I don’t think Christians are evil. But the Christian God is evil, and belief in him runs the risk of non-evil people embracing evil through lazy moral and intellectual concessions to things that do not deserve to be conceded. And the Problem of Evil settles it.
The PoE came up on yesterday’s show, and in response to the show we got some correspondence from an atheist who’s having this very discussion with a Christian friend. As we see from the friend’s responses, theodicy isn’t so much an exercise in rebutting the Problem of Evil as making excuses for it. It often falls back on appealing to God’s incomprehensibility to the minds of mankind. That God created minds incapable of understanding his cunning plans and mysterious ways, while simultaneously mandating our eternal punishment for rejecting him based on our failure to understand him, pretty much counts as the greatest dick move in the history of everything. (Or it would, if God existed. Fortunately, he doesn’t.)
Anyway, as these conversations usually go, the hypothetical Crime That You’d Really Think God Should Stop, Because Come On — the rape of a child — ended up on the table. This one always ends up being the example, because whether theist or atheist, child rape is something that anyone who isn’t utterly diseased between the ears can agree crosses the moral event horizon into utter irredeemability. The Christian will still look for a path to redemption here, and this fellow instantly resorted to the most common defense of the PoE: the Appeal to Free Will.
The power of free-will allows evil. Omnipotent meaning “state of being all-powerful” does not necessitate God has to correct evil for it is a result of the free-will he gave us. I believe omni-benevolent is generally given as an attribute to God, which He is. He is all perfect and flawless in essence. Evil came out of the free will he gave us. The Omniscient aspect is something that none of us can comprehend as humans because none of us have it. Thus, He knows what is best permanently and can see things with a perspective that none of us are even capable of seeing them. His action (or what may be perceived to us as non-action) are all a result of His omniscience which may be played out in timing and setting. I don’t see this contradiction being valid.
This explanation shows how freely Christians toss around the three “omnis” and play with the definitions of them until they are more or less meaningless. Immediately after describing omniscience as “something that none of us can comprehend,” he then presumes to comprehend it by explaining that God “knows what is best permanently” and is just way way smarter than us. But this is a dodge, not a response, because it not only appeals to an unknown but an admitted unknown. Seriously, he’s saying no less than “Because none of us can understand God’s ways, you’re wrong in saying they’re wrong and I’m right in saying they’re right.” It’s self-evidently absurd.
The appeal to free will is the very worst example of theodicy there is, for many reasons. First, it excuses God’s inaction by taking into account only the freewill of evildoers, not their victims. As Tracie said to a caller a few weeks ago (and which has now become the all-time most quoted line from AXP), “The difference between me and your God is that if I could stop someone raping a child, I would.” What kind of moral monster sits back and watches the most helpless and innocent victim have her life destroyed, solely because of some perverse notion of the inviolability of free will? Doesn’t the victim’s free will — which is presumably screaming “I do not wish to be raped, please, kthxbai!” — matter? Who wants to worship the patron god of child rapists? And this is the same deity from whom Christians insist I have gotten my morals?
The appeal to free will also conflates will with action. Free will only implies the ability to desire a thing. It doesn’t imply an ability to act on that desire. There are many things I cannot do because of the very nature of the organism I am. I would like to be able to teleport. I would like to live to be 1000 in perfect health. I would like to be the meat in a Jennifer Aniston/Jessica Chastain sandwich. (You’re welcome for that visual.) Does the fact I cannot do these things mean my free will has been taken away?
In short, free will is the most common, but dead worst rebuttal to the PoE there is. It doesn’t even appreciate the problem.
In the follow-up, you watch in despair — rather what it must look like to witness a school bus plunge off a bridge — as this Christian contorts himself into thinking up ways in which the rape of a child can fit into God’s Great Plan. It’s truly monstrous, but it presents as clearly as anything could that what Christians consider most important, even when considering life’s darkest and most inexcusable evils, is that when the dust settles, their God emerges untarnished and every bit as worthy of fawning worship. Try to read this without too much headdesking.
I do agree that there are a lot of tough circumstances that are capable of making anyone question whether there is a loving God that exists. It is truly amazing that suffering can be so prevalent in our world.
After doing some investigations myself, one question that I really had a hard time answering is, “what is just?” … How would we define a just God when He has created everything and breathed life into all things? If you do believe in a God, then you would believe that He had the power to give it to us, then He also has the right to take away life. You see it in the Bible many times when God is not happy, and He allows things to happen in order to bring people back to the right path.
