The True Faith: Liberal and Conservative Christianity

Jerry_falwell_2There’s an area where most liberal/ progressive Christians and I would seem to be in agreement. And that’s about how screwed up it is for the Christian Right to spin their version of Christianity as the one true version of the faith.

When the Christian Right talks about Christianity as if their practice of it (bigoted, theocratic, intolerant, sex-phobic, hateful to women, hateful to queers, hateful to anyone who isn’t them, yada yada yada) is THE Christianity, the only Christianity, the Christianity that counts… well, the liberal and progressive Christians I know get almost as mad about it as I do. Maybe even madder.

But here’s the thing:

Liberal Christians do exactly the same thing.

And it bugs me almost as much.

Jesus_healing_the_sickI can’t count the number of times liberal/ progressive Christians have said things like, “All that hate and hellfire talk — that’s not Christian. That’s not the true message of Jesus. The true message of Jesus is love and compassion and tolerance. What the Christian Right is doing and saying — that’s not true Christianity.”

And you know what?

They’re just as full of it as the Christian Right.

Quakers_support_gay_marriageI mean, obviously I agree with them about the actual issues. I agree that their view of the “true” message of Christ is a better one. By several orders of magnitude.

I just don’t think it’s a more Christian one.

And I don’t think there’s any basis for saying that it is.

BiblefireThe Christian Left doesn’t have anything more to back up their claim of being the true faith than the Christian Right does. Sure, they can quote chapter and verse — but the Christian Right can quote chapter and verse, too. It’s not like it’s hard to find messages of hellfire and judgment in the Bible, or even in the New Testament, or even in the Gospels. When I was debating a liberal Christian over a similar issue, I did a quick flip through the Bible, and in just the first half of the first book of the four Gospels, I found six separate references to wrath, the hell of fire, the destruction of hell, and judgment day. Four of them in Jesus’s own words. It took me about ten minutes to find it. It’s plentiful, and it’s front and center. The Christian Right has every bit as much Scriptural support for their hellfire-and-judgment version of Christianity as the Christian Left has for their love-and-tolerance version. Sure, they cherry-pick the parts of Scripture that support their vision and ignore the parts that don’t… but isn’t that exactly what progressive Christians do when they ignore the wrath and damnation stuff?

Cherries_1Now, obviously I’m not saying that progressive Christians shouldn’t set aside the judgment-and-damnation stuff. The judgment-and-damnation stuff is beyond fucked up — it’s essentially a form of mind control that exists to squelch questioning and dissent — and it deserves to be set aside. And to be fair, most progressive Christians acknowledge that they’re cherry-picking. They’re not pretending to take every word of the Bible as literal truth while ignoring the parts they don’t agree with, the way the fundamentalists do. And that’s not an insignificant difference.

HeartBut when you ask progressive Christians why they believe their version of Christianity is the true one, the one Jesus wants us to have, when it comes right down to it all they can say is, “I feel it in my heart,” or, “That’s just what I believe.” They can quote chapter and verse to back up their ideas about what Jesus wants from them, and they can point to what does and doesn’t work in the world to back up their ideas about… well, about what does and doesn’t work in the world. But like all religion, their belief that they’re doing what God wants them to do ultimately comes down to the conviction of faith.

Jesus_fish_eating_darwin_fishThe problem with that, of course, is that the Christian Right is every bit as convinced that their version of Christianity is the true one. Their faith in a hostile, bigoted, pissily judgmental Christ who’s obsessed with who’s fucking who and how… it’s every bit as strong as liberal Christians’ faith in a gentle, loving, forgiving Christ who just wants us to treat one another with compassion. Their conviction is every bit as powerful; they feel it in their hearts every bit as passionately. And they have every bit as much evidence — which is to say, ultimately none — to back up their claim.

FireAnd I think progressive Christians need to cop to this. When the Christian Right acts like evil theocratic bigots, it’s much too easy to respond by saying, “Well, that’s not true Christianity, is it?” Yes, it is. The Christian Right are Christians, just as much as you are. And their hellfire and judgment version of Christianity is a huge part of the reality and the history of your faith. It’s not like they’re some weird obscure sect that believes Jesus is a space alien or something — they’re probably the largest and most politically powerful religious group in this country.

CrossBy all means, say that the Christian Right is wrong. Say that their vision of the world is hateful and bigoted and out of touch with reality and not one that you share or care to. Say that their version of Christianity isn’t the only one, even. Say any of that, and I’ll happily back you and stand by you. But don’t say that they’re not true Christians. They are Christians, by any reasonable definition of the word. You don’t have the one true version of the faith any more than they do.

“Give her an out”: Prayer and Terminal Illness

Okay.

Yes.

This.

CaduceusThis is one of the most beautiful, eloquent, touching pieces I’ve read about medicine and religion. The piece is about a child in Seattle with terminal cancer, and her family’s obsessive focus on healing her with prayer. (The story’s been in the Seattle newspapers, and the writer of the piece, Sid Schwab, is a surgeon and writer who’s commenting on it.) And it hits perfectly on the head one of the things that makes me most crazy about medical prayer — i.e., praying for someone, yourself or others, to recover from a serious/ terminal medical condition.

Quote #1:

Praying_hands…pray if you need to. Pray for comfort, for understanding, for strength. But get off this miracle healing thing. You’re ruining what life your child has left. Keep up hope? Sure, as long as it’s reasonable. But give her an out; give her a way to accept what’s happening to her, if such a thing is possible, without blaming herself.

And rather more harsh, but very much to the point, Quote #2:

GodI should just shut up at this point, and let it be about the care of the poor child. But I can’t. I must also say this: there’s something perverse to the point of revulsion in the idea of a god that will heal the girl if enough people pray for her. What sort of god is that? To believe that, you must believe he deliberately made her ill, is putting her through enormous pain and suffering, with the express plan to make it all better only if enough people tell him how great he is; and to keep it up unto her death if they don’t.

Yes.

Exactly.

What makes me crazy about medical prayer is exactly this. If God made you sick, has the power to make you better, and doesn’t, then either:

a) God is a complete asshole with the ethics of a sociopath,

or

b) You did something wrong.

Praying_hands_2svgYou didn’t pray hard enough. You didn’t pray right, with the right kind of feeling or faith. You didn’t get enough people to pray for you.

There’s something wrong with you.

It’s your fault.

Even if you’re a child.

And that’s what I like about the naturalist/ atheist view of the world. In the naturalist view, the world is often harsh, and terrible things will happen to you and your loved ones for no reason — but you don’t have to fucking well feel guilty about it. You can accept it, or fight it, or do whatever combination of the two works for you.

And if you can’t make it better, you don’t have to feel that it’s because you somehow made Daddy mad at you.

Dead_treeInstead, you can know that it’s just the way the world works: we are an animal species in the physical world, and animal species in the physical world get sick, or get in accidents, or get birth defects, or die in natural disasters. Sometimes good people, sometimes too young. And if it happens to you, or someone you love, it’s not because you/ they did something wrong.

Aerial_gardenferns_on_a_treeIt’s because you/ they are part of the world: the physical, natural world, with all its wonders and horrors. It’s a world that doesn’t really care whether you live or die, whether you suffer or rejoice, and to some people that can seem bleak and cold. But it’s a world of which we are a part, a world which we are intimately connected to down to our very molecules — not a world that stands apart from us and punishes us with sickness and suffering for reasons we can never fathom.

(From Surgeonsblog, via Pharyngula.)

Craig Thompson’s “Blankets”: Atheism in Pop Culture Part 3

BlanketsFirst of all: Atheist or not, if you haven’t read Craig Thompson’s Blankets, it’s a reading emergency. It’s not just one of the most beautiful and compelling graphic novels I’ve read; it’s one of the most beautiful and compelling books I’ve read in any format.

And if you’re interested in religion — whether you’re godless or a believer — it is absolutely a must-read, pretty much right this second. Thompson’s depiction of his fundamentalist childhood is a pitch-perfect depiction, in vivid and unignorable detail, of how, precisely, a religious upbringing can traumatize and fuck up a child. It’s not written as a critical argument, it’s not Dawkins or Dennet or Hitchens; it’s a personal, emotional, intensely intimate view of what this experience felt like from the inside. I don’t actually know if Thompson is an atheist or if he’s just discarded the fundamentalist faith of his childhood (maybe I should have called this post “Questioning Religion in Pop Culture,” but I’ve dubbed the series “Atheism in Pop Culture” and I’m sticking to it). But if you want to know how religion is playing out in families across the country, you have to read it stat.

So here, more specifically, is what I want to say about it.

Sunrise_over_the_seaOver at Daylight Atheism there’s a beautiful, eloquent post about how religious teachers act and speak as if they know how the spiritual world works — often in startling detail — better than the rank and file. The post, and the discussion that followed, reminded me immediately of this scene in Blankets:

Singing_angelsCraig is a child in Sunday school, being told in detail about what Heaven is like, how everyone will be singing songs and praising God forever. Craig asks his Sunday school teacher if he’ll be able to draw in heaven (even as a child he loved to draw), if he could praise God and creation with drawing instead of singing. And the teacher says, unequivocally and with complete confidence and authority, No. You can’t draw in Heaven.

The exact words in the book: “I mean, come on, Craig. How can you praise God with DRAWINGS?” And when Craig asks if he can “draw His creation — like trees and stuff,” she replies, “But Craig… He’s already drawn it for us.” She’s quite adamant about it.

Escher_handsNow, let’s set aside for the moment how appalling it is to squelch a talented child’s creativity by saying something like that. My point is this: How on earth did the Sunday school teacher know that you can sing in Heaven, but you can’t draw? On what basis was she making that claim?

None at all, that’s what. It’s not what she was taught about Heaven — she was taught about singing God’s praises, not drawing them — and in her closed mind, drawing therefore couldn’t be part of Heaven. But she didn’t really have any basis for her answer. She taught it to a child as if it were a plain fact — but she was just making it up.

The same way that all religious teachers are just making it up.

BibleThey don’t have any basis for their detailed claims about Heaven or Hell, God and the soul. They have Scripture, sure; but Scripture is self-contradictory and vague, and if you ask ten religions teachers what Scripture means you’ll get ten different answers. And there’s no evidence for any one of those answers being right or wrong. Ultimately, it always comes down to faith.

Greys_anatomySo I think this Blankets story shows beautifully how the very idea of religious teaching warps the basic idea of authority. I don’t mean authority like cops or bosses — I mean intellectual authority. Human civilization is based, at least partly, on the passing down of knowledge from generation to generation, from people who know stuff to people who don’t; and in particular children’s brains are wired, for good evolutionary reasons, to believe what adults tell them. But that only works when the intellectual authorities have their teachings based in reality and evidence (and are open to new ideas and being proven wrong). Religious teaching, of the “I know what Heaven/ Hell/ God/ the human soul are like, and I’m going to explain it to you” variety, completely hijacks that process, by presenting with the conviction of authoritative truth ideas that they are just making up.

Carnival of the Godless #70

Carnival of the Godless #70 is up over at Friendly Atheist, with its usual assortment of smart, funny, snarky, excellent atheist blogging. The carnival was kind enough to include both my Christian Spanking Porn and Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God pieces, and I’m both honored and vastly entertained. Those two pieces are about as wildly disparate as my atheist writing gets — from the contemplation of the finality of death to a contemplation of spanking in fundamentalist Christian marriage — and it tickles me to see both pieces in the same carnival. (If i can get my piece on atheism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the next round, it’ll be a triple play.) See you on the merry-go-round!

A Carnival and a Swarm: Theocracy and Crankiness on the 4th of July

JulytheoIt’s the 4th of July, and in my mutant form of patriotism, I’m participating in a blogswarm against theocracy and a blog carnival called This Is Not My Country.

Blogswarm Against Theocracy is pretty much what it sounds like. About a bezillion people have been blogging against theocracy in the run-up to the Fourth of July, and their posts are being collected here. I put in my silly-but serious piece on the “Buffy” spinoff “Angel” and its angry atheist view of religion and theocracy. And there’s a lot of other wonderful blogging against theocracy happening on this patriotic holiday. Check it out.

And appropriately enough, the This Is Not My Country blog carnival, dedicated to “expressions not of hatred for one’s country but of disappointment or anger at its abandoning of its values,” is now up on Hell’s Handmaiden. It’s an odd and interesting assortment of cranky, mostly lefty political writing, and they were kind enough to include my No Sex Please, We’re Democrats piece about abstinence-only sex education over on the Blowfish Blog. Happy 4th, everybody!

The Jasmine Episodes: Atheism (and Anti-Theocracy) in Pop Culture

Warning: This post contains significant Buffy the Vampire Slayer content. However, I think it’ll be of interest to non-Buffy fans. If I’m wrong, and you read it anyway… well, that’s five minutes of your life that you’re never getting back. Them’s the breaks.

Angel_season_4I was watching the Jasmine story arc of “Angel” recently (for those who aren’t familiar with the show, “Angel” was the spinoff series of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). And it suddenly struck me, in that “Duh, I am an idiot, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before” way:

This story is about religion.

