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Meanwhile, over at Patheos

I stopped by the Patheos web site to see how some of my former FtB co-bloggers were doing (they seem to be doing well, I’m pleased to say), and I spotted this post, under the heading, “Answer This, Atheists!” The blogger’s name is Marc, his blog is called “Bad Catholic” (great name), and the full title of his actual post is “An Attempt to Explain Christianity to Atheists In a Manner That Might Not Freak Them Out” (not so great name). He introduces his subject with the following preface.

Between being told that Christianity is a system of oppression, a complex way to justify burning with hatred over the existence of gay people, and a general failure of the human intellect, I begin to suspect that few people know why Christians exist at all. This is my attempt to explain why I am a Christian.

Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.

Right from the start, I see reasons to be skeptical. Who is he really trying to reach here? According to the title, he’s trying to reach atheists, and yet before he even gets to the end of the title, he’s implying that atheistic objections are not legitimate criticisms, but are merely instances of “freaking out.” That’s hardly a promising note to start out on, if your goal is really to try and address the actual concerns atheists have. On the other hand, if your real goal is to reassure Christians that their faith is reasonable, then framing atheistic criticisms as irrational freakouts is at least understandable.

I have similar doubts about the real topic here. He says he’s trying to explain why he’s a Christian, and from the very next sentence it’s clear that he’s going to focus on suffering as a reason for his belief in God. But that’s not likely to be the real reason why he believes there is a God, is it? You don’t really think he flipped on his TV one day, and saw that a tsunami had killed hundreds of thousands of people and caused untold devastation and suffering, and said to himself, “If there were no God, there would be no suffering, but such great suffering must mean there is an equally great God,” do you?

I suspect what we may be seeing here is an attempt to avoid “freaking out” over the blatant inconsistencies that exist between the nature and character of God as depicted in his religion, versus the manifest absence of divine and omnipotent benevolence in the world we see around us. He ostensibly addresses his arguments to atheists in order to project his own doubts onto a safer subject, but what we’re really dealing with here is not “What evidence suggests the existence of a real God?” so much as it is likely to be “Why do I keep on believing in God despite the evidence?”

That’s an interesting question, and I expect I may have to spend more time looking at this post over the next few days. After all, it is being advertised under the heading of “Answer this, atheists!”

Comments

  1. brucegee1962 says

    I have similar doubts about the real topic here. He says he’s trying to explain why he’s a Christian, and from the very next sentence it’s clear that he’s going to focus on suffering as a reason for his belief in God. But that’s not likely to be the real reason why he believes there is a God, is it? You don’t really think he flipped on his TV one day, and saw that a tsunami had killed hundreds of thousands of people and caused untold devastation and suffering, and said to himself, “If there were no God, there would be no suffering, but such great suffering must mean there is an equally great God,” do you?”

    Actually, this very well might be the main reason that he and others believe in God. Suffering is unpleasant to experience and to witness. Believing that it has a purpose is very comforting to many people. “It makes me feel better, therefore it must be true” really does pass as a logical argument to many people.

    Of course, you could then point out that, if suffering has a purpose, then Christians shouldn’t feel under any moral obligation to do anything to lessen it. Whereas the atheist, who believes most suffering is purposeless, is going to be far more eager to do something to stop it.

    Get rid of those epidurals in childbirth, says the Christian! Suffering in childbirth is ordained by God! The atheist would have none of that.

  2. jhendrix says

    Great post Deacon.

    The best part is right up front: that he assumes that all suffering must have a point.

    Some suffering may have a point, such as going through chemotherapy to survive cancer and live a bit longer, but certainly not all suffering has one.

    IMO, all of this underlies the foundational problem with how he’s tackling the issue: He can’t handle the obvious reality that there is a whole lot of suffering without a point.

    That is what we’d expect to find in a universe created by natural processes. But such a thing contradicts his preconceived belief in an all powerful, all knowing, all-good deity. And we just can’t have that, so lets start making with the ad-hoc justifications!

    But my favorite part is like all Christians, he tries to show only half their beliefs about the supposed “point” of suffering – getting back to “perfection”, or in christian vernacular – Heaven.

    But what does his religion teach about this place? That only a small minority of creation will get there. The rest of them? Fuck ‘em: eternal conscious torture.

    So all this “suffering” is so that a minority of creation could “know god” and “achieve perfection”; where as the rest must have just been necessary to achieve that “ultimate goal” in some way (otherwise why create them?), and are condemned to an existence where they’d have been much better off not being created.

    That’s the ultimate contradiction of christian theology in my view. And it doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic, Protestant, Calvinist, Reformed, or whatever else – if your theology has got the doctrine of hell in there, then they’re subject to this ultimate contradiction in terms.

  3. hexidecima says

    all his arguments seem to come down to his insistence his god is inept enough and powerless enough to “need” suffering, no different from any god that demanded blood sacrifice.

    Not much of a god then is it?

  4. baal says

    Between the “answer this!(eleventy)!” and “freak out” word choice, I’m feeling mirthful. Too many xtians get hung up on the tiniest of points that are based on serious logical falicies. Also, we have heard it all before, found the fatal flaws and moved on. Hint to the Bad Catholic – google atheist and apologetics.

    As to suffering, I’ve seen a number of people including in-laws have a hard time with reality when reality is absolutely awful (such as dealing with multiple terminal illnesses in close family in a short period of time). Some of the more religious among us went all in on conservative Christianity as an escape from dealing with their emotions. Far from suffering proving the NT-god’s existence; it showed me that people who are suffering (not the terminal folks, they were down right philosophical) emotional trauma will go anywhere they can to get a break. I don’t think they chose the best path but I also wasn’t going to give them additional grief or pressure (“grieving, you’re doing it wrong!” <–not going to be that guy).

