism. That’s what it’s called today, of course. Back then I was just thinking about why, if there is a loving God, there should be people like me, onetime fervent and loyal believers who, when they come into a context of genuine inquiry, where truth and understanding are valued for their own sake, find their belief dissipating instead of strengthened. Suddenly the world seemed to include this interesting possibility: that a certain kind of nonbelief might itself  be evidence that nonbelief is the right way to go. For why would God permit his or her own existence to be hidden even from those who are willing to see it, ready to exult in it again? Indeed, wouldn’t a loving personal God have good reason to prevent such obscurity? After all, it is part of love to be open to explicit relationship – what loving parent or sibling or friend would ever allow this possibility to be taken completely away, if he or she could help it? And such relationships can’t even get started without the belief that the relationship partner exists.

By now it felt like the floodgates of insight were opening. I started to see tha thte religious beliefs so central to my wonder experiences of the past would need to be shed if the world were to reveal more of itself to me. Openness to surprising changes in understanding was leading me far away from belief in a personal God. And other arguments for atheism and against religious belief emerged as, in the years that followed, I sought to live out my newfound vocation as a philosopher.

But even if all of the arguments for atheism I have discovered after more fully surrendering to wonder, to the unexpected, to the fascinating strangeness of the world turned out to be unsound, I would remain a nonbeliever. I might not be an atheist, but I’d certainly be an agnostic as part of a wider skepticism about religious belief. This wider skepticism has been growing in recent years from new insights about the world’s evolutionary structure and the very early stage of development our species presently occupies within it. My new skepticism, an evolutionary skepticism, represents the deepest reason I would give today for not being a religious believer of any kind. And through yet another strange twist that I am still in the midst of navigating, it appears that in the depths of evolutionary religious skepticism can be found the seeds of new life for religion.

The best point of entry into this new way of thinking is the uncontroversial scientific finding that, although it must eventually succumb to the Sun, our planet may remain habitable for another billion years. I think human science, philosophy, and religion are quite far from absorbing the staggering implications of that figure. Even dividing it by a thousand yields a period of time – one million years – that our evolving brains find very difficult to really take in. We must nonetheless try to come to terms with this question: What might humans on Earth, or beings resulting from speciation beyond humanity as we know it, or wandering humans setting new evolutionary processes in motion on Mars or elsewhere, or beings resulting from gene manipulation or artificial intellectual enhancements, or intelligent beings that evolve again on Earth, perhaps many times over, whether from apes or precursors other than the apes – what might such beings be able to come up with in the way of new ideas given so much time?

Apply this now to religion. The contrast between what may yet appear and the piddling few years of religion planet Earth has seen so far could hardly be more stark. It’s easy for us to forget how ill-prepared our species may be for ultimate insight, what with the flashy technologies that have led us to so dominate and alter the planet. Behind all the camouflage there is still an emotional primitiveness and a considerable propensity to violence. We are not so very different in these respects from the humans who first invented religion perhaps 50,000 years ago, whose violent tendencies may still be inscribed in our genes. It is here, in this rather less than congenial environment, just a nanosecond ago in evolutionary terms, that religious ideas, ideas about things ultimate in reality and value we today respectfully call “traditional” and “venerable,” began to emerge. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised – or regretful – at their passing. And perhaps, by the same token, we should begin to wonder what new religious insights may arise if and when we manage to flush some of the immaturity out of our system, and go through the evolutionary changes that, oh, say, another 100,00 or 1,000,000 years would bring.

Adding now to this skeptical mix just a little more openness to the new, applied with the philosopher’s interest in imaginative vision and conceptual clarity, one can see that rational religion not only might evolve over eons of time, but might do so in our own lifetime, if we let it. In an evolutionary frame of mind, thinking of religion diachronically (existing over time) instead of synchronically (at a time), one must be open to the idea that rational religion will look very different at an earlier time than at later ones. One must be willing to think of many aspects of religious life as we have known it thus far, such as religious belief, as possibly representing examples of immature overreaching that will flower into something more mature and rationally appealing with a bit of careful digging and watering.

