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Monday, October 09, 2006

Old Dawkins Article

Back when I found this post-9/11 commentary by Richard Dawkins I had a bunch of stuff to say about it (blah blah religion blah blah), but now I don't have the typing stamina to really comment, so for fun I'll just quote a few bits that use particularly damning language:
(quoting Douglas Adams)
Now, the invention of the scientific method is, I'm sure we'll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked. If it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn't withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn't seem to work like that.
[...]
If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says 'I mustn't move a light switch on a Saturday,' you say, "I respect that."
And Dawkins mostly nails it on the subject of religion as a label:
It is not an exaggeration to say that religion is the most inflammatory enemy-labeling device in history. Who killed your father? Not the individuals you are about to kill in 'revenge.' The culprits themselves have vanished over the border. The people who stole your great grandfather's land have died of old age. You aim your vendetta at those who belong to the same religion as the original perpetrators. It wasn't Seamus who killed your brother, but it was Catholics, so Seamus deserves to die "in return." Next, it was Protestants who killed Seamus so let's go out and kill some Protestants "in revenge." It was Muslims who destroyed the World Trade Center so let's set upon the turbaned driver of a London taxi and leave him paralyzed from the neck down.
One thing that's funny (i.e. not funny) about the religion-as-a-label rant is that after the Soviet revolution the atheists also labeled themselves as "us" and all religions as "them" and proceeded to imprison or murder religious people outright. Labels seem to be the problem in a much more general sense, just moreso those that tend to be passed down the generations (*cough* religion *cough*). To me there's a qualitative difference between saying "I'm Christian" and "I'm guided by Christian values" ... it's sortof like the difference between "I'm Canadian" and "I grew up in Canada."
(quoting Rev. Billy Graham, concerning 9/11 attacks)
I have been asked hundreds of times in my life why God allows tragedy and suffering. I have to confess that I really do not know the answer totally, even to my own satisfaction. I have to accept, by faith, that God is sovereign, and He is a God of love and mercy and compassion in the midst of suffering. The Bible says God is not the author of evil. It speaks of evil as a "mystery."
Hey, sounds lame, but at least he knows what he doesn't know.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Ryan said...

The problem of suffering is perhaps one of the most difficult problems to be answered by the average Christian; many of my Christian friends seem to constantly stumble when asked why suffering exists. Why is there suffering? Who causes it? To be honest, these are not state secrets in Christianity, but rather require a very God-centred, and biblically trained mind to understand.

I'm a little surprised that Billy Graham had a tough time answering this question (or gave a "lame" answer); to be honest, I think he does in fact know of a better answer, but has watered-down things, which saddens me and further perpetuates the idea that religious figures are lying to the public. The reason that God allows suffering becomes clear when you consider what God's purpose is.

You see, people tend to feel that God serves them, and not the other way around. This is the quintessential example of North-American selfishness.. you know, the whole mentality of "do what makes YOU happy, YOU are the most important person, be proud of YOURSELF no matter what, freedom to do what YOU want is the most important thing..." i.e. the crap that is fed down our throat from birth. Thus, when people ask (or place blame) about suffering and why God allows it, it immediately reveals how ignorant we humans are. Our purpose is to serve God; God's glory and God's purposes are paramount. We somehow feel that if we get in line at the local Walmart ahead of Jesus, that he has no right to butt ahead of us. The reason God allows suffering is that it serves some purpose of His (yes, this is vague, but I think there are a LOT of purposes that suffering can serve). To be blunt, who are we, his creation, to be waving our fingers at him about suffering?

Under the assumption that God is truly the mastermind and divine ruler of this universe, then obviously suffering is an important part, albeit necessary, for some higher purpose. Since I don't want to be like most Christians in today's society, armed with opinion and absolutely no biblical knowledge to back it up, I will provide an example. Consider the story of Job, whom was a devout follow of God. Satan questioned Job's true allegiance to God, and so God allowed Satan to cause unspeakable calamity to happen to Job, to prove that Job would remain loyal to God even in the midst of terrible suffering.

Job lost his health, family, and much more. Many people today would be hard-pressed to say they have suffered as much as Job did. And yet Job was faithful to God, and trusted in God's will. In fact, at times Job struggled with his faith, wondering why God was allowing such horrible things to happen; this is a vital part of the Christian life, as doubt and hard times can prove to be one of the best mechanisms for drawing one closer to a relationship with God. The reason is that Job remained faithful even through hard times is that he understood that suffering is a necessary part of God's will; in this case, perhaps God wanted to strengthen Job's faith by breaking Job down until he had nobody left but God, or perhaps God's interaction with Satan was more important that Job's life was. Regardless of the reason, the point here is that God's will trumps ours, and this makes perfect sense if you fully grasp just who God is. In today's selfish society, this idea is equivalent to "throwing it in reverse at 90mph". Oh yeah, and a lot of the idea that God serves us from the whole "God is love" revolution that stupid shows like "touched-by-an-angel" constantly perpetuates. Yes, God is a very loving being, as evidenced MANY times in the bible. But God is also wrathful, powerful, frightening, loyal, just, and holy. That TV show should be called "touched-by-a-heresy". :)

A lot of the misconceptions about God and suffering come from a poor definition of suffering. For some reason most people tend to lump suffering into the "evil" category; in fact, the question of suffering is often posed like this: "Why doesn't God stop evil things from happening?" The problem with this question is that suffering is not evil. Yes, I know this seems like I'm being callous, but really, suffering is simply not evil. Let me explain.

