Thursday, January 14, 2010

What The Devil?

Ever since Pat Robertson enlightened us, I've been thinking about the idea of a deal with the devil. I have a couple of questions.

First: it seems to me the kind of person who'd make a deal with the devil is pretty much already consigned to hell. So wouldn't making a deal be a smart play? Get a little something up here before you sign in down there?

Second: how does this pact thing work, anyway? Some guy can get a deal that pays forward so that two hundred years later, a bunch of innocents get destroyed, painfully, miserably? Oh, yes, I know: the deal was with the devil. This here thing is from god. So he (god, not the devil -- although in this case it's hard to tell) smites people who had nothing to do with Pat's pact, centuries later, as punishment? The fact that Haiti is 80% Catholic isn't enough?

Finally, the most obvious question: this Christian god is all mighty, right? Can do anything, n'est-ce pas? So what the hell is the devil doing existing, anyway? (I'm sure there's plenty of theological thought -- somewhat of an oxymoron -- on the subject, but why not some common sense?) Either god is the most powerful, perfect, capable thing in the universe, or he's not. If the devil exists, and can pactifiy people, per Pat, then it can only be at the pleasure of god, correct? Alternatively, if the devil can exist and do all the bogey-man stuff that Wretched Robertson claims, then he (the devil, not god, although it's hard to tell them apart in this case -- or did I mention that already?) is as powerful as god. But god is all-powerful; he makes earthquakes that kill people by the hundreds of thousands, ferchrissakes! Plus, god has a plan for everyone and everything. So isn't it obvious who, in fact, made a pact with the devil?

Just asking.

Meanwhile, as it is with prayer, the whole idea of the devil is self-negating. Assuming there's an oog (I'm getting tired of writing "omniscient, omnipotent god"), and if that means -- as it's said -- that god has a plan for everyone, then what the devil is going on? Can the devil disrupt god's plans? If so, then god has a plan but is unable to carry it out. Big deal. So do I. If the devil can't foil god's plans, then what's he for, except scaring people into coming to church (and sending money to Pat Robertson), and giving a lot of people excuses? You simply can't reconcile deviled oogs.

It's one thing to believe in god. But if I also believed in some red guy running around causing havoc that my god was powerless to prevent (or that he chooses not to prevent so he can see people fry in hell or, even better, directly inflict massive suffering on their heirs for generations), I'd be embarrassed to admit it. In fact, I would have hoped for the moral strength not to have bought in.


  1. I know this is irrelevant to you (since you've adopted atheism as your response to the dilemma), but there's a lot of recognition of the paradox of a god that is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. You can have any two, just not all three at the same time. Rabbi Harold Kushner gives up all-powerful in "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." Others have taken other routes to resolving the cognitive dissonance. Rejecting the whole idea of god altogether is just as valid. Just to let you know that the issue has actually been addressed.

  2. Hey, Dino, nice to hear from you. It's a fascinating subject, and I'm well aware I'm not the first to ponder or question. My rejection isn't just based on the dilemma; it covers much more territory, not the least of which (nothing original here, either) is the ultimate question: from where did god come? Any way one looks at it, one must accept the existence of something pretty big and complex (ie god, or the universe) without "creation," at least as we understand the word.

    I've read Kushner. I find it amusing, really, that he must give up omnipotence to make any sense of it. What, really, does that leave of god, or of our prayers? Other than the preceding question, I can find some sense in the idea of a hands-off god, ie one that banged the bang and then stood back to see what happens. Like a science project. But, as I've said, he's either all off or all on. If he is capable of intervention but choses not to he has, in fact, intervened. And if he's entirely hands off, why pray? Or believe. What's the difference? Other than, I suppose, the comfort of believing there's an afterlife of some sort.

    Personally I've always liked the Kaddish, the part that "they still live on in the acts of goodness they performed and in the hearts of those who cherish their memory."