In my most recent work I have begun the digging and watering. Who knows what will grow? But one thing seems clear to me – if there is a form of religion appropriate to our time, it will be a skeptical form of religion: religion without belief. From beings like us, to whom the mud of early evolution still clings, Plato’s wonder asks for no less.

This is a link to a debate between Schellenberg and Jeff Jordan over Schellenberg's idea of Divine Hiddenness and how it supports the idea of God's nonexistence. Schellenberg explains his ideas, which Jordan critiques and then Schellenberg responds and so on. It's a great exchange and offers interesting ideas for both theists and atheists. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's Over-Why I'm Leaving Korea

Well it is official my time in Korea will be coming to an end after only one year. Less then a week ago I was prepared to re-sign with my school for another year as the English teacher. I won’t lie I was apprehensive about doing it particularly after I discovered that my co-teacher, who is great, will not be returning. I’ve heard lots of horror stories about bad co-teachers and what a difference that makes in one’s experience here in Korea. Further the idea was difficult because I’m currently in a long distance relationship and miss my girlfriend. But in-spite of those things I was going to re-sign for another year because the money is good, the living expenses are low and I have been paying off large amounts of debt since I’ve been here.

Then last Friday I was called into one of the classrooms with my co-teacher and two other Korean English teachers. They told me that the principle was not going to offer me an extension for next year but rather was going to hire a new teacher. The reasons why were never very clear. But the one thing they were clear about is that the principle intended to hire a woman for next year. Now that’s fine but I found it odd that they told me that and that that was the only detail they all conveyed to me as certain and clear. Now I’m not saying I could be a totally new person for them but if they had some real issues that they could tell me about at least I could offer to work on them but when it comes to my gender there’s nothing I can do to change that or at least there’s nothing I’m willing to do to change that. Despite the constant embarrassment and shame that comes with being a man the fact is I am a man and will continue to be one. But all that aside the news was a real surprise to me. Ever since I got here I had been working on the assumption that they would want me back and that the decision about whether I would work there again would be all mine.

Korea is filled with schools that need teachers and my credentials and experience all but assure me the ability to get a new job and fairly quickly. Still it is never fun to feel rejected even from a job you don’t particularly like and I can say I don’t particularly like this job. Really the only thing I really like about this job is the schedule. Over all it is very light as I never teach more then 5 classes in a day leaving me two to three hours everyday which I can use as I please. Obviously lesson planning has to be done but still compared to many jobs mine is fairly easy. So basically what I like about this job is the fact that I don’t have to do it that much, it’s truly all the “not working” time that this job provides me that makes it worth having.

Later that evening after I got home I shared the news with my girlfriend Angelina. She and I have been friends for years but we only started dating a couple of months ago. Since that time we had talked about me coming back to the United States so we could be near one another but we talked about it more wishfully then seriously pretty much assured that it was not going to happen. I was going to be in Korea for another year and then we would see where we were in our relationship after that. But within a few hours of talking we started really examining my options and began to seriously talk about me coming back to the US. We talked about the logistics, the implications and the difficulties entailed in that decision. There of course was a list of pros and cons on both sides but the key issue for me really was our relationship. If I moved back to the US I would be moving to Sacramento, not to Denver or LA or anywhere else but to Sacramento so I could be near Angelina and we could give our relationship a real shot. Now this potential opportunity brought with it both excitement and fear because while we both really want to be together we both know being together will make our relationship “real” in a way it hasn’t been yet.  

Long distance relationships are known for being difficult and in many ways they are but Angelina and I have also seen that there is an often over looked easier side of being far apart from one another. The distance creates a sort of shared difficulty in the relationship and prevents rifts from forming over personal issues and annoyances. The few moments I get with Angelina in a week are spent enjoying one another’s company and complaining about being apart. There are no fights or quarrels created by sharing space with one another, dealing with daily issues or functioning in group settings. In a way it’s easier to be in love when you’re far apart. So all the excitement and joy that comes with this opportunity of getting to be together and to really commit to our relationship comes with pangs of fear; What if we get tired of one another? What if we end up wanting different things? Basically, what if it doesn’t work out? By nature I worry about these things and I know Angelina thinks about them too but at the end of the day I decided, actually we decided that this was a risk we should take now instead of wasting another year waiting to take the risk then. This decision comes with certain difficulties but none that worry me enough to not come (run) back home to be with Angelina.

