Thursday, December 12, 2013

It Should Be Obvious: Wickeder and Wiser

I'm of the opinion that the Bible should be obvious to people. By that, I don't mean there's no nuance or interesting intricacies to study; I mean that the basic core messages should be easily interpreted by even the unstudied. That's the point, right? That anyone can obtain guidance from God's Word, regardless of status, education, capability, all that. That it's obvious. That even the little children can get it.

In that light, I thought back to some things where the "obvious" answer isn't always the right one, but maybe another answer is just as obvious...just overlooked. Part one of this is "Wickeder and Wiser."

For one, this isn't even in the Bible. It's an often-quoted "Biblical urban legend" of sorts. More on this later*. Most people point to it as being related to Revelation, if not actually being in Revelation itself; it's seen as a prophetic statement about the state of the world in the End Times. But insofar as scads of people do believe it's in the Bible, the point of "the world's children becoming wickeder and wiser" is obvious: it's telling us that over time, the world will become more deceitful and try even harder to mislead Christians, being very skilled at such things. In the end, they will be so clever that most people will fall to them. We have to be strong and realize the world is out to get us.

But even if this verse were in the Bible, the other "obvious" answer is clear: the structure of the world will become more evil and more deceitful, but that doesn't at all mean that individuals are evil, or that there is any need to be paranoid about friends and companions and so on. That doesn't mean the world is out to get you.

"Wickedness" has many forms. One of these is greed, which is driving the capitalist world now. Corporations are becoming more brutal, cutting more corners, hiding more illegalities, and in the end, perhaps these megastructures are causing more problems than in the past. I'm not sure, given how most countries have given up the slave trade, that we're more evil than before, but we certainly still have great evil in our fundamental structure. We still have all sorts of ancient cruelties that have lived on through the ages. Sin is no new thing, and we certainly haven't come up with particularly new ways to do it. It's all just a rehash of the old.

So are we becoming "wickeder and wiser"? Wiser, probably. More evil, maybe not, maybe so. Either way, it's not about paranoia -- it's about repairing the structure and function of the world we live in, and the organizations who live in it. It's not about your friends trying to convince you to become an atheist or your neighbor being gay. It's about obvious sins. Great crimes against humanity. Little abuses of the day to day. Not whether your neighbor's son is sleeping with the schoolteacher's daughter. Or son, for that matter.

*This "urban legend" has also been translated as "weaker and wiser," and if you look on the Internet, you'll find scads of sources saying that this does not at all exist in the Bible and could easily be a misparsing of a number of verses that have nothing to do with the End Times.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blue and Orange (or How Touhou Taught Me About The Nature of God)

Wow has it been forever since I posted.

My recent obsession in the video game world these days has been the Touhou Project, a series of top-down shoot-'em-up games set in a land where all of Japanese mythology is real. I'll spare you the further summaries, as I could go on about this series forever, but a friend and I have written  and roleplayed and so on in the universe for a while, and it led to me thinking a lot about the nature of God.

(Here's where you are these two related? There. Now it's out there.)

Yukari Yakumo is a mythological monster with power over boundaries. That's it, full stop. She is meant to be every bit as absurdly powerful as she sounds, because boundaries define everything. Even the games' creator says she could undermine the very fabric of reality itself. To anyone looking in from outside, Yukari may as well be a god -- perhaps a God, in the monotheistic all-powerful creator being sense, since the Shinto gods all exist in the Touhou universe and are all inferior to her in the sense that they are fundamentally weaker. She has all the physical properties of a God; she is extradimensional, immortal, effectively omniscient, and superhuman in every regard. She is only defeatable in the games because she goes easy on the heroine. As far as anyone can tell, the only limit on her capability is her desire to do something.

Perhaps it is a departure from the series, but in my friends' and my headcanon (this means 'the extended universe we've built that is not necessarily in-game fact but is consistent and we regard as true for our own purposes'), Yukari is a confusing but eventually benevolent being who does her best to ensure that there is maximum net good done in the universe by the point at which it has ended. At one point, another character refers to this as "what the hell is your morality, blue-orange?" as opposed to black and white, which are the traditional colors of good and evil. (Blue-orange is taken from the page, and it is defined as "morality that is orthogonal to normal human morality, and is confusing and alien to us.")

Blue-orange became a curious subject to think about, so my friend and I knocked our heads together (and so did our characters), and we worked it out. Here, "blue" is a sort of cosmic "white," and any action that eventually leads to the greater good of the universe as a whole is considered some degree of blue. Orange is the opposite, and any "orange" action is a cosmically "black" action that decreases the good in the universe eventually. Taken to a large scale, all black and white morality eventually moves to blue and orange, because as one's scope grows larger and larger, "white" must include all the consequences of one's actions over an immense period of time and space, eventually encompassing the universe, and it become "blue." The same applies to black and orange.

As a result of this curious expansive morality, Yukari is one of the most confusing and irritating beings in the known universe. She has immense power, overwhelming knowledge, and absolutely no apparent sense of when to use it. People cry out to her for help; she fails to respond. People try to get away from her; she is there when they most want her to leave. She does strange and irrational things that seem to make no sense in the context of the rest of her situation; she is cryptic and refuses to share knowledge, even sometimes when it is important; all in all, she is eventually considered by most to be fundamentally too alien to be worked with reliably. She is utterly undependable, un-empathetic, and inconsiderate. Many consider her to be evil by inaction.

There are similar PR problems with God. Every religious person who has ever existed has asked the questions of why hasn't God answered my prayers? Where was God when (x) happened? Why can't I ever seem to get a response? Why does God seem random? Why does it seem like no one is out there and everything is up to chance?

Yukari can't just fix everyone's problems, because her interference is inherently orange. It takes away free will and thus decreases the independence and improvement of the universe. Sentient beings must be free to cause themselves problems, to solve their own situations, to struggle and fear and hate and die. Even if someone is begging her to push the boundary of life and death to save a beloved child, the consequences of such actions could be a thousand or more years, even.

A just and moral God is under self-imposed constraints to do what is morally right for the universe itself. What if saving your son or daughter would set off a chain of events that, in two thousand years, would cause great pain to the world? What if curing your sickness would wreck someone else's family in a hundred years, even after you're dead? What if even letting you know that He is there...would cause great problems to the universe somehow? How will you know?

Belief in any omnibenevolent God requires that one accept blue-orange morality as an incomprehensible thing while having faith that it is the right way to go about running a universe...and that what happens must be blue.

Even if you hate it. Even if it seems evil. Even if you can't understand it.

The universe will work out...but humans are just too small to realize why it will. No amount of complaining will change what is blue, and that it will happen...we just have to realize that it is, and it will, and that everything will be okay.

Yukari's got this, guys.