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Showing posts with label #Theodicy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Theodicy. Show all posts

16 November 2018

Elections and God’s will.

When people don’t understand “acts of God” really aren’t.

One of the myths American Christians like to tell ourselves, is that democracy reflects God’s will. Vox populi, vox Dei/“the people’s voice [is] God’s voice,” is the old slogan.

A slogan which doesn’t come from the bible, of course. It’s a very old Roman slogan… which is actually derived from the old Roman pagan religion. The Romans believed one of the ways they could deduce the gods’ will was to observe the masses. If suddenly everyone in the city wanted something, they figured it was a sure bet the gods wanted it, and were influencing humans to express their desires. It gave them a religious justification for democracy… and at the same time, gave the priests a religious justification to ditch their traditions when they were no longer popular.

But it’s not Christian thinking whatsoever. You might recall it was the crowds (riled up by the head priests, but still) who called for Pontius Pilate to execute Jesus. Mk 15.9-15 You might recall because the crowds regularly defied God, he had to flood the world, scramble Babel’s languages, burn down Sodom, have the Hebrews slaughter the God-resistant Amorites and Philistines, then have the Assyrians and Babylonians slaughter the God-resistant Hebrews. The cycle of history is full of people who not only didn’t reflect God’s voice, but blatantly defied him.

It’s why Alcuin of York, who did know his bible, commented to King Charles of Lombardy (whom historians call Charlemagne) in a letter in 798, “Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.” For those who don’t remember their Latin classes: “Don’t listen to those who keep saying, ‘The people’s voice is God’s voice’: The commoners’ rowdiness is always just on the edge of insanity.”

As we’ve seen demonstrated in just about every American election. If you deny it happens in your party, you gotta admit it absolutely does happen in the opposition party.

The reality is that humans are totally messed up. Christians included. We’re selfish. Human nature is not “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Lv 19.18 which is why God had to command it; it’s to think of ourselves first, others second—if at all. Some of us even claim it’s a virtue to think of ourselves first, others second. Sometimes individually, like those who claim charity demoralizes those who receive it, so don’t be charitable. (They certainly aren’t.) Sometimes collectively, hence those “America first” slogans, which too often really mean “America only.”

And because of this human depravity, what does this make our democracy and our elections? Collective depravity. We’re not voting God’s will into power, much as we’d like to imagine we are. We’re voting for our will. We vote to lower taxes, not because don’t care about our government’s crushing debt, not because we don’t care about infrastructure and security, but because we individually want that money more than economic stability and the general welfare. We vote to legalize the things we want, and criminalize the things we don’t want.

We might claim Jesus likewise wants or doesn’t want them, but he’s an excuse. We use him to justify our own behavior, or project our ideals upon him to salve our consciences. The votes of any nation might be influenced by how Christian the people are, or aren’t. More often—as proven by how people tend to tell surveys and polls one thing, but vote very differently in secret—they’re a barometer of how hypocritical we really are.

So when an election doesn’t go our way—and we’re naïve enough to imagine it therefore didn’t go God’s way—let’s not foolishly ask, “Where was God in this election?” He was, as usual, sitting it out. Because the United States is not his country. His kingdom is. He rules us that way. Not through our system of government.

26 September 2018

The flood story and theodicy.

When people don’t understand “acts of God” really aren’t.

As I said yesterday, when skeptics ask me about the flood story, primarily what they wanna deal with is the idea of a global flood. Earth doesn’t have enough water to cover all the landmasses, and the young-earth creationist explanations for whence and whither the water, generally sound stupid to them. Pointing out how Genesis states the land was flooded, not the world, quickly sorts that out to their satisfaction.

I have yet to run into a non-Christian skeptic whose problem with the flood story is that God flooded the world. I have met Christians who struggle with it though. Generally their problem comes from their Pelagianism.

Y’see, Pelagius of Britain believed humans are inherently good. ’Cause we were created good, y’know. Ge 1.31 But sin bollixed all that, and now humanity is inherently selfish and corrupt—but Pelagians can‘t believe that. After all, they know lots of good people. And optimistically figure all most people need is a nudge in the right direction, provide us good influences, and we’ll straighten right out. This being the case, nobody oughta go to hell; a loving God, if he’s truly loving, would universally save everyone. Right?

