Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

I recently received a series of anguished questions from a dear friend, regarding a number of thorny metaphysical issues. In composing my reply, I realized that I had written a fairly extensive essay which I felt others might wish to see. So I have cleaned up the questions and my responses a bit, and I now offer them here. The specific questions and my replies follow the introductory essay.

Q: I am writing to you today for advice in your position as Pagan elder. Mom and I have had many a long philosophical discussion over the past year and she gets crying distressed at injustice and pain both in the world and suffered by individuals and animals. Try as I might I appear to be quite inept at explaining things to her as I/we understand them. She asks questions like:

          Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad things happen to good people? For example, why does Morning Glory, such a wonderful soul, have to suffer with the terrible illness she has now? Why did my father, a truly good soul, have to suffer so much in his final five years?

Gaia by HutchinsonOZ: Why does Gaia have to suffer from the malignant “cancer” of human greed? We are all part of larger systems that are in similar disarray. Essentially, my take on these issues is that, in the words of Cicero , “Everything is alive; everything is interconnected.” The framing in which you have expressed these fundamental issues presupposes that things are separate, and I don’t believe that they are.

          I hold strongly to the “Gaia Thesis,” as I first articulated it over 36 years ago: Our entire planetary biosphere is one single vast superorganism, in whose body we are the equivalent of cells in our own bodies. Indeed, all of Nature is a cosmic set of those Russian nesting dolls, where you open each one to discover another smaller one inside. And each one is alive and sentient.

          In this context, then, we can understand all these miseries not as the will of some greater outside entity, but rather as disease—particularly cancer. Morning Glory, for instance, has a blood-and-bone cancer. This is going on deep within her body, by individual cells that are reproducing themselves all out of proportion, “mining” her bones for calcium by excavating tunnels through them like termites and shipworms, and dumping toxic poisons into her bloodstream. Even though her sentient consciousness of herself as “Morning Glory” does not order or will this to be happening, it is. Her will is naturally to be healthy (i.e. “whole”). Her will is for the greater well-being of her entire body/system, overriding the agenda of any single cell—or even groups of cells—that may on their own decide to go “rogue.”

          From the point of view of her cells, the will of Morning Glory herself may be seen as the “Divine Will,” as it comes from a greater (or “higher”) level of synergic consciousness that encompasses all of the “nested” entities within her (systems, organs, cells…). Thus “Divine Will,” in which the greater encompasses the lesser, moves from the macrocosm to the microcosm, or “top down.” The greater good is valued over the lesser.

          But, these individual cells are also mini-organisms, each a living being, each with their own tiny wills and agendas. And those agendas are focused on gaining their own individual personal advantage, “winning the game” at the expense, if needs be, of anyone else and any other considerations. In biology, “winning the game” ultimately comes down to producing the largest number of progeny — passing the most genes into the next generation, and dominating the gene pool. All other considerations are weeded out in the course of natural selection, according to Darwinian principles, simply and solely because this is ultimately what constitutes “survival.” Those that reproduce the most increase and survive; and those that don’t reproduce diminish into extinction, leaving the field to the most successful reproducers.

          Thus the will of the cells within a larger body may be seen as a counter-force, moving from the microcosm towards the macrocosm, in direct opposition to the “Divine Will” which moves from the greater towards the lesser. This counter-will or agenda values the individual, or lesser, over the collective, or greater.

          It must be understood that both of these competing and conflicting “wills” are intrinsic and essential to all life and evolution. The resolution occurs—when it does—in synergy, which comprises the “Awakening” of individuals into a greater collective level of consciousness that encompasses all below/within it, and shifts the survival game into a new phase: that of the survival of the collective. At this point, new agendas emerge that could not possibly have been comprehensible to the previous disparate individuals. Now, cooperation becomes the winning strategy over competition.

          And a new “individual” is born (or, more properly, coalesces)—a multi-celled organism, or group.

          If you are still following me here, you can see the extrapolation to the next level—and the next after that, ad infinitum. We all—each individual human, animal, plant—are “cells” in the body of greater collective organisms: families, tribes, nations, humanity…and Gaia Herself. Nor do I believe that the levels of synergy end at the planetary scale. Our entire Solar System is an emerging super-organism, as life becomes established on all its habitable worlds, moons, planetoids, etc. Someday, I believe, the system of Sol will also coalesce into a vast “cell” bounded by “cell wall” of the heliopause. I even believe that the entire galaxy is a vast super-organism, comprised of the “cells” of billions of constituent star systems. And when you step back even further, it becomes clear that galaxies themselves are arrayed in vast clumps and patterns which also appear cell-like in structure. Ultimately, the entire Universe is a vast “nesting doll” super-organism! And there is no reason not to suppose that at each macrocosmic level of synergic organization, consciousness coalesces, comprising a new nested level of “Divinity.”

          So, to return to your questions—it’s all a matter of perspective: whether you’re on the inside looking out, or on the outside looking in. Looking up or looking down. Microcosm viewing macrocosm, or macrocosm viewing microcosm.

          Gaia is sore afflicted with cancer. Individual cells are reproducing themselves all out of proportion, “mining” her bones for minerals by excavating tunnels through them like termites and shipworms, and dumping toxic poisons into her bloodstream. This is not the “Divine will” of Gaia. It is an inevitable product of the nature of life and evolution itself, as each individual cell struggles to attain its own personal advantage at the expense of all others.

          But, this perspective also includes its own resolution: “The Awakening,” or coalescence into the next level of synergic awareness/conscious ness. I believe we are approaching that point in regards to Gaia. So this becomes our Great Work—advancing the coalescence of consciousness in every way we can.

