When monotheists hurt God's credibility

Hello brethren,

In 1966, after, the Aberfan disaster when a pile of refuse from a coal mine collapsed onto a school, killing 116 children, 5 teachers, and 23 other adults. A vicar was interviewed by the BBC soon after, and asked why God had allowed this to occur. He said that we must admit that the Almighty just made a mistake this time.

In 1977, Harold Kushner, a Conservative Jew, lost his 14-year-old son to an incurable disease. He wrote “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” in 1977, concluding that God is all good but not all powerful, or all powerful but not good.

Atheists aren’t the only ones sowing discord, but sometimes our own people hinder God’s cause on Earth. How are we to get people to approach God not as some sort of concerned-but-limited grandfather, but as the Sovereign Almighty El Shaddai? Why is it so difficult for most to grasp this?

Because the problem of evil has been formally stated by Epicurus around 300 BC. It actually predates Christianity. Yet, Christianity, over 2000 years of existence, still fails to answer it.

It’s a good question, and I think one of the answers is for us to have more humility in the face of tragedy, realizing we cannot possibly comprehend why G-d allows such things to happen. Often it is so much easier said than done. Rabbi Kushner expressed this view in his book rather than attempting to justify tragic events the way many others do. However, he made the error of concluding that G-d cannot fully control His own creation, opting for an all-loving G-d but not an omnipotent G-d. This way of thinking is contrary to the tenets of Judaism.

This is related to something I was thinking about the other day. I have had some Christian friends that have lately criticized organized religious. Saying things about the the members of those religions being people that can’t think for themselves and are just doing what ever they are told rather mindlessly. I was kind of surprised to hear it. I decided against telling them that there exists a few atheist that would agree with them and instead decided to just see how this plays through.

I don’t think that is completely escapable so long as Yahweh is described as a father (both from “God the Father” and being described as a father in a metaphorical sense). As long as this is repeated there will be people that will look at God as being a parallel for the role of a father.

Think on this:

Matthew 10.29: Not a sparrow falls to the ground without the knowledge of the Father.

John 19.11: Pontius Pilate could have no power at all to kill Christ, were it not given to him “from above”.

The Apostles thought it was supremely tragic when Christ died, and probably asked “why, God, why? don’t you exist?” - but it happened by His very own will. Even a little sparrow’s death is known by God, and approved. At the very least, this shows that they weren’t just a bunch of ignorant neanderthals ready to believe anything and everything.

All that happens is accounted for, marked, and known by the Sovereign Almighty: Adonai, YHWH, El Shaddai. That heap of rubble which fell on the school in South Wales was placed there by thoughtless people, not by God. The school was built underneath it by foolish people, not by God. The child of the rabbi went to God when he died, not to eternal nothingness.

Atheists should use their famed logic and reason to recognize that the only evil which occurs is from human beings. You assume that death ends all things, and thus is the consummate evil. You would not call death evil if you believed it’s merely the end of one phase of life, would you?

As for believers, it is very sad when they lack faith enough to commend all things to God. That’s the real subject at hand.

Is it so? So which human being was responsible for the 2004 Sumatra tsunami, which caused untold amount of suffering, and happened, of all days, on the 26th of December?

Why, then, does your religion forbid suicide? Killing? Abortion? After all, these things bring the soul to God, don’t they? Why are Catholics sad and crying during the funeral of their loved ones? Shouldn’t they be rejoicing, that their loved ones are now with God and suffer no more?

Again, Epicurus noted back in 300BC that your postulated God must be either self-contradictory (and thus, non-existent), or evil, because only an evil being would willingly cause death and suffering.

You’re trying to rationalize the problem away by saying that God’s actions cannot be seen as evil, because God is not bound by morality. Let me use a parable to explain to you why this does not work and what you are actually doing:

  • How is your work going? Did you fix the machine?
  • Well, boss, I’m almost finished. I’ve lost two hours because some idiot has connected these wires incorrectly…
  • Actually, it was me who was fixing that machine last time.
  • Um, boss, I wanted to say, that was a superb job you’ve done connecting these wires!