Wouldn’t that be nice. But ’tain’t so. Like I said, we’re inherently selfish and corrupt. We could have the best influences ever—like Judas Iscariot had Jesus of Nazareth—yet still figure we know best, rebel, betray, and die in despair and nihilism. It’s not that God doesn’t wanna save everyone; of course he does. It’s that people would rather go to hell than have anything to do with him.

So when Pelagians look at the people of Noah’s day, their issue is they don’t actually believe God when he declared humanity, except for Noah, was ruined.

Genesis 6.11-13 KWL
11 To God’s face, the land was ruined. The land was full of violence.
12 God saw the land. Look, ruin!—all flesh ruined its way in the land.
13 God told Noah, “To my face, the end of all flesh is coming:
They fill the land with violence before them. Look, the land is ruined!”

No, they insist, it wasn’t. A loving God could’ve unruined it… in some other way than flooding it.

To their minds, a loving God should’ve found another alternative than judgment and punishment. The problem—the dirty little secret of universalism—is the only way God could fix ’em without punishing them is to reprogram them. If rebellion is their freewill decision, all God needs to do is abolish their free will, and force them to love him. In so doing, God’s gonna destroy them—you know, like hell will. Only difference is, it’ll look like God never actually destroyed anything—but of course he did, just like a computer with a swapped-out hard drive. Looks the same; isn’t at all.

Y’know, replacing humans with Stepford humans is hypocrisy, and completely undermines God’s character. But universalists don’t care about that so much as they do their character, which they insist is inherently good. Better than God’s, too. (Not that they’ll ever say this. They’ll simply claim instead that the violent bits of the bible which they disapprove of, weren’t literal. Or inspired. Or otherwise count.)

09 April 2018

Evil’s existence, and God’s existence.

The belief God and evil can’t coexist in the same universe is based on some bad logic.

Every so often I bump into a nontheist who complains God can’t be real, can’t exist… because there’s such a thing as evil in the universe.

Here’s how they’re figuring: If God’s real, God’s almighty, and God’s good like we Christians claim, he should’ve done something to get rid of evil, right? After all they would, if they were God. They’d have wiped out evil long ago, like with a great purging flood or something.

They can’t fathom a God who’d be gracious enough to grant his wayward kids any leeway, any second chances to repent and return to the fold. He’d shut that s--- down on sight. So since God isn’t their kind of God, he must not exist.

This is hardly a new idea. It’s been around since Epicurus of Athens first pitched it in the 300s BC. Or at least we think Epicurus pitched it. That’s what Christian author Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius claimed in his anti-Epicurean book De ira Dei/“On God’s Wrath.” The way Lactantius described Epicurus’s argument, breaks down into four views about how God and evil work, sorta like yea:

  1. God wants to eliminate evil, but he can’t. (’Cause he’s not really almighty.)
  2. God doesn’t wanna. (’Cause he’s not really good.)
  3. God’s neither willing nor able. (’Cause he’s not really God.)
  4. God’s both willing and able. So… why does evil still exist then?

This, folks, is what Christian philosophers call “the problem of evil.” We’ve been knocking it around ever since Lactantius.

Nontheists have obviously taken the third view: God’s neither willing nor able. But their explanation is a little different from Epicurius’s: It’s because he’s not really there. Evil exists because there’s no God to stop it.

For the most part Christians have taken the fourth view, then pitch various explanations for why evil nonetheless exists. Most of them have to do with free will: In order for free will to truly exist, evil has to be a possible freewill option—so that’s the risk God chose to take in granting his creatures free will. Of course that’s not the only explanation we’ve come up with, but it’s the most common.

11 September 2017

Hurricanes and bad theodicy.

When people don’t understand “acts of God” really aren’t.

The Atlantic hurricane season begins in June and ends in November: Weather agencies keep track of all the warm-weather tropical cyclones which crop up in summer and fall. (They give ’em names, in alphabetical order, and mix up the names every year.) The heat lets ’em grow in speed, size, and moisture, and warmer-than-usual weather means they grow extra large; often into full-on hurricanes. And if they make it to land, they create extra mess.

