Divine Comedy

Sorry, this is going to be a religious rant… but I just can’t help myself.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
– Epicurus

I know this sentiment has been addressed in one form or another in a lot of religious debates, and I admit it is also most probably a product of a limited world view 1 Yes, such limited understanding is applicable to rational thinkers as well – which we’re all guilty of. But nonetheless it still remains just as frustrating – especially when faced with situations that seem to drive the point home. In this case we have the Japanese crisis.

This post isn’t really intended to be a slam on God, 2 but I admit it just might turn out that way but just for me to vent about my annoyance on how people “pray” for deliverance when faced with such travesty. I don’t have anything against praying in general, but I cannot help but notice the irony in such a “request” given the circumstance.

This is what I said in a post in Facebook:

I’m not saying God is bad or anything, but it’s only reasonable that if He let 3 Again, not necessarily wanted or intended, but simply allowed something like this happen, there’s really no point in asking Him to fix it.

Through the Eyes of Man

Not being an atheist, I obviously am letting slide the huge fact that His existence cannot be proven. 4 Though I AM open to he possibility of there not being any god But apart from that, there’s really only one real issue I have with how religions describe God: that He is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent.

Given historical results of natural disasters… to me, if we were to accept that there in fact was a higher being… such a being could possibly be one of of those adjectives… but not both. And that’s where Epicurus’ strikes home for me; while this quote is easily used by atheists… what it really says is what kind of a god this higher being may be, not necessarily its existence.

Notice that if we assume only one of the adjectives to be true about him, it explains a whole lot. And perhaps even the Atheists could get behind such a God.

Omnibenevolent

Here are the implications of Him being omnibenevolent:

Normally, no “good” person would want any ill to come over his children, so that raises a red flag right there. Oh, but of course there’s that whole thing about “free will” so that squarely puts the blame on man… which is a fair excuse, I guess.

But what about natural disasters, or “evil” that man clearly didn’t nor couldn’t prompt? “Ontic” evil, if you will. These are events totally beyond our power and “free will.” Regardless of what causes them, such events can only be “handled” by something higher than us – so it’s perfectly reasonable to put responsibility (and possibly even accountability) on such a being. Because if God were omnibenevolent… and even if he didn’t intend for it to happen, He can’t just say “hey, I didn’t cause that, so it’s not my problem to prevent it” – that would just be a dick thing to say. The church even brought up the whole concept of the “sin of omission” – forgetting that by that very logic; God not doing anything to prevent such suffering is practically the same damn thing.

Even if we supposed that, say, Gaia (as in mother earth) was a sentient entity 5 Who isn’t bound to the condition of being good/evil … and that God respected her wishes of putting us through natural disasters. Then we should be trying to get on her good graces… not God’s. We should be worshiping the earth like the pagans – to keep us safe. The reason we pray to God is because we’ve been taught that, as a personal God, he directly involves himself with our lives. Such “interventions” might be in many forms, but they still would entail direct involvement. If God “defers” responsibility to another entity out of respect, then it just makes more sense to appeal to that entity instead of God if you want something concrete to be done, right?

So anyway you slice it. If there is a higher being, something like a natural disaster, is the responsibility of such a being simply because there’s no one else above us that could prevent it – It’s called escalation of responsibility. And since “free will” has nothing to do with it, then God really has no reason to let people suffer like that if he had the power to make a difference.

The only way “free will” could be incorporated to events such as these is if one were to argue it being the choice of people to live in such a dangerous place. But then you’d essentially be suggesting that they deserve what they got – and I don’t think any decent human is willing to make that claim – what more an omnibenevolent being.

Since he has to be omnibenevolent – the only option you’re left with is that he simply has no control over it even if he had a choice. And as such, he cannot be omnipotent.

Omnipotent

The opposite would be more disconcerting, but who knows right? That he does have the power, and simply chooses to let disasters happen – even if he knows that the whole human race, with its free will and all, will unanimously choose against such a calamity.

But I don’t necessarily see this as a “bad” thing – perhaps our concepts of “good/evil” are totally irrelevant with respect to Him.

Either way, he still clearly would not be omnibenevolent – simply because he’s neither good nor bad by our definition. So I’d say the second line of the Epicurus quote is misleading. “Able but not willing” doesn’t necessarily make him malevolent… but neither does it make him omnibenevolent.

Back to Praying

Having said all of that, I see no point in praying for the intercession of a being that already let a catastrophe happen to begin with. It’s like saying, “could you please bring me to the hospital” – to someone who cut your arm off. And yes, I know the example is a bit faulty because it assumes God intended to do it… but if he is truly both omni-potent/benevolent (by our standards), then I see no reason why he shouldn’t intervene to an obvious “evil.”

As a “Test”

I already blogged about my distaste for these types of “tests” – particularly the test of Abraham. But to save you from reading another long-assed blog post, here’s the Abraham bit I had on it:

The story of Abraham never sat well with me. In fact, lemme just admit that I think God was a major dick in that story. For one, as someone who’s supposed to be omni-benevolent, (that’s ALL LOVING in case you missed it) can you really justify a “test” as cruel as that? I don’t give a flying fuck if God never intended to let him continue… to me, putting that kind of emotional anguish on a person is inexcusable.

