A reply to Jonathan Wallace
There is so much that is wrong with the editor's most recent "Year Zero" essay that it is hard to know where to begin. Hopefully, his most recent essay will have the half life of a "Year," since it lacks the "Ground" that would enable the reader to rise from "Zero." This critique not be read to deny, however, the sensitivity, thoughtfulness and value of the "Ground Zero" series of essays.
So let us start with the positive. Jonathan correctly diagnoses the core fault of major religions – that somehow, somewhere, they offer a rationalization for those who would kill or otherwise destroy life. He also shares the age-old pain of the stricken believer who, faced with inexplicable tragedy, not only cries out "God, why hast thou forsaken me," but concludes that there cannot be a god that would countenance such horrific happenings, as if "God" can be held responsible for evil. But it is the anthropomorphic god that he denies, the one referenced as "He." Ironically, it is the same type of god, the god of organized religion(s), that he affirms, not only as one but as two or more, the god of Baal or Babel exemplified as "God vs. God." Thus, he is left at the end with nothing more than "rulebooks promoting values," as if such volumes could provide even the minimal comfort that people look to receive from religion. Somehow, he has found his way into a dead end. How?-- primarily because he treats the Second Law of Thermodynamics as akin to a religious axiom.. Then he effectively equates "god" with "religion," a fallacy of composition if there ever was one. His essay could well be titled "religion vs. religion," as in Islam vs. Christianity in the time of the Crusades. As an essay reflecting on "God," it provides an ending that is deader than the emptiness that so many people feel in a secular, postmodern age in which there is nothing beyond the destruction of deconstruction.
To ground so much meditation on the Second Law is to deny what one presumably wants to explain at all levels, from the prosaic to the philosophical. For example, it is to deny:
Life is sacred. This is the axiom to be put first, as truth lived. Life is the antithesis of entropy, that which the "Second Law" implies is the function of the universe to ever increase. Presumably, therefore, this would represent the "arrow of time." No so. Time is life, life is time and it is the structure of life, not the disorder of entropy, that has emerged from our universe. If there is a God, it is a god of truth and life, as in the New Testament passage: "I am the truth and the life," saith the Lord.
As for "religion," it is often said, and I believe this to be undeniable, that each of us needs something greater than ourselves to serve as our point of reference. So religions have emerged and mutated over the millenia, and people of all cultures have come to call that point of reference "God." The corruption of "God" and religion that Jonathan's essay indicts, however, arises from the confusion of God and man that arises from religions that are anthropomorphic. There's a built in contradiction, at least within Islam and Christianity. Religious adherents want the point of reference to be ineffably higher, greater and better than themselves; at the same time, they want a "personal" god that they can imagine in person-like pictures and call "He," "my god," "king," et.al. So they can project god onto themselves and, by projecting their goals onto "their" god, they can justify the destruction of life and any of the expressions of life that they dislike. The only resolution of this contradiction is to realize that God is not a person, nor is "God" akin to any of the other creatures or creature-like graven images that people employ to represent "Him." If God is none of these and, of course, must precede any of these, then what is "God." Not a who in a who-ville, the childish vision of a Suess-like imagining. What else but the Universe? -- an ineffable source of mystery no matter how deeply we probe into what "it" is. There is no "ville" that we can call "heaven," there is only the universe, "infinite in all directions."
So, indeed, life is sacred, as the highest expression of our one, shared Univers(al) God. And those who destroy life are indeed evil, as those who have written most insightfully of evil have long since recognized. Obviously, this is not a "dead" end; rather the contrary. By resting his case on life (anti-entropy) rather than death (entropy), our good editor can help ensure that those who died on 9/11 did not die in vain. For he will help the rest of us realize that we are all precious parts of a generally progressive cosmic drift – towards the procreation, nurture, development, realization and fulfillment of life, its matter and meaning "at home in the universe." This is a belief worth living and dying for, grounded in science and expressed daily by countless (immeasurable, and thus infinitely valuable) acts of faith among the living. The fact that life is difficult and "shit happens," from the very small to the very large does not lead us to deny the God of Life. We view Ground Zero with reverence, knowing that the ground of our belief is not "zero," that the sacredness of lives lost will find new expression in our own.