This post was first published 4 December 2010 – once again, for Jerry Coyne’s convenience.
Deep within religious opposition to assistance in dying — which the religious almost always persist in calling, simply, killing — is the fear of chaos. This is, I believe, the chief reason for religious opposition to assisted dying, but it is never, or almost never, used as a public argument against assisted dying. However, it is always lurking in the background, as, in a sense, the ground upon which all the arguments that are used come to rest.
Chaos plays a crucial role in biblical understandings of the world. In Genesis God is said to bring order out of chaos. In the first chapter the spirit of God hovers over the deep chaos at the beginning, and then begins to assign everything a place. But later we are told that God regretted having created the earth, and was determined to make an end of all flesh, because the earth is filled with violence because of them (Gen 6.13)
The description of the great flood that follows shows the chaos returning again as the waters above and below the earth, instead of staying in their assigned places, break through into the ordered creation that God had made. It is often forgotten in retelling the story how horribly vicious it really is. Popular pictures of the flood and the ark show cute giraffes and other animals sticking their heads out, almost as though it were a holiday outing. Very few pictures show the carnage that would have resulted. Of course, Noah and the animals in their ark float above the chaos, a small fragile hope of the order that will return if God relents, and restores order upon the chaos once again.
(Note here that God uses chaos as punishment. This being the case, it should occasion no surprise that, in response to Adam and Eve’s disobedience, by eating of the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, God punishes them with suffering and death. Both suffering and death, in the Bible, are close analogs of chaos itself. Jesus shows this, for example, by walking on water. Conquering the chaos of the deep is the same as surviving death, which — at any rate in the story — he goes on to do.)
One might well think that, as the cause of this chaos, by withholding his sustaining power from the order of creation, God is not entirely to be trusted. And if God was distressed by the violence into which his creation had degenerated, is it not strange to think that violence should be the answer? Is it not contradictory to show God raging with such fierce anger and destruction? Of course, the outcome is foreordained, just like in the movies, and, indeed, later, after all the brutal carnage and destruction, we know that the storied God will restore creation to order once again. He must, because we’re here, after all, aren’t we? We know the canons of storytelling too well, so we scarcely notice the horrendous cruelty and savagery of God’s condemnation, and the horrors and atrocities that ensued. We already know about God’s promises. There’s no point to the story otherwise. So, we already know that, after the cataclysm of the flood, God must make things right again. God does this by making a covenant with his creation that such disaster will never befall the earth again. In a saccharine moment God even places a rainbow in the sky as a sign of the “… everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Gen 9.16)
Thanks to all who followed choiceindying.com over the last couple of years… almost three, but I have decided to close up shop.