OK, so what’s “theodicy”, I hear you ask.
(Thanks for asking! That could have been awkward…)
Theodicy (sometimes called “The problem of evil”) is simply the argument that since an all-powerful, truly caring god shouldn’t allow human suffering, there must be some really good reason for such a god allowing human suffering to occur, every day, throughout human history, to billions and billions of innocent people. Mustn’t there?
We call the people who argue that god is behind all this suffering ‘apologists’ – from the greek word ἀπολογία, or ‘apologia’, meaning “verbal defence”, or “speech in defence”. Although, the modern meaning of the word – someone apologising for the actions, or on the behalf of someone else – works just as well.
You’ve heard the argument a thousand different times, I’m sure : suffering will “build your character”, or “it will make you stronger”, or “it makes you a better person”, or “that will teach those muslims living too close to the sea in Indonesia a lesson”, and so on and so forth. So religious apologists do realise that suffering happens all over the world, that’s beyond argument. From their point of view, from great destruction – hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, plagues, AIDS, cholera, polio – comes great suffering, they argue, and from great suffering comes great good. That’s theodicy in a nutshell.
Now, I suspect that you’ll have spotted the glaring difficulty with this whole concept. It’s not a new difficulty – it’s been a difficulty since the first rational person (most likely just before they were burned at the stake for being such a smartarse, see the various christian inquisitions for more details) asked “Why, if god is so powerful, and so loving, does all this bad stuff happen to all of these people/me?”
Theodicy is, more or less, the list of excuses apologists have come up with, over the millennia, as to why there is so much “evil” (suffering has to have a name) in the world. After all, god is supposed to be omnipotent (meaning he could take away all the evil without any problem or repercussions), omniscient (meaning he knows about all the suffering), infinitely loving (meaning he apparently hates to inflict such suffering on anyone), and infinitely good (meaning he should take away all the evil and suffering in a heartbeat, as any ordinary, non-omnipotent, decent person would). However, it appears that God doesn’t do any of those things – which begs the question, why not?
The obvious and immediate answer (as any four-year-old knows), he can’t because he doesn’t exist.
Putting the ‘idiocy’ into “Theodicy”
However, people don’t, as a rule, listen to four-year-olds. And since so many people need a religion to make them less scared of death, and since a religion apparently needs a god, and since the god must be all-powerful, all-seeing, and completely loving or he’s not worth the sacrifice, and since those godly virtues are completely incompatible with any deity who’s aware of the extent and depth of human suffering throughout the world but chooses not to intervene, those same religious people rationalise the dichotomy by assuming a) that no-one is truly innocent (the “Original Sin” concept), and b) therefore, that’s the reason why people suffer. That, or people who are suffering must be QED bad people. Either way, they deserve the suffering.
Actually, religious people don’t really think that much about theodicy at all, until something nasty happens directly to them so that they start suffering. However, theodicy is actually inherent in all the major religious belief systems in the world – definitely in the ‘Big 6′ : Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism (which isn’t technically a religion, it just looks like one), and Mormonism. And it was certainly a problem (though more creatively avoided by less powerful deities and more complex reasoning) in older, dead religions.
But The Devil Made Me Do It!
One of the more asinine and insulting (and therefore one of the most popular!) answers given by religious apologists to this awful conundrum of suffering in the face of a compassionate, all-powerful being, is that it’s not the good guy’s fault after all. No, there’s a kind of anti-god, usually called “the Devil” or “Satan”, who the apologists’ god permits or requires (for some equally asinine and bizarrel reasons) to cause all the suffering in the world. Talk about trying to get a “get out of jail free” card! But that’s the kind of logic people use in order to avoid the terrible cognitive dissonance caused by believing in a great, powerful, invisible being who is apparently unable to affect his creation in any meaningful way except by making people suffer. It’s just such unconvincing logic, and yet it’s persisted for thousands – or even tens of thousands – of years!