The United States is was hit with two hurricanes in 20 days. Hurricane Harvey flooded southern Texas on 26 August. Hurricane Irma is currently working on the west coast of Florida. At its largest, Irma was a category 5, with 185 mph (295 kph) winds; this prompted widespread evacuations in Florida, and rightly so.

Of course these aren’t the only natural disasters we get in the States. We get wildfires: I live in California, which has fires every year. Has ’em in drought; has ’em in flood years. Fire is how brush naturally clears, but humans built houses in all those places, so we can’t just let the fires burn anymore. (We also get earthquakes, but most of them are small, and most of our buildings are earthquake-proof.)

Still, between the burning and the flooding, we wind up hearing the very same stupid thing from Christians as we do every year: “All these disasters are part of God’s plan.”

Really? Tell me, oh diviner of the divine will, why God decided to ruin the homes of all the good Christians in Texas and Florida. Or burn down the homes of all the good Christians in Montana and Oregon. Or kill good Christians in Chiapas, Mexico, with an 8.1 earthquake. Or any of the other ways nature wrecks stuff and takes lives.

Most of the time they’re pretty sure God’s smiting sinners. And even if you didn’t ask, they’ll tell you exactly which sins God’s busily smiting. No surprise, and no coincidence: They’re the very same sins they especially don’t approve of. Seems God thinks like they do. And rather than patiently deal with these sins on a case-by-case basis, and lead these folks to repentance and restoration, God’s again taken a page from their book, and decided to just punish the state entire.

Interestingly, in such a way that any sinners who happen to be wealthy, can usually get most of their wealth back with a little hassle, and go back to their sinful lifestyles with nothing more than a few interesting stories about how they braved a disaster. While in the meanwhile, the devout, obedient Christians who happen to be poor, who happened to suffer the collateral damage from God’s wrath-fest? Still destitute. Still ruined.

Doesn’t sound at all just of God. Which should kinda be our tip-off God has nothing to do with it.

13 April 2017

Jesus’s resurrection: If he wasn’t raised, we’re boned.

It’s kind of a necessary doctrine.

Of Christianity’s two big holidays, Christmas is the easier one for pagans to swallow. ’Cause Jesus of Nazareth was born. That, they won’t debate. There are a few cranks who think Jesus’s life is entirely mythological, start to finish, but for the most part, everybody agrees he was born. May not believe he was born miraculously, but certainly they agree he was born.

Easter’s way harder. ’Cause Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. And no, he didn’t just wake up in a tomb after a two-day coma following a brutal flogging and crucifixion. No, it wasn’t a spectral event, where his ghost went visiting his loved ones. No, it wasn’t a “spiritual” event, where people had visions or mass hallucinations of him, or missed him so hard they psyched themselves into believing he’d made an appearance.

Christians state Jesus is alive. In a body. A human body. An extraordinary body; apparently the new body can do things our current bodies can’t. But alive in a way people recognize as fully alive. Not some walking-dead zombie, nor some phantom. Jesus physically interacted with his students, family, and followers, for nearly a month and a half before physically going to heaven.

That, pagans struggle with. ’Cause they don’t believe in resurrection. Resuscitation, sure; doctors can revive frozen people, or people whose hearts recently stopped. Returning from the dead happens all the time. But permanently? In a new body? And took it with him to heaven? They’re not buying it. They’re more likely to believe in the Easter Bunny.

But that’s the deal we Christians proclaim on Easter: Christ is risen indeed. It’s not the central belief of Christianity; God’s kingdom is. But if Jesus didn’t literally come back from the dead on the morning of 5 April 33, it means there’s no kingdom, and Jesus is never coming back to set it up. Nobody’s coming back from death. There’s no eternal life; at best an eternal afterlife, which ain’t life. There’s no hope for the lost. The Sadducees were right. Christianity’s a sham. There’s no point in any of us being Christians.

No, I’m not being hyperbolic. It’s precisely what the apostles taught.

