Thursday, November 20, 2008
On Religion (Three)
It's neither my expectation nor intent to change minds. But since some things simply make no sense to me, I feel like saying why. If it were possible, at minimum, to encourage a person or two who didn't already, to recognize the right of people to believe differently and, therefore, to pull pack a click from trying to politicize their beliefs, I'd be more than happy. Not counting on it.
Today's topic: miracles.
For all I know each religion has its own clear definition. Mine is an event that indicates the hand of god, or gods, at work: something the occurrence of which can't be explained except as such. Which, if I understand omniscience and omnipotence and perfection, ought to include everything, all the time.
When you think about it, that there can be no middle ground: If God is all knowing and all powerful, either he is in control of every single thing that occurs, everywhere, to everyone, or he's checked out entirely and no longer has his finger in the pie. Theologicians, ministers, believers can argue but there's no logical basis for concluding otherwise. In the universe of an omniperfect god, we're marionettes with minimal if any free will, or we're entirely on our own. To believe in miracles as an extraordinary event -- and in the power of prayer, for that matter -- you must reject the idea of a perfect god who is omniscient and omnipotent.
School bus drives off a cliff, carrying eighty kids. One lives. It's a miracle, say his parents, the press, and everyone who hears the story. God was watching over him. A woman is diagnosed with incurable cancer, "given" (as a doctor I always hated that term/concept) six months to live. Five years later, she's still alive. Miraculous.
But think about it: how can you call the survival of that child an act of god, without also saying the death of the seventy-nine was god's idea as well? If he chose to save the one, mustn't he also -- in his perfection -- have chosen to kill the others? Because, after all, he could have saved them; or what the heck -- not pushed the bus off the cliff in the first place.
We can't know the mind of God, people will say. He has his reasons; a plan for us all. Okay, fine. But since we know he arranged the death of the seventy-nine, and since we consider miracles an event that shows the hand of God, why don't we rejoice over the dead ones, and call them a miracle as well? Or is it that since we know God is at work in all these things, the miracle is when he does something nice? What does that say?
God is at work, or he isn't. If he chooses to (fill in the blank) and if he has (by accepted doctrine) the power and knowledge to do it, then when (fill in the blank) doesn't happen, it's also his choice. Right? How can it be otherwise? Unless sometimes he's not paying attention. In which case he's not perfect; certainly not omniattentive. Oops, he says. Didn't see that cliff. Well, there's still time to grab the one kid...
The death of the other kids is no less the work of God -- no less a miracle, therefore -- than the saving of the one. There are no miracles, or everything is a miracle, which sort of dilutes the significance. If God can choose to intervene sometimes, then he's also choosing NOT to intervene in the others, unless he's not fully engaged. But by the doctrine of perfection, power, knowledge, he must be. So there it is: he's doing it all, or he's doing nothing. Made us, intelligently designed us, then left us completely alone, like a terrarium in a sixth-grade science project, to see what would happen. Stayed overnight at a friend's house.