On Revising My Will

My wife and I have been updating our wills and the financial and legal documents that go along with them. It’s a strange, awkward process. We discuss a scenario in which dying triggers a whole series of events from which one or both of us will be absent. No surprise that our language often starts out euphemistically—“when I pass…,” “when you’re gone…,” and then gets blunter. Financial and legal people, for whom nothing personal is happening in these conversations, are blunt from the beginning: “… so when you die, this will happen….” Throw in a few “predeceases” and “survives.”

wills (thumbs.dreamstime.com)

(thumbs.dreamstime.com)

I have mixed feelings about all this. I can see why many people just put it off. The conversations are grim in that they’re about death, but the main event is only a turning point, without any content of its own (which in a bizarre way is accurate; death is an absence of event). Maybe a stronger reason why talking about wills is tedious is simply that it is difficult—complex (the financial and legal details are often beyond me), sensitive, and with perhaps long-term consequences for people. And it’s unpleasant—a real sense of mild disgust—that the event of such deep personal concern to me generates so much specialization and imposing paperwork because it’s about money.

At the same time, though, the process is an odd relief. It is a mode of preparation for dying without having to get too gritty and mournful about the whole thing. It’s numerical and clean. The money takes over as a surrogate for the person. It will, years from now, be a stand-in for me that others will presumably have some interest in, a quantity that will likely be more easily and happily managed than the old man himself was at the end. In that way, at least, the process is not a bad deal.

Non-Theists, God’s Love, and Evolution

One of the benefits that believers gain from religion is the feeling that their deity cares for them. Mainstream Christians, Jews, Moslems generally believe either that god loves them and intervenes actively on their behalf or that god keeps a distance but always has a plan for them. One way or the other, believers believe that a higher being is paying attention and is nudging them down the best path.

God's love image

The promise of monotheism (gracewalkministries.blogspot.com)

Non-theists see this perception as superstition. They think it is the result of projecting our human situation on to the universe and imagining an active agent behind the good or terrible things that happen in life. But is there, for the non-theist, any equivalent in a godless universe to this reassurance that is rooted in a higher power? Is there any way that non-theists can find a benevolence, a grand-scale inclination towards the good, in evolution’s transformations?

On the face of it, no. Atheists, naturalists, secular humanists may find the universe inspiring and beautiful, but they don’t make any claims that it cares about individuals in any way. Natural selection is nothing other a mechanism that favors survivors. When it comes to the place of humans in the cosmos, according to the non-theist, what we see is what we get: individuals are on their own except to the extent that they connect with each other to make life less difficult and more meaningful. There is no entity above us that is deliberately hurting or helping us.

chimps hugging

The  roots of love (hypersyl.com)

But there might be an exception. Our capacity to love is a product of evolution. Its roots lie in the maternal and parental bonding that was vital in raising offspring who required years of nurturing and protection. Today, love is no longer moored just in the survival needs of children. It morphs into attachments that range from caring for other people to “loving” certain foods or clothes. So while we can’t say that evolution loves us, we can say that our emotions of caring, of passionate commitment, of feeling cared for, have a source in evolution.

Critics might argue that attributing our capacity for love to the process of evolution is as illusory as imagining a powerful being in the sky. It is only another example of our unwittingly projecting ourselves on to events outside us, another step closer to personifying evolution as a purposeful “Mother Evolution” of some sort.
But I think this risk is exaggerated. We feel all kinds of emotions about nature–calmness at a quiet lake, anxiety about intense wind and rain, awe at the stars, fascination with the formation of our planet–without always making up tales of superior beings operating behind the scenes. As for love, while reminding ourselves that only we humans (and perhaps some animals) do it, we can appreciate, and even feel a gratitude of sorts, that the process that brought our species here brought love along with it.
vet and dog

The flowering of human caring (vetmed.ucdavis.edu)