Now – why should your judgment of the act be based on who performs the act?

Kompaz, it isn’t that God causes it, but that he allows it. That still leaves a lot of room for debate, I know, but it is important.

Such a sweeping statement requires very convincing evidence. Perhaps you will supply yours.

THe whole “If he has not power to stop evil, he is not God, etc” originated from a philosopher in the time before Christ. Of course, I doubt he was specifically refering to the Abrahamic God, just the concept in general.

?

Some disasters are caused by human failings and some are natural disasters. The natural world operates under natural law designed by God. But that it causes death and destruction is a result of the sin of Adam.

Why, then, does your religion forbid suicide? Killing? Abortion? After all, these things bring the soul to God, don’t they? Why are Catholics sad and crying during the funeral of their loved ones? Shouldn’t they be rejoicing, that their loved ones are now with God and suffer no more?

Suicide, killing, and abortion are sins because life is a gift from God and only God has the right to take a life. Catholics are sad at funerals because they will miss their loved ones and must wait for an unknown number of years before they can be with them again. But they are reminded at the funeral Mass that those who die in friendship with God will live eternally with God and we are to rejoice in that promise.

Again, Epicurus noted back in 300BC that your postulated God must be either self-contradictory (and thus, non-existent), or evil, because only an evil being would willingly cause death and suffering.

and if good comes from death and suffering doesn’t that negate the idea that God is evil for allowing death and suffering?

You’re trying to rationalize the problem away by saying that God’s actions cannot be seen as evil, because God is not bound by morality. Let me use a parable to explain to you why this does not work and what you are actually doing

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God’s actions cannot be seen as evil because we don’t know the plan or reason behind God’s allowing particular incidents to happen. Good can come from evil. To say that because God allows evil to exist then He also must be evil is to judge God as if he were a man and not God.

[quote=Christianus_Dei]Kompaz, it isn’t that God causes it, but that he allows it. That still leaves a lot of room for debate, I know, but it is important.
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Ultimately God is the cause of everything, either directly or indirectly. And there is no real difference. If you KNOW about something that WILL happen, and have the POWER to prevent it, and FAIL to do it, you are equally responsible for the act as is the actual perpetrator.

[quote=snarlemike]Such a sweeping statement requires very convincing evidence. Perhaps you will supply yours.
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No, it does not. How can one supply evidence for a negative, for the lack of something? Can you bring evidence that there is no invisible dragon in your living room? Such a feeble attempt to turn the table… and it happens all the time.

[quote=WeSeeLight]When monotheists hurt God’s credibility
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They actually help the apologist’s credibility a little, by giving evidence that not ALL apologists are blinded by their faith, rather there are a few (a handful, maybe?) who are willing to use their brain, and are not afraid to think for themselves. And if that reason will contradict the faith, then they are willing to go by their reason. Refreshing, but depressingly rare.

I read quite a few books of celebrated apologists, and it was Rabbi Kushner’s book which I put down with respect for the author. All the rest was pure garbage.

[quote=vsedriver]God’s actions cannot be seen as evil because we don’t know the plan or reason behind God’s allowing particular incidents to happen.
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If that is so, then you don’t have the (intellectual) right to praise God for anything either, since you are just as ignorent of those alleged plans as we are. Of course when lacking full information, one must go by the “duck principle” and God is no exception!

[quote=vsedriver]Good can come from evil.
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The exact opposite is proclaimed all the time: “No good can come out of evil”… It is sad when one sees the absolute hypocrisy of blowing both hot and cold from the apologist’s mouth. It remind me of the old con game: “Let’s toss a coin. If it is heads, I win, if it is tails, you lose”. And these people wish to be respected?

Precisely, which is why the argument is so damaging. Epicurus argued that any tri-omni God is self-contradictory, even before Christianity came up with its own tri-omni God.

Sure. You can start here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_evil#General_criticisms_of_all_defenses_and_theodicies

However, this flies in the face of Catholic theology, which argues that certain actions are an intrinsic evil, i.e. evil if performed by any actor under any circumstances.