Ah the silliness of love, don’t you love it? 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Personal Space Invader from "Outie" Space-The Fat Man Attacks

So Saturday after grabbing some dinner at my favorite place Dos Tacos instead of heading home I decided to jump on the train and just get off at some random stop I had never been too. After I got off I started walking around and within about 10 minutes I started to recognize buildings and all of the sudden I knew exactly where I was. The city really has been shrinking for me. I have found that downtown I don’t have to use the trains as much because everything really is pretty compact and within walking distance.

Now the “highlight” (low point) of this trip was the bus ride home. It was about 11pm when I got on the bus to head home. At this time a lot of people where leaving so the bus filled up fast. I got one of the last seats. It was near the front and was an aisle seat. At that point everyone on the bus had seats but within the next few stops passengers started filling the aisle due to the lack of seats. Needless to say when you are in an aisle seat it does not take long before someone is fairly close to you. Now while I love my personal space I have become accustomed to having less of it particularly on the buses and trains but that still didn’t prepare me for this night.

A few stops after I had been picked up a man got on the bus and he had a really large gut, a true beer belly. I noticed mostly because that isn’t something I’ve seen on many Korean men so it really stuck out, yes literally too. He ended up being the person closest to me but at first he faced the other direction which was great for me in that my personal space was not affected at all but sadly that would not last. I was listening to my I-Pod and enjoying the ride when suddenly before I really realized what was happening the man had turned my direction placed both of his hands up on the railing above my seat and allowed his very large gut to start smashing into my head. I literally almost yelled out loud and shoved him away from me. I looked up and his eyes were closed and he was simply moving wherever the motion of the bus took him. It became clear he was drunk. I held in my scream but after the first few hits to my head I really didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t wearing a jacket and the polo shirt he was wearing was skin tight on him. So when he touched me the polo shirt seemed invisible and it felt like his actual body was pressing up against me. I mean within a matter of seconds I had learned far more about this man then I ever wanted to know such as the fact that he seemed to have a good amount of hair on his belly and worse I discovered that he had an outie belly button because his outie got innie my ear. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! I literally wanted to heave him away from me.

I tried crouching towards the person sitting next to me but that didn’t go unnoticed. He had his laptop open and was watching a video and I think he thought I was trying to look over his shoulder and watch too. So I moved back to my space and started crouching down trying to lay my head on my lap in hopes of getting my head below the strike zone of this man’s stomach. As I tried to do that I had to grab my legs with my hands so basically I was seating in the fetal position. I was then faced with the catch-22 decision of what to do with my head. If I looked towards the window the person next to me would think I was looking at him from the psychotic position of having my head in my lap as if I was hoping to gaze up into his eyes but if I turned my head the other way the ever dangerous gut from outie space was looming ready to attack at any moment and I didn’t want my eye to be violated the same way my ear had been. So I just stuck my face into my bag which was lying on my lap.

Now beside the obvious difficulties of riding in this position I was still fighting off a cold so my nose what not particularly clear and my throat was bothering me so I ended up coughing a lot causing new joyous amounts of mucus to come up my throat and into my mouth. I didn’t even last a minute in this position before I had to sit up straight again and yes I got hit again, thankfully this time my shoulder took the brunt of the hit. So from that point on I just angled my body so that he hit my shoulder and did not get near my head again. And yes after getting hit in the head by a man’s stomach getting hit in the shoulder by the same stomach feels like a victory. After about 20 minutes enough people had gotten off the bus that the man moved but the damage had already been done. For the rest of the ride home I had flashbacks of his first attack when he violated the temple (on my head). I could still hear the song I was listening to at the moment I was hit, “Life is Wonderful” by Jason Mraz. And before the first strike my life truly was wonderful I was so innocent and optimistic then alas the world had changed I would never be the same again. Okay so maybe I went a little overboard there at the end but honestly I got smacked in the head with a man’s gut for 20 minutes. It is not an experience I would wish upon anyone. Yet another fantastic experience courtesy of public transportation, large amounts of people and of course alcohol. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Los Angeles-The City that I Love

During my time in Korea there have been many things that I have missed about the US including food, certain stores and a shared understanding of the need for personal space but the only place I have really missed is Los Angeles. I truly miss living in LA. When I think of home I don’t think of Denver where I grew up or other places I have lived like Phoenix or Oakland or Seattle but rather I think of LA.

