Christianity

Additional Thoughts on Theodicy

After my recent article about Jehovah’s Witnesses, I found myself imagining a debate with actual Witnesses, out of my shame at not having engaged with those who brought me this wonderfully juvenile little pamphlet in the hope of bringing them a broader way of engaging with their faith.

As a pantheist, I don’t have to worry about the ideas of theodicy that other theists might have to. I believe that there is an intelligence to the universe that is awaiting us awakening, developing into broader beings, conquering our primitive instincts. It can’t aid us and wouldn’t even if it could, because we must grow on our own.

But a proper theist who believes in a God that can miraculously intervene, that actively judges human affairs, has some serious problems.

First, let’s consider the idea of science and Christianity.

Those Christians who want to believe not just in the literal truth of the Bible but an incredibly ignorant literal read run headlong into plate tectonics, evolution, tree rings, DNA evidence, etc. that indicates that their astronomy, history, geology and biology are just laughably wrong.

Okay, so God just basically planted all this disparate evidence, from radiological evidence to tree rings, to mislead people. Fine.

But why do human beings bother asking questions about the cosmos in the first place?

It’s not just that He made us that way. That alone is pretty bad. He made us to be curious, inquisitive, to want to ask questions. Isn’t it pretty unfair to do that then ask us to ignore that curiosity?

But no. It’s that if you’re not curious, you die.

Humanity being curious and scientifically-oriented let us develop tools to survive. It lets us see when there are liars, con artists and frauds. It lets us figure out when we might be being poisoned.

Plenty of religious leaders throughout history used religion to wage wars, to enrich themselves personally, to shore up their own power. Even if Christians can’t admit that some Christian leaders did so, certainly they can recognize that pagan leaders did.

So God made a dangerous world where our curiosity and intellect was how we survived and protected our families… Then he makes a series of illusions to mislead us, acting like Descartes’ demon, and then gives us the answer only in a book that also happens to justify slavery.

Why would someone worship a God like that? What could possibly justify all of the two-faced and deceptive behavior?

But it gets worse when we think about the idea of war.

Okay, so human beings need free will, right? We need to be able to grow, to make choices for ourselves. God lets us make choices and then punishes us if we make bad ones. That’s actually pretty fair. And one can even argue that God gave people a set of precepts to live by… Well, after millennia, He gave several different ones over time, finally clarifying the whole thing by sending His Son… Well, maybe he actually clarified it to some Arab prophet… But, okay, whatever, somewhere there’s a set of rules now.

But God didn’t just make it so we could wage war. He made it so that we wanted to. He made it so that we have aggressive, violent urges. He made it so that we fear each other, and so that we can be whipped up into a frenzy.

Moreover, the Biblical Yahweh proved that it was willing to give people choices then punish them with miracles for making bad ones. Moses warned the Pharaoh over and over again, and the Pharaoh was punished for enslaving the Hebrews. (Of course, Yahweh didn’t stop slavery at any other time in Egypt’s history, but hey).

So in World War II, or Rwanda, or when Americans were killing Native Americans, why didn’t Yahweh send floods and poxes?

Here’s a subtler point, and it goes beyond war. Free will means that one is able to make choices. In a limited universe, free will gives you latitude to decide amongst competing options which are inherently finite. Fine.

What would be the threat to free will if God, or an angel, appeared and warned a person each time they were going to do something morally reprehensible?

That wouldn’t threaten free will. It’d be providing every person with the chance of hearing a divine argument for a better and more conscious position. They would still be perfectly capable of proceeding forward.

See, the idea of Yahweh as limited, as being like other gods in the region with a finite extent to His powers (even if it’s greater than the other gods), which I believe is implicit in the Old Testament, that doesn’t run you into any contradictions. And if you’re a pantheist, you face no problem either. Spinoza and Einstein could accept a God that did not do these things on account of accepting a God that did nothing aside from be everything.

But when you try to take an interventionist God who has proven both willing and able to perform miracles, then graft on the ability to perform those miracles any time and at any place, the “free will” argument no longer cuts it.

Hell, even that whole idea, “Worship me or be sent to hell”, sort of loses steam after millennia where there haven’t been whole nations stricken with the death of the first born child or unexplained bolts of lightning. Surely it wouldn’t hurt the whole faith idea to have God show up on occasion in some unambiguous way, aside from the Bible. After all, in Revelations we see that even as divine punishment rains down that the wicked still scorn God!

Now, the idea that there’s some plan that this is all building to, some better world that could exist as a result of all of this sacrifice and God is with all of the heavy-heartedness in the world waiting (in a timeless sense) for that drama to work itself out for the happy ending is sort of a response to these limitations. Sort of. (But an omnipotent God should be able to create any universe, and Leibniz’s ideas don’t work here because It would be able to create universes we can’t imagine or think of as consistent, and could even full well create an inconsistent universe and keep adjusting it as needed).

See, that’s why I think that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had such facile answers to the idea of war’s ending. To really think about anything but the endgame would sort of ruin the whole enterprise.

Again, my goal is not to bully or pick on Christians or Muslims or anyone else. My hope is for us to think really deeply about tragedies, and always think that our free will means we can do something about it.

Waiting for divine justice has kept us from making the genuine article on our own.