JosswhedonFrom a pretty harsh atheist viewpoint. (Joss Whedon, the creator of the shows, is in fact an atheist — and not just an atheist, but a self-described “hard-line, angry atheist.”) The whole story is about why it’s harmful to believe in a deity that isn’t real, even if believing makes you happy. It’s about what, precisely, makes religion in general and theocracy in particular troubling at best and destructive at worst. And it’s about how religion has an inherent tendency to turn into theocracy given the opportunity — all religion, even a happy and blissful religion with a message of love and peace.

Jasmine1Here’s what happens in the story arc. (WARNING — SPOILER ALERT.) A powerful magical creature, Jasmine, comes into the human world. She’s born/brings herself into existence under extremely dubious circumstances (including possession, human sacrifice, and the manipulation of human history, among other things) — but when she springs fully formed into being, everyone who sees her is instantly filled with peace and bliss, love of one another and acceptance of themselves and the world… and a passionate desire to worship her. All the pain and suffering that had to happen in order for her to come into the world are explained as birth pains, and even the people who were injured the most by the process of her creation immediately love and worship her when they see her. And her power and influence grow exponentially, as more and more people become aware of her and worship her.

Scary_jasmineBut there are problems. Jasmine’s spell is blissful, but it’s deceptive, and although her followers see her as a beautiful goddess, the reality is that she’s a hideous monster with worms crawling out of her decaying flesh.

Also, while she seems to genuinely want peace and love in the world, she also expects, and insists on, unquestioning obedience and devotion.

Also, she eats people.

LornefredA small number of people see Jasmine’s real face — and these people quickly become outcasts, violently hated by believers, having to hide and even go underground. Soon the bulk of Jasmine’s energy that’s not going towards spreading the word and building her numbers is going towards finding and destroying non-believers — a task she accomplishes by turning her followers into fanatical spies, filled with violent, venomous hatred towards the non-believers. Jasmine’s spell is finally broken when the story’s hero discovers her true name and reveals it to the world

So let’s look at this story’s atheist viewpoint on religion and theocracy.

Okay, duh. But I want to break it down anyway.

TruthOne: It’s better to know the truth then to hold a false belief, even if that makes you happy. This is a morally and emotionally complicated message, and the story doesn’t shy away from it: the pain people feel when they lose their belief, and their moral conflict at trying to take that belief away from others. But while many of the story’s other points serve to support this position, it also seems to be a basic moral tenet — truth is a fundamental good, pretty much no matter what. Even if it makes you feel bad in the short run, it is almost always better in the long and even medium run.

Jasmine2Two: It’s important to know the truth — because holding false beliefs makes you susceptible to being manipulated and deceived in other ways. People under Jasmine’s blissful, loving spell will do anything for her — burn down their beloved bookstore, turn against their dearest friends and hunt them down like dogs, allow themselves to be eaten. Jasmine’s will is seen by her believers as good by definition… and everything else, every perception and human connection and moral position, gets twisted to fit that unquestionable axiom.

Three:

Religion has a natural tendency to turn into theocracy.

Jasmine3When the stability and peace of a society is built on the foundation of a false belief, nothing is more important than perpetuating that belief, and stamping out non-belief. A society built on reality and truth and evidence can be questioned… but a society built on a false belief — or even an unproven and unprovable belief — has to bolster that belief, or else it will crumble. So as soon as a religious belief system gains a foothold and acquires any real social or political power, that power will be turned towards (a) spreading the faith and (b) stamping out non-belief.

PrayinghandsThere are certainly religious individuals who are comfortable and happy with other people not sharing their belief. But there aren’t bloody many religious institutions who are comfortable and happy with that… and the ones that are tend not to be very powerful. (Compare, for instance, the numbers and political power of the Southern Baptists to that of, say, the Quakers.) And the institutional refusal to allow a belief to be questioned naturally leads to evangelism, repression of dissent, and the consolidation of social and political power.

GeorgebushIn other words — theocracy.

This is my entry in the Blogswarm Against Theocracy.

Humanist Symposium #4

Hslogo2

The Humanist Symposium is an incredibly cool blog carnival — it collects blog writings about atheism with a positive view of atheist lives and philosophies, absent any critiques of religion. (Not that I object to critiques of religion. Some of my favorite atheist writing critiques religion. But like a lot of atheists, I get tired of hearing that atheists just criticize religion without offering anything positive to replace it, and I like that there’s a regular forum that shows exactly how mistaken that assessment is.)

