This Whole World

Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life is surely a beautiful film, but it raises the question whether this world of ours is a good place to live. Is it a vale of tears, the best of all possible worlds or something in between?

Any generalization to the effect that the whole world is either good or bad seems misguided. Overall, the whole world just is. There is no other real world to compare it to (certainly none that we can observe).

When people used to say that the world is a vale of tears, they meant that this world is one of pain and suffering compared to the next world, the heavenly one. Although we can imagine worlds that are better or worse, like heaven or hell, that’s really irrelevant. We’re stuck with this one.

Or else lucky to have this one. But really neither.

We probably think, however, that living in this world is better than not living at all. That’s the common point of view, although not universal. In this case, we aren’t trying to compare this world to some other one. We’re just concluding that being here is better than not being anywhere.

Brian Wilson offered a positive view of the situation 40 years ago:

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