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4 thoughts on “Additional Thoughts on Theodicy

  1. rhemalog says:

    Calvary greetings to you in the mighty name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    (I know this is the most inappropriate means of connecting with you…but this is the avenue I could find. Please forgive me.)

    I thank God for your life and the awesome work you are doing on your blog!
    I pray for more wisdom, grace and strength for you in Jesus name!

    My name (in short) is Tim and I am the founder of the newly unveiled Christian Social Community: http://www.rhemalog.com

    If I may crave your indulgence, I will quickly like to intimate you on our purpose, goals and objectives.

    The name Rhemalog is a compound word, coined from both “Rhema” and “Log”.
    It means, putting into writing(Log), your encounters in the Word of God(Rhema).
    That is, sharing with the beloved, the things that God has shown unto you in His Word.

    Rhemalog was established by the leading of the Holy Spirit, as a platform to enrich and impact the body of Christ all over the World!

    You will agree with me that there is a lot of degradation going on.
    Abuse, spiritual contaminations, mental pollutions and attacks on our faith.

    All you need is to refresh your social-media pages long enough…then boom!
    There you have it, in your face!
    But.
    Wouldnt it be awesome to have a sanctified environment?

    A platform built solely for the Children of God.
    Devoid of negativity around us, but filled with inspirations, encouragements and above all, the WORD OF GOD!

    A breath of fresh air.
    Family friendly, conducive, loving and embracing.
    Your own family of fellow brethren, encouraging, building, cheering on and strengthening each other on a daily basis!

    This is our driving force.
    The clarion call that moved us to put Rhemalog in place.

    And this is our call to you: Would you like to join us?

    As one of the (Christian) thinkers and opinion-makers out there, logically, it is a no-brainer that we need you, especially since our main goal is to ensure that the people are well fed.

    We need your insightful thoughts. Inspirational ideas. Well written pieces. We need YOU!

    We need you, not only as a member, but also as an A-List contributor.

    And we already have all the tools required.

    – Personal Blogging feature
    – Video sharing
    – Community pages (think facebook pages)
    – Timelines and profiles
    – Pictures, etc

    Together, we can build one of the most vibrant and impact-full communities out there.

    Should you decide to join us now:

    – Your personal blog and info will be shared on our social media pages (with over 67,000 members)

    – As an early adopter, you will be a part of a huge and influential community at its infant stage.

    – Your community page will be featured, if you create one. Meaning, it will come up first in searches and views (with its own cute ribbon)

    – You can host all your youtube and vimeo videos, thereby increasing your viewer-ship and enhancing your reach.

    Well, “gold and silver” we have not.
    But can you help us be a blessing to the children of God out there?

    It will be a huge honour and we will be waiting for you.

    The first step is to be registered. Duration of your submissions will be totally up to you. To keep up though, we would suggest you begin by sharing the links to your blog posts, later on, you can start doing reblogs or creating unique postings using our blog feature.

    However, in-between, we would love your quips, wits, quotes and words of wisdom, posted on your homepage timeline. We consider these to be quick tonic for the soul…snacks for those in hurried need of inspiration and motivations.

    Whichever option you choose, we cannot wait to have a drink from the fountain of your God-given wisdom.

    Thanks and may God continually keep His face shining on you.

    Yours in Christ,

    Tim (Rhemalog Community)

    • arekexcelsior says:

      I don’t know what in God’s name (see what I did thar? har har) would make you think this is an inapprpriate means for contacting me! I love comments and try to reply to them as courteously as I can, even to out-and-out trolls! What’s the point of discussing something salient to an article in private? Thank you for the comment, and your very, very courteous and balanced tone! I wish all my conversations with atheists and theists alike were so personable. (Reading carefully, I worry that this is spam, but it’s at least salient.

      However, I should note that I’m not Christian, I’m a Buddhist pantheist. So unless you want to have the perspective of a religious outsider, I’m not exactly the right guy 🙂 . If you do need such content, I hope you contact me at frchristie@ucdavis.edu!

  2. That was a really nice article indeed!
    I appreciate, as do others as well I hope, how much more serene and objective you can handle a subject as … “easy” … for the use of polemic and pathos such as religion.

    I think you made an especially good point in the end there. I’ve met enough people who were so obsessed with living by God’s law and the afterlife that they forgot the actual life they’re living right now as well as the world around them.

    Religion is an easy way to absolve oneself from one’s own apathy and inaction if we can state that He will take care of things at some point in the future. It’s easy to simply accept the wrongs of our world as just a God-willed stepping stone on the way to a future that He has laid out (in His mind as least) already anyway. It’s easy to answer “He works in mysterious ways” when a curious mind starts to question.

    It’s easy to dismiss or even condemn the efforts of all sorts of people – philosophers to scientists, pretty much everyone basically – when God is this supposed “Grey Eminence”, this kind of “Shadow Government” pulling the strings from behind the scenes anyway.

    I believe it’s important to point out – as you did – that we do have free will. We do have an imaginative an inquisitive mind that gives us the opportunity to think and thus act for the benefit of us all. Wouldn’t that also give us the responsibility? God or not?

    In respect to the open-mindedness of your blog I will refrain from starting an argument about religion itself and what I think people use it for but I will say this:
    It shouldn’t be used to do nothing!

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