Calamities are even worse – because there are actual deaths.

Plus the fact that if it were a test, God obviously favored one set of people (the survivors) over the other. If you were a survivor, does it mean others deserved to die and not you? Was it because they didn’t try hard enough and you did? Was this supposed to be a lesson so the survivors appreciated life more?

Or what if we try to look at it as a test to see how the rest of the world reacts… that would have some sort of positive spin on it: that the human race showed its worth by helping each other during a time of dire need.

That doesn’t sit well with me either; that’s essentially admitting that one life is more important than another. And while I can understand the efficiency of such a “test” (killing-off some for the good of the greater majority), it kinda renders Luke 12:7 meaningless. How can anyone claim that each person is so precious that every hair on their head has been counted – when you could prioritize one life over the other just like that? Had those who died already lived a full life – that God deemed it’d be more practical to just bring them home to Heaven in one feel swoop? And if that were the case, certainly there must be betters way to do it – ways that don’t involve bringing a whole nation of arguably the most honorable people in the world down to its knees.

Divine Plan

Another cop-out the church would loves to reason with is that everything’s part of a divine plan. The whole “God’s will” bit. But to me, that changes nothing in the point I’m trying to make.

If a natural disaster occurs, then it’s reasonable to say that God willed it. Or at the very least condoned it… but I’ve already discussed that exhaustively in the previous paragraphs. What I wan’t to focus on is how meaningless praying for something seems to be. Take note, I’m not talking about praying in general; You can pray to “talk” to God all you want. But if you are praying because you’re asking for something, I personally think it’s pointless precisely because of the “divine plan.”

I love hearing comedians’ take on Religion – they have an [unfair] advantage of being able to say things that would otherwise be totally offensive, but aren’t because of comedic license. But here’s the thing which zealots should remember: Just because they say it as a joke… it doesn’t mean it isn’t well thought out and more importantly valid. As an example, in politics, the Daily Show is much more transparent a news organization than any major news network you can possibly think of – and its for similar reasons: they aren’t bound by the “politics” just as comedians aren’t bound by dogma. To rephrase Ricky Gervais’ opinion on the matter.

Since there is nothing to know about god, a comedian knows as much about god as any one else. A comedian can make people laugh about belief or lack of it. A good comedian can make people laugh AND think about belief or lack of it.

The irony is that if we just talked rationally when it came to religion, any believer’s arguments would sound more comedic than a comedian’s arguments. While there are varying degrees of exaggerations a comedian uses to improve the potency of his material… ultimately, there’s nothing unreasonable with how comedians dissect/analyze issues… this is not the case [most of the time] for believers.

Anyways, going back to the subject of praying, one of the greatest comedians, George Carlin, had summed up the point of praying vis a vis the divine plan in one of his skits.

Long time ago, God made a Divine Plan. Gave it a lot of thought, decided it was a good plan, put it into practice. And for billions and billions of years, the Divine Plan has been doing just fine. Now, you come along, and pray for something. Well suppose the thing you want isn’t in God’s Divine Plan? What do you want Him to do? Change His plan? Just for you? Doesn’t it seem a little arrogant? It’s a Divine Plan. What’s the use of being God if every run-down shmuck with a two-dollar prayerbook can come along and fuck up Your plan?

And here’s something else, another problem you might have: Suppose your prayers aren’t answered. What do you say? “Well, it’s God’s will.” “Thy Will Be Done.” Fine, but if it’s God’s will, and He’s going to do what He wants to anyway, why the fuck bother praying in the first place? Seems like a big waste of time to me! Couldn’t you just skip the praying part and go right to His Will?

Summary

So take that all in, and tell me why it’s “prudent” to pray for His help in the wake of something like the Japan earthquake/tsunami. Is it because He might’ve changed his “will” and thought “hmmm, that wasn’t such a good idea after all – maybe I should help fix it”? While possible for humans, it is impossible for a being that’s supposed to be all-knowing.

God may have his reasons for doing it or letting it happen, and I will not hold it against Him. If it happened, it happened. He knew it was going to happen, He knew what people thought and would think about it… and He let still it happen – simple as that. And that makes it a part of His “will” – and praying to prevent it would’ve been futile… the same goes for praying for him to fix it after the fact.

Sometimes, maybe it’s really up to us, and us alone. We should do what we can do to help, because we care – not because God “willed” it – certainly not because the power of prayer pushed us to do it.

I just wish that the concept of prayer doesn’t take credit for the hardwork/help people give of their own volition. That has always been a pet peeve of mine: how Religion loves hijacking anything good, yet finds every reason to dissociate itself from anything evil. That’s just a ridiculous double standard to have.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Yes, such limited understanding is applicable to rational thinkers as well
2. but I admit it just might turn out that way
3. Again, not necessarily wanted or intended, but simply allowed
4. Though I AM open to he possibility of there not being any god
5. Who isn’t bound to the condition of being good/evil

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