I often find myself drifting off in my head just picturing various streets I used to walk on or parks I frequented. I can see downtown, the pier at Santa Monica, the Rose Bowl and even just individual bus stops I sat at. I see them and I truly miss them. I walked so much there. These walks were time used both to clear my mind of thoughts and clutter it back up again with different thoughts. I planned out the coming weeks, months and years of my life on those walks. I made decisions about things as simple as what to eat for lunch (almost always Chipotle) to as big as whether I should leave the country for work. I wrote and rewrote papers in my head, read amazing books and just people watched on the beach. I prayed and worshiped, wrestled with old beliefs and new ideas and ultimately discovered God's non-existence on those walks. LA is a place that is truly special and meaningful to me. I miss it.

So many people speak disparagingly about Los Angeles but I can’t. Nothing they complain about compares to the wonderful treasures the city offers. I love it there and hope that maybe someday I’ll get to live there again. 

                            Pasadena City Hall-used to sit there a lot

Paseo-Where I went to the movies and did a lot of shopping

The Rose Bowl-I walked around the surrounding park frequently

Santa Monica Pier-I just loved hanging out here on long days

My Chipotle-3 blocks from my house and they knew me by name

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Teaching Boys Makes Me Embarrassed to be a Man

The longer I work with elementary school kids the more painfully obvious it becomes just how much slower and over-all dumber boys are then girls. I mean honestly when do boys start become somewhat thoughtful and self-controlled human beings? It certainly isn't before the 6th grade.

When I give the simplest instructions I find most of the girls only need to hear it once while the boys need to hear up to three times and often individually in order to understand. This is in large part because most of the boys cannot stay focused on any one topic for more then 20 or 30 seconds. If they are not looking at me directly in the eye then I truly don't know if they heard me.

They take so much pleasure in doing anything and everything that pops into their heads. I find them under the desk, on top of the desk, constantly throwing things, drawing on the table, stealing each other's stuff, playing fake sports with imaginary balls, making paper airplanes, poking each other in the side or on the back of the head and then pretending not to have done it, pushing and shoving one another and of course bothering the girls in any way possible. Further they think they are sly and clever actually believing they are hiding what they are doing from my co-teacher and I.

While there is certainly frustration involved in trying to teach these boys I think what bothers me the most is the sheer embarrassment I often feel when I am around them just for being male. I can't help but wonder, since I don't remember, how old was I when I started being able to use my brain for something productive and focus on any given task? If these boys are any indication it was not for a long time.

I'm glad the schools don't give up on boys or I wouldn't be here but one thing I have certainly gained from being a teacher is an even greater respect and appreciation of the female sex.

Voltaire-Poem on the Lisbon Disaster

This is a poem written by Voltaire in response to the Lisbon earthquake, often called the Great Lisbon Earthquake. It took place on Saturday 1 November 1755. The earthquake was followed by a tsunami and fires, which caused near-total destruction of Lisbon in the Kingdom of Portugal, and adjoining areas. Geologists today estimate the Lisbon earthquake approached magnitude 9 on the moment magnitude scale, with an epicenter in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 km (120 mi) west-southwest of Cape St. Vincent. Estimates place the death toll in Lisbon alone between 10,000 and 100,000 people, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.

The event was widely discussed and dwelt upon by European Enlightenment philosophers, and inspired major developments in theodicy and in the philosophy of the sublime. This poem addresses theodicy head on questioning how such great evil can exist if God is good? The poem is a pain-filled expression of doubt and simply beautiful. I particularly love the last stanza, so powerful. 