Unfortunately for the apologists, this “anti-god” is even more unbelievable than their original proposition in the first place! I mean, just think about it for a moment. If the “good” god is omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving, how could he possibly allow the presence of such a powerful, demonic “bad” entity working against him? If you or I had god’s powers, and a milligram of true compassion, we’d cut that crap in a heartbeat. After all, if we were truly omnipotent, we’d be easily able to achieve whatever religious apologists’ believe the point is for suffering - without actually requiring suffering! Duh. But that doesn’t appear to have occurred to any religious apologists. (It’s actually quite strange when people discuss omnipotence, because they all seem to place their own mental limitations on that omnipotence, as though their god must work and think the way they do. I find that very strange… and very human, if inhumane).
On the other hand, if this devil/anti-god is able to do what he or she wants, and god can’t stop them from doing it, then that god is, by any possible definition of the word, not omnipotent. And if they’re not omnipotent, then why pretend they’re gods in the first place? This isn’t rocket science, it’s logic a four-year-old can master. But apparently religious apologists can’t (or won’t) allow themselves to follow any of their ideas to their obvious conclusion. (I assume it’s because they’re all so scared of dying, or having “no reason” to live – at least, these are the common reasons given for not being an atheist. Which is why I feel genuine, deep, and honest pity for anyone with such limited understanding and poor relationship with the rest of humanity. It must be truly awful to live with a mind like that. But I digress…).
So stating the requirement for an anti-god or devil doesn’t make the argument for suffering any less unconscionable – in fact, it makes the original argument even more insidious, since it introduces so many limitations on the abilities and compassion of the original deity! Not only can the god cause suffering, he needs another god in order to do the dirty work! Anyone who argues that concept any further has a very limited grasp of omnipotence, or has some kind of mental block when it comes to logic and human psychology. Of course, that hasn’t stopped many religions from springing up like maggots on a corpse, claiming that the Judeo-Christian god and the devil/anti-god are just “weak underlings” of a more powerful being. However, that’s even more facetious and bizarre than believing in a “good” miracle-working god who’s unable to work miracles when it comes to pain and suffering!
But then so many of those same people (especially fundamentalists, who seem to be the worst bigots, homophobes, misogynists, and fornicators of the religious world) toddle off to see how many of their religion’s commandments they can ignore in one day. For example, they’ll possibly post hate speech against atheists in online forums, or head off to abuse some gays, or take steps to prevent people in third world countries from receiving food or family planning assistance unless they swear to believe in the same god that allows all the suffering; or perhaps they’ll spend the day brainwashing their children – who don’t know any better – into believing the same unfortunate things they do, before jumping into bed with someone who’s not their spouse. It’s apparently actually quite simple, and a lot of fun, being religious! At least, that’s what the statistics say…
The problems I have with theodicy, as a concept, are both personal and general – and so quite separate from the logical fallacy of imagining an omnipotent, omniscient invisible, being in the sky.
God, killing kids? Surely Not!
Honestly, I find that the thought of any person, let alone an omnipotent omniscient completely loving god, who permits young children (who have no possibility of having sinned), to suffer from diseases like cancer, makes me want to punch religious apologists in the face. I’ve seen too many cancer wards in my interminable hospital stays to think otherwise. And I thought spinal wards gave me reason to be thankful for my (comparatively) moderate physical problems!
And while all cancer wards are heartbreaking, by far the worst are the kids’ cancer wards. All the fluffy toys, motivational posters, cheerful staff, balloons, and Glen-20 in the world can’t mask the smell of children suffering terribly.
And yet, that’s what religion, and specifically theodicy, implicitly demands! It means that people believe there is a perfectly reasonable, logical need for their god to insert deadly cancer genes in the growing cells of young children. They feel that there’s a perfectly acceptable reason why their god watches those kids die, taking their parents’ hopes and dreams with them, destroying dreams, lives, and families. They see this kind of awful disease happening, and because they can’t not believe in an all-powerful, all-seeing, all-loving god, they have to justify that belief in terms of their god inflicting that kind of pain and suffering on innocent people for some reason.
