Archives For theodicy

god fossil

It seems that with every school shooting, there’s an almost inevitable parade of fundamentalists rushing to tell the world that we all as zealous about religious beliefs as they are, there would be no more gunmen bursting into schools and colleges and God would protect us all. If they really believe in this line of thought, the only thing I could possibly call them would be ghouls. Just take a minute to think what they’re saying. Their righteous, omnipotent deity who loves humans and thinks of them as his progeny is either powerless before secular laws or is willing to let children and young adults die just to make a point. It’s the classic theodicy problem posed by Epicurus. If the god is able but not willing to help, he’s downright malevolent and that’s the kind of deity that we’re being told should be praised and revered in public. That’s hardly a deity to worship.

Tragedies are supposed to make you question why they happen and what can be done to make sure they don’t happen again. But to the ghouls whose petty tyrant of a God won’t intervene in a dire situation they’re an excuse to proselytize rather than question their devotion. Instead of the hard thing to do, asking why their god would allow something like that, they blame humans for a deity’s shortfalls. Or at least that’s the only reason I can think of for their actions without having to resort to a more sinister explanation. They may see this tragedy as a chance to advance their ideology and opportunistically jumping on others’ grief to convert more followers to their cause, acting as the religious version of the ambulance chasing lawyer if you will. Either way, it takes a rather compromised set of morals to think that the non-intervening deity is in the right here.

[ illustration by Koren Shadmi ]

Bad things happen to everybody, and while some treat their bad fortune as something to overcome as quickly as possible, others rub their hands with glee and use it to bully others. Case in point, Reverend Robert Barro, whose position in society is vaunted as that of noble community leaders who teach love, compassion and the need for charity, and whose views must be automatically respected because he read a book that claims to be the word of a deity. Like a vulture waiting for a meal, he’s perched himself over Christopher Hitchens, who was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and started squawking about God teaching the outspoken and controversial atheist a lesson, all while transparently telling the faithful that this is what happens when if you dare to question God in a public forum. The deity will reach out and smite you with something really nasty…

So this is the kind of compassion and love that priests are supposed to teach us? Do what I say, believe what I tell you to believe, or God will come down from the heavens and strike you down? How can anyone possibly consider this good for any community? It’s basically bullying and death threats wrapped in hymns and a story about what happens to good kids who follow the priests’ words to justify the tyrannical nature of our organized religions. And this is far from the only time the mortality of an atheist or a skeptic has been used to threaten or rally believers who may have found themselves questioning their faith, even if their suffering was invented by a priest who was particularly intent on a fire and brimstone sermon. Just look in my local paper, for a story of an atheist who dramatically said that “if there is a God, let him fill my grave with snakes.” As soon as he died and his body was buried, the local churches deliberately started the rumor that grave robbers found a huge swarm of snakes wrapped around his coffin. But when these rumors were exposed as nothing more than the vicious gossip of would be televangelists, the priests changed their story to include a deathbed conversion.

In other words, those priests are just made of pure class, tact and compassion. Except when they glaze over the horrendous abuse that happens in the name of belief and use barbaric scare tactics to keep people who want to question their faith from doing so under the threat of a slow or painful death. There’s disturbingly little difference between Barro’s acid pen and a mugger holding up a gun to your head and demanding your wallet in exchange for your life. In fact, the only real differences I can think of is that Barro is part of a group which over millennia of indoctrination and on many occasions brute force, mandated that it’s to be held at the pinnacle of human civilization, and that his gun is a vengeful, tyrannical, petty, passive aggressive tyrant who’ll smite what amounts to an insignificant little speck of a being because that speck isn’t convinced of his existence. Truly, if there is a God out there and he heard just a small sampling of what two-faced monsters like Barro say and do in his name, he would open an Atheist Nexus account. And as for the Reverend Barros of the world, I wonder how they live with themselves after spending another day of further dividing, alienating and separating people who they’re supposed to bring together with kindness and love. My guess? By enjoying the tax-free cash they scare out of believers with their fiery sermons in order to fund their very base and Earthly needs.

[ illustration by Koren Shadmi, story idea by Jerry Coyne ]

Every time you think that Ray Comfort can’t top himself in suspending the logic and reason for which humans are supposed to be so famous, he manages to perform yet another stunning feat of obliviousness. Seriously, listening to him and the former child actor he ropes into his asinine endeavors, could probably turn God into a fervent atheist who’d reconsider having to save someone who abuses supposedly sacred texts with such wild abandon. This time, the inanity comes from his infamous 50 page screed added to a copy of Darwin’s Origin of the Species where he maintains that Hell must be real for the following reason…

On February 24, 2005, a nine-year-old girl was reported missing from her home in Homosassa, Florida. Three weeks, later, police discovered that she had been kidnapped, brutally raped, and then buried alive. Little Jessica Lunsford was found tied up, in a kneeling position, clutching a stuffed toy.