What you are doing is singling out one particular actor and claiming that his actions are not subject to moral qualification. However, existence of such actor falsifies the concept of intrinsic evil, because now such actions are only evil when performed by an actor other than God, not any actor (including God).

But it gets worse. Once you accept that there is an actor (God) which is not bound by morality, then you have to consider the possibility that this actor operates per proxy. In other words, now if someone commits an evil act, you have to consider if the perpetrator was doing God’s will. If so, then his act would naturally not be evil.

For example, the actions of Inquisition would not be seen as evil, because Inquisition operated under a direct authorization of the Pope, who is doing God’s work.

This is one of the most disturbing ideas I have encountered. Ever.

Let me use an analogy. You are a genetic engineer, who has designed some creature. While still in the lab, you note that your creation is quite imperfect, and does evil things – and so, does not meet your expectations. Now, the wise thing to do would be to simply annihilate the damn thing and start over. Instead, you throw your creature out of the lab into the wider world. The creature multiplies, and its descendants wander the world causing suffering to themselves and the other creatures.

Some generations later, a descendant of your original creature confronts you and asks: “Why are we suffering?” You answer: “Well, because your first ancestor, whom I created, has disobeyed me.” The creature replies: “We know we are imperfect, sir, but even we don’t punish children for the sins of their fathers”. You reply: “Get lost, who are you to apply your morality to me?”

Judaism differentiates between the capacity to do evil, which we all have, and acting on that capacity in the form of evil behavior. When we resist the internal temptation to do evil, our evil capacity can instead be transformed into doing good. Further, the evil capacity we use is necessary for our survival, but when misapplied or excessively relied upon, it can lead to our own and others’ destruction. In this way, our life-affirming aggressive capacity, for example, may either be used for good or converted into evil behaviors. If we lacked the free will to choose our behaviors and were designed to behave in a purely deterministic way based on our own needs, we would never be able to channel our evil capacity into good behaviors and would have no opportunity to learn to do good. Thus G-d leaves it up to us, not interfering in all human affairs because He wishes us to learn to control our drives and by so doing perfect our behavior. Judaism does not believe that we are born in original sin; rather, we are born with a dual capacity consisting of the capacity to do evil as well as the capacity to do good, which in itself is a blessing.

I have two things to say here. First, I agree with the OP that sometimes monotheists—more particularly, church leaders–say disturbing things. "(“God made a mistake.”) Second, the problem of evil is, as pointed out, of ancient origin but classical theism has long realized it is not an INTELLECTUAL problem for the faith so much as it is an EMOTIONAL problem for some of the faithful. (See Brian Davies’ recent book “The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil” for a full treatment of the subject.) The modern twist on the problem of evil (or POE, as it is sometimes called) is that God is seen as a moral agent. This makes POE a problem only for those who see God as a moral agent in the sense that we are moral agents. (“If I could end all suffering, I surely would, so why doesn’t God? He must not care about people as much as I do!”) This isn’t how classical theists—a group which includes such pagans as Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, the great medieval Muslim philosophers and Moses Maimonides—see God at all. This problem does not arise (-in this sense) for classical theists, much like the problem of other minds did not arise for classical philosophers.

The most recent hell that Christians are responsible for is the rejection of natural evolution due to its asserted incompatibility with a scripture.

[quote=meltzerboy]Judaism differentiates between the capacity to do evil, which we all have, and acting on that capacity in the form of evil behavior. When we resist the internal temptation to do evil, our evil capacity can instead be transformed into doing good. Further, the evil capacity we use is necessary for our survival, but when misapplied or excessively relied upon, it can lead to our own and others’ destruction. In this way, our life-affirming aggressive capacity, for example, may either be used for good or converted into evil behaviors.
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So far, so good.

[quote=meltzerboy]If we lacked the free will to choose our behaviors and were designed to behave in a purely deterministic way based on our own needs, we would never be able to channel our evil capacity into good behaviors and would have no opportunity to learn to do good.
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Let me see if I understand you. Do you really say that if we do not have the “freedom” to poison someone else or to stab someone else in the back or (to be pretty graphic about it) if we cannot apply electrodes to someone else’s genitals to inflict unspeakable pain to the person, then we cannot have the opportunity to learn how to do “good” to others? I sure hope you are not serious!