Suffering is uncomfortable, I think we can all agree with that. But as a mechanism for helping humanity, suffering is essential! As mentioned with Job, suffering keeps us focused on God.. and while this won't mean much to atheists who believe that God does no exist, if you adopt God's existence then the cost of suffering is nothing compared to the importance of living a God-centred life. Also, suffering has real-world usefulness too.. I have a friend who is paralyzed from the waist down. He hunts with me, and when we're outside, one of his foremost concerns is that his legs will freeze! I'm standing beside him cursing my frozen fingers, and he feels nothing! Yet my suffering is very important; it is a protection mechanism for my body; in this case, suffering in the cold would be a blessing for him. Thus, is suffering really evil? No.. suffering is often a product of evil things, but not evil itself. And yes, I understand that I have never suffered as bad as some people have. I have absolute sympathy for those who truly suffer every day; I feel bad for them. Furthermore, the bible described God as one who hates to see his creation suffer-- this proves to me that suffering is even more vital, since it's something that God does not like and yet still feels to be important.

So anyway, I'm getting off-topic, but I was disappointed with Billy Graham's answer to that question. Unfortunately, most people will only hear what they want to hear, and so Bill's answer will probably be accepted better than mine.

8:14 PM

 
Blogger Andrew said...

Well I have to agree that, even without the Bible to confirm it, the observation that "God has wrath and we are his playthings" is about the only straight-forward conclusion about God you can come to. People don't like that conclusion in general, so they pull all sorts of explanations out of their asses to make God seem more compassionate about our everyday problems. Not that these ideas can't be reasonable, they just aren't necessary when the Bible makes your conclusion easier.

Of course, suffering etc is even more crystal clear from a naturalistic/evolutionary perspective. It follows so directly that, for people who don't start with the God-assumption, I imagine the feeling of "it all makes sense, if only religious people could see" is very similar to the "it all makes sense, if only moderates/atheists could see" feeling you get by accepting that God is a dick, albeit for a cosmic and incomprehensible Higher Purpose (sounds like God reserves moral relativism for him/herself, now that I think about it).

Anyway, I guess we both know that your outlook isn't going to gain much traction with the general public, since it's counterintuitive (not to mention depressing) to think that God views our mortal selves as worthless Seamonkeys. If God is someone we're all supposed to look up to, why did he give us these instincts that tell us he's a selfish deceptive narcissistic douchebag? I mean, you listed off a bunch of goody-goody things that God 'also' is, from time to time, but who cares if he's not consistent. It's like a wife-beater who's really nice, except for the beatings. Meh, even entertaining any of these characterisations of God is silly except to get non-hardcore religious people to think twice about who or what they worship.

P.S. Maybe Graham's reasonable in saying he doesn't know why God allows this-or-that, depending on how literally he takes the Bible (and you can't take ALL of it literally, unless you're really into stoning people to death)

1:42 AM

 
Anonymous Ryan said...

Hmm. It seems that, perhaps, I have overemphasized God's willingness to allow us to suffer. Obviously I do not feel like I am worshipping an evil smite-God; just because God doesn't make everything roses for us doesn't mean he's a sadist.

Of course, I would debate your assertion that "God is a dick"; I'm assuming this comes from your concern that God views us as his "plaything". On the contrary, while my previous answer focused on God's capacity to allow suffering, I by no means am indicating that his personality is mostly fearful.

The same Bible that discusses suffering is also clear that we are not the "playthings" of God, nor "worthless Seamonkeys", but rather his crown jewel of creation; God has created us in his image, and was/is most pleased to view us as (for lack of a better phrase) "personal friends". Furthermore, before the fall of man, the Bible clearly mentions that man was without suffering of any kind. It was not God's intention to create us and play around with us like ragdolls with arthritis, but rather it was our foolish behaviour that introduced suffering in the first place. I'm was merely trying to point out that we are not on the same level as God, as we frequently view ourselves. I can come up with a great many examples of God's desire to alleviate our suffering; say, the crucifixion of his son on our behalf, to stave us from eternal damnation?

I also take issue with your "wife-beater" analogy. I guess I disagree with your definition of inconsistent--- here's a question: are human beings inconsistent? If yes, then I suppose you consider all humans (including you and I) as evil "wife-beaters". No, that seems a little harsh; thus, I guess we are all consistent. But how are we any more consistent than God? The only way humans could be viewed as consistent is by stating that we "do whatever we feel we should do". In that case, how is that any different from God's decision-making process? I would argue the only difference is that God has a right to reason in that manner; this is actually a logical consequence of the assumption that God is the creator of all things.

I just don't get it.. even if I were to accept that God is inconsistent, does that mean that he's a bad wife-beater? While NOT AT ALL meaning to be rude, I must ask, are you a consistent person? Are you a wife-beater? Am I? If God is inconsistent in any manner, then we must be guilty of being inconsistent as well. Humans often burst out in anger, and sometimes humans show great mercy. I think this is very telling of God actually; we are emotional beings, and I truly think that God is also an emotional being, however infinitely-more controlled than ourselves.

And, to answer your quick inquiry at the end, I do not take the BIble to be 100% literal. I'm sure that you would agree this is not unreasonable; metaphorical writing was an important part of first-generation Christians when avoiding Roman authorities, and the existence of non-literal writing is frequently used even in a scientific setting (as it should be).

9:31 PM

 

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