So, as a matter of fact and belief, religious apologists are arguing that young children suffering in cancer wards is a good thing.
Why? Well, because… ah…er… Oh, that’s right, because if you’re a Christian, you believe your little three-year-old daughter is “stained” with a “sin” that some stone age priests concocted three thousand years ago, to justify paying them money and keeping them fed without them having to do any useful work! That’s what theodicy means – the bizarre justification of the incoherent worldview of semi-literate pre-Semitic nomads, used to justify an innocent child’s suffering from any of a multitude of diseases.
You just can’t avoid the conclusion. There’s no justifying or softening or avoiding it, despite the best verbal gymnastics of the glibbest apologists. If you believe in an all-powerful God, then you must also believe that God gives completely innocent children lethal diseases because they deserve it. Otherwise, what is such a God’s excuse for permitting – or causing – suffering in the first place?
Rich or Poor, It’s All The Same
But it’s not just infants and children suffering in the first world that “shows” just how effective the “powerful” and “merciful” and “loving” God is at causing human suffering. Oh no. This God doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor. That would be unethical. That would be, by their own scriptural definition, immoral.
Sir David Attenborough found out during his extensive travels around the world that there are tiny, almost invisible worms in the drinking water in some African countries. Since god apparently makes everything (according to the religious scriptures of nearly every religion, past and present, and in direct contravention of the established facts of evolution), then he must have made these little worms too. Now, any kids who swim in the water get attacked by those tiny, little worms that God made. The worms go for the children’s eyes – they quite literally chew their way through the child’s eyeball and proceed to grow and live in the child’s eye itself (I’m not making this up!), until the child goes blind a couple of months later.
Let me just reiterate. According to the doctrine of theodicy, this suffering is somehow good for the children, who are now blind! This is God allowing children to suffer, because… well… he apparently doesn’t want them not to suffer! But just to make sure they don’t miss out on any of the side-effects, God makes sure those children feel an incredible amount of pain while the worm is growing. This God has had some major problems with attention to detail (for example, the terrible “construction” of the human eye itself, or the shockingly flawed spinal column, or the individual variations in arteries supplying blood down the spine), but not when it comes to children suffering. Then, God really seems to lift his game.
God Gets Personal
Those examples of human suffering caused by god are what apologists call “general (or impersonal) evil”. That’s just part of nature’s way, according to them; just part of the way their God designed the world to work. But general suffering doesn’t just have to be biological in origin, according to the apologists. It can also be purely mechanistic, as in earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or just traffic accidents. God apparently has fingers in every pie, and is some sort of creative genius when it comes to methods of inflicting suffering on individuals, families, towns, cities, and nations. Especially kids. He really loves making children suffer.
But earthquake or disease, predators or floods, none of that’s really personal, is it? You could argue that it’s just random chance – being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the religious God likes things to be personal, mano-a-mano. God likes to look you in the eye as he inflicts misery and suffering on you. And he expects you to thank and praise him before, during, and after the suffering (assuming you live through the tsunami, or bushfire). I’m unsure why this God needs to hear people thank him endlessly – despite having thoroughly and repeatedly read the Christian bible, the Qur’an, and most other religious scriptures, it’s not immediately obvious why you’re expected to thank God for punishing you for a mythical sin he inflicted on you thousands of years before you were born, without your consent. I’ve never heard any learned religious scholar make a believable, logical argument as to why that bit of grovelling is necessary. It just is, OK? OK.
And when it comes to attention to detail, how could such an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving deity possibly miss the opportunity to use his own ‘peeps’, his own officials, to impose the most personal, most grievous bodily and mental suffering on innocent individuals? A god would have to be mad to give up the chance to take advantage of the deep trust placed in his officials by his misguided followers! So he doesn’t miss that opportunity. Oh, no, quite the contrary. He takes advantage of this with both hands. He uses other people to do his dirty work, and when he wants some extra special suffering, he uses his own religious staff!