  5. says

    “Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.”

    The only purpose that can legitimately be granted to suffering, is to be avoided. And that does not require invoking the supernatural.

  6. warrene says

    I got up to claim 3 and then head-desked myself for a while instead of reading on; I actually feel sorry for anyone that has to jump through that many hoops to try to justify his wacky belief system.

  7. says

    Cool. After all those years of attending church and being bussed directly to CCD after school on Wednesdays, going to a Lutheran college, studying theodicy, and reading the Bible, somebody is finally going to tell this atheist what the deal is with Christianity. Funny how nobody did that before!

    • Tracey says

      Especially in the USA, where just about everyone grows up Christian and the Christian message is all around, it seems very disingenous of someone to try to explain Christianity to an Atheist who was raised surrounded by Christianity and understands it already.

  8. says

    I also read that post and left a comment there. I don’t think most realize that pain and suffering are not theological issues, but rather, come straight out of our biological history of evolution. We don’t suffer because of a “fall” or so a divine imaginary friend can test our mettle, but rather, because without the actions to avoid or relieve suffering, our ancestors would not have been around to have us as descendants. I have written more about this here.

  9. F says

    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    After all those years of attending church and being bussed directly to CCD after school on Wednesdays,

    You got a bus ride? Fuck you! :lol:

  10. Dairy says

    “According to the title, he’s trying to reach atheists, and yet before he even gets to the end of the title, he’s implying that atheistic objections are not legitimate criticisms, but are merely instances of “freaking out.”

    “I suspect what we may be seeing here is an attempt to avoid “freaking out” over the”

    Yes, when HE does it he’s implying our objections aren’t legitimate, but when WE do it, we’re simply accurately discerning the motivations behind his opinions which conveniently delegitimises his opinions.

    Good to know.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Well, no, whether or not his motivations are up to snuff, his arguments need to be considered on their own merits (or lack thereof). As do mine.

  11. lordshipmayhem says

    Suffering proves that you have an injury. Having an injury means you must rest the injured part so as to allow it to heal, or take other healing action.

    That is the only point to suffering. Anything else is puffing up your self-importance.

    • Jer says

      No, pain, which is a feeling generated as a biological response to stimulus by the brain, indicates that you might have an injury.

      Suffering can be a response to physical pain. It can also be a response to emotional stimuli that have no roots in physical pain at all.

      Our brain’s translation of stimulus into a pain response has a purpose. It’s purpose is just like everything else that mutation and natural selection has packed into us – to keep us alive long enough to reproduce.

      Suffering has no purpose. And, what’s more, the author of the post that DD linked to admits it right in that bit that DD quoted:

      Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.

      Look at how he phrased it. He even knows that suffering is purposeless. “cannot GRANT purpose to suffering.” A philosophy does not grant a purpose – purpose either exists or it doesn’t. If it’s there, we can follow the chain of cause and effect back to find its source. If it isn’t there then we can’t. Dead simple.

      What the author is ultimately arguing is:

      * If you follow the chain of cause and effect for suffering backward, you find no source
      * Therefore God

      To be more charitable, you could say the author is arguing:

      * If you follow the chain of cause and effect for suffering backward, you find no source
      * I find the idea that there is no ultimate source for suffering to be too horrible to contemplate
      * If I believe in God, then I can assign the ultimate source of suffering to Him
      * Therefore I choose to believe in God

      In that form it’s a bit more of the flavor of a Pascal’s Wager argument – he’s not arguing about the existence of God, just about what is better to believe.

      Which means it hinges on point 2 – do you believe that the idea of no ultimate source for suffering is too horrible to contemplate? If not, then there’s no discussion to be had.

      (Frankly I find the idea that the ultimate source of misery and suffering in the world is an unseen, unaccountable, omniscient, omnipotent, supernatural entity to be a pretty damn horrible one. What separates God from Nyarlathotep in that case?)

      • dustinarand says

        I agree with your distinction of pain and suffering, but would hesitate to conclude that the emotions associated with suffering have no adaptive value, and therefore no purpose (unless all you’re saying is that suffering has no ultimate purpose or cause, in which case I agree).

      • says

        In that form it’s a bit more of the flavor of a Pascal’s Wager argument – he’s not arguing about the existence of God, just about what is better to believe.

        I think you’re right on there. It’s not so much that he’s arguing that god exists. Rather, he’s arguing that human beings have a need to believe in a purpose for suffering and that a belief in god is necessary to give a feeling of such purpose.

        I’m not sure if he’s really aware of what he’s doing, but the argument seems pretty clear. It certainly holds no water in the straightforward sense of “suffering, therefore god”, so this version of the argument is the only halfway sensible option.

  12. Randomfactor says

    Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.

    So? Given the choice, I’ll take purpose WITHOUT suffering. Any god which can’t provide purpose without torturing conscious beings is no god worth worship anyway.

  13. dustinarand says

    What’s so great about granting purpose to suffering, anyway? It seems to me that teleological causes are at best double-edged swords, as capable of justifying violence as they are of assuaging existential angst.

  14. says

    First, you have to reach a better understanding of what the word “purpose” means. It has (at least) two different usages based on the presence of “intent” in the context. Richard Dawkins covered it in this lecture. I have written more about that here.

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