Thursday, March 02, 2006

Jesus Take The Wheel, or The Metaphysics of Gridlock
I work just outside of Pittsburgh, but my route mercifully allows me to avoid Steeltown’s shocking lack of foresight re: roadway planning.

However, I still occasionally hit a snag and wind up inching along at a glacier’s pace until the next geological epoch. Without fail, the delay occurs just after I’ve passed an exit or else on some other similarly inescapable thoroughfare, and I’m left to wait it out along with a thousand or so of my best friends.

At times like these, the stresses of the commute can inspire strange ruminations, and during a recent long delay I may have run straight into a motive that drives people to believe in God. Of course, being forced to stare for an hour at the W’04 sticker emblazoned on the rear window of the Hummer in front of you can make you believe in hell, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
We’ve all been there. After twenty or thirty minutes of immobility, you start pondering the possible causes. A meteor strike, perhaps. Or maybe an overturned and ruptured maple syrup tanker. Sure, we don’t actually wish these things to have happened, and unless you’re a raving lunatic you don’t want anyone to have been injured, but in a tiny, ruthless corner of your brain you’re hoping for a little dismembering at least. Maybe a leaning-out-the-window beheading, with its six-quart red geyser still bubbling at the side of the road. Heck, even seeing someone racing down the street in flames would make it all seem strangely worthwhile. And you’d know for certain that somebody’s day was worse than yours.

Yes, such an outcome would be tragic, but at least you’d be able to identify the reason for the delay. The worst is when you get to the place where the snarl originated, and you can see nothing out of the ordinary. No mangled wreckage, no shattered windshield glass, nothing at all to justify your hour’s wait behind Mr. Hummer. You’ll have endured it all for nothing. Or, if there was a reason, you’ll never find out what it was.

Many theists justify a belief in God on the basis that he provides purpose and meaning for our otherwise seemingly pointless little lives. Simply put, that argument is egotism of the highest order, because it requires the universe to cough up an explanation of itself that is satisfactory to our sensibilities and desires. Worse, it completely misses the possibility that there may simply be no why behind the universe, or at least not any reason that you or I can ever confirm to exist. And for my existential dollar, a thing that can’t be confirmed to exist is as irrelevant as a thing that can be confirmed to be nonexistent.

Of course, the Left Behind crowd would happily spend their whole lives in a traffic jam if it meant that, afterwards, they’d get to see Liberals and other godless savages writhing in divinely hideous agony along the side of the road.

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