Monday, January 10, 2005

"Gift to the World"

Catholic League president William Donohue is at it again:

The fact of the matter is that what -- we can't figure out exactly, as
mortal human beings, what is exactly at work. Job certainly didn`t understand it
in the New Testament [sic]. Talk about Murphy's Law. Everything that could have gone wrong for that guy went wrong.

But what did it do to his faith? He kept his faith in God.

Okay, once and for all. The message of the Book of Job is basically: Even though God may hurt you, kill your loved ones, and give you diseases despite your faith, it's really out of love and you shouldn't blame God or lose faith. Let's put that message in human terms and see how it stands up to moral scrutiny: Your boyfriend/husband may hurt you, kill your children, and give you sexually-transmitted diseases because he's unfaithful despite your faith, it's out of love and you shouldn't blame him or stop being faithful.

The whole point of Job is to absolve God from responsibility for the abuse He heaps upon the children he supposedly "loves" and to tell them that they should worship and adore Him for abusing them thus.

Job is taught to "take it and shut up, bitch," and he does. Even if I believed that the God of Job existed, I would not worship Him, for it would be just as immoral and unethical to worship an abusive god as it is to make apologies for an abusive husband.

But we do know one thing: that Catholicism in particular is a theology of

Well, sign me up! Jeesh. Why would I want to worship a God preoccupied with creating suffering?

There is no greater suffering than what Christ did. He died on the cross,
but that's a source of optimism. That`s a source of redemption.

I find the assertion that there is "no greater suffering than what Christ did" offensive. For one thing, Jesus is God and suffered only by His own choice. And don't give me the "He had to die for our sins" bullshit, because God doesn't have to do anything He doesn't want to. If he didn't want to die on the Cross he could have decided to make humans without sin, or not to penalize humans for the acts of Adam and Eve, or to absolve humans from sin in some other way. Jesus' crucifixion was, itself, nothing more than a passion play, the operative word being 'play,' because it was nothing more than a big show for the audience.

Secondly, even if we look at what happened to Jesus, scourging, beating, and crucifixion, many have suffered equally, and further, many have suffered worse. Mothers who lost their children when the tsunami swept the children from their arms suffered much more. There are mothers in southeast Asia right now who would beg to be scourged and crucified if it would bring their children back.

And what kind of torturous logic does it take to get to the idea that your abusive, genocidal (think Amalekites), immoral, unethical, violent God's crucifixion is a source of optimism?!? If your God tells you that His crucifixion is a good thing and a source of optimism, what would be a bad thing and a source of pessimism?

In one strange sense, then, what's happening to these poor Asian people is
their gift to the world. It makes us think about our mortality and about
salvation and about redemption. That's what we should be thinking about.

If Donohue really believes that his God would murder 175,000 Asians in order to teach fat, rich, self-righteous assholes like him a lesson, then Donohue believes in an immoral, mass-murdering God who deserves no adulation or worship, but deserves to spend everlasting eternity in the very Hell Donohue would send homosexuals to. And Donohue is guilty of desecrating the memories and graves of those people by implying that their lives were worth less than his and could rightly be taken from them in order to teach him a lesson.


At 8:43 AM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

I agree with the spirit of this post almost entirely, and regarding the general notion of the culpability of [Gg]od(s), I could hardly put it more directly than you do. Of course, the abstraction under which most theists qualify their allegiance bears a bit more scrutiny, but the result is more or less the same.

That is to say, they labor under the premise that there is something beyond the physical life, something which one knows nothing about, but with which the divine is well informed. There are holes with that, as I will discuss below, but under that premise your spousal abuse analogy will not be convincing to theists because it is not parallel. That is, if one believes that [Gg]od(s) acts in one's best interest out of love, but that that interest exceeds the physical domain of one's life, beyond any comprehension with which one is capable then we lack sufficient information to come to a judgment about his/her/its actions (or inactions). An abusive spouse can be judged based on our normative values. Though potentially imperfect and incomplete, our knowledge and understanding of the situation and the choices are not, necessarily restricted. Thus, it is fair for us to judge the wife-beater, who operates in our social context under our normative values -- while not necessarily fair for us to judge [Gg]od(s), who may act in an entirely superior context, about which we know nothing.

This is the same basic argument most theists fall to under duress: "It is beyond our comprehension." The basic tenet of this I have some resonance with, as an agnostic, but the conclusions are all wrong. The conclusion, then, is not to "believe in spite of the incomprehension" or to "suspend judgment", but instead the conclusions should be to question those beliefs and, of course, judge by the standards with which one is capable.

