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:]



  1. The contradiction that caught my attention - when I was about nine years old - Concerned 'Free Will'

    First, I was told that we have 'Free Will' that we are free to choose between good and evil.

    Then, I was told that God is all knowing - that he knows, and always knew, from the beginning of time all things that would happen to the end of time.

    I asked why, that if God knows what people will do, does he punish them when they do what he knew they were going to do?

    I asked, did Judas have free will? Someone had to betray Jesus; the prophecy said so - because - if no Judas, no Jesus.

    I asked if Mary had free will, could she have refused to be the mother of Jesus? Didn't the angel just tell her how it was going to be?

    What about Balaam, he didn't want to go on the journey, but God made him do it.

    And Jonah...

    And Satan - the being created by God - who knew he would rebel.

    If God knows, how can there be 'Free Will?'

    I never got any answers to these questions - they trouble me still.

    Whatever the cause of the universe is - call that cause Him/Her/God - religions do not and cannot encompass or explain it.

    I am left only with faith that good is better than evil, and the love that Jesus - God or man, and the great ones like him taught - is the best we can hope for or do.

  2. anonymous: thanks, well said. It's a hard struggle. And I appreciate your final comment, that good is better than evil. Many say the only way you can live that is with religion. I say it follows simply from looking around.

  3. Dear Dr Schwab... sigh... well written as always... I appreciate your questioning/position...important questions... understandable questions... but I couldn't disagree more...and perhaps disagree is the wrong word.

    I understand what you don't.

    Doesn't make me any better by any means... I just get it.

    You must know...there are a heck of a lot of people that give people of faith a bad name.

    But that would be logical and surely you know that.

    Sometimes I wonder if when people opposed to God or religion...seize on the whack job's erroneous and sometimes appalling errors/insults...blah... that they are using those people and their actions as justification for labeling all of a this case it seems Christianity..which is being called to task. ?

    Anonymous... God's omnipotence is not conditional upon free will and vice versa. Two separate things.

    And about free will.

    1.Intended will -God's intended will..what he wants to happen.

    2.God's circumstantial will - things that happen that *he didn't intend*.. because he ALLOWS free will.

    3.God's ultimate will - It might be through the more circuitous route... but ultimately he will achieve his intent.

    God's omnipotence allows him to see past, present and future simultaneously. He knows... but things run their course. And I do believe he intervenes... but I don't pretend for a second to know why things specifically work out as they do.

    Perhaps for spiritual, emotional and physical growth in us oh so fallible humans.

    Perhaps for reasons that none of us can ever understand on this side of eternity... but because we don't understand... does not prove or disprove the existence of God or his plans.

    I'm somewhat drained/down today (not your post), but will come back when I regroup on my happy place. Ha! I have to find it 1st! Just one of those days..we all have them from time to time. :) was interesting and I have no doubt the subsequent comment thread will be too. :)

  4. They had something similar go on at my university (UNF). When a church group sponsored a debate between our genetics professors and a man named Kent Hovind, who is skilled at debating vs. evolution. I was a biology major at the time and went because I thought he would be proved wrong, and the church people would have no choice but to see they were wrong. Well I was wrong because the debate was moderated by the church, my professors were given little opportunity to debate and instead had to sit and listen to Mr. Hovind bash evolution. The crowd was very obnoxious with cat calls and calling the professors dumb, etc. I realized that people came there not to be enlightened and reason with their beliefs but instead to confirm what they already believed. No one was going to be convinced of anything that night. Coincidentially Mr. Hovind went to federal prison 2 years after that for tax evasion, he claimed he was a church in and of himself and had no tax obligations, I guess the lord works in mysterious ways.

  5. SS: I'd rephrase it to say you "believe" what I don't. It's not about "understanding." You buy a certain way of explaining the inexplicable; I don't. You accept complicated sophistry of intended will, circumstantial will, and ultimate will, and see it as making sense of that which makes no sense; ie, reconciling omnipotence and omniscience with the idea of free will. I don't. We'll never know who's right, of course, nor convince the other. (Well, you believe you'll be vindicated in an afterlife). It works for you, it works for me.

    Robert: I've heard much about Hovind, and was pleased when he got his due. Hasn't entirely stopped him, though.

  6. "...good is better than evil. Many say the only way you can live that is with religion. I say it follows simply from looking around."

    I agree. I find it really discouraging that one can only have moral aptitude if one is told what is right or wrong. Like atheists should not be trusted; since we (I actually don't know if you're an atheist so I mean myself and fellow atheists) don't believe in a higher power, we all must be sociopaths. The only way that a person could have common decency or an innate sense of right and wrong is through religion.

    I guess I can even go a step further in saying that the mass majority doesn't necessarily want me to believe in Christ, but believe in something even if its wrong because believing in something is better than believing in nothing (Glen Beck?).

    I don't need someone to tell me that murder is wrong. I don't need eternal punishment looming over my head to keep me from wronging another human being. If other people need that, I guess whatever works. I can't tell if you're being nice just because you want to go to heaven or just because, but I do think that the action should be the only thing that matters. So, I agree with you, in that you can know good from looking around and being aware.

  7. Jade: Exactly right. I'd say -- and have said many times -- that it's a higher moral ethic to do good for its own sake than out of fear of punishment or promise of reward.

  8. Off topic and I'll be back.

    Just wanted to tell you and Leigh that I just put 3#D ultrasound pic of soon to be born granddaughter up.

    I'm in love. :)

  9. Thank you, Seaspray! That made my day.

    Our daughter is in Dallas at a baby shower given for her by many of her college friends.

    More, much more, later. Now I MUST go outside and work on the garden; we're having company this week.

  10. SeaSpray:

    Actually, I did get some answers from adults that basically amounted to "God works in mysterious ways"

    That seems to be what I am hearing from you:

    1.Intended will -God's intended will..what he wants to happen.

    *Surely, the Bible shows that what God Wants, God Gets - or else!

    It was like that in my Army days the line went: "We can't make you do what we want, but we can make you wish you did."

    2.God's circumstantial will - things that happen that *he didn't intend*.. because he ALLOWS free will.

    * I mentioned Judas, Ballam, Mary and Noah; just a few of the people who were not "ALLOWED" free will. They had no choice at all.

    3.God's ultimate will - It might be through the more circuitous route... but ultimately he will achieve his intent.

    * See above.

    You said:
    "God's omnipotence allows him to see past, present and future simultaneously. He knows... but things run their course.

    * Things run their course?" Are you talking about Karma or Fate? Or do you mean that events have Free Will of their own?

    My post was not intended to prove God's existence or lack thereof; I was questioning the certainty of free will even in the face of so many biblical examples to the contrary.

    * Finally, I view people who need to intellectualize or "Prove" God's existence, by claiming that things exist because God exists and that God exists because things exist, to be insecure in their faith.

    If you have true faith, no proof is needed; if you need proof, you lack true faith.


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