(This translation and the footnotes are those of Joseph McCabe)

Or an Examination of the Axiom, “All is Well”

o                                                        Unhappy mortals! Dark and mourning earth!
o                                                        Affrighted gathering of human kind!
o                                                        Eternal lingering of useless pain!
o                                                        Come, ye philosophers, who cry, “All’s well,”
o                                                        And contemplate this ruin of a world.
o                                                        Behold these shreds and cinders of your race,
o                                                        This child and mother heaped in common wreck,
o                                                        These scattered limbs beneath the marble shafts—
o                                                        A hundred thousand whom the earth devours,
o                                                        Who, torn and bloody, palpitating yet,
o                                                        Entombed beneath their hospitable roofs,
o                                                        In racking torment end their stricken lives.
o                                                        To those expiring murmurs of distress,
o                                                        To that appalling spectacle of woe,
o                                                        Will ye reply: “You do but illustrate
o                                                        The iron laws that chain the will of God”?
o                                                        Say ye, o’er that yet quivering mass of flesh:
o                                                        “God is avenged: the wage of sin is death”?
o                                                        What crime, what sin, had those young hearts conceived
o                                                        That lie, bleeding and torn, on mother’s breast?
o                                                        Did fallen Lisbon deeper drink of vice
o                                                        Than London, Paris, or sunlit Madrid?
o                                                        In these men dance; at Lisbon yawns the abyss.
o                                                        Tranquil spectators of your brothers’ wreck,
o                                                        Unmoved by this repellent dance of death,
o                                                        Who calmly seek the reason of such storms,
o                                                        Let them but lash your own security;
o                                                        Your tears will mingle freely with the flood.
o                                                        When earth its horrid jaws half open shows,
o                                                        My plaint is innocent, my cries are just.
o                                                        Surrounded by such cruelties of fate,
o                                                        By rage of evil and by snares of death,
o                                                        Fronting the fierceness of the elements,
o                                                        Sharing our ills, indulge me my lament.
o                                                        “’T is pride,” ye say—“the pride of rebel heart,
o                                                        To think we might fare better than we do.”
o                                                        Go, tell it to the Tagus’ stricken banks;
o                                                        Search in the ruins of that bloody shock;
o                                                        Ask of the dying in that house of grief,
o                                                        Whether ’t is pride that calls on heaven for help
o                                                        And pity for the sufferings of men.
o                                                        “All’s well,” ye say, “and all is necessary.”
o                                                        Think ye this universe had been the worse
o                                                        Without this hellish gulf in Portugal?
o                                                        Are ye so sure the great eternal cause,
o                                                        That knows all things, and for itself creates,
o                                                        Could not have placed us in this dreary clime
o                                                        Without volcanoes seething ’neath our feet?
o                                                        Set you this limit to the power supreme?
o                                                        Would you forbid it use its clemency?
o                                                        Are not the means of the great artisan
o                                                        Unlimited for shaping his designs?
o                                                        The master I would not offend, yet wish
o                                                        This gulf of fire and sulphur had outpoured
o                                                        Its baleful flood amid the desert wastes.
o                                                        God I respect, yet love the universe.
o                                                        Not pride, alas, it is, but love of man,
o                                                        To mourn so terrible a stroke as this.
o                                                        Would it console the sad inhabitants
o                                                        Of these aflame and desolated shores
o                                                        To say to them: “Lay down your lives in peace;
o                                                        For the world’s good your homes are sacrificed;
o                                                        Your ruined palaces shall others build,
o                                                        For other peoples shall your walls arise;
o                                                        The North grows rich on your unhappy loss;
o                                                        Your ills are but a link in general law;
o                                                        To God you are as those low creeping worms
o                                                        That wait for you in your predestined tombs”?
o                                                        What speech to hold to victims of such ruth!
o                                                        Add not such cruel outrage to their pain.
o                                                        Nay, press not on my agitated heart
o                                                        These iron and irrevocable laws,
o                                                        This rigid chain of bodies, minds, and worlds.
o                                                        Dreams of the bloodless thinker are such thoughts.
o                                                        God holds the chain: is not himself enchained;
o                                                        By his indulgent choice is all arranged;
o                                                        Implacable he’s not, but free and just.
o                                                        Why suffer we, then, under one so just? (1)
o                                                        There is the knot your thinkers should undo.
