Friday, January 22, 2010

A Quick Recap On The Whole God Thing

Just in case you've been asleep for the last 500 years or accidentally cancelled your subscription to New Scientist - turns out there is no god. Someone clearly forgot to tell the BBC. In the wake of the Haitian earthquake, while debates rage about what action governments should take and aid agencies appeal urgently for funds and support, the BBC have the nerve to publish this piece entitled "Why does God allow natural disasters?". Really. And remember they're the same people who never fail to put inverted commas around the word "rapist" or "murderer" even if there are dozens of victims with the same story (e.g John Worboys) or corpses everywhere. Where are the inverted commas round "allow". I mean "god" is a fictional concept, how can a fictional concept "allow" things?

The article itself is frightening.

"Archbishop of York John Sentamu said he had 'nothing to say to make sense of this horror', while another clergyman, Canon Giles Fraser, preferred to respond 'not with clever argument but with prayer'."

So even the most "respected" theologians in the country don't have a ruddy clue. You would think the next paragraph would start "uh oh, looks like their beliefs don't hold even the slightest drop of water here, maybe all that virgin birth, everlasting life stuff is nonsense too...". Instead:

"Perhaps their stance is understandable. The Old Testament is also not clear to the layman on such matters."

Yes but they're not "laymen" are they? One of them is the Archbishop of York.

"So what should believers say?"

How about "I'm clearly wrong"?

"To make progress, we might distinguish two kinds of evil:

•the awful things people do, such as murder, and
•the awful things that just happen, such as earthquakes"


You can't really do that actually. The earthquake in Haiti might come under the heading of "natural disasters" but if the country wasn't so poorly run and if the international community had been more engaged in improving life there, more accepting of Haitian refugees and faster to respond after the earthquake there's no doubt the loss of life could have been massively reduced. So it is a largely man-made disaster. And by the same token the difference between reckless driving and manslaughter can be down to weather conditions making the road slippery. If there were a god, she could intervene at any time with a well-placed lightening bolt.

"It's OK, some will insist, because God works in mysterious ways."

Weird how if I'm trying to be mysterious I talk in half sentences and avoid eye contact, god does it by throwing rubble on the heads of 200,000 Haitians. And the last line of the article is:

"If a deity exists, why didn't he prevent this?"

In other stupid questions: If cheese is purple, why doesn't it taste of blackcurrant? If Spain is next to Antarctica, why is it so warm? If goats usually wear mini-skirts, why isn't there one in the Spice Girls? (enough stupid questions...)

Lets try this question instead: Given that no deity exists, why do I keep assigning a gender to a mythical concept?

Or this one: Given that no deity exists and prayer doesn't work, is there really any use for this great big stained glass building and if there isn't how many parcels of medical supplies could we buy and deliver to Haiti with the money we'd get selling it and wouldn't people respect us a whole lot more if we did that instead of wandering about in embroidered frocks smilingly admitting our religious beliefs don't hold up to the slightest bit of scrutiny?

Just me?

18 comments:

Ray Foucher said...

Of course there is no God, as many people believe in Him, including the vast majority of religious people. The true God is a God of love who wouldn't hurt anyone. He is also a God who respects human free will (He did not make robots who can’t love Him back) and when people or a nation rejects Him openly or through their lifestyle choices He, being a gentleman, turns away; He does not impose His presence where it is not desired. Then the destroyer, Satan moves in, causes death and destruction and blames it on God. See more info. Makes a lot more sense than what most religious people will tell you. Ray Foucher, Canada

Cruella said...

So about this "god of love"... When "a nation" rejects him (does he follow UN convention or does he recognise breakaway states?) he "turns away" and deliberately allows thousands of clearly innocent babies and tiny children to die in unbearable pain because some of their parents rejected "him"? Sounds like a "god of hate" to me.

What, by the way, are these "lifestyle choices" you refer to? I have heard the expression before and I think it's code for "I'm a homophobic bigot" but I'd like to check.