  3. JB of Sid blog space fame surfaces for once to comment on Sid's religious ruminations. I cannot debate a brain like Dr. Schwab's, as I am relatively simple in my approach to most things...a nicer word is practical and effective. However, his battle with the concept of Devil, and a God (cap'd for fear of banishment)who allows earthquakes in Haiti, and kids to die from brain cancer, and Pat Robertson's "Pact" statement and "if HE (caps of fear) already knows, why ask"....all of those are legitimate, honest and frankly, beyond my poor power to add or subtract. (Bill Shakespeare)
    For one, I can say that I have logged a couple hundred hours IN THE VERY PRESENCE of THE SID...and honestly, he comes on strong and often irrefutably correct. On the God thing, nobody knows, but I would buy into Pascal's Wager...never bet against good stuff if it is free. However, when Jesus in Matthew 18 says: "Whenever two or three of you are gathered in my name, I am also there," bothers me a in, "Hey, when I am all alone in the bunker, praying like heck and mortars are coming in back in 68, am I all alone?" Sid has dropped his usual intellectual insightive bomb on the Temple...with the usual results....we just stand back in awe. (Sorry Frank, but Sid is THE MAN) JB

  4. JB: As you well know, I love you, man.

    You, of all people should have enjoyed the "deviled oogs" comment, and I'm shocked and hurt that you didn't mention it. (Not really, as you also know.)

  5. I always read you, Sid. I rarely comment, because the vast majority of the time, all I could say is "Hear, hear!"

    My take on god/religion/etc. is simply that I refuse to take any of it literally. Which means all your fancy footwork about prayer, god, creation, free will, etc. is irrelevant. Religion -- although misused by a very large proportion of its proponents -- has nothing to do with the "how" of the universe. Rather, it's a framework that can meet the emotional needs of human beings.

    You can present an extremely cogent argument against life after death (a la PZ Myers and other atheists), but when you've watched a family bury two sons in ten weeks, and you see the comfort they get from imagining their boys in heaven, together, and at peace...anyone who dares try to debate them is an asshole.

    Religion doesn't (shouldn't) have anything to do with science. But in times of pain -- and joy -- humans have needs that science cannot fill.

    Interestingly, the bit you quote about "they still live on the acts of goodness..." has nothing to do with the Kaddish itself, which is basically a prayer praising god (one in which you deny belief). In fact, the prayer doesn't have anything to do with death, which is why it was adopted to help mourners remain connected with the living. The part you're quoting is from the extra material usually recited before the Kaddish itself. Still, I think it shows that at some level, you recognize the power of religion to be of emotional comfort in trying times.

  6. Dino, in my various rants on religion, especially those on Surgeonsblog, I've nearly always acknowledged the role belief has in comforting the sick and their families; in fact, I've said I'm always pleased to deal with such families (except in the cases where, as I wrote a couple of years back, when the very religious, confronting, for example, cancer have a psychic collapse over the idea "why me? I've done everything right.") because, frankly, it's easier when they see it all as part of God's plan.

    I've never disagreed with what you seem to say, ie that religion is a construct (you might not buy that term) of man, for the purpose of salving the existential angst we feel as self-aware beings, knowing that death will happen. For most, it works. It's a way of answering the unanswerable in exactly the ways needed to give comfort. Truth of it is irrelevant. Nor do I have a problem with seeing the bible metaphorically. It's the literalists that are, literally, killing us all slowly.

    I've always thought that religion ought to help us deal with the world the way it is, rather than demand that we deny what we know. If beliefs (eg, the age of the earth) are demonstrably wrong, we ought to change the beliefs; but they do it the other way around.

    I also think there may be an evolutionary component: developing respect for authority might have had a survival benefit. Trust the leader to keep us safe. The "god gene," as it's been described.

    And thanks for the info about the Kaddish. It's been a long time.

  7. Pat Robertson just can't stand anyone, including God, getting more attention than him, so he blames acts of God on his fellow man in the Devil's name hoping that way everyone will notice him instead.

    That's a pretty thin hope to base one's life on.


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