Friday, March 20, 2009
Devil In The Details
Well, well. Satan is coming to a street near me. Or, at least, a nationally televised discussion about his existence will be taped at a nearby church. And what a line-up they'll have!! Deepak Chopra M.D, that gifted purveyor of medical bullsh*t and raker-in of millions; a local mega-church pastor (think he'll say something that would put him out of a job?); the founder of "Hookers for Jesus"; and a preacher who was branded a heretic for saying you don't have to be Christian to get to heaven.
I think this is a subject about which it takes a non-"expert" to point out the stupidity. Someone from the outside, free of indoctrination, unmuddled of head, to drop by and say, as respectfully as possible, "You people are nuts!! Why are you even talking about this?"
See, this is what happens when you start with an impossible premise; namely, that we got us an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect, and loving god. And then you take a look around and see how screwed-up everything is. Greeks and Romans came up with a bunch of gods, a-feudin' and a-fightin' with each other. Animists -- probably the original believers -- had similar ideas; so did Hindus. Frankly, they all are more consistent with reality than the Bible: at least they recognized the capriciousness of world and sort of threw their hands up. But then along came monotheism, the self-proclaimed one true faith, perfected by Christianity. None of that frivolous stuff, all those gods and spirits and obviously erroneous explanations. We got us one god here, perfect and powerful in all things. No need for the extraneous. Unless you count all those saints and apostles. Oh, and Satan. There's gotta be a guy named Satan. But there's only one god.
It's not as if I don't understand: far from perfect, the world is full of pain and bad guys. Could a loving and omnipotent god be doing all of that, or letting it slip through his fingers? There must be another actor out there, an evil-doer living in the center of the earth. Yeah, that's it. Makes perfect sense. God could have made everything perfect. But since he didn't, we need an explanation. So let's make one up. (Well, until that damn girl screwed it up, I guess he did. One bite of an apple, and that loving perfect god decides to invent disease and defects [warning: don't click the link. It could cause permanent brain damage] and rain them down upon all of mankind forever more, a bazillion generations hence. Talk about losing that loving feeling.)
And so it goes. Once you begin on the path of inconsistent thinking there's no end to it. First you reject the most sensible option, that there is no god. Then -- because what's the point of it all if not to make yourself feel good (and to enrich the purveyors) -- you most certainly must avoid cutting yourself on Occam's razor by admitting the best reconciliation of the idea of god with the reality of our world is that he/she/it/they is/are either incompetent or brutally perverse. So you start plugging and patching the holes. God is great, but there's that devil out there. Never mind that a loving and omnipotent god could have chosen another way (which makes him, to put it mildly, kinda devilish). Ignore the fact that the whole idea of heaven and hell, of eternal reward and permanent punishment entirely negates the idea of a perfect and loving god. Rather, believe in a red guy with horns poking around and messing things up. Like Froggy the Gremlin.
Disasters happen; people are nasty and stupid and horrible; beautiful babies get sick or starve and die. Can't be god. The devil made it happen. But doesn't it all just collapse under its own weight at some point? Isn't it self-contradictory to blame the absence of perfection on some devil thingy? In accepting such an explanation, isn't a fundamental internal inconsistency revealed in the Christian god-premise?
I know I'm not going to change any minds. To the extent that it would make people feel lost without their beliefs, I wouldn't even want to (although, if it'd make them agree to keep their religion to themselves and out of our schools and politics and civil rights, I'd be delighted). We have our human needs, and for most that includes not having to live with certain unanswered questions. I'd have an easier time letting it be, were it not also the case that there seems to be a direct connection with that sort of fact-lacked thinking and the sort of paranoid, obstructionist, and dishonest demagoguery we're seeing from the right side of the political spectrum of late. Those devils!
[Too perfect: as I'm finishing this post, there appears in my local paper the story of a woman who embezzled $70K from a church. Her defense: the devil made her do it. Wonder if she can get him to talk to the jury.]
[Geez, it must be a sign: now this was in Thursday's paper:]