Finally the most atheist country on the planet is generally accepted to be Sweden, at around 85% atheist. Why have I not heard about the torrent of earthquakes, hurricaines, droughts, meteorite falls, etc hitting Sweden?

I love Sweden, and I'm going to be there soon too... Jan 31st, Malmo Comedy Festival, yey!

Ray Foucher said...

Would you like God to force you to love Him? I think not and recognize it is a hypothetical question if you don't believe in Him anyway. There is an evil force at work in this world too (have you noticed?) and God will restrain that as well as the destructive forces of nature when people turn to Him.

I have no idea if there is any more homosexuality in Haiti than anywhere else. I understand there is a fair bit of Voodoo and similar religions. Can I ask if you reject the idea of God mainly because of such tragedies as we have just seen in Haiti?

Have a good and safe trip to Sweden. You'll probably have lots of good laughs if you are going to a comedy festival.

dtb said...

Hi Cruella. Thanks for your comments on my piece on the BBC, but I think you've got the wrong end of the stick. I'm an atheist, and the gist of the piece (not obviously enough it would seem) is precisely that believers are in trouble -- or at least, believers in an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omnscient agent-God. I also neither say nor imply that the clergymen I quote are laymen; indeed, the implied point in quoting them is precisely yours: that they, rather remarkably, just give up. I hope a re-reading of the articles last sentence will restore your faith (or rational credence) in my secular credentials.

Cruella said...

Wow - I never expect people who are "real" journalists (well I have a piece coming out in March's issue of Cosmopolitan so at some level I am a "real" journalist but only occassionally) to read the blog. But yes David I did think on the way through that maybe that was the point you were trying to make. And in a way you make it very well, I just think too subtly for a lot of readers. Firstly we know 90% of readers won't get further than the headline. "Why does God allow natural disasters?" which seems to imply that we all know and accept the notion of God. I would be wanting to mention atheism early on, preferrably in the title, though that may be down to editors - the few times I've written for the BBC they've usually added their own mildly misleading title!

And Ray, mmm. If not loving god means dying in an earthquake, then yes, I would definitely want god to force me to love him.

Voodoo? Voodoo is a mixture of pre-christian religions which were brought over by slaves from Africa and roman catholicism which slave-owners forced slaves to convert to. It features old-testament-style animal sacrifices and practices to defend individuals against "witchcraft" alongside belief in a single overall deity. Does god have some big top ten worst religions list? Why is he not striking down druids, atheists, scientologists and buddhists? And why - since he is all powerful - not do the destruction himself? That way he could be sure to target only those who have specifically offended him, not those devout christians who happen to be stood near them as well.

When you said "lifestyle choices" did you mean the practising of "voodoo"? I have never heard of pre-christian religions referred to as a "lifestyle choice".

Quite aside from the Haiti issue - what is your view on homosexuality?

And I reject the idea of god mainly because I have never ever seen one single credible piece of evidence to support his existance.

DocRichard said...

This is really weird. Today I found a thunderbolt on my lawn, and tied to it with a bit of string was the following message:

"Dear Earthlings,
I am really really sorry about Haiti, but to make a decent life supporting planet you do have to use plate tectonics and stuff. I appreciate that people would be attracted to live over fault lines because of the minerals &c, but I calculated (wrongly as it turned out) that on balance, once humans worked out what was going on, they would put in earthquake early warning systems, and also would make buildings with triangulation in their structures so they wouldn't collapse like a house of cards every time the earth moved a bit. So really, if there was a design fault, it was not so much with the geology as the psychology. I didn't calculate the amount that denial and lack of foresight would come into play.

OK, blame me if it makes you feel better, but with the greatest possible respect, it would be more productive to set your own failings to rights rather than indulging in theorlogical speculation, a subject which I find invariably risible.

Signed,

Slartibartfast".

I make no claims for the veracity of this message, it could easily be a hoax, but thank you for letting me share it on your wonderful blog.

dtb said...

Hi Cruella

I too am only a (very) occasional journalist if journalist at all. I am really an academic (see here
http://www.davidbain.org) though I write the odd thing for the BBC now and again (see http://www.davidbain.org/media).