Religion and Crime : Horse and Carriage, or Hose and Fire?
God could, and does, allow rape, murder, torture, violence, and war, pretty much solely for the sake of religion. At least, that’s what the statistics show – more than 80% of incarcerated criminals are actively religious, while less than 0.1% are atheists, which means that no matter how apologists spin the data, religious people account for at least 4 out of 5 crimes committed. Of course, that only reflects modern religious freedom to claim you’re not religious. Previously, nearly 100% of prisoners were religious, in which case every single crime committed and punished was perpetrated by a follower of God.
This in turn means that either religion isn’t a particularly effective means of controlling crime, or that God has a penchant for using his people to commit crimes and impose untold suffering on other people. Once again, the idea of theodicy means that either God approves of this eternal crime spree – in which case, it begs the question of what kind of God he is – or that this God has no ability or power to stop such crimes, in which case, why is he so revered and seen as all powerful? Or could it be that religious judges and jurors throughout history have it “in” for God’s children? Yeah, right.
Again, irrefutable statistics show that religion is strongly linked to increased child abuse, crime, sexually transmitted diseases, and even negative societal health (in other words, the more religious a society is, the less happy people within that society are). I need only point to theocratic states like Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea (the Kim family was officially declared to be divine, which makes the necrocratic government fully religious in nature), Yemen, most of the African states, the United States of America (which currently has the second-highest infant mortality rate in the world, due mainly to poor education as religious home schooling numbers increase and more religious followers refuse to accept medical assistance because it’s somehow evil), as an unarguable catalogue of countries with strong religious backgrounds (or governments) with many, many fundamental societal problems due in most part to religious beliefs. So if living in a religious country isn’t a definition of suffering, I don’t know what is.
Online, Christian Soldiers!
And let’s not forget the religious followers themselves. After nearly thirty years online, in quite literally thousands of discussions, weblog discussions, and forums for every conceivable aspect of life, I can state without exception or exaggeration that the worst – the very worst – purveyors of vitriol, bigotry, homophobia, hate, foul language, personal invective, misogyny, misandry, and the most disgusting and inappropriate human interactions imaginable are started, prolonged, and/or extended by active, passionately religious fundamentalists, most of whom proudly and loudly call themselves Christians or Muslims.
The astonishingly bad language has to be seen and heard to be believed. Incoherent rants full of swearwords, lots of uppercase letters, and threats of hell, damnation, and murder are fairly typical of the worst examples of fundamentalist Christian and Muslim followers. And the most ardent such religious followers are the very same ones who threaten other people – and even other religious followers they disagree with – with spite, violence, and even death, with a vehemence that is truly frightening in its intensity. Of course, there are many more religious people online who don’t sink to the levels of these psychotic monsters, but the volume and vehemence of the psychotic few swamp the more measured and reasonable members. It seems that most Christians and Muslims go out of their way to break as many commandments and laws of their religion as possible when arguing their point of view. How does this make them good believers?
Here’s a reasonable, peaceable, friendly Muslim. I wonder if he’d like a copy of this cartoon I drew?
I do realise this digression has little to do directly with suffering, except that the targets of the worst of the fundamentalist Christians surely suffer when their lives are threatened! It is difficult to explain the level of fear and suffering experienced by kind, gentle, rational, reasonable adults whose selves and whose children are threatened by Christians with anger issues, but it’s real enough. And it’s not just Christian fundamentalists with attitude problems and difficulties adhering to their religion’s rules. Muslims, Mormons, and Jews can be just as creatively disgusting with their attitudes.
Remember, these are devout followers of the same God(s) we see powerful church leaders, such as George Pell (archbishop of Sydney, and a religious apologist par excellence pictured at left), the Archbishop of Canterbury,the many hundreds of Popes, thousands of Imams, and hundreds of thousands of deacons, ministers, and pastors, representing their religion in public and the media. So it’s not only the same god, but the same religious organisations inflicting suffering on people, now and all down through the centuries.