In the rape case you mentioned, I agree, why should a child have to endure something so horrid? That is a question that is hard for us to answer. I think about it in a similar way as mentioned above, if God had strucken him dead on the spot, would he have been just in giving the rapist another chance at redemption and everlasting life? If he stopped him and let him live, would he have had a drive to change his ways or would he be constantly driven to find another chance at doing such a thing? I believe that God finds ways to console the victim and to provide His love to the child, while also providing those instances where the rapist will suffer in guilt through all his confrontations with those around him. A lot of the time, I believe God’s solutions are long term and utilize time as another dimension. We like to see instant justification, but we do not have the element of time as a visible parameter that we have to work with, so we find it instantly “unjust” since we have no idea what the future holds. This goes back to the statement I made earlier about “what is just?”. We have part of the picture and truly cannot assess or define it without having all of the cards shown on the table, so to say.
Okay, let’s consider…
…why should a child have to endure something so horrid? That is a question that is hard for us to answer.
No. It is not a hard question to answer. It is the easiest question to answer that one could ever be presented with in an average three score and ten years of existence. The answer is: “There is, without exception, never a circumstance in which a child should have to endure sexual violation of any kind.” If you disagree, or think there are possible exceptions, then you suck at being a person. That is all.
I believe that God finds ways to console the victim and to provide His love to the child, while also providing those instances where the rapist will suffer in guilt through all his confrontations with those around him.
Oh, so he believes this? Well, jolly good show, old bean. Has he ever sought to confirm it? He says he did “some investigations.” What were they? How many childhood rape victims has he ever interviewed, to ask about all the ways God “consoled” them and made their attackers feel guilt and shame? Did these victims agree that the rapist’s valuable lesson in learning the feelings of guilt and shame was worth their getting raped (assuming any such feelings actually arose)? So the whole horrific exercise was just something that the rapist really needed, in order to learn some kind of empathy lesson, and their role as victim was simply to be a tool for that end?
Were the victims consulted by God on this first? “Excuse me, innocent child. But there’s this fellow who has a deep, sociopathic need to rape kids, and rather than simply erase it from him — because, you know, [echo] FREE WILL [/echo] — I’ve decided he needs to actually go through with it and then feel bad about it to learn that lesson, and, well, you’re as good as anyone for that. So, what do you say? A little rape? I mean, it would really help him out. Look, how about a pony? I mean, if he doesn’t kill you, because that could happen, and I could stop it, but like I said — [echo] FREE WILL [/echo]!”
This guy hasn’t thought about this. He hasn’t done any “soul searching.” He has simply concocted an elaborate series of excuses that allow him not to think about any horrible troubling thing, so that he can, at all costs, preserve his faith in a totally just God who does everything right all the time, even when his way of doing everything right looks like an unforgivable fuckup to us (because we cannot understand his multi-dimensional ways).
Now, let us take this whole ghastly exercise in finding the silver lining in the cloud of child rape, and marry it to an attitude prevalent in conservative Christian culture: the obsession with sexual “purity,” and the tying of (almost always a woman’s) entire personal worth into her level of sexual experience. Just today I read an article in which famous kidnapee and child-rape survivor Elizabeth Smart talks about the psychological damage she’s having to overcome from her experience, and the way her religious culture’s attitudes contributed to that damage.
Smart was recovered while she and her kidnappers were walking down a suburban street, leading many Americans who followed her story on the national news to wonder: Why didn’t she just run away as soon as she was brought outside?…
Speaking to an audience at Johns Hopkins about issues of human trafficking and sexual violence, Smart recently offered an answer to that question. She explained that some human trafficking victims don’t run away because they feel worthless after being raped, particularly if they have been raised in conservative cultures that push abstinence-only education and emphasize sexual purity:
Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.”
Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”
So: marry “God has a plan we cannot understand, and besides, evildoers need to learn lessons” to “YOU, WOMAN, ARE UNCLEEEAAAN!” and you have a pretty comprehensively shitty deal for the victims here, don’t you?
The Problem of Evil doesn’t merely reveal Christianity’s moral failings. It’s the headshot that takes Christianity down for good and all, as the polar opposite of a moral belief system. Really, it’s over. Walk away from this evil, Christians, I implore you. It will be the best for you, and probably good for some little one you love.