The BBC title, as you suspect, was theirs, not mine. I agree that "would" would have been better than "does".

Found your blog when, as a near Twitter virgin, I had a look to see what if anything people were saying about the BBC piece. Then saw that you had "demolished" it!

Nice site; all the best

David

Andruu said...

Dearest Cruella,

Nothing makes me crazier than people who rely on or blame God for everything that happens... 'God punished them' and 'God saved me.'

One healthy way to think about it is to think of God as a code name for our goodness and love. Not a 'big daddy in the sky' that makes us dependent and obedient and sometimes beats us senseless, but a God that leads us to do godly things for each other in this world... like get some food to Haiti!

So says this Unitarian minister, anyhow...

Rev. Andy Pakula
Minister of Newington Green and Islington Unitarians

Greenconsciousness said...

More important is the question of organized religion and its role in the destruction of Haiti. Haiti is 96% Catholic and the male, misogynist, catholic church has prevented the use of BC and abortion so that the resulting unsustainable population growth has destroyed the environment. Now the people cannot sustain their population. This in fact has been the role of religion in most of the third world yet it is only feminist who are called cultural imperialists by the left.

So the catholics and other religions raise money for their "charity" in countries like Haiti while preventing real reform - it is a lucrative operation. And they sell their charity babies for adoption to stupid true believers while pushing unlimited immigration to the US so they can reduce us to slave status as well.

Why does "God" allow this abuse of power by religious pharisees would be a more fitting topic of research for media if they were not bought off by the power of Big Religion.

Ronan said...

Alreet Cruella?

This post brings to mind the biblical phrase 'it rains on the just and the unjust alike'. I don't know if you are familiar with the book of Job, but that made the point several thousand years ago that worthiness in the eyes of God does not automatically translate into wealth, success and good health. (The point is made succinctly by a friend's fridge magnet, which says 'To know what God thinks of money, look at the people he gives it to'). The Hebrews rejected the notion that suffering or disaster were necessarily indicators of God's wrath, and that idea smacks more of karma than anything from the JudeoChristian traditions. After all, Christians believe their God was crucified! I'd have thought that alone would demolish Ray's simplistic view above that God was delivering retribution on the Haitans. What happened there was down to plate tectonics, not divine agency, altho you're right that much of the destruction was avoidable. What strikes me as odd about your post, however, is that you are clearly very angry at this God whom you insist does not exist!

Rev. Andy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rev. Andy said...

Ronan,

I appreciate your thoughtful approach, but Job is just a terrible story. The bottom line after God and Hasatan finish toying with and torturing a good man over what is essentially a wager is apparently 'don't question. you couldn't understand God's ways.'

If God can behave that cruelly and then dismiss the criticism with such condescending drivel, it's not a God I'd want anything to do with.

If there is a God, she/he/it doesn't make earthquakes at all, but rather is what helps us to be strong enough and good enough to cry for the suffering and try to make it better.

That would be the only kind of God worthy of the name.

Rev. Andy

Ronan said...

Hi Andy

Your reply makes me wonder why someone who is so dismissive of a Biblical text would choose to label themselves a Reverend!

I am always very wary of being dismissive of texts from alien cultures, preferring to approach them tentatively and with a little humility (and I do only have a little!)

You may be right in what you say about the Book of Job, but you also risk getting hung up on a literary device which may be secondary, or even irrelevant, to the point the authors were making. The realisation that suffering or success in this world are divorced from the state of one's soul is a huge step forward in terms of humanity's understanding. Once Job's story is digested, there is no longer any excuse for ignorant perspectives such as 'this person is disabled because they are sinful', or 'this person died in the earthquake because they worshipped the wrong god'. I suppose you would also consider the story of Abraham's intention to sacrafice his son Isaac as an awful story, though that tale, too, marks a step forward for a society in which child sacrafice was all too prevalent.

I'm no expert on Job, and in all honesty can remember very little of the book, having last read it some years ago. But I do know it is a rich text deserving more than a dismissal because we struggle to comprehend it, coming as we do from a postmodern 21st century perspective. I seem to recall the Jerome biblical commentaries were a good way into the story, and I would recommend you check it out if you have the opportunity.