1 Corinthians 15.12-19 KWL
12 If it’s preached Christ is risen from the dead,
how can some of you say resurrection of the dead isn’t true?
13 If resurrection of the dead isn’t true, not even Christ is risen.
14 If Christ isn’t risen, our message is worthless. Your faith is worthless.
15 Turns out we’re bearing false witness about God:
We testified about God that he raised Christ!
Whom he didn’t raise, if it’s true the dead aren’t raised.
16 If the dead aren’t raised, Christ isn’t risen either.
17 If Christ isn’t risen, your faith has no foundation.
You’re still in your sins, 18 and those who “sleep in Christ” are gone.
19 If hope in Christ only exists in this life, we’re the most pathetic of all people.

No resurrection, no kingdom, no Christianity. Period.

05 April 2017

Misreading and mistreating those who mourn.

How the first of Job’s friends wrongly advised him.

Job 4–5

After Job suffered the tremendous disaster of having his children, employees, and livestock all killed in one day, three of his friends came and sat shiva with him. Jb 2.11-13 For a week they said nothing.

Then Job vented for a chapter.“Wish I’d never been born; Jb 3.3 why didn’t I die at birth; Jb 3.11 I wish I were dead.” Jb 3.20-22 The usual stuff people say when they’ve suffered an earth-shattering loss, particularly when loved ones die. Stuff we’re supposed to listen to, sympathize with… and watch these people in case they actually try to act upon any of it. (Half the time they’re all talk, but sometimes they’re not, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.)

But you know how humans are: We try to fix one another. We don’t leave it in the hands of professionals, who know how to guide people to make good choices. We tell ’em, “You know what you oughta do,” and tell them so. Or worse, we try to do it for them.

So in Job, here’s where all the bad advice begins. The first to talk was Job’s friend Elifáz of Teyman (KJV “Eliphaz the Temanite”). Therefore he’s gonna get picked on first. It is, as the LORD told Elifáz at the end of the book, wholly inaccurate information about the LORD. Jb 42.7 Yet I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my fellow Christians proclaim all same foolish things. It’s like they never even read this book… well, beyond the first chapters and the happy ending.

Job 4.1-6 KWL
1 Elifáz of Teyman replied. He said:
2 “Are you too weary for anyone to prove a thing to you?
Who’s able to stifle your sayings?
3 Look, you’ve strengthened many, and made weak hands strong.
4 Your sayings upheld the stumbling and strengthened bent knees.
5 But now this comes to you, and you’re ‘weary.’ It smites you and you panic.
6 Wasn’t your fear of God overconfidence? Your path of integrity your hope?”

There y’go, Elifáz. Start smacking him while he’s down.

Before this disaster, Job was a great man, a wise man, full of good advice, ready to help people when they were in need. Then disaster struck, and he understandably fell to pieces. “So where’s your God now? Where’s your faith? Did you even have faith before?”

Okay. In the Christian life, sometimes we’re gonna go through crises of faith. Which is totally normal: When we don’t know any better, we mistakenly put our faith in the wrong things. Rituals instead of relationship, things instead of people, feel-good ideas instead of truth, “I now know best” instead of “I’m wrong but Jesus is right,” putting people on pedestals where they don’t belong, declaring doctrines non-negotiable when they totally are, and conversely prioritizing favorite attitudes over the real non-negotiables.

In order to set us right, sometimes the Holy Spirit has to smash these idols. Which will really discombobulate us. We thought God gave these things to us, or wanted us to believe or have them, or would never interfere with such things… and how mean it was of him to take ’em away. Like pouty children, sometimes we even don’t care to talk to our Father for a good long time afterwards.

But this wasn’t at all what Job was doing.

Job hadn’t made an idol of his kids, employees, and livestock. He didn’t turn on God; he’d made a big point of saying such behavior was stupid. Jb 2.9-10 Job had integrity: He didn’t follow God only when times were good. We get like that. We love him when we’re prosperous, but when times get rough we’re no longer sure he’s around—or if he even exists. Job wasn’t going through any such crisis of faith. But Elifáz’s words suggest that’s what he assumed was happening. He totally misread the situation.

06 March 2017

Jesus getting abused by his guards.

And how this should provoke us to get rid of prisoner abuse… and why it doesn’t.