          And this is the context in which these following all-important questions of yours must be asked:

Q: How can people who call themselves “good” Christians justify murdering animals, a la George Bush Sr. and his cronies in the Safari Club? How can they consider themselves “good”?

Ancient of Days, BlakeOZ: Because the fundamental premise/assumption of all monotheism is that “God” (i.e. the one and only true omnipotent creator and ruler of the Universe) is on their side; and thus grants Divine sanction to whatever they do in “his” name. This is their very definition of “good:” being on “God’s Team.” And anyone who claims allegiance to any other deity (or none at all) is therefore not part of the “elect” or “Chosen People,” and is therefore not only “wrong,” but “evil,” and not to be shown any mercy. All must be brought into the one Dominion—the Kingdom of God (or Yahweh, Allah, whomever). Those who refuse to be recruited must be punished for their obstinacy. This means that they may be enslaved, tortured, or even killed—just as we try to exterminate malaria mosquitoes. And doing so makes you righteous in the eyes of the Lord; i.e. “good.”

          And as far as animals are concerned, it is part of the theology of all three monotheistic religions that animals have no souls—and therefore are not even players in the game of salvation or damnation. Their considerations simply do not enter the picture at all, as only ensouled humans count. This is one of the most fundamental differences between the monotheistic faiths and all other religions—Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, or Pagan. Personally, since anyone who has ever had a dog, cat, horse, bird, snake, or other companion animal/pet/familiar knows perfectly well that these creatures have souls, I would think that this issue alone should totally discredit the monotheistic churches in the eyes of most people.

Q: Don’t most people in the world just get on with their lives never thinking about the bigger picture, and if that is the case how can so many of the souls on earth be so unaware of cosmic meaning and consequences?

OZ: Yes. Sadly, this is all too true. “Two men looked out from prison bars; one saw mud, the other stars.” We who have raised our gaze must now call others to this attention.

Q: If good people put out good thoughts, how come there is so much evil and pain and suffering in the world?

OZ: Because we don’t all want the same thing, and conflicting wills lead to conflicts in every arena. For far too many people, their goals are not about helping others, or making the world a better place for everyone. Sadly, what most people are looking for is merely their own personal salvation, and gaining as much advantage over others as they can. The “Big Picture” just isn’t in their sights at all.

          As for human-inflicted pain and suffering, I have come to feel that the most “evil” meme operant in the world is that “evil” (i.e. “wickedness” defined as anything that one doesn’t like) must not merely be resisted and repudiated—it must be punished. This notion is a terribly destructive myth, leading inevitably into the insanity of ever-escalating eternal cycles of “eye for eye” retaliation that we see so nakedly exposed in the present Middle East , between Shiites and Sunnis, Israelis and Palestinians, Hindus and Moslems. Hatfields and McCoys. Gingham dogs and calico cats. And what else can we expect when the Highest Authority—the Supreme Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe—has designated an entire realm devoted solely to the horrific eternal punishment of all but his most loyal designated elect?

earth.          Indeed, I feel that the very essence of evil is the desire to hurt: to make others suffer and feel pain. And this evil is justified by its perpetrators as in accord with Divine Will, enacted through a descending hierarchy from God on down. Those who consider themselves the righteous elect of God (which includes the entire religious/political right-wing) believe themselves to be the designated “parents,” and all the rest of us to be unruly “children” who must be disciplined through punishment to mend our errant ways and submit to their proper rule. In the theology embraced by fundamentalists of Biblical tradition, “sin” is equated with disobedience of the designated “authority.”

          Contrast this with “Firstly, do no harm,” and “An it harm none, do as thou wilt.” If I had my way, “Divine Punishment” would be considered any oxymoron—along with “Holy War.”

Q: Why do natural disasters seem to mainly happen to poor areas where the people already have so much to deal with in life? OZ: No one is in charge of this, anymore than MG is in charge of the cancers in her blood and bones. But it is important to note that most of the poorer areas of the world are ones where the wealth of the land has been stolen from the people by ruling elites, abetted by dominant religions that mandate a caste system, oppress women, and prohibit any form of birth control. In my opinion, the most important antidote to these conditions is to be found in the empowerment of women.

Q: Why, with all our knowledge and “powers” can’t we “make” things happen that we really want (i.e. both securing personal financial security and at the same time conveying important messages to change the world for the better)?

OZ: I think we can do this. But it may take some time… My thought is that these problems are rooted in cultural mythology, and that the best way to change things is to introduce new and better myths. So this is what I am dedicated to doing.

Q: And so on. In the case of the last question I struggle with any kind of answer myself I must admit!!!!! There is also the matter of all the “good” and “aware” people I know personally struggling financially. Why? It really does not seem right, and, in mother’s eyes, particularly when seemingly evil and/or cruel and/or apparently heartless people are so wealthy (Bush, Saddam, and many others). Why? If there are reasons, why aren’t we allowed to know them? I could go on and on, but I know you get the idea. OZ: Unfortunately, individual well-being is not really part of the “big picture” here, any more than the well-being of the individual cells in our bodies is something we can pay attention to—even if we wish to. Such things are more up to us—and of course, the vicissitudes of outrageous fortune, with all its slings and arrows!

          But, there is a certain inevitability in evolution. Just as water continually seeks its level—always moving towards the sea, from droplets of rain, to rivulets, streams, and mighty rivers—so does consciousness continue to struggle upwards toward the great ocean of cosmic awareness, and Awakening into Divinity. A dam may be thrown across a river, checking its course for a time. But the water then backs up, pressing ever against the obstacle, until eventually the dam bursts, and cleansing floodwaters scour the valley as they resume their inevitable course towards the sea. And so, I believe, it is with the evolution of consciousness. The lake behind the dam is growing ever-wider and deeper. And someday the dam will burst…