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For a Reason
Written June 26, 2002

It was a good Stone Age day for hunting.

But for Og, it was not a good day.  He was seated on the lakeshore, scratching himself more than usual and grimacing, when his brother Theg arrived.

"Og, beloved son of my honored father!" Theg greeted him.  "I am delighted to encounter you this fine morning.  But you frown!  What is the matter, my brother?"

"I am not entirely sure," Og replied.  "Here is what I have observed:  Today, I was in the woods when my hands began to burn and itch.  The skin reddened.  And now, I find that this rash has begun to spread to other regions of my body."

"How unfortunate for you," Theg commiserated.

Og moaned, "I am in great personal discomfort!"

His brother turned philosophical.  "As you probably know, Og, it has always been my belief that everything happens for a reason.  Perhaps in this case we shall be able to discover the reason."

"How will that be of any benefit?" Og muttered, digging at his palms.

"We must learn what you did to cause this horrible rash to afflict you.  Then the rest of us must take care not to repeat your mistake.  This will benefit the entire tribe and our communal store of knowledge.  Now, my brother, reflect.  Did you engage in any unusual activities today?"

"No, Theg, I have merely been hunting.  Although there was the incident of the mysterious arrow."

"Please elucidate."

"Earlier this morning, I came across a clump of ivy.  It was leafy, close to the ground, and the leaflets were arranged in groups of three.  Incidentally, our tribe should someday name this ivy.  While observing it, I chanced to see an arrow entangled among its leaves."

"You 'chanced' to see?  Nothing happens by chance," Theg interrupted.

Og ignored him.  "I pushed the leaves aside.  I reached into the midst of the ivy and seized the arrow.  It was not one of ours, for the shaft was light and the feathers were red.  I am baffled as to its origin."

"That is most interesting.  And what was the disposition of this alien arrow?"

Og reached into his quiver.  "It is here.  I put it among my others."  He extracted the red-feathered curiosity.

Theg shrank back in alarm.  "Have you kept it in your possession?" he cried.  "That is immoral!  The arrow is not yours.  It is the arrow of some other hunter."

"Even so," Og tried to explain, "the other hunter appears to have misplaced this projectile.  Or perhaps he discarded it.  I am merely recycling."

"It does not matter!" Theg exclaimed.  "Your hands have taken another's arrow.  And now, your hands have suffered the consequence.  You have been punished with this horrible rash.  Quick, rid yourself of this tainted arrow!  Cast it into the lake!"

Og immediately complied.  Having thrown the tainted object away, he thought he felt a little better.

"Do you see?" Theg moralized.  "Everything happens for a reason.  You are itching for the enlightenment of our tribe, that we all may learn a lesson.  Tomorrow you must relate your misfortune to the others.  Explain the error that you made, the error that brought the rash upon you."

"I shall do so," Og promised.  "Little by little, our tribe must learn how to cope with this dangerous world."

"Coping can be difficult," observed Theg.  "Bad things do happen.  Sometimes life appears to be unfair.  However, we can console ourselves with the certainty that everything does happen for a reason."

"You persist in repeating that adage," Og pointed out.  "I must confess that at times, I myself have harbored some reservations concerning its validity."

Theg was taken aback.  "What do you mean?  Is not the adage self-evident?"

"Consider that terrible blizzard last winter.  Half our tribe perished.  The rest of us almost starved.  For what reason did that storm come upon us?"

"To strengthen us, of course," Theg replied.  "We indeed suffered, but in the future we shall be wiser and better prepared.  We shall build warmer shelters.  We shall store more food."

"My brother, you have always had the ability to perceive the good in any dark cloud."

"Sometimes, Og," Theg replied inspirationally, "things happen to you that at the time may seem horrible, painful and unfair.  But without these small obstacles, you would never realize your potential.  In reflection, you realize that they happened to test the limits of your soul.  Yes, in every cloud there is a silver lining."

"Always?  What about our father?"

"Our father?"

"He was a good man, was he not?  He taught us all he knew about hunting.  He taught us to be kind to each other and to our sisters."

