A stubborn mystery cleaves to existence because we cannot of our own accord explain what we are doing here and why. We can make sense of life only by reaching for explanations that transcend the visible, tangible, measurable—but the transcendent is by definition out of reach. Humility is built right into us, you might say—if we but look around. But that our existence should make sense is also quite natural. I favor the word “innate”; the usual term is “instinctive.” We should make sense—but we don’t really, not from what we can see. A lifetime and then a meaningless death? Therefore a great mystery surrounds us.
Awe is the appropriate response if we assert the presence of both—the mystery and the meaning. And the denial of transcendence necessarily produces the denial of meaning. If all we get is what we see, the world makes no sense. Dostoyevsky was therefore right, even if he did not actually pen the words so often attributed to him: If there is no God, everything is permitted. The appropriate response to that, of course, is a rush to Control.
In a deeply secular society—one in which religion is trivial because it is a life-style choice and, using that sort of phrasing, equivalent to a hair-style or a mode of dress—ultimate meaning is denied although relative meanings survive. The demand for Control, however, is very much present—however unreasonable it is. The deepest wisdom modernity offers is that Shit Happens. One of the dominant scientific explanations of reality is statistical (for more, see here). Thus the so-called laws of nature are extremely high probability recurrences of a fundamentally random reality. Control, therefore, is only relatively possible; no sooner achieved, it dissolves.
This almost reflexive demand for control manifests inevitably in the Blame Game when the events are not routinely explicable by visible chains of causation. How does this work? Well, humanity innately feels that meaning is present—and if not in nature, then in humans. Therefore when things fail, we must find somebody to blame. Accidents may happen, but they shouldn’t. Not if meaning is present, and it is—in people. Therefore, sooner or later, no matter what happened and no matter how unavoidable, our media will sooner or later discover a culprit or be seen diligently to be seeking him or her. Thus I found myself rolling my eyes watching an interviewer trying to blame the weather service for failure to predict the tornadoes that savaged the center of the country (turns out, they did warn). Where people are involved—and we’re not in the least interested if they are not—sooner or later human failure can and will be found, and will be held responsible. The Japanese nuclear problem was due to ignoring a report about cracks years ago—and never mind the tsunami. Secularists are not the only people who exploit disasters to play the blame game. No big disaster, human-caused or otherwise, can go down without some TV evangelist revealing that Gohhd had told him the cause—which was to punish the wicked.