Of course, it’s not just the Christian god we must discuss here, it’s also the Jewish and Islamic deities. After all, they can’t all be right in claiming a single god for each of them! There’s either just one such imaginary being, in which case at least two of those religions have been wrongfully misguiding and punishing people for century after century; or else they’re all right, in which case there’s more than one imaginary being (or they all share the same deity). And in that case their fundamental understandings are inherently incorrect, since they base their claims to truth on the fact that there is only one god – their own! And, if it’s some kind of a “shared” God, the descriptions and attributes in each of the Gods as clearly and distinctly described by the three religions’ scriptures, are so fundamentally and ethically different in so many respects, that again, they simply can’t all be correct – in which case at least one, possibly two, and probably all three are completely invalid and therefore nonexistent! So any way you cut the cake, they all lose! Of course, the argument and conclusions are only valid assuming a supernatural deity exists, and is omnipotent, and omniscient, and all-loving, and has been solely responsible for deliberately causing mind-boggling amounts of horrific – and completely unnecessary – human suffering and death for tens of thousands of years. Which brings us back, neatly, to theodicy.
But let’s get back to the use of this god’s officials as instruments of torture, shall we?
Child Abuse by Priests – All Part Of God’s Plan!
So if the religious apologists are correct about theodicy - and the existence of their God – then that all-loving and all-powerful and all-seeing deity, having total control over everyone and everything, apparently twists his priests’ thoughts around to fucking little boys and girls who are left under their power, raping them until they bleed. The priests generally rape the children repeatedly, forcing them to suck their penises (because the vast, overwhelming majority of sexual crimes in the religious institutions all throughout the centuries have been men) and perform other, even more violent and indecent acts. And they don’t just do it once – they can prey on the same child for decades!
By the way, I’ll use the word “priest” to mean any religious clergy, whether it be priest, imam, minister, archbishop, pastor, or shaman, since they all perform essentially the same useless function in each respective religion, and every level of every religion’s earthly hierarchy has been implicated in one way or another with child abuse!
Now child abuse is a serious enough problem on its own. It should be more than enough to make the rest of the clergy, in whatever religious order, hunt down these child-molesting perverts and bring them to justice. After all, if you or I knew about such things going on in our organisation, we’d do the same. Right? So why don’t the other priests do just that?
Cardinal Brady, who paid children to keep quiet about sexual abuse by priests in his diocese.
That’s a really good question, isn’t it? Perhaps you should ask church officials, like Archbishop George Pell, why so many child molesters aren’t brought forward for punishment. And those same clergy – and George Pell in particular is a clear example – will stand and argue that their omnipotent, omniscient, ever-loving god approved – and caused! – that suffering to happen, but somehow it’s not their fault.
Timmy’s Story : God Punishes Little Boys Using Priests
And you know what’s even more horrific? Many – if not most – of the paedophilic priests use that same argument of “original sin” in order to take advantage of the children under their care!
“You’ve been a bad little boy, Timmy, haven’t you?” goes one victim’s recollection. “You have to accept God’s punishment for being a bad boy. Do you know what that punishment is, Timmy? Here, let me show you what you have to put in your mouth to show God that you love him and you’re sorry for sinning.”
I really, truly hope you’re as disgusted by this behaviour by religious priests as I am. Because if you’re not, then you’re as bad as one of them. This is the “first fruit” of theodicy. This is what belief in a supernatural being, with no evidence whatsoever to support its existence, does. This is exactly what comes from believing that the invisible, supernatural deity created people with some sort of imaginary and disgusting and inhuman “sin” on their “souls”. This is what arguing that pain and suffering is caused by, or is approved by, that impotent, irresponsible deity! This is what that omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, all-merciful God causes (or, at the very least, allows) to happen, according to the religious apologists’ views.
Father Shawn Ratigan, a creator and purveyor of child pornography.
