(With apologies to Clive James)
Last Christmas day the weather at Southwold was about as perfect as I have ever seen it. There were plenty of people on the beach and everyone was in a good mood, but the happiest individual by far was possessed of four legs and a tail. That dog was rushing up and down the sand, barking and wagging his/her tail so hard it seemed in danger of coming right off.
Likewise, some dogs let off the lead in the park where I walk regularly exhibit symptoms of such excitable joy that it is impossible not to feel good just watching them.
But dogs know nothing of the universe. Their world view is limited to where their next meal is coming from and who provides it and takes them for walks – and being grateful to that person. It is the secret of their happiness. They live for the moment, the next meal, the next walk and the joy of just being alive.
We, on the other hand – or some of us – agonize about the meaning of life. Are we, as modern science insists, simply the end result of evolution from primitive creatures which themselves evolved from the spontaneous generation of life leading back ultimately to the Big Bang? Or was Archbishop Ussher correct in his analysis of the Old Testament, where God created the universe and everything in it in six days in October 4004 BC? The latter has its own set of problems, but if the former appears to be correct, how can we believe that the wonders of the natural world together with the staggering human achievements in art and science are just the end result of natural selection? And, by the way, what caused the Big Bang?
The Abrahamic religions certainly have their problems, but at least Judaism and Islam are content with one god. Christianity demands that while on the one hand we suspend our disbelief in virgin births, resurrections from the dead and the Trinity, we also believe in the idea of an eternal non-consuming hellfire for unrepentant sinners, an idea so unimaginably appalling that it makes the Holocaust sound like a holiday camp.
Now, the latest book on the subject of Hell* says that after all, it cannot exist in a universe created by a loving god – we will all be saved. This loving god must exist, because the alternative – a chance event generating life out of basic elements with no reason to the universe – is unimaginable. I have not read the book – nor do I intend doing so – but I do wonder how the author manages to reconcile this all-loving god with the misery existing among mankind on earth, whether from human agency or the legion other natural causes – of which disease, hunger and mental or physical disability are just a few.
I find myself wondering whether belief in the existence of a ‘creator’ is not just the result of overweening human pride; the thought that we are so wonderful that there must be a purpose to it all. Some people, I fear, cannot face up to the fact that there might, after all, be no purpose at all; we just evolved from a random event.
Dogs at least do not have that problem. Perhaps it is a case of ignorance is bliss, but I think we can learn much from dogs; certainly the ability to enjoy the moment, and live life for the bliss of just being alive …
*That All Shall Be Saved by David Bentley Hart
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs