Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer

Tezcatlipoca, god of hurricanes

It happens every time a natural disaster occurs: the ghouls creep out of their crypts and get national press coverage for their rationalizations. One example: Rick Stedman, generic Christian pastor and apologist, has emerged to ask a stupid question.

When hurricanes like Harvey devastate so many lives, where is God?

That’s a really good question—one which I’ve heard whenever a hurricane, tornado, or tsunami wreaks havoc—and it deserves an honest, though maybe surprising answer.

No, it’s not a good question. Where is Harry Potter? Where is Dread Dormammu? Where is Aquaman? These would also be stupid questions, because they are fictional characters, and we know exactly where they are: in the pages of books and comic books. They’re not going to emerge when a catastrophe strikes.

The only people who ask that question are religious apologists. It never occurred to me, for instance. This is the kind of question people ask when reality comes up and smacks their mythologies in the face, and they have to figure out an excuse for why their all-powerful superhero didn’t show up to help out. The rest of us…nope, we have known all along that nature isn’t necessarily our friend, that good and evil don’t apply in the cosmic scheme of things, and we have no expectations of beneficent super-beings feeling obligated to ride to our rescue.

As you might expect, though, Stedman is going to give us his stupid answer to his stupid question, and — big surprise — it’s not going to be surprising at all. His excuse is that his God was there, expressing himself in the charity and kindness of human beings in the face of adversity, because, apparently, people are incapable of recognizing the importance of their friends and neighbors and family, or even strangers, unless they are possessed by a supernatural entity. Whenever you see someone doing something nice, that’s God, not actually that person acting ethically. I think it might be part of that odious Christian doctrine that says we’re all evil sinners who deserve Hell, except Jesus somehow ‘saved’ us. How the idea that goodness is a manifestation of God could be compatible with Christian versions of Free Will that say our actions are our choice, so evil is our problem, not God’s, I don’t know.

It seems simpler to me to cut out the imaginary phantasmal middle man and credit human beings themselves with the good and evil they do, but then, I’m not soaking in Christian dogma.

Then there’s also a purpose to God unleashing hurricanes on us:

In a world that assumes there are no objective rights and wrongs, tragedies recalibrate our moral compasses and remind us that some things are always right.

See, God killed those people and destroyed their homes and livelihood sorta like how he tortured Job: it’s a test to help them see what is right and what is wrong. It really makes it crystal clear that when someone kills your dog and your aunt, turns your home into a mudhole, blows up your workplace, and spews chemical poisons all over your neighborhood, it reminds us that there is an objective good and evil, and if your moral compass is properly calibrated, you ought to realize that the omnipotent agent (if there is one) who spawned that death and destruction to wake us up to the nature of what is good and evil is Himself an evil mofo, and we ought to stop making excuses for him. Right? If your moral compass is still so fucked up that you scribble out apologias the deity you love, then presumably you are now in need of a colossal natural death strike on your home to straighten you out.

I don’t think even that would help Stedman, though. He’s drunk so much Kool-Aid he’s oozing Purplesaurus Rex and Incrediberry out of his pores. Look at this bullshit:

Families wept over the death of loved ones, just as Jesus wept near the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Could our tears and sorrows be reminders that death was not part of our original design, that we were created to be like God—immortal?

I have never in my life grieved over the death of a loved one because it reminds me that, oh yeah, I’m supposed to be God-like and Immortal, and gosh, the loss of this loved one sure is a painful prod to make me think of how I got stiffed out of my Cosmic Destiny by that Eve chick. I’m not crying for them, it’s for getting cheated out of my supernatural inheritance.

Jebus, but I despise Christianity.

And then he has to top it off by sniping at evolution.

(Think about it: if atheistic materialism is true, don’t you think we would have become used to death in 3+ billion years of life on planet Earth? Wouldn’t we have settled the case that human deaths are par for the course and shouldn’t trouble us more than the death of a plant or pet?)

Any time a Christian says something along the lines of If evolution is true, then…, you can predict that they’re going to say something that reveals the depth of their ignorance.

It seems to me that if evolution would predict anything along those lines, it would be that successful lineages would evolve mechanisms to promote survival and to resist death, even inevitable, ubiquitous death. Getting “used to death” is such a weirdly narrow anthropomorphism, since most organisms are going to lack the awareness that is behind the concept of “getting used to”, and because we would expect that successful organisms would resist death.

But then, maybe this is part of the Christian experience. They get used to the unutterable boredom of having to sit through miserable church services every week, so they imagine that is what life is all about — getting accustomed to the intolerable. That’s what they think their imaginary afterlife is all about, too…an eternity of repetitive, predictable slavery. They expect they’ll get used to it. Rick Stedman will help them!


  1. KG says

    Crossposted from “What Happened in Houston”:

    Condolences to all those affected by Harvey.

    I wonder if any of the religious right will conclude that God is really pissed off with the oil industry.

    No, actually, I don’t.

  2. davidc1 says

    What ,you are saying Harry potter is fiction ?, next you will say that they have made some films of his life.

  3. says

    Wouldn’t we have settled the case that human deaths are par for the course and shouldn’t trouble us more than the death of a plant or pet?

    This man should have nothing to do with non-human animals.

  4. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    you think we would have become used to death in 3+ billion years

    gee, how old are you? I for one have not been around for 3 Billion years. I agree that after a billion years or so, I would become used to death in general, exclusive of all my family and friends. *sheesh*
    Like PZ noted in the OP, we don’t grieve due to the death, it is the LOSS that grieves us. We’d grieve just as much if they travelled far enough away never to be seen nor communicated with again. Death itself is not shocking to us, we are well aware that death awaits all of us. What a lame bafflegab to try munging Gawd into recent catastrophes.
    Sounds like your saying Gawd is a tease, throwing death at us to show us we pushed him away for which he took away our immortality and made us mortal. A god so petty and cruel is worth abandoning on the trash heap of myth.
    geeeee, at least (for the lowest bar to jump over) he didn;t throw in revenge for once having a Lesbian Mayor as justification for #Harvey slamming Houston et circa, like one evange radio-talk-host did.

  5. says

    I thought god threw Houston under the bus as revenge for Exxon-mobil paying $0 in taxes in 2009, in spite of the spike in gas prices that made them gigantic profits that year. God was just waiting to see if Exxon-mobil would pay taxes in 2010 and 2011, and finally just got sick of the motherfuckers and reneged on his “no floods” pledge just a bit.

  6. says

    that we were created to be like God—immortal?

    Oh for fuck’s sake. Why do they even bother with the mess of the bible? They never fucking pay attention to it. Jehovah was all manner flipped out that his first “creations” might locate that pesky tree of knowledge, eat from it, and become gods like hisself. That’s the basis for the whole effing story, bad as it is. One might wonder why a god would be so fucking stupid as to place the tree in the garden in the first place. Or not put a glamour on it or something. Or place horrible thorned hedges around, something. Or maybe just shut up about it. Make the fruit poisonous. Whatever. If there’s one thing Jehovah didn’t want, it was competition in the immortal god business.

  7. cartomancer says

    So is it just the gay thoughts that do the hurricanes or do you have to do some actual gaying for it to happen? Quite a lot of moral culpability on my part hangs on this question!

    Also, you’d think that the god Juracan himself might get at least some of the credit. Perhaps he was the one having all the gay thoughts?

  8. numerobis says

    Good to see he’s admitting he’s utterly incapable of empathy with that dig at mourning the loss of a plant or a pet.

    Yes, we mourn when we lose a pet. Or the tree your grandparents planted, and so on. But this asswipe thinks mourning is wrong unless it involves some pedophiles.

  9. says


    So is it just the gay thoughts that do the hurricanes or do you have to do some actual gaying for it to happen?

    Going by the christian asspimples, some actual gaying has to be involved, like voting for an openly lesbian mayor, or just not being evil to gay people in general. It’s not the gay people got El Shaddai all testy, it’s all the hetero people not condemning them that seems to have gotten up the old monster’s nose.

  10. says

    Not that it really matters but while it is true that only religious give a theodicy it isn’t true that only religious deal with the problem of evil. I can think of 12 or so nonreligious apologists intellectuals that discuss at length the problem of evil with Hume being the most obvious example.

    It is a good question. the answer just tends to be atheistic.

  11. kantalope says

    I posted this before, but hey gays we could use a gentle rain around here, preferably at night, could you get on that? We would even go for a Lesbian rain. No hail please.

  12. notthatanyonecares says

    My undergraduate philosophy professor once suggester to our class that God might have been a rank amateur, bungled the badly and abandoned his defective creation to whatever fate might befall it.

  13. microraptor says

    I voted for an openly bisexual governor, where’s my rain?

    (Seriously, Oregon’s got a ton of wildfires right now, with smoke more or less blanketing the whole state. We could really, really use some downpours.)

  14. handsomemrtoad says

    “If it turns out that there is a God, I don’t think that he’s evil. The worst that you can say about him is that basically he’s an underachiever.”–Woody Allen

  15. mountainbob says

    We all croak. If’n you are a Christian or a realist you ‘know’ what happened to the deceased: either he’s dead (realism), or he’s in heaven (eternal-rewardism). There’s no grieving involved. Our grief is for our loss. Loss of companionship. Loss of partnership in a life-long quest. Loss of a financial support (or a financial burden). It’s our loss that we grieve for. It’s the end of things. Takes a while before we begin the quest for new things.

  16. methuseus says

    No, it’s not a good question.

    I think it’s a pretty good question, actually. If it weren’t for the whole mess of Catholic culture I grew up in, this question alone would have made me an atheist in grade school. Even at 6 years old I didn’t hold truck with the answer “God works in mysterious ways.” or “These things happen to show us how we must love and care for each other.” I knew how to love and care for other people before I knew God, since my parents didn’t even take me to church til I was 4 years old. I wasn’t a Damien or The Good Son before I went to church for the first time. Maybe that’s why it didn’t seem to be as big of a deal to me when I finally decided I wasn’t going to be one of the faithful any more.
    As for it being an honest question with a real answer, no, it’s a shitty question that is a philosophical question and not a real one.
    @numerobis #10:

    Yes, we mourn when we lose a pet. Or the tree your grandparents planted, and so on. But this asswipe thinks mourning is wrong unless it involves some pedophiles.

    My aunt has mourned the losses of her pets. Granted, she mourned her parents a bit more when each died, but I don’t think that proves his point or anything. I have also mourned the losses of her pets with her, though, obviously not as much as her since I didn’t live with them. Even the asshole dog that snapped at me every time I pet her. I still loved that damned dog, partially for how much my aunt loved her, and partially because of how she loved my aunt.
    As for mourning plants, yes, I’ve cried my fucking eyes out (sometimes figuratively) at the loss of certain trees and other plants.

  17. methuseus says

    Oh, and in case I was unclear in #18, the answer to “Where was God?” is “no fucking where that I could see.”

  18. grumpyoldfart says

    Swanson has some tips about grieving and mourning:

    “There are families … whose sons are rebelling, hanging out with homosexuals and getting married and the parents are invited. What would you do if that was the case? Here is what I would do: sackcloth and ashes at the entrance to the church and I’d sit in cow manure and I’d spread it all over my body. That is what I would do and I’m not kidding, I’m not laughing. I’m grieving, I’m mourning, I’m pointing out the problem,” Swanson screamed.

    Actually he’s fucked up a bit there. Getting covered in shit is not how you grieve and mourn, it’s the punishment for failing to give glory to God:

    If ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the Lord of hosts … Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces.
    (Malachi 2:2-3 New Revised Standard Version)

  19. rietpluim says

    God’s moral compass is seriously flawed, as is demonstrated by the Bible countless times; but for some reason His fan club stubbornly refuses to acknowledge it.

  20. handsomemrtoad says

    TO: 17 mountainbob

    RE: “We all croak.”

    Some of us more often than others. (See my screen name)

  21. davidc1 says

    @6 Glad to know GB is not the only Country with money grabbing bastard energy companies .
    When the price of oil /gas goes up they put up their prices faster than a very fast thing .
    On the other hand when the price of oil/gas falls ,well ,i think your fingernails would grow faster.

  22. blf says

    So is it just the gay thoughts that do the hurricanes or do you have to do some actual gaying for it to happen?

    Neither. You just need a self-proclaimed great sky faerie-brotherer to bellow GAY! The self-measured correctness of this bellow is proportional to the bellowing brotherer’s bank balance (the subsequent increase of which measures the success and number of times the bellow is bellowed), and inversely proportional to the amount of taxes paid.

    GAY! Kerching! GAY!! Kerching!! GAY!!! Kerching!!!

  23. catbutler says

    @3—that was what most connected with me when I read this piece. What kind of person are you if you don’t care about your pets?
    Hell, my wife is crushed when one of her plants dies. Neither of us is completely over the loss of our cat Moe and he died in 2012.

  24. opus says

    IIRC, twelve of the 15 most expensive storms in US history have hit during republican administrations. Coincidence?? I think not!!

  25. antigone10 says

    As they said at Slacktivist, why is white supremacy never the sin that god is trying to destroy?