Humanist Symposium #4 is up now at Nullifidian, with a fascinating variety of ideas and perspectives about life and death without God. They were kind enough to include my piece Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God, so thanks to them for that. If you want a good selection of smart, thoughtful, positive atheist writing, I strongly encourage you to check it out.

Geraldine Fibbers’ “Richard”: Atheism in Pop Culture

Geraldine_fibbersI’ve been paying attention lately to pop culture depictions of atheism. Not so much to the usual dumb stereotypes of atheists — cynical, hyper-rational, dismissive of emotions, unable to make a leap of faith, yada yada yada — but to pop culture that seems to be depicting an atheist or atheist-friendly viewpoint.

One that’s been leaping out at me lately is the Geraldine Fibbers song “Richard,” off their “Lost Somewhere Between The Earth and My Home” CD. The song as a whole is a “devil wreaking entertaining havoc” song, interestingly mashed-up as a lesbian love story with a happy ending. But the second verse is the one that’s jumping out at me. At first listen, it plays like your basic obscure, enigmatic, magic realism. But when you remember that “fish” is/are a common symbol for Christ and Christianity, it all falls into place. The verse goes like this:

In an hour and a half the devil was down by the sea
working strange mischief on her bride to be.
Seems the pretty girl was laughing as her world was filled with doubt,
she laughed as her own head was chopped off
and the fish came spilling out.
Watching the fish swim into the sea through a river of red, she said,
“I’ve been wondering what’s been troubling my head.
And I thank you for expelling those irritating pests,
now if you’d slap me back together I’ll be at my very best,
and we can go you devil, we can go.”

I just love it. Especially the girl laughing as her world is filled with doubt; going “I’ve been wondering what’s been bugging me!” as the fish pour out of her head; and flirting with the devil-girl who cut off her head and emptied the fish out of it. I like this girl, and want to meet her. She’s saucy.

The National Porn Sunday Elephant

No, really.

I swear, I am not making this up.

ElephantIt sounds like one of my stranger dreams. “I dreamed that a right-wing Christian organization was trying to stop pornography by carrying a giant inflatable blue elephant from town to town.” I was almost tempted to file it in my dream diary.

But this is a real thing. There’s an anti-porn Christian-Right campaign that has selected October 7th as National Porn Sunday, a day to draw attention to what they see as the national problem of pornography. Because they see porn as the “elephant in the room” (or the “elephant in the pew”) that nobody talks about, they are publicizing National Porn Sunday by taking a 25-foot inflatable blue elephant on a 20-city tour.

The National Porn Sunday Elephant.

I have been having giggle-fits about it all day.

Monty_pythonThe thing that keeps striking me about the National Porn Sunday Elephant is how much the phrase sounds like “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” A collection of adjectives and nouns that are grammatically correct, and yet apparently selected almost entirely at random. Like a phrase someone would say if they had brain damage in Wernicke’s area. Noam Chomsky composed a famous sentence (I believe it’s in Bartlett’s Quotations) to demonstrate that a sentence can make perfect syntactical sense without making any semantic sense: “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” That’s what the National Porn Sunday Elephant sounds like.

I’m not going to get into the actual hysterical absurdity of trying to stop pornography by carrying a giant inflatable blue elephant from town to town. I’m certainly not going to get into the assumption that the existence and use of porn is a problem. I’m not even going to ask why the National Porn Sunday Elephant is blue.

I’m just going to say over and over again:

ElephantNational Porn Sunday Elephant.

(Via Feministing. The finest source for all your porn Sunday elephant news.)

The Problem of Suffering

Note: In this post, I do something I don’t often do — namely, make an argument for why I think religion is mistaken. Or classic Christian religion, anyway. If this is something you think you’ll be offended by, now might be a good time to stop reading.

Touch_of_evilThe classic big argument against the existence of God — or at least, against an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God — has always been the problem of evil. If you’re older than ten years old, you’ve almost certainly heard it: Why does evil exist? Why did God create us with the capacity for evil and the desire to do it? Why do bad things happen to good people?

Free_willBut for me, evil isn’t so much the problem. Evil can be more or less answered by free will: God wants us to have free will, so he has to allow us to do evil things. I don’t think it’s a tremendously good answer, and it’s one I ultimately don’t agree with; but it’s not an entirely unreasonable answer, and it’s one that takes a certain amount of debate and back-and-forthing to really counter.

The big problem for me is the problem of suffering — suffering that’s NOT caused by people.

TsunamiTsunamis. Droughts. Birth defects. Painful, drawn-out illnesses. Five year old children with cancer. That sort of thing.