Rev. Andy said...

Ronan,

I am a Unitarian minister. I have studied theology extensively and am qualified according to the British Unitarian movement to use the title Reverend.

Apparently you believe that anyone called 'reverend' should speak in reverent hushed tones about a book that was written and edited by many different people thousands of years ago?

The bible is a book which - while it includes the Prophets, some of the most important writings on justice - also includes some terribly vile, pornographic, xenophobic, violent, misogynistic, and demeaning messages.

Go read Job again. Some find it incredibly useful. I find it a mixed up attempt to explain why the God of the bible lets bad things happen to good people. In my view, it fails at that attempt.

The fact that good often suffers and the wicked often prosper is, despite centuries of attempts to dispute this, a very good reason not to believe in the God depicted in the bible.

The reality is that there is no such thing as an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God that controls the events of the universe, the Earth, or our individual lives. To believe that there is is dangerous, disempowering, wishful thinking.

Rev. Andy

Ronan said...

Hi Andy,

All I meant is that 'Reverend' has Christian origins, but then I suppose so does Unitarianism itself. It just seems like you've got all the window dressing of Christianity whilst avoiding any reference to Christ (I've had a scroot of your website). I prefer to do it the other way round, though in my church we get plenty of both.

It's true that the bible contains a lot of unpleasant stuff, but the alternative would be for the authors to lie about the society in which they lived. There aren't many cultures brave enough to give such a 'warts-n-all' account of themselves as the Hebrews. The key thread running through all the books, though, is the spiritual and ethical awakening of a people over several thousand years. At the end of the day, a lot of ethical innovations we now take for granted came down to us from either the Hebrews or the Christians, which is all the more incredible given that these texts have their origin in such a 'vile, pornographic, xenophobic, violent, misogynistic, and demeaning' society.

As for your dismissal of this text, excuse me if I don't take your word for it (unless you actually want to go into the reasons why you think it is a mixed up failure). It obviously held a lot of significance for those who painstakingly copied it and ensured its survival over the millennia. Given that effort, I find it hard to turn my nose up at it and, furthermore, I've read a lot of exegesis of Job which does it far more justice than you do.

Also, you're correct that theodicy is *the* single best argument against the existence of God, but I'm not going to throw out belief in Him just because He's not sufficiently Fairytalesque for my liking. The biblical God never said we'd be spared suffering (quite the reverse!), and Job himself would have been much worse off had he rejected God due to his suffering.

Cruella said...

Ronan do you really mean this:

"It obviously held a lot of significance for those who painstakingly copied it and ensured its survival over the millennia. Given that effort, I find it hard to turn my nose up at it"

If we are obliged to accept things simply because some people spent a lot of time copying them out then presumably we should also accept Hippocrate's notion that a common cause of illness is too much blood in the system and letting some out will cure many conditions?

In a few hundred years time if anybody is still reading Harry Potter you will also be forced to accept the notion of teenage wizards.

Ronan said...

Yes, Cruella, yes i did mean that. I don't, however, remember typing "one should switch one's brain off and disregard subsequent research or criticism when reading an ancient text".

The criticism you level at Hippocrates is perfectly valid, but the fact his texts have survived would predispose me to take his work seriously, even though he might have been wrong about a few things. He did, after all, give us the Hippocratic Oath.

Harry Potter? Sure, those books will be around for a long time, but I don't see communities of scribes bent over their writing desks copying each word letter by letter. These days any old crap can be mass-produced in print, or even beamed across the world via the interwebs. If you wanted a copy of the book of Job in ancient times you needed plenty of goatskin to write it on, and someone who was willing to copy it. I can't see anyone going to that effort for JK Rowling's opus.

Anyway, did you want to respond on-topic to my comments, or are you just brewing for a fight? Whatever you prefer, it's your blog...

Ronan said...

My apologies, Cruella, I'm the one looking for a fight. Please excuse my final paragraph.