This has been happening to Timmies since the first stone-age priest decided he didn’t want to have sex with sheep or his wife any more, he liked the looks of little Timmy’s sweet arse. But how could he convince Timmy to do that horrible thing with him, and yet not tell his parents? “Oh, I know, I’ll tell little Timmy that God wants him to take his pants off and let me fondle him. Since I’m a priest, he’ll believe me! Oh, Lord, thank you! Thank you!”
Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, but much more likely tens of millions of little boys and little girls, suffered because their parents told them to trust the priest, and that God allowed suffering, and suffering was good for them. All through the ages, victims of priests and nuns, victims of imams (hell, we already know beyond any doubt that the muslim leader Mohammed, in his 50s, married a nine-year-old virgin girl, a trick the Mormon Joseph Smith took out of that book), victims of rabbis, victims of pre-Neanderthalic thinking, victims of religion, victims of religious apologists and their God phantasy.
What kind of a monster do you have as a God to imagine in order to equate that kind of power and that kind of suffering with religion? Don’t forget, Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha all wrote that suffering, this exact kind of suffering spoken of above, was to be expected, and even welcomed, by followers of their all-powerful gods. Talk about a perfect plot!
My Own Suffering As a Tool To Uncover Religious Suffering
The personal aspect to my difficulty believing a god like the apologists posit, was closer to home, my own physical situation.
In fact, the knowledge that if a god exists, he’s taken exquisite care to damage my spine to the point where it’s difficult to wake up in the morning, because I know how my day is going to go along in agony, is one of the most powerful arguments against believing in such a being and such an idea as creating or permitting suffering. At least, it’s been that way for me for over 30 years – without missing a single day. Some days the pain is worse, some days it’s not much worse than a bad toothache. I live for those days, when I don’t mentally scream myself awake in the morning, or lie awake at night
My qualifications for discussing pain and suffering.
until 3 or 4 AM because it feels like I’m lying on a bed of superheated spikes.
I prayed for years. I was a devout, fundamental, evangelical believer in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit. I prayed deeply, genuine, heartfelt, passionate, faithful, absolutely accepting, prayers. For over six years. God wasn’t listening, it seems. Either that, or he wanted to teach me something. But what?
Now, I don’t even *begin* to equate my suffering with cancer victims, or victims of religious predators (or anyone else, for that matter), but my own, particular, suffering is something I learned to use as a tool to understand there was no God.
My Mum, to this day, finishes every phone call to me with “You’re in my prayers. I’m praying to god to take away your pain”.
It simply hasn’t occurred to her that her prayers not only haven’t been answered (after 31 years!), but I’m getting worse!
Pissing Into the Wind
I tried -once- to point the utter futility and cruelty of her belief to her. I won’t try it again.
A few months ago, dad had a bunch of heart attacks in a couple of days. He was hurting badly: this hero of a guy, the best, toughest, most laconic man I’ve ever met, was crying with pain, unable to breathe, and couldn’t even take a dozen steps. I eventually got to the hospital (I couldn’t actually walk properly when this happened, so it took a lot of morphine, sufentanyl, oxycontin, and digesic to get me moving well enough to drive home, and I tried to do the little I could to be there for him and Mum. I interpreted the medical jargon (specialists truly aren’t equipped to deal with most normal people like Mum and Dad), and explained what the surgeons were doing, what the tests were for, etc. Trying to be a good son, I guess.
Well, thanks to the truly astounding technological advances we’ve made recently, and thanks to his impressively healthy lifestyle and attitude, he recovered fully (he’s better than ever!).
So he and I both went out of our way to thank all the staff who kept him alive. It was a delicious feeling, being able to express our appreciation and thanks for their dedication. And my Dad, my hero, was back. Oh, he still has terrible spinal arthritis, as well as arthritis in his arms and hands and fingers, but he’s out and about, spraying the fruit trees, mowing the lawn, walking the bush. He’s doing what he wants and needs to do to be himself. And that’s a pretty damn good result. And he didn’t mention God once during this whole terrible time. Who knows, perhaps he’d had enough of theodicy by then too.
