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God’s Will, and Pathetic Excuses for Bad Behavior

Mystery of gods will
So what does it mean to say that something is God's will?

Especially if it's something done by a person, or people?

And double especially if it's something done by, you know, you?

There was an amazing and heartbreaking story on This American Life this weekend. A longish, complicated-ish story, but the short version is this: Two babies were accidentally switched at birth. The parents of one of the babies figured it out almost immediately. And yet they didn't say anything about it, to anyone — not the kids, not the other parents, nobody — for over 40 years.

Their reason? Well, that's part of the longish, complicated-ish story. (The full story is available here if you want to hear it.) But the short version: The father — an evangelical minister, a fact that'll factor in soon — didn't want to embarrass the doctor by calling attention to his mistake. And the mother was very sick for months after the birth: she didn't have the strength to go against her husband (who was apparently a difficult man to go against), and by the time she recovered, she felt it was too late.

So. Here's where the atheist blogger gets her dudgeon on.

Forty plus years later, these parents finally decided to tell. A terrible, disruptive event, as you might imagine. The evangelical minister father wrote to the other mother, apologizing for essentially having stolen her daughter and raised her as his own…

…but at the same time, saying that it was God's will.

?!?!?

You know, I have come up with some truly shabby excuses for my bad behavior in my day. I'm human, and I am not immune to the siren song of deflecting blame and guilt onto other people. Or onto bad luck, and accidents of the universe at large. But this? This takes chutzpah of a Herculean scale. This one has got to go in the Rationalization Hall of Fame. I'm actually somewhat awe-struck. Or I would be, if I weren't so appalled.

Sawzall_large
I mean, by that logic, you could say that anything you did was God's will. Stealing someone's car. Sleeping with their spouse. Carving their liver out with a Sawzall. Shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die. Anything at all that you do — the most selfish, wicked, fucked-up shit imaginable — could be defended by saying that it's God's will.

Of course, this inevitably leads to questions of free will and God's omnipotence, how can any of us truly have free will if it's all part of God's plan, yada yada yada. But right now, I'm just focused on the astonishing abdication of personal morality and responsibility.

And this isn't from just any old hard-core evangelical Christian. This is a minister we're talking about.

In a way, it's a fascinating version of that classic half-assed excuse, "Well, it all turned out for the best." In this case, of course, it didn't turn out for the best. A lot of lives were pretty badly fucked up by these people's actions. But if it's God's will, then by definition it turned out for the best. If God willed it, and God is all-good, then it must be the best. Q.E.D.

Which, again, could be applied to anything at all that you do. Or anything that anybody does.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

It's a good thing this guy's not an atheist.

Because if he were an atheist, he'd have no sense of responsibility, no basis for morality, and would act as if he could just do whatever he wanted.

Comments

  1. says

    Considering that it was the father’s decision and he’s calling it ‘God’s will’, he’s pretty much conflating himself with God. Not good.

  2. David D.G. says

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
    It’s a good thing this guy’s not an atheist.
    Because if he were an atheist, he’d have no sense of responsibility, no basis for morality, and would act as if he could just do whatever he wanted.

    Which, of course, is EXACTLY what he DID demonstrate about himself.
    Sorry, Greta, I know your conclusion was intended as irony for us to pick up on, and I’m sure the more intelligent readers can catch that — but I felt that, for the benefit of anyone who just might have missed that, it needed to be stated explicitly. I apologize if I have stepped on your authorial toes in doing so.
    ~David D.G.

  3. John B Hodges says

    Religion doesn’t really teach morality at all; it teaches rationalization.
    If a religious believer, or community of same, wishes to make war or keep slaves or oppress women, all they have to do is persuade themselves that their god approves. This seems not to be hard, and no god has ever popped up to tell a believer that they were wrong.

  4. says

    Awesome!
    I knew that God had a plan when I took all that cash from my labmate’s purse.
    It’s freaking sweet to have a God that wants me to be rich.
    (P.S. I am not really a crook).

  5. says

    I’m absolutely gobsmacked by this story. It sounds like the classic case of a mistake that went uncorrected initially, and the more time went by, the more hurtful and embarrassing it would have been to come clean… and this is the result.
    But what’s appalling that this minister is still trying to make excuses for what he did, pathetically invoking God’s will as if that could soothe the pain he’s caused both families. There’s no telling what his initial motivation may have been, but we can safely say that now he’s completely culpable, and is clinging to his belief in God so as not to have to take responsibility for the terrible wrong he committed.

