From “Why Evolution is True” by Jerry Coyne. Believer wonders why God’s letting the world go to hell.
I’ve always maintained that the Achilles Heel of any Abrahamic religion is the existence of bad things happening in the world that shouldn’t be happening were a loving and omnipotent god in charge. I refer here not to “moral evils,” in which people do bad stuff—religious people can always fob that off as collateral damage from God’s Great Gift of free will to humans—but to things like cancers in kids, earthquakes and tsunamis, animal suffering, and so on. There is no clear reason why these would happen on a good God’s watch (yes, I know some theologians have confected unconvincing explanations), so religious people have to do a fast shuffle to comport these with their notion of a deity. This week in Huffington Post though, we see a minister realizing that this doesn’t really make sense.
The author is Susan K. Smith, a reverend who, for the emolument of zero dollars, gets to put her lucubration’s on the Huffington Post site (I think they’re getting more and more desperate, judging from the paucity of updates on the back pages). Smith surely has the credibility to claim she’s a believer; as her author’s page notes:
“I am a writer/author, a former pastor, musician and social activist, and am also the founder and executive director of Crazy Faith Ministries, a non-profit which is dedicated to teaching the concept of faith as a spiritual force (not religious, necessarily) in order to do social justice work and to fight against forces that seek to keep people stymied. I am a graduate of Occidental College and Yale Divinity School, and earned a Ministry from United Theological Seminary, studying under the late Rev. Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor and the Rev. Charles Booth. My latest book is “The Book of Jeremiah: The Life and Ministry of Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.,” and I am currently working on a book about the life of Rev. C.T. Vivian, who was a major voice and participant in the Civil Rights Movement”.
I’ll be brief here: Dr. Smith is perplexed because God, even though partnering with humans to make the world better, has recently allowed a lot of bad stuff to happen. I quote:
“I grew up believing that God wanted order and peace. Even though bad things were going on in the world, I was assured by Sunday School teachers, my parents and relatives, that God didn’t make bad things happen. That was comforting. But I struggle, still, with a God that allows bad things to happen, who allows peace to be supplanted by utter confusion. The whole world, it seems, is upside down, swimming in chaos, much of which has been and continues to be caused by this president and by a slew of accusations of sexual impropriety by rich and powerful men. The relationship of this country with its allies is certainly shaky; it feels like America is becoming more and more estranged from her allies and that she is losing her moral authority and respect. The call of British lawmakers this week for the invitation to this president for a state visit to England to be rescinded because he re-tweeted fascist, racist images of Muslims. While foreign lawmakers come down on America’s leader, however, the US Congress is strangely silent and pliant”.
It goes on and on; she gripes about what the Republicans are doing, about “America’s sexist and patriarchal system”, about Kim Jong-un and his missiles, about Trump, and about Flynn’s guilty plea (but that’s good!). At the end, even though claiming that we’re supposed to help God improve humanity, she’s deeply puzzled about why God’s letting us go to hell in a hand basket:
To quote Susan K. Smith, “But God allowed it to happen. God did not cause it to happen, but God allowed it to happen; just as God allowed and always allows the worst storms to impact the people who can least withstand their winds and rain. Some of us are taught [JAC: the implication here is that “what we are taught” equals “truth”] that we, the children of God, are co-creators with God, meaning God needs us to help God keep the world in order. That is why the work of organizers and activists is so important, because they keep the thumb of righteousness and fairness on the chest of injustice which fights to have its way.But we, the co-creators, seem remarkably impotent to stop or even slow down the descent into chaos we are experiencing now. This is a scary time, and God, who I was taught could do everything and anything, seems not to be interested in changing the course that we are on. It remains to be seen how all that is going on will shake out, but it feels like God is allowing chaos to triumph over community, and that is very, very troubling”.
The answer is simple, and was voiced most eloquently by the Alabama philosopher Delos McKown (I love this quote): “The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.”
And of course the invisible and impotent is less parsimonious than the non-existent. I left a comment on Smith’s post—the only one there.
Or—and I just thought of this—here’s another reply: “Why not just cut out the middleman and assume there is no God?”
I’m sure Dr. Smith would welcome more comments to help her with her dilemma. If you want to help, just click on the balloon button at the bottom of the post (you can click on the screenshot below to go to the post). Maybe only a small nudge will take her over the border into nonbelief. . .