How do you feel toward the man who murdered that helpless little girl in such an unspeakably cruel way? Are you angered? I hope so. I hope you are outraged. If you were completely indifferent to her fate, it would reveal something horrible about your character.

Do you think that God is indifferent to such acts of evil? You can bet your precious soul He is not. He is outraged by them. The fury of Almighty God against evil is evidence of His goodness.

quote via Jerry Coyne

Ok, right. God is outraged by acts of evil such as raping and killing a child. Yet, God does absolutely nothing to stop the act. Where’s his great compassion? Where’s his mercy? Where is his blistering fury? Why wasn’t the monster who tortured and murdered a little girl struck by lighting repeatedly while a booming voice from above cursed him aloud to an eternity of hellfire and suffering? And let’s consider the callousness of Ray’s argument in this matter. Instead of at least pretending to be a refined theologian, this living fountain of insipidity tries his best to outrage us and hijack our emotions rather than appealing to any sort of logic or reason. Is this the big argument for divine justice? A sordid tale he exploits like a slimy tabloid hack with no sense of decency?

For theologists, the subject of why we have to deal with evil in our lives is called theodicy. Quite frankly, it’s the practice of waiving away the responsibility of an otherwise compassionate, omniscient, omnipotent and very loving personal God for our terrifying acts of cruelty to each other and nature’s lack of concern for how many of us die during an earthquake or a tsunami. They do it by one of two ways. They either craft it as a paradox that’s part of some divine plan our mortal minds can’t understand but have to accept in order to eventually learn why evil exists, or, like Banana Man here, completely side-step the issue and throw out emotional pontifications.

We can say that once in a while, parents have to let their children experience something unpleasant to get an introduction to just how cruel the world can really be. Nothing that would actually hurt them of course, just give them an exposure to unfair decisions or the carelessness of others. But the reason why parents would do it is because they know they can’t safeguard their children forever. Evil exists outside their control. An omnipotent deity doesn’t have such restrictions and if he’s so incensed by malicious acts, he could just create a world of peace, wealth and immortality for its supposedly favored creations. Why teach us lessons in pain or suffering if we don’t actually have to learn them in the big picture? The Fall of the didn’t have to happen and the story we get is paradoxical, confusing and raises far more questions than it provides answers, something a deity with a clear goal should have taken care of before unleashing his human creations on the world.

One of the trendiest arguments in favor of a supernatural guardian over our daily lives used by today’s popular theologians is the supposed consistency of morality across the entire human species. Since all of us have a very similar idea of right and wrong, they say, there must be something regulating these perceptions, and that something must be a deity. Ok, let’s go with that premise for a second and ask how it applies to torture during a time of war, when behavior otherwise described as monstrous suddenly becomes acceptable to some…

When rumors of waterboarding and sleep deprivation being used to interrogate suspected terrorists started making their way into the headlines, polls showed that at least over 50% of people in eight developed nations thought that torture was warranted in at least some cases. Even after years of ridicule, as many as 57% of Americans weren’t in a hurry to see government officials who potentially authorized torture being brought up on charges. Why? Because during a time of unconventional war, all bets seem to be off and if people believe that there’s even the slightest chance that brutalizing a suspected terrorist could prevent hundreds of deaths, they’d rather just turn a blind eye to how the intelligence is obtained, as long as it’s obtained and used.

Hey, it seems to work for the guys on TV and in the movies so it probably works in reality, right? Actually, no. In the movies and dramatic shows, we know who the villain is and that he’s guilty. Any compassion to him as a fellow human being is gone and according to the runtime, he has to spill the secrets of his plan after the next improvised electrocution. But in the real world, telling villains from mercenaries caught in the crossfire isn’t as simple as it is for Jack Bauer. We don’t know how much they’re aware of or what nefarious plans they may be privy to, which means that we don’t know when to stop. And if you torture someone long enough, he’ll just start telling you what you want to hear to make the suffering stop. Information obtained by torture is very unreliable.

Let’s remember that during the Inquisitions, torture was used to obtain confessions and expedite executions that needed to take place. In fact, it was a standard procedure for dealing with enemies of the faith. People in charge of religious agencies and on a mission from their deity, controlled by the universal principles of right and wrong invoked by today’s trendy apologists, decided that mutilating enemies of the faith to cleanse their nations of heathens was perfectly acceptable, even though torturing people they liked was seen as an act of extreme cruelty. We still continue the trend of suspending our sense of compassion during a time of conflict and bucking the so-called universal tenets of morality because we feel that it’s justified in certain cases.

I wonder how our high minded theologians would explain the metaphysical nature of our selective inhumanity and flexible morality without having to take a side in the conflict and consider the innate subjectivity involved in the decisions to subject our enemies to torture…