The problem comes, in my mind, with the fact that we must make moral decisions in this world, and while we may be making decisions that have implications "for the next world" (whatever that means), without knowledge or capacity to understand that, we lack the capability of making "super-moral" decisions (that is, moral decisions with supernatural implications). To expect this of us is unreasonable. Giving me a book that tries to help me understand it, or "witnesses" to explain parts of it to me is insufficient because I am apparently inherently incapable of comprehending. Asking me to "have faith" and believe anyway is to ask me to go against my own moral convictions, and appears, in fact, to be immoral ... just as you write in your post.

So if I cannot judge [Gg]od(s) based on my own morality, and I cannot understand his/hers/its, how can I come to a judgment about [Gg]od(s)? It is hollow to tell me that I should not judge [Gg]od(s) because, like all human beings, I need to make moral sense of the world. If you tell me there is a God, I am bound by my own discernment process to raise questions about the role of "E"vil in the world, and the role of the divine in the "E"vil. How can it be otherwise? Asking one not to judge [Gg]od(s) is like asking someone to ignore the fact that my finger is in their nose, it's just foolishness.

Asking me to excuse the actions of the divine due to my incomprehension is equally flawed. As you once told me: if [Gg]od(s) exists and created me then I was created with the limitations I have ... which include my inability to understand the actions of deities in the context of my own moral milieu. What other source of discernment do I have? If one judges [Gg]od(s) at all (which, as I said above, one must), one must judge them based on their own morality ... because you have no access to anything else.

Having said that, I must say that I disagree with the tail end of your commentary. According to your quote, Donohue said, "It makes us think about our mortality and about salvation and about redemption. That's what we should be thinking about." This quote does not say that the purpose of the disaster was the make one pause for thought, but that one effect of the event should instigate such contemplation.

In that light, I guess I have no objection to such a statement. If theists want to take time to consider issues such as morality, salvation, and redemption under the circumstances of such a devastating natural disaster, more power to them. There's nothing wrong with pondering such metaphysical questions ... indeed, it may serve a very important function for people: to question to basic morality of [Gg]od(s), which is really what your post is all about anyway, right?

At 10:52 AM, Blogger mooglar said...


My problem with the argument from incomprehensibility is that theists try to have it both ways. They tell you that God is incomprehensible and unknowable then go on to tell you things about God. Either God is beyond human knowledge and comprehension or He isn't.

This dovetails with what you said: When a theist says God is "good," then admits that God allows evil to happen in the world for some purpose beyond our comprehension, the theist is tacitly admitting that he or she doesn't know what God considers to be "good," and thus telling us that God is "good" is cognitively meaningless. Since God is not good by human standards, and the theist doesn't know what God's standard of good is, in what sense can the theist claim God is "good?"

Thus, in my opinion, statements about God in any theology in which God is unknowable and incomprehensible are cognitively meaningless. Though believers may think they are making objective truth claims when speaking of their God, such as "God is good" or "God loves you and me," they actually aren't. Which is demonstrated by the argument from incomprehensibility, because resorting to that argument is an admission, whether the theist intends it or not, that the theist actually knows nothing about his or her God.

This is just a further explanation of my views on this issue. Ultimately, of course, we end up at the same place as before: Theists will refute my abused girlfriend/wife analogy, but will not be able to actually explain why the analogy is not apt. In the end, theists essentially end up saying, "Since we don't know the standards by which God should be judged, He should not be judged by any standard." Which is unacceptable because any God or god(s) would pass muster under that standard, and it gives us no way to discriminate between the commands of a just God or god(s) and an evil one (thus coming back to my statement that the claim that God is "good" has no meaning).

Nonetheless, I agree with you that my analogy will not be convincing to theists. The trouble with worrying about what arguments and analogies will be convincing to theists is that there aren't any. Analogies, logic, and sound argument are all based on reason. Since the theist's faith is inherently unreasonable, no logical argument will suffice.

As to the tail-end of my commentary, I believe, taken as a whole, that Donohue's comments strongly imply that the tsunami may well be a test of faith for Christians, as he references Job (where others die to test Job's faith) and talking about Catholicism being a theology of suffering (linking the events to him and his religion rather than to Islam or the religion of the victims). However, your interpretation did not occur to me when I wrote the article, so you may be right about what he meant. I certainly can see your point.


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