Mark 14.65 • Matthew 26.67-68 • Luke 22.63-65 • John 18.22-23

I’d already mentioned Jesus getting slapped by one of his guards:

John 18.22-23 KWL
22 Once he said these things, one of the bystanding underlings gave Jesus a slap,
saying, “You answer the head priest this way?”
23 Jesus answered him, “If I speak evil, testify about the evil. If I speak good, why rough me up?”

The other gospels likewise tell of how the people in charge of him began to abuse him. In Mark it was after he’d been found guilty. But in both Matthew and Luke, it was before his actual trial before the Judean senate. They didn’t care to wait for a trial; they’d already judged him guilty themselves.

Mark 14.65 KWL
Certain people began to spit on Jesus; to cover his face and punch him,
to tell him, “Prophesy! Which underling gave that punch?”
Matthew 26.67-68 KWL
67 Then they spat in Jesus’s face and punched him.
Those who hit him 68 were saying, “Prophesy to us, Messiah: Which of us hit you?”
Luke 22.63-65 KWL
63 The men surrounding Jesus mocked him,
roughing him up 64 and covering Jesus’s face, saying, “Prophesy: Which of us hit you?”
65 Many other slanderers said such things to Jesus.

This sort of behavior offends many people nowadays. Irritatingly, not all.

Our laws have declared prisoner abuse illegal. Rightly so. Even when a person is guilty, we’re not to punish ’em in ways they’ve not been properly sentenced to. The judge sentences a person to five years, and that person should determine community service or prison, hard labor or solitary confinement. Not the sheriff, nor the warden. Separation of powers, y’know.

Of course there are a number of people who take a lot of perverse glee in the idea of convicts experiencing worse in prison. Jokes about prison rape are a little too commonplace, considering this is a crime that needs to be exterminated. But some people love the idea of murderers and rapists experiencing especially rough treatment in prison. Serves ’em right, they figure. Thing is, violence doesn’t discriminate. Someone incarcerated for fraud or theft can be attacked, same as someone in prison for lesser crimes. People won’t make rape jokes when it’s a beloved family member serving time. And definitely won’t find it amusing if it were them who, thanks to some mixup, found themselves in a holding cell with some angry, rapey thugs.

To hear such people talk, if it were up to them, we’d go right back to the bad old days of beating confessions out of suspects. Some of these folks even claim to be Christian. So how come Jesus’s experience at the hands of his accusers, never convinced ’em otherwise? Never made ’em realize “innocent till proven guilty” is always the way to treat suspects?

15 February 2017

God, Job, and the cost of unexamined theodicy.

Because some really bad stuff happened to Job.

Job 1–2.10, 42.10-17

Since we’re gonna talk theodicy, it’d be all kinds of stupid to not begin with Job. Worse, to ignore it… as so often happens.

The entire book, and entire point of the book, is why bad things happen to good people. The problem? Your average person only reads the beginning and ending, and skips all the discussion in the middle. And the middle is the meat of the book.

I intend to bring up Job a lot in the theodicy articles, so brace yourself. I’m gonna dig into it a bit.

Job is part of the ketuvím/“Writings,” the third section of the Old Testament, collected round the 400s BC. Job was written at some point in the 500s, as we can easily deduce from the Late Biblical Hebrew vocabulary (with lots of Aramaic loanwords) and historical context.

The book’s about iyóv/“Job” of Utz, a land located in Edom. Lm 4.21 Job’s friend Eliphaz of Teman Jb 2.1 had a really obvious Edomite name: The same name as Edom/Esau’s oldest son, 1Ch 1.36 and his city had the same name as Eliphaz ben Esau’s oldest son. 1Ch 1.36

Job was a famous guy in Ezekiel’s time, Ek 14.14, 20 so he must’ve existed before, if not around, the early 500s BC, when Ezekiel was written. Clearly Job was known for his morality, so the author of Job borrowed Job’s story to begin the discussion about theodicy: Here’s a moral man, who nonetheless lost all his kids and property. So what does that say about morality, God, the way God governs the universe, and evil?

