Wednesday, November 30, 2005

What, When, Where, How?

I learned in elementary school that the essential journalistic questions were: what, when, where, how. Each covered it's own category of understanding necessary to grasping any event. If there was an earthquake that happened what would tell us exactly that, an earthquake took place, while when would indicate the exact, or approximate, timing (3:00 PM). Where tells us the location, with an earthquake it would tell us the location (epi-center) it hit hardest. How is a different sort of question. How asks something which is pre-event; while: what, when, and where deal with the event itself how asks something more profound: a reason. That too can, most times, be dealt with rather easily: two tectonic plates collide (more or less) and cause the earthquake. The distant cousin to all these questions is "why". Why is the dangerous one; it's the questions that evokes the most emotion and it's the hardest to truly pin down.

"Why" is a similar question to "how" when talking about things. It is a question of cause, tectonic plates crash together. With humans though it is much different. The question of "why" is nebulous. The question "Why did Don rob the store" can be answered only with an understanding of his personal context. If Don was poor we might answer, "He needed some money." If Don was rich we might say, "He wanted a thrill." But even among those two simple answers there are unending variations and variables leading to even more variations of the simple question, "why." This makes the question of "why" fundamentally different from the question "how".

I feel for that very reason we hold the question: "why" closest to our hearts. We silently ask questions like: "Why am I here?"; "Why is the world the way it is?"; etc. The reasons to our silently asked questions are there, and they are many. The person who believes in God says in response to "Why is the world the way it is?": "Because the earth is a hard place filled with hurt and pain, but there are seeds of love and joy and eventually those seeds will overgrow the desert of pain"--and they list many reasons for their belief. The skeptic says in response to the same question: "I don't know, this world is a soupy murk with no clear answers to "why". And the Nihilist replies, "The world is the way it is because it is doomed, and any seeds of love and joy will be trampled by the march of impending death"--and they too can list many reasons for their beliefs. All three responses acknowledge the hurt of the world while maintaining different answers to "why". What is your answer to the fundamental "Why" questions?

"Why am I here?"
"Why do rich people prosper and the poor remain poor?"
"Why do nations go to war when everyone knows war is a bad thing?"
The list goes on.

Post any thoughts.


MattMissyKamps said...

I think that the "why" questions are signposts of our humanness. People feel like they are in control of the world, and when problems arise in it, they need to have an answer to convince themselves of their control. I would say- why do we need the answers? I say that we need them and desire them so strongly because only when the world is neatly categorized and simplified can we maintain our illusion of control. Each of the three positions, Christian, skeptic, and nihilist are trusting in their answers to the why questions and that gives them a feeling of security. I don't think I'm being clear enough.

MattMissyKamps said...

I will try a different approach. Did anyone in the Bible ask why? What was the answer that was given or that they gave?
Oh, and the Christian doesn't just see the world as a hard place. As much evil as Christians can see (for they are the ones who recognize it most clearly), they can also see the most goodness in the world, as everything reflects goodness as well.