But shortly afterwards, during a follow up phone call, mum went on and on about what a miracle her prayers had achieved for him. I couldn’t help myself – I asked her right then who she thought was responsible for his heart problems in the first place? If God fixed him, who broke him?
Oh, that wasn’t God, it was the devil, she replied.
I asked her if she thought her god was all-powerful, and she said of course god is infinitely powerful, he moves the sun and earth and stars. So I asked her why, if God was so powerful, he couldn’t prevent the devil from giving dad such a terrible few weeks and even taking him quite literally to the brink of death, many times? Oh, he could’ve prevented it, she said, you see, it was a lesson!
I couldn’t help myself. “Who was the lesson for, mum? For you? Have you been evil? Was it for dad’s good? And what was the lesson? That you’ve been evil? That you’re being punished for Original Sin? That you’re mortal? That Dad can suffer, so he made him suffer? That’s what a kid does with a magnifying glass on an ant’s nest! Not what a powerful God does to a decent man or to his wife! Have a think about the kind of God who needs to break something that’s working perfectly in order to fix it -just so you’ll remember to thank him for his goodness and power.”
Yeah. I made my 82-year-old Mum cry on the phone, and “took away her meaning of life”. I wish I’d succeeded, but I’m not going to try again.
She still tells everyone who’ll listen about the “miracle”, but not in my hearing. Or, interestingly, in dad’s hearing. That’s new -and hopeful.
But you just can’t argue with stupid.
Conclusion : Theodicy Is For Idiots!
Theodicy, then, is composed of equal parts of stupidity, ignorance, idiocy, cognitive dissonance, and a spectacular inability to accept reality for what it is.
Anyone who argues that their god, or their anti-god, uses suffering for any reason – any reason at all – is the least compassionate human being you will meet today. Why? As I’ve shown in so many ways, inflicting suffering, even for the best reasons in the world, is nothing short of torture. Any rational, intelligent, compassionate God with any power at all would be smart enough to find another way to achieve their goals without resorting to individual or mass torture. Any such being who must be apologised for by devoted followers as an arbiter of pain, in an attempt to rationalise suffering, is not worthy of existing, let alone being relied on to guide or justify anyone’s life! And the more intelligent and omnipotent the being, the more deplorable their actions, and the actions and excuses of their followers.
If push came to shove, not one of these apologists would willingly follow the teachings of an avowed rapist, or child molester, or serial murderer, or child killer, so why do these people willingly and delightedly follow a God with these exact skills? Why is it that religious believers of every persuasion attack and denigrate atheists unmercifully? Could it be that they’re jealous of the fact that we are compassionate, rational, and supremely “moral” by their own standards, while they believe that without their God, their religion, they themselves would turn into child molesters, murderers, or rapists? After all, that’s the most common argument used by religious people against atheists! And yet, more than 80% of the prison population is religious!
Thanks, but No Thanks : I’ll Take My Reality Neat
It is overwhelmingly probable, based on the last few thousand years of advancements in science and human psychology, that those who class themselves as atheists (including myself) are completely correct about supernatural deities. Our sure and proven knowledge that suffering is a by-product of living in a universe ignorant of our existence totally and utterly negates any religious misanthropic justification of suffering as some sort of deserved punishment for a sin concocted by a guy in a tent who thought the earth was flat and had four corners.
We don’t make up causes to blame for suffering, we get on with dealing with it, supporting one another without regard for race, colour, sexual persuasion, or religious illusion.
We understand that there is no afterlife. That is one of the most powerful and reasonable and liberating truths we know as intelligent beings! That knowledge allows us to concentrate on the here and now, on living to our fullest capacity, and of enjoying what we have, while we have it. That makes so much more sense than hiding from the reality of thermodynamic laws and telling ourselves and each other that we’re going to live forever, so we don’t actually need to do more than just the basic requirements for a fictitious and demeaning afterlife.