"Yes, that is true."

"He was a good man," Og repeated.


"Good things happen to good people, do they not?  Bad things happen to bad people."

"This is true," said Theg.  "Or we can phrase it in this manner:  bad things happen to people who do bad things.  Consider yourself as an example, Og.  The rash afflicted you because you took that arrow from that bush.  You sinned, and you paid the price for your sin."

"Did our father do bad things?"

"I cannot recall any."

"Then for what reason did the saber-toothed tiger eat him?"

Theg paused.  "You pose an intriguing question."

"Why did this have to happen to him?"

"Perhaps our father committed evils of which we were never aware."

"Nothing could have been sufficiently evil that he should deserve to be killed by a tiger."

"We cannot be sure of that."

"Theg, this man was our beloved father!  How can you consider such a possibility?"

"Do you not recall what the witch doctor told us last week?  He affirmed that everything happens for a reason, although, as he explained, we cannot always know the reason.  The spirits sometimes keep it hidden.  The spirits keep it hidden even from the witch doctor.  However, the witch doctor assured us that we can trust him.  The spirits have their own reasons for not entrusting us with their reasons."

"If there are any reasons.  What explanation could there be for what happened to our sister Blag?  She was a sweet, innocent young girl, but the Foop tribe captured her."

"Personally, I was never entirely persuaded of our sister's innocence.  Did you observe the furs that Blag wore?  In my opinion, she was, to all intents and purposes, inviting those Foop men to carry her off."


"That is why I respectfully declined the invitation to join the rescue party.  Blag got what she deserved, and it is not my place to interfere with the judgments of fate."

"So do unlucky people deserve their bad luck?  Should we do nothing to help them?"

"Unlucky people?  Bad luck?  I do not believe in what you call 'luck.'  Everything is part of the Great Plan, according to the witch doctor.  I am unable to believe that events occur at random."

"I myself am strong enough," Og remarked, "to entertain that possibility."

"No," exclaimed Theg, "I must believe that the world is just!  I must believe that life is fair!  If life were unfair and random, then innocent people like you and me could also become victims.  But bad things cannot happen to us, Og, for you and I are decent people."

Og had to agree.  "I confess that you and I are basically good, at least during a majority of the hours of the day."

"The world is just," Theg asserted.  "Bad things happen to bad people.  We are good people.  We are safe."

"I would like to believe that," Og admitted as a tiger pounced on his brother.





Do not adopt the comfortable self-deception that everything happens because "it was meant to be" or "it must have been God's will."

That error leads us to trust that with God on our side, disasters can't happen to us.  Therefore, we do nothing to protect our own.

That error leads us to suspect that the poor must bear the blame for their poverty.  Therefore, we do nothing to help them.

Do not do nothing.

Though life is unjust,
we can increase the justice.
We can do something.



Even in our modern enlightened age, there are still people who insist on believing that “everything happens for a reason.”  In May 2016, biology professor PZ Myers blogged in part:

These are my fellow human beings, and I want to see where these beliefs come from.  It’s clear that just hammering them with the facts — pointing out that their view of evolution, for instance, is completely wrong — is not sufficient.

Tackling individual misconceptions is a small part of what we need to do; more important is to address bigger differences in their world view.  They have a set of other needs — such as their belief that

    the universe has a purpose, 

    there are necessary functional connections between every event,

    and they themselves are uniquely special — 

which inform their willingness to accept a sloppy stew of all kinds of nonsense, from the Bible to von Däniken to chemtrails.

Conspiracy theories are appealing because they affirm their belief that everything is interconnected with a web of causality.

Genetic tinkering by aliens is attractive because they want to be told there is a purpose for the way they are, and the way the world works.

There is still a lot of uneasiness about the implications of evolutionary theory and the role of chance in evolution.  The whole idea that evolution is a statistical property of populations, rather than something they can game to their advantage as individuals, leaves them queasy.  They hate the whole idea of chance-driven processes.  It’s painful to see the contortions they put themselves through to run away from the implications.



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