[quote=meltzerboy]Thus G-d leaves it up to us, not interfering in all human affairs because He wishes us to learn to control our drives and by so doing perfect our behavior. Judaism does not believe that we are born in original sin; rather, we are born with a dual capacity consisting of the capacity to do evil as well as the capacity to do good, which in itself is a blessing.
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No, I disagree that the pretty much unlimited ability to inflict pain on others is a “blessing”. And I bet that all those unlucky Jews who were thrown into the gas chambers would NOT consider it a “blessing” either. As a matter of fact, Jews did put God on a trial for breaking his “covenant” with them, and came forth with a “guilty” verdict. Good for them.

[quote=markeverett49]The modern twist on the problem of evil (or POE, as it is sometimes called) is that God is seen as a moral agent. This makes POE a problem only for those who see God as a moral agent in the sense that we are moral agents. (“If I could end all suffering, I surely would, so why doesn’t God? He must not care about people as much as I do!”)
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And those people express the very essence of the problem. To allow (or to bring forth) needless (gratuitous) suffering is the hallmark of an evil agent. So you say that God is not a “moral agent”? What else is he then? And evil tyrant who created some ridiculous and arbitrary rules, which must be blindly obeyed, otherwise comes an eternal punishment? This is not the best way to try to “sell” your “god” to those who have a shred of decency in them.

[quote=markeverett49]This isn’t how classical theists—a group which includes such pagans as Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, the great medieval Muslim philosophers and Moses Maimonides—see God at all. This problem does not arise (-in this sense) for classical theists, much like the problem of other minds did not arise for classical philosophers.
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It is easy to introduce a brand new “definition” and thus explain away the problem, but - somehow - it lacks credibility for those who disagree with the irrational premises.

If we behaved without free will to choose but according to deterministic needs, we would not learn the difference between right and wrong. Instead, we would act based on what provides us with the most pleasure and least pain (hedonism) or simple pleasures (Epicurianism) without regard for others’ pleasure or pain. Reason is no assurance of morality: even Freud realized they are not one and the same in his division of the mind into ego (reason) and superego (morality), as well as id (pleasure). Only by learning moral values, which include putting our own needs on hold and delaying gratification, while doing good toward others, can we hope to cultivate a moral sense. It is true that some have difficulty developing any code of morality, but most do by means of their socialization through culture, family, peers, religion, and other social institutions. Without learning, and left to our own devices and reason, many of us would engage in all kinds of moral transgressions, both minor and major, to satisfy our own needs and drives. The free will I speak of is not based on random, carefree choices, but on learned and shared experiences, requiring effort and soul-searching, and sometimes self-sacrifice.

Jews have always pushed the envelop, even insofar as putting G-d Himself on trial for the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, as related by Elie Wiesel. Before the occurrence of this mock trial, a famous rabbi also accused G-d on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) of causing major catastrophes in the world, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, which killed many innocent people, whereas mankind was responsible only for minor crimes and sins. However, after encouraging G-d to also repent of His deeds, the rabbi continued the atonement ritual.

I didn’t introduce a brand new definition. I pointed out that you understand this argument in a sense other than it was intended (-by those who thought it persuasive). Your version is intellectually weaker but has more emotional resonance: “Boy, that God sounds like a real meanie! We’re voting him off the island!” But logically, there is no reason to accept your suppressed premise, “If God is good, he would never allow suffering or death.” That doesn’t follow.

The same God who said the earth was cursed as a result of the fall of mankind also promised mankind eternal life. I think that if God had not promised mankind eternal life, then He might have had a “credibility” problem with some of his creatures; but God says that the person who dies young because of a tragic event will enjoy the same amount of existence in eternity as the person who dies at a good old age, since eternity has no beginning or end. And so in the long run whatever the span of a person’s life is on earth, whether short or long, tragic or not, living eternally in the love of God shows that God is more than just a “concerned-but-limited grandfather.”

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