In an earlier post, I quoted Barbara Ehrenreich’s sharp essay on God, on the theme Why God Let’s Bad Stuff Happen, which was written in her new book, This Land is Their Land. Essentially, Ehrenreich said that God obviously wasn’t on the job when He let the Christmas Tsunami kill 250,000 people in Southeast Asia a couple of years ago. The post was an email sent to various persons of faith who I love & respect, and I said I’d publish their responses. I received one Holy reply and one Informed Lay reply. Here they are:
Bro. Joel (Pastor in Indiana):
"Bad stuff happens in nature, and to search for a "purpose" is useless and even superstitious. Some televangelists and other "spiritual leaders" pontificate, usually point out that God agrees with them about their favorite sin to preach against. But the ones that promote themselves the most and have a lot to say about just about everything are the ones to trust the least. The fact is, things happen, and if I am not mistaken, all of the natural occurrences we see as bad are just the result of the laws of physics and other natural laws operating the way they operate.
"The tsunami happened because a 700-mile-long plate finally yielded to the pressure and suddenly popped up 30 feet. It displaced a lot of water, and the result was a big wave. There was no moral purpose for it happening.
"A storm, which is a natural occurrence, hit New Orleans. It had no higher purpose. It was a storm. They were not prepared and are still trying to figure out how to rebuild. Maybe that part of it has a higher purpose--that we should learn to be more prepared. But even that part of it isn't God acting; it's just human error. (And speaking of human error, no one seems to ask whether it is wise to use _any_ resources to rebuild a city that is below sea level and near the coast.)
"Why does God "permit" bad things? Well, He created it all, established the laws of physics, etc., and normally does not interfere with them (there are a few notable exceptions in the Old and New Testaments, but they are the exceptions, not the rule).
"Read Genesis for some insight. Since we left the garden, the world has existed more or less undisturbed with its natural laws pretty much operating as we know they operate.
"By the way, it appears your author, Barbara Ehrenreich, has done what most authors do after their first few books and pulled out the stuff that wasn't good enough to be published when she was less known and published it all together. It's probably good for a few hundred thousand dollars. Maybe I am cynical, but a good clue is that the author's name is printed pretty large and above the title."
[Roger’s note: Wow, Joel, it is sooooo cynical to observe that when the author’s name is writ large, that’s the selling point, rather than the pithy Truth of the content. Sadly, it seems to be true in the publishing life. And it could also be said that This Land is Their Land is largely the sweepings from the floor of Ehrenreich’s hard drive - and indeed, will be said in the next Dispatches column in The West Virginia Lawyer. It would be so much easier to simply praise the members of My Tribe and curse the Others. Why, oh why, are you so dead set on this reasoned thinking thing?]
Another response came from dear friend Melissa:
"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?
"Addendum: 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."
[Roger’s note: Melissa, dearest, you humble me and make my heart glad - humble me in that I am again reminded that, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout nothin’, and make my heart glad in that people can indeed really communicate openly and honestly in this age where we seem to honor only the shrill and the self-righteous. By the way, I think that Bro. Joel would disagree on the use of the "fundamentalist" term, as having been hijacked by those with a political rather than faith agenda. If he has something to say here, I'll publish it, and I think he's addressed that (as well as lots of other faith-based stuff) in his own blog, link to the right.]