  6. says

    Religion doesn’t really teach morality at all; it teaches rationalization.
    Sometimes a blogger whips out a seemingly minor point that gets me all excited.
    David, you have so done this!
    This point is huge, and you are so right. One of the ways in which we can know this is that there are so many things that religious people need to rationalize, things that seem to be immoral on first impression, that religious folk accept based on the explanations of their preists, superstitions, or religious magic books.
    “suffer not a witch to live” says the bible, therefore its okay to torture and murder hundreds of innocent men and women, even though it feels wrong, its okay ’cause god says so.
    “any death in the fight against the infidel will be a martyrdom in holy jihad that will bring you to glorious paradise”, so its okay to fly into those buildings, even though it feels wrong, its okay, ’cause god says so.
    I may need to explore this further at my own site.
    -Q

  7. says

    I have heard of babies getting switched at birth before, but this is the first time I’ve heard of it happening and the parents, knowing about it, did nothing. I just couldn’t imagine the horror that woman felt when her “parents” told her that she was not really thier daughter. I’m about 40 years old and it’d be like my whole life was a lie. Wow! And this is God’s will?

  8. Ola says

    Wait, maybe he meant that he considered the doctor’s mistake to be an indication of God’s will, so he adjusted his own actions accordingly?
    Don’t get me wrong, it’s still fucked up — like seeing a little old lady slipping on a banana, and instead of helping her up saying “It was God’s will that you fell, so you should stay down”.
    But it’s not as fucked up as conflating himself with God — which is a big no-no for most religious folks, from what I heard… (recall Joan of Arc’s trial)

  9. Eclectic says

    And here I am thinking “what’s the big deal”? For me, the definition of family is much more one of memes than genes.
    I should go and read the long story, but I categorically disagree with Robert Madewell that this “would be like my whole life was a lie”. Did your parents have a hidden purpose for raising you? If not, your life was true.
    Of course, I also don’t understand why being adopted is such a big huge hairy deal to some people.
    The one thing I think it’s good to know about genetic ancestors for is health and genetic predispositions to disease. Or at least know that your parents’ halth isn’t necessarily a guide to yours.

  10. Lisa says

    Great piece Greta! I heard that story too and was equally appalled. Isn’t this exactly what George Bush has said about his war on terror?

  11. says

    And here I am thinking “what’s the big deal”? For me, the definition of family is much more one of memes than genes.

    Eclectic, you really should listen to the story before you come to that conclusion. One of the things that made it so fascinating was how much it showed that genes can matter. A lot.
    In the case of these two girls, at least. Both of them had personalities that clearly would have been more at home in their birth families, and both of them had always felt somewhat like a fish out of water in their “adopted” families. (I know, a lot of us feel like fish out of water even with our birth families… but this was a lot more dramatic than that.)
    I have nothing against adoption, when it’s done openly and honestly. I’m totally in favor of it. But babies aren’t blank slates. Given the increasing evidence we have of how much personality and character are shaped by genetics, I think non- consensual secret adoption (which is essentially what this was) is pretty fucked up.

  12. mike says

    It is really interesting to me that two people listening to the same shows can come away from it with such different reads on the situation. Granted I heard this in the car and did not hear everything, but there were some other points to the story.
    The minister father did not believe that a switch had happened initially, he thought his wife was have a post partum delusion (I agree he should have paid more attention to his wife, but I got the impression that he did not believe the switch had happened for a few months).
    The bit about not wanting to embarrass the doctor was further muddied by the fact that the doctor had treated the wife without accepting pay for several months.
    I agree that it was a messed up situation that should have been fixed earlier rather than later but I didn’t really see the the minister as the one bad actor in it, there were a lot of players with varying degrees of blame.
    I was particularly struck by the townspeople who knew for years and didn’t say anything. I was also appalled by the mother who really seemed to be trying to kick out her daughter, even going so far as to try to change her daughters name at age forty.

  13. says

    Well, here’s the thing, Mike.
    I’ll acknowledge that my summary of the show simplified things somewhat. What with it being a summary and all. I even said so, when I said that it was a longish, complicated- ish story of which I was only giving the short version. And yes, there was a certain amount of blame to go around. (Although I disagree with your assessment of the townspeople. They didn’t “know.” They guessed correctly.)
    But however you slice it, what the evangelical minister father did was pretty terrible. He absolutely should have paid closer attention to his wife — especially because she had actual evidence of the switch (the birth weight of the baby they took home was two pounds less than the birth weight of their baby in the hospital). And over the years, whenever the wife brought the subject up again, he not only refused to say anything to anyone himself — he made it clear that she was not permitted to say anything, either, and that there would be severe consequences if she defied him.
    However you slice it, what he did was pretty terrible. And he tried to excuse it by saying that it was God’s will… an excuse that I think is totally half-assed, one that actually compounds guilt rather than diminishing it. And that’s my point. I’m not talking here about the show as a whole. I’m talking, very specifically, about that phrase, and the use of it as a justification for mistakes and bad acts.

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