We do what’s moral, what’s true, and what’s right, because they’re the right things to do, here and now. We don’t need to keep a mental scorecard, checking to see if we’ve done enough good to get us to the Pearly Gates, and doing nothing if we’re “in the black”! We do things because they need to be done, not because we’re afraid other people will notice we’re doing nothing at all.
We don’t mutilate our bodies or minds because some stone age holy men thought it would be fun or somehow important to hack the ends of our penises or clitorises off.
We don’t teach our children about our own religious attitudes before they’re old enough to understand that they’ve been brainwashed. We look at the world around us and think, “How marvellous, how beautiful, how incredibly lucky we are!”, not “Ooooh, someone made all this for us, so we should ignore everything to do with learning about it, and try to stop other people learning about it, because we’re going to have it all again, because we’re going to live forever instead of dying!”
We treat each other, regardless of religion, sexual orientation, mental capacity, skin colour, speech or physical defect, as we would like to be treated ourselves – with dignity, compassion, intelligence, and, yes, love. Unlike Christians, we don’t create websites called GodHatesFags.com because we’re so insecure in our own sexuality that we don’t want to, or have the capacity to, understand another person’s point of view. (Isn’t it interesting that the people who declare that their invisible, unknowable, supernatural deity punishes people who are different to themselves, take it upon themselves to instigate the punishment? Wouldn’t that be a self-fulfilling prophecy? Isn’t that just psychological projection?)
And most of all, we don’t look at a major catastrophe, such as the recent earthquake in Haiti, or the Boxing Day tsunami in Asia, or the collapse of the World Trade Centre, and decide not to help the people there because the catastrophe was some kind of arbitrary punishment from an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving supernatural deity incapable of teaching by any other method. No, we roll up our sleeves, get in a plane or boat, or train or car, or just dig in our wallets, and try our damnedest to help the survivors get back to their lives, and mourn their losses, and learn to look forward again to next year.
Instead of finding someone to blame for a disaster, we take reasonable, rational, compassionate, humane steps to ensuring that if it happens again (and it will, because that’s how the universe works) we minimise the loss, the grief, the sadness, and the suffering. My question to religious apologists is this : If we ordinary humans who are powerless can do these great things, why can’t God – who is omnipotent – do the same? Why can’t religious apologists and believers?
As someone who suffers from chronic spinal damage, what I find worst of all is that many people who approve of the idea of theodicy are the people with the least experience of true suffering. Anyone with chronic pain, anyone affected by cancer, anyone who’s the victim of a paedophile, or has first-hand experience with any of the myriad ways humans can suffer in their lives, knows in their heart that any divine being who permitted the least amount of pain or suffering is a being to be scorned and maligned and disbelieved. The kind of all-powerful God who inflicts pain but doesn’t alleviate it, is a disgusting, despicable, psychopathic, homicidal, inhuman construct, and by their own definition is as evil as evil can get.
The universe is a big place. We’re a tiny speck of insignificance. The universe doesn’t care if we live or die, how we live or die, or how much suffering we have to put up with. The only thing that makes a difference is our own lives – the people we surround ourselves with, the people who love us and care about us, who want to help us deal with our suffering, instead of clinically trying to “make sense” of it. Those people, those amazing relationships are what makes life worth living, and worth living well. Not some fantastic imaginary invisible bearded faery in the sky handing out punishment for wrongs never committed: that kind of deplorable faery tale is for the selfish, the childish, those with a fear of loving, and those fearful of living according to our true, compassionate, bizarre, funny, amazing human natures. That punishment from the sky thing’s not for me, and I hope I’ve convinced you it shouldn’t be your hope either.
I’d rather die than believe in such a cruel despicable, and evil God. You see, I like people.
But since that God quite obviously simply cannot exist – hooray! – I can live to the fullness of whatever remains of my life, rich with compassion, love, terrible pain, honour, sadness, honesty, joy, learning, and friendship, and the knowledge that we are far, far better than any Christian, Islamic, or Judaic God(s) has ever been.
- Cephas Q. Atheos