06 July 2008

An email which turned into a post

I wrote a "quick" email to 5 pastors who I love & respect, because I just finished a book with an interesting essay. They are Bro. (genetic & Masonic) Joel in Indiana, Pastor Josh, Parson Jim, & Mother & Father Kris & Dick who, oddly enough, did a study a year before Katrina that it was going to be a real bitch getting people without cars out of New Orleans if a Category 5 hurricane hit. Prophetic? Or just realistic that it's stupid to put a port city below sea level, and strand people there?

By the way, Kris & Dick - The Field Club burned down. (That's where they married LaJ and I.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah, the book. Well, read on:

Holy folk -

Barbara Ehrenreich is a noted liberal author. (Footnote - except that emails ain’t got no footnotes - the assignment of emotional & judgmental indices to words and the prevalence of the hijacking of our language alternately bores me and pisses me off - this includes “liberal,” “fundamentalist,” “evangelist,” “gay,” “choice,” just to name a few. I am a liberal. OK, and a moderate. And a conservative. And a boy scout. And a mason. And a christian. And a poor marksman. And a snappy dresser. Get over it.) Where was I? Oh, yeah, off on a parenthetical rant - anyway, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote Nickel & Dimed and Bait & Switch, two very focused liberal books dealing with economic issues, the rich, the poor, and the misappropriation of power, both of which I heartily recommend.

Her latest book is This Land is Their Land (2008), and based upon my enjoyment of her prior 2, I bought it in print. (Going to review it, too) However, it’s something of a disappointment, being a collection of 50+ short essays on various traditional liberal topics, loosely grouped. Not that I don’t agree with a lot of what she says, but it is a lot of the same-old, same-old. (Counter-argument - folks haven’t gotten the point of the same-old, same-old yet, so what’s the matter with repeating it?) (Am fickle, will travel.)

There is an essay on God permitting Evil and Bad Stuff that uses rather lurid language and makes the argument rather strongly. Inasmuch as Gutenberg and Xerox weakened copyright, and the scanner administered the coup de grace (and I also claim fair use), the following is about a third of that essay. I offer this for comment.

God Owes Us an Apology

The tsunami of sea water that hit South Asia was followed instantly by a tsunami of spittle as the religious sputtered to rationalize God’s latest felony. Here we’d been, placidly killing one another a few dozen at a time in Iraq, Darfur, Congo, Israel, and Palestine, when along comes the deity and whacks a quarter million in a couple of hours between breakfast and lunch. On CNN, NPR and Fox News . . . men and women of the cloth weighed in solemnly on His existence, His motives and even his competence to continue as Ruler of Everything.

Theodicy, in other words – the attempt to reconcile God’s perfect goodness with the manifest evils of His world – has arisen from the waves. On the retro, fundamentalist side, various clergymen of the cloth announced that the tsunami was the rational act of a deity enraged by (take your pick): the suppression of Christianity in South Asia, pornography and child trafficking in that same locale, or, in the view of some Muslim commntators, the bikini-clad tourists at Phuket.
[Aside - this makes as much sense as the Kansas Westboro nutjobs connecting Iraq and homosexuality. I also find it a gross offense to presume that all those flying a fundamental or literal banner would figure that the tidal wave was some sort of just punishment.] On the more liberal end of the theological spectrum, God’s spokespeople hastened to stuff their fingers in the dike even as the floodwaters of doubt washed over it. Of course God exists seems to be the general consensus. And of course He is perfectly good. It’s just that His jurisdiction doesn’t extend to tectonic plates. Or maybe it does and he tosses us an occasional grenade like this just to see how quickly was can mobilize to clean up the damage. Besides, as the Catholic priests like to remind us, “He’s a ‘mystery,’ “ . . .

The clerics who struggled to make sense of the tsunami must not have noticed that this was hardly the first display of God’s penchant for wanton, homicidal mischief.
[And although Ehrenreich doesn’t mention it, the Old Testament is rather full of examples of God’s touchiness.]

Lee Strobel in The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ makes an argument which I find wandering (in the former) and which I just can’t follow at all (in the latter.) Perhaps the real answer is that this is unknowable, and perhaps we will be given the Truth in the Fullness of Time, and perhaps we won’t. Given that God has made us rational beings (footnote again - I have demonstrated, as have most folks I know, that this isn’t even usually true), it feels positively un-Biblical to have this question hanging out there.

And so, holy folk, with whom I have had hours of learning, argument, and occasional harmless fun, what is the answer? Why does our loving, good God permit really, really bad things to happen?

At the last minute, I have determined that I’ll be more careful with the fair use thing, and copy this into the blog, and I will faithfully publish any comments that y’all choose to make for publication.

I am copying this to other than holy folk, too. As we all know, anything worth doing is worth over-doing.

Pippa passes.



Anonymous said...

Roger, I could come up with a theologically half-baked or three quarters baked response to this, but I'm not sure I care to debate theology with you, and I am 100% sure that I don't care to be on the bottom of a Book Shelf Let's Pile Up On The Menno-Quaker chick.

Roger D. Curry said...

Rags, darling, the rules here are different than those of the community site. This is MY place and therefore it is MY First Amendment privilege which controls. Thus, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts, half-baked, three-quarter baked, or unbaked dough.

In this little stall in the marketplace of ideas, the proprietor entertains ideas, argument, controversy, some (humorous) abuse directed at himself, strong language, and flashes of temper. I moderate comments so that I do not exist as a conduit for personal abuse. Those who don't like that can make any comments they like - on their own blogs.

Comment away, dearest.


Anonymous said...

Well, to get to where I am, you have to first believe in the original sin because according to the Bible when humanity fell - all of creation fell. The book of Romans says that all of creation groans for the return of Christ. See also Jeremiah 12.

But, back to the point of hand, when God *allows* bad things to happen isn't He just allowing us to suffer the consequences of our own actions? What is it that caused the increase in hurricanes and their intensity? Global Warming. Who caused Global Warming? Us. Therefore, it's our fault, not God's. Almost every single thing that is wrong in this world that we like to blame on God, can ultimately be traced back to human beings. Part of having free will is that we get to suffer the results of it, so when we say why does God allow things that in actuality we caused - aren't we really saying that we wish He hadn't given us free will?

Anonymous said...

What? You're not going to respond? Remind me not to have anymore theological debates with you. ;-)

Roger D. Curry said...

Be patient, Melissa, dearest - I'm accumulating responses from Holy Folk, will publish, including yours which I like a lot.


Anonymous said...

Can I add that the reason that the fundies spew that crap about why God did this is because if they can blame it on, "suppression of christians, gays, sexual immorality," then they don't have a share in the guilt. When in fact they do.

rosa said...

Roger--I have two books for you both philosophical. The Big Questions (Robert Solomon) is my textbook; you know it's a good textbook, when students like reading it. Also Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy through Jokes (Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein). Great fun and informative.

Beysshoes said...

I wanna hear about your court case! You know I'm a court junky!

Anonymous said...

I love Plato and Platypus Walk Into a Bar!