Friday, January 15, 2010

Mother Nature or Father God?

SKEPTIC: The horrific earthquake in Haiti has people once again asking the question, "Why does God allow suffering in the world?" Pat Robertson believes that Haitians are being punished by God because they made a pact with the devil hundreds of years ago, which seems nutty, but the idea of divine punishment is one of the common Christian responses to the question of suffering. According to the priest in the video above, we're just too stupid to understand why God allows suffering. We are to God as cats are to us. He may have a point, though. I've often thought that my cat sees me as a god.

PREACHER: Atheists claim that God mustn't exist or else there wouldn't be so much suffering in the world. It would be a much nicer place. This argument is flawed from the start. It assumes that in order for God to exist, He has to meet certain arbitrary human standards. It would be like if I had a first time visitor to my home who has come unannounced. On seeing the dirty dishes in the kitchen, a pile of dirty laundry in the utility room, and stuff scattered in all the rooms, he assumes that since a wife must be clean and neat, my wife certainly doesn't exist.

The argument also assumes that God is in some way accountable to humans to perform properly for them. God is in no way obligated to be good and loving to us. And, since He is the final and absolute authority on all things, He can call Himself good and loving, and objectively be so, without human approval.

SKEPTIC: So God is like a messy housewife? I guess I'm surprised that your wife is apparently such a poor housekeeper, but perhaps even more surprised and somewhat dismayed that you apparently are not in the habit of lending her a helping hand. Typical husband!

PREACHER: Thank you for acknowledging man's (husband's) responsibility in the mess the world is in. However, the visitor is an intruder into the private life of a family. How clean the residents of the house keep their home is really none of his business in the first place. Of course, if their mess becomes a public nuisance then he can call the health department and have them required to clean up the mess or else. That is what you call appealing to an authority that has the power to correct a problem. And, this is where the atheist is out of luck. Since he believes in a universe that came about by just natural random means where no moral authority exists, he has no moral authority to say that something is truly right or wrong. He is a temporary intruder into God's world, since he doesn't acknowledge Him. It is really none of his business. And, although I may acknowledge his opinion as having some sort of meaning, it is only temporary. Don't you believe that every adult alive today will cease to exist before this century ends?

SKEPTIC: Well, yes, I guess I do believe that, but you lost me. What's the point of your question?

PREACHER: The point of the question is that since you consider your existence temporary, your opinions about the situation in the world are also temporary and therefore ultimately meaningless.

SKEPTIC: Oh, that again. Well, look, if my opinions are meaningless, I'm not sure what the point of debating you is. Maybe you should just debate yourself.

But getting back to the question of suffering - the most popular arguments from the pro-God side usually have to do with free will or suffering as a punishment from God - or sometimes even that suffering is redemptive, in the same way that Christ's suffering supposedly redeemed man of his sins. Some even argue that God allows suffering in order to bring about some sort of "greater good." (Try telling that to the mothers whose babies are buried in the Haitian rubble.)

But your argument seems to be different. You seem to be saying that God allows suffering because he can (and apparently wants to), and who do we think we are to question him! He's God, and so he can do whatever the heck he wants, and we should just shut up and accept that fact.

PREACHER: I would like to commend you on your knowledge of the most popular arguments on the pro-God side. That will save me time in repeating them here. You seem to think that suffering is bad. Your amoral universe doesn't rationally allow you to pronounce suffering as either bad or good.

SKEPTIC: I see. So I'm not "allowed" to say that suffering is bad because I live in an amoral universe. Right. Of course, all this arguing is somewhat futile. Christians, when faced with these tough questions, tie themselves in knots trying to explain it. But once you can accept that God is just a concept invented by man, it's easy to explain why bad things happen. They happen because life is a series of random events. Good things and bad things happen to everyone at some point in their lives. It's irrational to try to blame (or credit) some sort of invisible magic spirit for everything that happens.

PREACHER: Funny, but I don't feel like I have tied myself in knots. God's explanations seem very rational and logical to me. He is beyond just being blamed or credited for how things are. He set the agenda before we existed and had anything to say. You might like to explain to me how you get order out of randomness, personality and rationality out of impersonal irrational forces, and morality out of an amoral universe. Talk about tying yourself in knots!

SKEPTIC: Well, okay, you can believe that God's explanation is rational and logical and that science is just a bunch of crap. That's certainly your prerogative. When it comes to the question of suffering, I'll admit that I do have a certain amount of admiration for the ability of Christians to make excuses for their God when faced with logical conundrums. As for me, I'm much more comfortable with the idea that there was no God who decided to punish and exterminate all those poor Haitians for whatever reason he might have. I believe that it was Mother Nature, not Father God, who was responsible for this disaster.

PREACHER: Although a lot of scientists happen to be atheists, science assumes a Biblical world view that guarantees that the world of nature can be understood. A universe of random events by its very nature cannot be understood by the rational human mind. Therefore to assume that the universe came about by random natural causes is irrational. That is one reason why many scientist who started out as atheists have become believers. Atheists do a lot of speculation about how the world may have come about, but in the final analysis they can't really know anything for sure, since they deny the very One who gives them and their research meaning. They have no moral authority. My Moral Authority calls such irrationality inexcusable foolishness (Psalms 14:1, Romans 1:20).

I am comfortable not knowing for sure who is responsible for the many disasters that have happened in history. Those who lost their loved ones in Haiti don't really need to know that. They need real practical help to survive, and especially know-how to be better prepared for the future. Even if we may be upset with God for allowing such tragedies, you will have to admit that He is faithful and true. Jesus promised that there would be disasters like earthquakes, famines, and pestilences throughout history. So, I am not particularly surprised (though saddened) when such disasters occur. I trust Him even when I don't understand.

SKEPTIC: Well, given that I don't believe in God, I'm certainly not upset with him and likewise, I don't have to admit that he's faithful and true. And to claim that science is irrational when they attempt to explain the universe, but Christians are totally rational when they claim that the universe is run by some sort of supernatural being that can't be explained or understood by the mind of man is, well, ridiculous.

You know, even though I say I don't believe in God, I don't know absolutely, positively if he exists or not (and neither do you, by the way). But watching the devastation in Haiti isn't putting any points on the board for The Big Kahuna.