o                                                        Think ye to cure our ills denying them?
o                                                        All peoples, trembling at the hand of God,
o                                                        Have sought the source of evil in the world.
o                                                        When the eternal law that all things moves
o                                                        Doth hurl the rock by impact of the winds,
o                                                        With lightning rends and fires the sturdy oak,
o                                                        They have no feeling of the crashing blows;
o                                                        But I, I live and feel, my wounded heart
o                                                        Appeals for aid to him who fashioned it.
o                                                        Children of that Almighty Power, we stretch
o                                                        Our hands in grief towards our common sire.
o                                                        The vessel, truly, is not heard to say:
o                                                        “Why should I be so vile, so coarse, so frail?”
o                                                        Nor speech nor thought is given unto it.
o                                                        The urn that, from the potter’s forming hand,
o                                                        Slips and is shattered has no living heart
o                                                        That yearns for bliss and shrinks from misery.
o                                                        “This misery,” ye say, “is others’ good.”
o                                                        Yes; from my mouldering body shall be born
o                                                        A thousand worms, when death has closed my pain.
o                                                        Fine consolation this in my distress!
o                                                        Grim speculators on the woes of men,
o                                                        Ye double, not assuage, my misery.
o                                                        In you I mark the nerveless boast of pride
o                                                        That hides its ill with pretext of content.
o                                                        I am a puny part of the great whole.
o                                                        Yes; but all animals condemned to live,
o                                                        All sentient things, born by the same stern law,
o                                                        Suffer like me, and like me also die.
o                                                        The vulture fastens on his timid prey,
o                                                        And stabs with bloody beak the quivering limbs:
o                                                        All ’s well, it seems, for it. But in a while
o                                                        An eagle tears the vulture into shreds;
o                                                        The eagle is transfixed by shaft of man;
o                                                        The man, prone in the dust of battlefield,
o                                                        Mingling his blood with dying fellow-men,
o                                                        Becomes in turn the food of ravenous birds.
o                                                        Thus the whole world in every member groans:
o                                                        All born for torment and for mutual death.
o                                                        And o’er this ghastly chaos you would say
o                                                        The ills of each make up the good of all!
o                                                        What blessedness! And as, with quaking voice,
o                                                        Mortal and pitiful, ye cry, “All ’s well,”
o                                                        The universe belies you, and your heart
o                                                        Refutes a hundred times your mind’s conceit.
o                                                        All dead and living things are locked in strife.
o                                                        Confess it freely—evil stalks the land,
o                                                        Its secret principle unknown to us.
o                                                        Can it be from the author of all good?
o                                                        Are we condemned to weep by tyrant law
o                                                        Of black Typhon or barbarous Ahriman? (2)
o                                                        These odious monsters, whom a trembling world
o                                                        Made gods, my spirit utterly rejects.
o                                                        But how conceive a God supremely good,
o                                                        Who heaps his favours on the sons he loves,
o                                                        Yet scatters evil with as large a hand?
o                                                        What eye can pierce the depth of his designs?
o                                                        From that all-perfect Being came not ill:
o                                                        And came it from no other, for he ’s lord:
o                                                        Yet it exists. O stern and numbing truth!
o                                                        O wondrous mingling of diversities!
o                                                        A God came down to lift our stricken race:
o                                                        He visited the earth, and changed it not!
o                                                        One sophist says he had not power to change;
o                                                        “He had,” another cries, “but willed it not:
o                                                        In time he will, no doubt.” And, while they prate,
o                                                        The hidden thunders, belched from underground,
o                                                        Fling wide the ruins of a hundred towns
o                                                        Across the smiling face of Portugal.
o                                                        God either smites the inborn guilt of man,
o                                                        Or, arbitrary lord of space and time,
o                                                        Devoid alike of pity and of wrath,
o                                                        Pursues the cold designs he has conceived.
o                                                        Or else this formless stuff, recalcitrant,
o                                                        Bears in itself inalienable faults;
o                                                        Or else God tries us, and this mortal life
o                                                        Is but the passage to eternal spheres.
o                                                        ’T is transitory pain we suffer here,
o                                                        And death its merciful deliverance.
o                                                        Yet, when this dreadful passage has been made,
o                                                        Who will contend he has deserved the crown?