Your average Christian hasn’t read Job. Well, they read the beginning two chapters, where Job lost all his stuff; and they read the last chapter, wherein God gives him 10 more kids and all his stuff back, and let him live a really long time. Jb 42.10-17 In skipping the middle part, we also mistakenly skip all the discussions between Job and his friends about theodicy… and figure we needn’t bother, ’cause Job was right and they were wrong, like the LORD said. Jb 42.7 Besides we already know why Job was suffering: The first two chapters were a great big spoiler!

In so doing we also miss the point: What Job’s friends said is exactly what people still say about theodicy. Same bad advice. Same platitudes. Same cold comfort. Read Job, and you’ll quickly begin to notice how many other Christians have never read Job.

(I should also point out: In the churches I grew up in, a number of ’em assumed Job is the oldest book in the bible… because they were young-earth creationists. Because Job lived so tremendously long, and because Job refers to creatures with names we can’t translate precisely—like vehemót/“ox” (KJV “behemoth” Jb 40.15), liweyatán/“crocodile” (KJV “leviathan” Jb 41.1), or reym/“antelope” (KJV “unicorn” Jb 39.9) —various YEC enthusiasts have embraced the idea these creatures are dinosaurs, and that Job took place shortly after Noah’s flood, back when humans were still long-lived. Ge 11.10-32 Edomites notwithstanding.)

14 December 2016

Why does bad stuff happen in a good God’s universe?

Your handy-dandy introduction to theodicy.

THEODICY /θi'ɑd.ə.si/ n. Explanation or argument for how God can be good, despite the existence or activity of evil.
[Theodicean /θi'ɑd.ə.si.ən/ adj.]

Disaster strikes our world on a daily basis.

Might be a huge natural disaster, like an earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, or plague. Might be a “man-made” disaster, like a war, famine, mass shooting, or some terrorist activity. Might be a small disaster: One person unexpectedly dies. Or it’s a wholly expected death; a long illness, and we knew that person wasn’t gonna recover, despite doctors and treatments and prayers.

Every time these disasters strike, people wanna know why God didn’t prevent it.

’Cause that’s his job, they insist. He’s almighty, right? He could totally stop it. But he didn’t. Why the [angry expletive] not? What’s his problem? Doesn’t he care? Does he want evil to happen? Maybe he’s not really almighty. Maybe he’s not really there.

These questions and accusations come out of suffering and loss and rage. They’re totally natural. Most of us wonder ’em from time to time: If God’s almighty, why doesn’t he intervene? ’Cause we’d intervene. If we were God, we totally would step in and put a stop to the suffering. We’d rescue everyone. Or at least the good people. I mean, if a tornado’s gonna smite a trailer park full of child molesters, meth cooks, and white supremacists, that’s fine; they’re getting what’s coming to them. But good people oughta live!

Anyway, whenever people have these questions, out come the Christian apologists, who take it upon themselves to answer the questions, instead of just letting emotional people vent for a bit. Because they’re afraid these people will get so angry with God, they’ll quit. They’ll turn apostate. They’ll spread doubt and nontheism and unbelief, and we’ll be in an even bigger mess than before. We gotta defend God. So they do.

This particular field of apologetics—defending God from people who aren’t so sure he’s good or almighty—is called theodicy. And no, it’s not an abbreviation for “theological idiocy,” though some of its arguments sure make it feel like that. It’s a compound of the Greek words Theós/“God” and díki/“behavior”—it’s an attempt to explain God’s behavior. Or absense of it.

“Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” is the usual way it’s phrased. And when it gets right down to it, there are about five typical answers.

  1. God’s not there. Nobody’s there to stop evil from happening. It’s up to us.
  2. God is there… but doesn’t get involved. Again, up to us.
  3. God’s there, does get involved, and this was him getting involved: He’s behind the disaster. (For reasons. Bigger picture, secret sins, you name it.)
  4. God’s there, involved… but isn’t God as you imagine him. (He’s not almighty, doesn’t actually know the future, isn’t actually good, has some special arrangement with Satan, etc.)
  5. God’s limited himself, and won’t always intervene. (For reasons.)

And—no surprise—those who’ve just suffered a loss, don’t like any of these answers. Because they’re not actually looking for reasons. They just want the disaster undone, and defending what we think God is actually up to, isn’t helping.