Deus Otiosus

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We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning, since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
It will still burn on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on

We didn’t start the fire It was always burning, since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it…

Billy Joel, We Didn’t Start the Fire

Let’s accept for the sake of argument the existence of a primal cause for the universe. We will dispense with the problem of the uncaused cause and merely agree something created everything, or at least put the process in motion.

The concept of Deus Otiosus thus can explain all the evil humans are capable of inflicting.

It can explain the failure or, if you insist, the inconsistency of desired outcomes from prayer or other imprecation to the creator. If this divine being is not completely inattentive to human activity perhaps they have limited office hours.

Deus Otiosus, (Latin: “neutral god,” or “hidden god”), in the history of religions and philosophy, a high god who has withdrawn from the immediate details of the governing of the world. 

It can explain the Holocaust in Europe during the reign of the Nazis and the even more horrifying, if lesser known, one inflicted on Native Americans by their fellow Americans.

It can explain slavery, child molesters, sex trafficking, and bigotry.

It can explain willful ignorance.

It can explain anti-intellectualism and irrational—or at a minimum unverifiable—faith in an interested Supreme being.

It offers a reason why we have to so often ask ourselves our most troubling question. Why?

It can offer an explanation for pediatric cancer, stillborn births, and gestational defects.

It can explain how a human being can walk into a school, a church, or a mall and shoot innocent people.

It can explain how a parent can kill their own children and themselves.

It can explain how a human being can hate another human simply because of the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes, or the different absent gods they hold in their faith.

An uninterested God can explain almost everything we cannot understand about our world and the lives we lead.

In an infinite universe where we are just now beginning to scratch the surface of understanding, why would we believe anything else?

We didn’t start the fire, and as harsh as it may seem, we are what the fire consumes when our lives end.

It’s not the fires of Hell some insist as the destination of the faithless. It is the natural generation, degeneration, regeneration that is the way of the universe.

Whoever started the fire has no need to look back. We’ve done a good job of fanning the flames all on our own.

But, assuming there was a good reason to start it in the first place, I wonder if the creator had any idea what might come of it?

Of course, if they did, it might also explain the existence of hope. Hope is the most powerful of all medicines.

But what makes more sense to me, what can fill the void of uncertainty about what happens after we leave this life, is the idea that what I do in my life is largely within my own control, unimpeded by the interference of some unseen power.

A Deus Otiosus fulfilled a purpose. They got the process rolling and left us to our own designs. This opens a universe of possibilities for whatever comes next. Look at it this way, a variation of Pascal’s Wager. Assuming the supreme being did just “light the match” and walk away, wouldn’t living life here without wasting a moment praying make more sense than spending time leaving voicemails that are never returned in hope of changing things outside your control?

While we cannot stop the external influences on our lives, we can control our response. And that would seem to me to be a wiser philosophy than hoping for a better existence after death.

Because even if it is nothing, here in this life all of us have something to live for if we just take the time to look for it. Perhaps that is the greatest gift of all.

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