o                                                        Whatever side we take we needs must groan;
o                                                        We nothing know, and everything must fear.
o                                                        Nature is dumb, in vain appeal to it;
o                                                        The human race demands a word of God.
o                                                        ’T is his alone to illustrate his work,
o                                                        Console the weary, and illume the wise.
o                                                        Without him man, to doubt and error doomed,
o                                                        Finds not a reed that he may lean upon.
o                                                        From Leibnitz learn we not by what unseen
o                                                        Bonds, in this best of all imagined worlds,
o                                                        Endless disorder, chaos of distress,
o                                                        Must mix our little pleasures thus with pain;
o                                                        Nor why the guiltless suffer all this woe
o                                                        In common with the most abhorrent guilt.
o                                                        ’T is mockery to tell me all is well.
o                                                        Like learned doctors, nothing do I know.
o                                                        Plato has said that men did once have wings
o                                                        And bodies proof against all mortal ill;
o                                                        That pain and death were strangers to their world.
o                                                        How have we fallen from that high estate!
o                                                        Man crawls and dies: all is but born to die:
o                                                        The world ’s the empire of destructiveness.
o                                                        This frail construction of quick nerves and bones
o                                                        Cannot sustain the shock of elements;
o                                                        This temporary blend of blood and dust
o                                                        Was put together only to dissolve;
o                                                        This prompt and vivid sentiment of nerve
o                                                        Was made for pain, the minister of death:
o                                                        Thus in my ear does nature’s message run.
o                                                        Plato and Epicurus I reject,
o                                                        And turn more hopefully to learned Bayle.
o                                                        With even poised scale Bayle bids me doubt.
o                                                        He, wise and great enough to need no creed,
o                                                        Has slain all systems—combats even himself:
o                                                        Like that blind conqueror of Philistines,
o                                                        He sinks beneath the ruin he has wrought. (3)
o                                                        What is the verdict of the vastest mind?
o                                                        Silence: the book of fate is closed to us.
o                                                        Man is a stranger to his own research;
o                                                        He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes.
o                                                        Tormented atoms in a bed of mud,
o                                                        Devoured by death, a mockery of fate.
o                                                        But thinking atoms, whose far-seeing eyes,
o                                                        Guided by thought, have measured the faint stars,
o                                                        Our being mingles with the infinite;
o                                                        Ourselves we never see, or come to know.
o                                                        This world, this theatre of pride and wrong,
o                                                        Swarms with sick fools who talk of happiness.
o                                                        With plaints and groans they follow up the quest,
o                                                        To die reluctant, or be born again.
o                                                        At fitful moments in our pain-racked life
o                                                        The hand of pleasure wipes away our tears;
o                                                        But pleasure passes like a fleeting shade,
o                                                        And leaves a legacy of pain and loss.
o                                                        The past for us is but a fond regret,
o                                                        The present grim, unless the future ’s clear.
o                                                        If thought must end in darkness of the tomb,
o                                                        All will be well one day—so runs our hope.
o                                                        All now is well, is but an idle dream.
o                                                        The wise deceive me: God alone is right.
o                                                        With lowly sighing, subject in my pain,
o                                                        I do not fling myself ’gainst Providence.
o                                                        Once did I sing, in less lugubrious tone,
o                                                        The sunny ways of pleasure’s genial rule;
o                                                        The times have changed, and, taught by growing age,
o                                                        And sharing of the frailty of mankind,
o                                                        Seeking a light amid the deepening gloom,
o                                                        I can but suffer, and will not repine.
o                                                        A caliph once, when his last hour had come,
o                                                        This prayer addressed to him he reverenced:
o                                                        “To thee, sole and all-powerful king, I bear
o                                                        What thou dost lack in thy immensity—
o                                                        Evil and ignorance, distress and sin.”
o                                                        He might have added one thing further—hope.

(1) “Sub Deo justo nemo miser nisi mereatur [Under a just God no one is miserable who has not deserved misery.]”—St. Augustine.
(2) The Egyptian and Persian principles of evil. The problem is discussed in the preceding essay.—J. M.
(3) In a lengthy note Voltaire explains that Bayle never questioned Providence, and that the scepticism in which he follows Bayle is in regard to the source of evil. It will be seen from earlier pages, however, that Voltaire does not ascribe infinite power to his God. The words “all-perfect” and “almighty,” which occur in this poem, are poetic phrases.—J. M.

           This are some artistic renderings of the earthquake from that time.