Science and Other Drugs

….maybe a little less wrong….

Unmitigated, inexcusable, abject jackassery

This snapshot shows the red supergiant Betelgeuse, a star many times larger than the orbit of Earth, on a collision course with a massive interstellar wall of dust. Betelgeuse, which can be seen with the naked eye as one of the stars in Orion’s belt, is due to explode in a cataclysmic supernova at any time.

I live in the center of a fairly large city. It took me a while to get used to the constant stream of blaring sirens running up and down the street a dozen feet from my window, but now it doesn’t even make me stir.

I love living in the city. It only takes me a few minutes to get to work, and there’s exciting and interesting stuff to do pretty much everywhere. Having a newborn does sort of put a damper on certain leisure activities, of course—I haven’t had a cigar in months—but that’s to be expected. I lived in tiny-to-small sized towns my entire life, even when I was at college, so this is a welcome difference.

But apparently living in a city has its hazards and shortcomings as well.

Our apartment is near the corner of a busy intersection, like pretty much all apartments in a downtown area are wont to be. Yesterday, I was just leaving our apartment complex when I saw a guy on a bike stopped at the intersection with an SUV behind him.

The occupant of the SUV evidently felt that the biker was an unwelcome obstruction. So unwelcome, in fact, that he rolled down his window and began screaming obscenities. Nothing out of the ordinary yet; obscenity-screaming is par for the course in a large city.

But when the string of curses failed to cause the biker to spontaneously disappear, the driver decided to use a more direct approach. Backing up slightly, he revved his engine and drove forward, ramming the bike and knocking it over. He then proceeded to drive over it as the biker rolled free, mangling the bike entirely before speeding away.

I was pretty shocked.

No, this isn’t a rant about how horrible city people are in comparison to nice polite country people; there are jackasses everywhere. I was simply amazed, that’s all. How much of a jerk do you have to be to do something so thoroughly and completely vindictive? People do a lot of horrible things to each other all the time, but it’s generally couched in some other context….but ramming and running over a complete stranger in broad daylight has got to be one of the most gallingly spiteful things you can do.

Sure, everyone is depraved and selfish….it’s reformed dogma and it’s pretty obviously evidenced human nature. But most of us, I would hope, couldn’t even conceive of a situation where we’d stoop to something like that. Yet it’s not the severity of the offense per se—it’s not like anyone was injured—but rather it’s the capriciousness of the act that horrifies us.

Is this a reflection on how we conceptualize evil? What is more wrong: to commit a truly heinous act out of premeditated malice and ill intent, or to execute moderate evil without any real reason other than capricious rage? Perhaps we compartmentalize the former, and so the thought of the latter is more raw and frightening; after all, we couldn’t ever be capable of doing something really horrible, but we may very well be all too close to committing capricious evil. Or is it the opposite? Do we cast ourselves as victims, thus classifying different forms of evil by the chance we have of avoiding them? Ostensibly it’s easier to guard against the really extreme, obvious evils than it is to guard against random and capricious cruelty.

What is the source of our revulsion toward evil: fear of what’s outside ourselves that we don’t understand, or fear of what’s inside ourselves that we understand all too well?

Finally, if capricious evil is considered comparatively worse than planned and premeditated evil, Christians ought to be careful about how liberally they apply the phrase “God moves in mysterious ways” to questions they simply don’t feel like answering. “Mysterious ways” sounds all too close to “no good reason at all” to be a safe bet. If someone has already formulated the notion that a particular thing is evil, adding suspicion of capriciousness isn’t going to help matters.

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2 responses to “Unmitigated, inexcusable, abject jackassery

  1. theatheistmissionary 2013/03/10 at 07:30

    “Mysterious ways” is simply another way of embracing skeptical theism. If you are interested in a devastating explanation of how skeptical theism undermines morality, go to Stephen Maitzen’s home page on the Acadia University website and check out his paper’s on that topic. Very thought provoking reading.

    • physicsandwhiskey 2013/03/11 at 13:12

      I was referring more to people whose reference to “mysterious ways” was more of an excuse to avoid producing any explanation than any deeply-held belief about the inability of the human mind to fully grasp the Immeasurable Things of God.

      But, I daresay, it could apply to either. Maitzen’s article was good and thought-provoking. I definitely agree that there is an obvious inconsistency in claiming ignorance of divine mores when the question of theodicy arises, but depending on intuitive comprehension of morality when making arguments regarding God’s existence and will.

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