This is not suffering caused by people with free will. If you believe in God, then you believe that this is suffering caused by God.

Blake_god_1Now, the usual answer to these things is “God moves in mysterious ways.” Yes, God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good (let’s call it APAKAG from here on out) — but we can’t possibly understand his plan. Maybe he wants these bad things to happen so something good can happen later, or to build character, or for some reason we can’t understand because we’re not as all-knowing as he is.

This, unlike free will, is an entirely unsatisfying answer. And not just because so many people use it in such a weasely way, explaining every good thing as being proof of God’s benevolence and every bad thing as mysterious ways.

It’s unsatisfying because it renders the entire concept of good and evil meaningless.

Far_side_god_1If God behaves in ways that would be considered unspeakably cruel and brutal if any of us did it, and yet is still considered good — not just good, but the apotheosis of good — than what on Earth does it mean to be good?

For God, or for us?

If you’re going to say that God causes these sorts of suffering, on purpose and with the power and knowledge not to do so — if you’re going to say that he has the power to prevent or stop this suffering, and doesn’t — and you’re still going to say that he’s good, then what possible meaning does the word “good” have anymore?

TornadoIf you say that, then you’re pretty much saying that what it means for God to be “good,” and what it means for us to be “good,” are such radically different concepts that the one has virtually nothing to do with the other. If our human understanding of good and evil have any meaning and any basis in reality, then God has pretty much got to be evil — brutally, cruelly evil. But if God causes horrible suffering for the duration of people’s lives when he has the power and know-how not to, and yet is nevertheless somehow good, then what it means for God to be “good” is so far removed from what it means for us to be “good” that it becomes an irrelevant abstraction.

And I don’t think the concepts of good and evil are, or should be, irrelevant abstractions.

CreationNow, you could argue that God doesn’t cause these things to happen. He merely allows them to happen. You could argue that God set the world and its physical laws into motion, but intervenes in that world only rarely.

HurricaneritaBut that just begs the question. If you have the power and the know-how to prevent or stop suffering — if in fact it would be easy for you to do so — and you merely stand by and do nothing… I suppose it’s not quite as evil as causing the suffering, but it sure is in the same ballpark. And besides, if God is APAKAG, why did he set the world into motion in a way that results in tsunamis and birth defects and pediatric cancer? Even a non-interventionist APAKAG creator god is still, by definition, morally responsible for the world he created.

Polio_vaccine_2And you could make the pet or parent comparison. Sometimes pet owners or parents have to do things to their pets or kids that cause suffering — taking them to the vet, pulling out splinters, not letting them eat whatever they want, etc. — in order to bring about some other good.

CatfishBut the problem with that is omnipotence. I’m a pet owner, and if I could avoid pinning my cat down, sticking her in the back of the neck with a sharp needle, and dripping 150 ml of fluids under her skin, every day for the rest of her life, you’re damn well right I’d do it. I do it because I’m not omnipotent — I have limited power, and that’s the only thing I can do within my extremely limited power to keep her alive and healthy.

Heaven_south_parkAnd you could argue that heaven is for eternity and this lifetime is an eyeblink, and the suffering of this lifetime compared to the eternity of bliss in heaven is like one stubbed toe in a lifetime.

NeedleBut again, I make the pet owner comparison. We only spend a couple minutes a day sticking a needle in the back of my cat’s neck… but she really really hates it, and she doesn’t understand why we do it, and if I could avoid causing her that suffering for that two minutes a day I would.

Sistine_godIf I — a reasonably good person, but very far from All Good — would avoid sticking my cat with a needle for a couple of minutes a day if I could, then wouldn’t an All-Good God avoid visiting people with tsunamis and droughts and birth defects and childhood cancer if he could?

It doesn’t make sense. And in order to try to make it make sense, you have to redefine the concept of goodness so radically, twist it around in such contortions, that it bears no relation to any kind of human understanding of goodness.

Willow_treeWhat makes sense is a world without an APAKAG God. As Julia Sweeney says in her performance piece “Letting Go of God,” “The world behaves exactly as you expect it would, if there were no Supreme Being, no Supreme Consciousness, and no supernatural.” What makes sense is a world in which tsunamis and droughts and birth defects and childhood cancer happen, not because of some God who could stop them from happening if he wanted to but mysteriously doesn’t, but because of the laws of physical cause and effect, the laws of physics and meteorology and biology and genetics.

None of which needs to be explained in terms of good and evil.