A man was walking down the beach picking up starfish that had washed up on shore and was throwing them back into the ocean. A little boy came up to him and said, "why do you bother? You can't possibly save them all. It doesn't matter."
The man picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean and said to the boy, "well, it mattered to that one".
(I'm in a sour mood partly because I just watched Lord of War (trailer) which is okay but very depressing.)
There's so much awfulness in the world wrought by humankind. (Actually, perhaps the less-PC "mankind" would be more precise here.) Genocide, murder, terrorism, child molestation, forced prostitution, slavery, exploitation, war, drug addiction, poverty...
There's greatness, too, of course: kindness, generosity, love, sharing, art, family. But so much of even that is tainted. How much of our lifestyle in America is at the expense of sweatshop laborers, immoral wars by our country and by proxy, despoiling the environment, plundering the natural resources of other nations, etc? How many of our careers are dedicated to the further enrichment of the wealthiest of the wealthy? How many to support the military-industrial complex and the indirect killing of innocent people? How many of us can claim that our life's work will leave the Earth a better place? And how can we enjoy our lives knowing as we do the horrific circumstances of millions of others and not doing enough about it? Not being able to ever do enough?
If God exists, you can believe that somehow it's ultimately for the greater good. That there's some admittedly incomprehensible explanation for all the innocent people so unfairly wronged. That there's some meaning to the Holocaust and to the atrocities going on in Africa. That war isn't just a senseless waste of young men's lives and purposeless slaughter of civilians. That we won't fuck up the Earth so badly that God can't fix it in the time of the Messiah. That our greed for bigger and bigger weapons won't end up destroying all of human life within the next few centuries.
As an atheist, I try to have faith in the basic goodness of humanity, but sometimes the evidence to the contrary is just overwhelming. At the family level and even on the level of the community, things can easily be much more good than bad. But stepping back to look at the wider picture, it too often seems like we're just a bunch of overdeveloped, warlike apes who delight in finding bigger and better ways to kill each other.
It's similar, I guess, to accepting one's own death. As an atheist, I believe that when I'm dead, that's it. There's no Heaven, no Hell, no Purgatory, no reincarnation, no merging with the Divine. Just nothing. I think I'm okay with that -- being dead never bothered me before I was born, after all.
But knowing that not just me, but all of humanity will die, maybe sooner rather than later, is harder to accept knowing as I know how much suffering so many have to endure during the only lives they get.
I wish I could believe that the spread of Democracy or advances in technology will eventually lead to a world full of love and harmony. But I'm no Utopian. I've seen how we use technology. I've seen what we do in the name of Democracy.
I know that it's better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Like the kid on the beach, maybe it's enough to do what I can, to make the lives of those around me better to the extent that I can. Maybe I could join the peace corps or go to the Sudan and save a few lives. Maybe I can get involved in politics and fight for goodness and decency. Or maybe I'll continue to just sit at my computer and shake my head at the senselessness of it all.