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Will It Finally Sink In This Time?
– Robert Green Ingersoll
It’s curious and not a little vexing that as man the young adult relishes and extends his mastery over himself and his universe, he steadfastly refuses to put aside childish things, such as supernatural beings made in his own childlike image. Of the six-and-a-bit billion people in the world, the vast majority still believe in a deity, and many of the remainder believe in (or are forced to profess a belief in) a secular substitute such as Kim Jong-Il. The number of conscientious atheists—those who have put aside childish things and can explain why they have done so—remains dispiritingly low.
Occasionally something happens in the world, something cataclysmic and unspeakably terrible, to cause this relic of more superstitious times to take a hit. Even the dimmest intellect steeped in the most primitive hocus-pocus is given cause for pause—how can my god have let this happen? The Boxing Day tsunami that devastated much of Asia, with a death toll of 150,000-and-rising, is a case in point. A recent News Sentinel editorial by Bill Tammeus canvasses the rationalisations of contemporary witch-doctors in the face of this embarrassing, calamitous carnage ("Why Does God Allow This? Tsunami Has Theologians and Scholars Pondering Nature of Evil" - http://www.fortwayne.com/mld/newssentinel/news/editorial/10554578.htm).
The witch-doctors rehash the standard theological spin:
1) The evil of the event triggers a redemptive outbreak of good (the relief effort, the tidal wave of charitable donations, the suspension of civil war in Aceh, etc.);
2) This horror is part of a bigger picture that God has yet to reveal to us, wherein we’ll all, eventually, live happily ever after. We shouldn’t bitch about some minor inconvenience along the way;
3) These things are sent to try us. They are a test of our faith, and character-building. Suffering is good for us;
4) We shouldn’t even ask the question. God moves in mysterious ways—end of story. Ours not to reason why;
5) The Devil is winning and he just scored another home run (I made that one up, but I don’t understand why it doesn’t enjoy serious currency—the evidence for it is far more compelling than for any of the above);
6) Man is being punished for his sins. This one, astonishingly, still does enjoy serious currency among the lumpen superstition-touters. To digress for a moment, in the recent debate in New Zealand on whether to accord legal recognition to "civil unions" between same-sex couples, religious opponents of the legislation predicted that if it were passed, God would have all the volcanoes in the country blow their tops. (It was, and he didn’t.) In Tammeus’ article on the tsunami, one reputable Christian theologian is quoted as saying that because Adam sinned, "the laws of nature have been corrupted and don't all operate now the way God originally intended them to. Now that doesn't mean there's a demon behind every tsunami or hurricane, but it means that if it wasn't for the angelic and human rebellion, we wouldn't have tsunamis or hurricanes or AIDS or anything of the sort."
Saints preserve us!
It’s noteworthy that after all these centuries, God’s pre-eminent apologists still fall into the same old trap: God, being all-knowing, must have foreseen that Adam would sin, yet proceeded to create him nonetheless; therefore, he is ultimately responsible for Adam’s action and has no business punishing him, let alone the rest of us, for that action. The only way for God not to be responsible is for him not to be all-knowing, and then he's not God.
It’s noteworthy, too, that these apologists demand of us an unconscionable suspension of disbelief. If God were a politician running for re-election to the Highest Office, and put forward any of the above excuses for his appalling record of grief-making, he would be laughed out of court. Unfortunately, Immanuel Kant has been granted the sanctity of his noumenal realm, ring-fenced off from common sense, so that when it comes to rationalising that realm, any old very old crap will do.
"God works in mysterious ways" is really a euphemism for "God works in indefensible ways." And that is a pointer to the bottom line reality: there’s no such entity working in any such way; God simply ain’t there.
Among the early Indian casualties of the tsunami were a group of Hindus holding a prayer meeting in "holy waters." Well, they won’t be doing that again in a hurry. Perhaps now the reality will sink in, to Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians alike (and to all other touters of gods, ghosts and goblins), that the aggressive conquest of impersonal, indifferent nature—not abject, docile prayer—is man’s proper estate.
Now more than ever, it’s time to put aside childish things.
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