Monday, August 3, 2015

Why Most Believers Aren't Afraid of Epicurus

The paradox of evil has kept theologians busy for years. As hurricanes level cities, as tyrants slaughter millions, theologians have taken on the daunting task of explaining how their god, to whom they prescribe ultimate goodness and power, stands by, either impotent or indifferent to the suffering of mankind. They have cleverly attempted to explain it away with devils, or free will, or human ignorance but they remain ever haunted by this unholy paradox.

Some of the more fierce theologians have purposed that we stand up to God, rebel against his indifference. They say we should demand that the heavens answer the prayers of the downtrodden; the very same downtrodden that God himself told us to mind. These brave religious leaders cite the daring biblical character Abraham, for he stood up before God in an unprecedented way. As God divulged his vicious plan to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham challenged God's righteousness:

"Will you also stamp out the righteous with the wicked? What if there should be fifty righteous people in the midst of the city? Will you stamp it out rather than spare the place for the sake of fifty righteous people within it? It would be sacrilege for you to do such a thing, to bring death upon the righteous along with the wicked... Shall the judge of the Earth not to justice?" 

Eventually, Abraham concedes when God fails to find even five righteous people in either city. (One must wonder why the children didn't qualify.) After this daring defiance, Abraham becomes the champion for such godly rebellion. It seems odd that several chapters hence, he willfully and without complaint ties his own child to an alter and is prepared to slaughter him at God's behest. I suppose we needn't worry, I am quite sure the theologians have thought of something. 

As more and more tragedies befall mankind theologians are continuously forced to confront the paradox of Epicurus, but to their credit (or perhaps not) they always find a way of quieting their philosophical minds. 

As a non-believer when I am confronted by evil, such as the Holocaust, I am always confounded that people can still hurl praise and worship to a god who stood by and watched as millions of people, including his so-called Chosen People, were gassed, starved, and slaughtered. I have witnessed people thank God for allowing the Americans to defeat the Germans, which simultaneously admits their belief in God's omnipotence and intervention while not being furious at God for allowing it to happen in the first place. I always wonder why, even if an intervening does god exist, he would deserve any praise at all. Shouldn't we take Abraham's challenge a step further and refuse to worship or obey God until he repents for his cruel and genocidal ways? As it is allegedly carved into the side of one of the gas chambers: "If there is a God, he will have to beg for my forgiveness." 

Pondering this I discovered something interesting. While the problem of evil seems to terrify theologians it doesn't seem to bother the other believers all that much. In fact, in times of suffering they turn to God! They claim to be comforted knowing that their suffering is in the hands of a Grand Master who controls their lives, and can relieve them of this suffering at any time. God is their friend, their father; nevermind that he is also the Cause of their suffering. 

This is a peculiar paradox. It would appear that for the average believer their faith is source of comfort to them, not a matter of philosophical consistency. They believe in God because they need to; because in the moments of misery they need someone to whom they can cry out. Leave the philosophy to the theologians, God is love. 

I am not mocking this sentiment. I certainly cannot offer anything in the way of comfort that would be anywhere near as helpful as belief is to the faithful. Indeed, my doctrine could not do what a pastor's could at the bedside of a cancer patient. Not everyone need be philosophers, not everyone is compelled to be so. Why shouldn't people be comforted in their misery in any way they can? I am aware that this essay may come across as condescending toward the religious. I mean no such harm, I am merely attempting to make sense of the believers desire to pray to a god who appears to be either malevolent or not all-powerful. 

Perhaps one day, if there is a God, he will answer the prayers of the widows and orphans, of the hungry and distraught, of the tortured and abused. Until then, I think the religious should follow the advice of Pope Francis: "You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. This is how prayer works." The rest of us should busy ourselves with the latter part of this statement and together we can do what no god has ever been able to do.