Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Please Explain This to Me

I’m an atheist. When inexplicable tragedies occur, my anger is directed at human agents only. In cases of natural disasters, I often feel no anger, per se, at all — unless the death toll has been increased by human incompetence. In tragedies caused by a person, such as the Virginia Tech shootings, I feel primary rage toward the perpetrator, and secondary fury at any of those whose glaring errors of judgment have failed to minimize the killing.

What I don’t understand in such situations, however, are the platitudes that theists spout about their god. The president has called him “loving,” and religious leaders throughout the country urge believers to turn to him for “comfort.” At convocations large and small, puny mortals send send their prayers skyward, seeking solace.

But where’s their wrath? Why aren’t believers gathering together in open fields and on street corners, in their houses of worship and on rooftops, to scream up at the cosmos, insisting that their “savior” account for his random cruelty? Why don’t they curse and excoriate their allegedly omnibenevolent deity for his act of unspeakable brutality? Why don’t the pious media publicly call on their god to answer for his odious behavior in allowing innocent lives to be taken.

I just don’t get it.


Susan (Ayame) said...

I don't get it either. But I think that in many believer's heads, if something "good" happens, "God" did it. If something "bad" happens, "Satan" was responsible.

I think it's like Michael Shermer says about how people who believe in strange things only count the "hits." They don't count the times their strange thing doesn't work. In this case, god is responsible for the hits, but not accountable for any misses since they're not even counted by the believer.

What do you think?

The Exterminator said...


Of course you're right about counting only the "hits."

But I still wonder why members of the religious community don't question the goodness and wisdom of their god. If they conveniently lay all the ills of the world at a malicious devil's feet, why not at least ask their "loving" supreme being: "Hey, Pal, what were you thinking when you saddled us with evil?"

Obviously, that's not a new question. For millennia, philosophical religionists have invented all kinds of ways to explain away the fundamental flaw in their invented systems: holy shit happens. But I don't think ordinary god-worshippers in the U.S. spend a lot of time thinking through the complex issues and arriving at the cleverly obfuscatory answers of educated theocrats throughout history.

The philosophical depth of most American believers doesn't extend beyond the issue of whether it would be better to serve pancakes or waffles at the church breakfast.

So, I still just don't get it.

Tue Apr 17, 06:32:00 PM EDT

Susan (Ayame) said...

I agree that most Americans don't seem to want to question anything about religion, death...all that sort of thing. It's a scary road to walk down for some people. I found it scary to leave my faith behind, but I also found it necessary. If you ask questions and truly want to find answers, faith has no place in the matter.

I guess that it's probably not through rational thought, or tragedy that many people might start to question their faith. I think that it's going to be through ridicule of stupid ideas that will open more eyes... if someone is able to face how silly the things they believe are, they might be able to change their minds.

The Exterminator said...


I wish I agreed that the stupidity of religious beliefs is the most likely factor in opening people's eyes. I suspect, though, that this is rarely the case.

Instead, I think a loss of faith is more apt to begin with a person's sense that he or she has been "betrayed" by god.

I wonder if studies have ever been conducted on the motivations that ex-religionists claim were most responsible for their decisions to free themselves from superstition.

Anonymous said...

Exterminator, you must remember that most of these people call their god "good" for the same reasons that past generations refered to the fairies and other such entities as "The Gentry" and "The Good Folk". They're already hostile, maybe they'll cut you some slack if you play kissy bottom.

They've got all the bases covered. God loves you. Good will come out of it. It's part of god's plan, so accept it, and if it comes from god (or if that alleged entity tolerates it) then it must by definition be, you guessed it! "Good".

As an atheist whose parents did their best make me a Southern Baptist (didn't work, though) and an outsider all my life, I observed how people seemed to be afraid.

My mother (now in her eighties) was a good example. Her god was her spiritual father, and seemed very much like her own father. They both had their own reasons for doing things, and you damn well better not comment or question them or retribution would be visited on you for your temerity. She could never measure up or satisfy either of them, they punshed frequently, took away what you liked most because it was "good for you" and were in control. Always. And they were "Good."

When we would visit, she was a nervous wreck. In church she would be a nervous wreck all during the service. But her physical and spiritual fathers "loved" her and she "loved" them. It was required, you see, the pot not talking back to the potter, that sort of thing.

I think that's how it is in a lot of the USA.

nekouken said...

It boils down to a few simple platitudes that wouldn't be enough of an answer for anyone reasonable.

Free will. Something about Heaven being better than Earth. God's love and stuff. Oh, and the gunman will DEFINITELY burn in hell -- unless he repented before he killed himself, but we don't like to think about that part.

I'm amazed that even someone with faith could find those satisfying.

Baconeater said...

By questioning God, and publicly asking for him to answer, many feel they will piss God off even more, or be considered an agnostic heathen. Part of believing in God for these theists is the old "everything that happens is for a reason"
Why don't they jump for joy when someone dies, thus goes to heaven? Because they know they are unsure of whether God and heaven exists.

You should email Mojoey and get on the Atheist blogroll for more exposure.

Joe E. Holman said...

They DO get angry with their diety, my friend! They have simply learned to keep it bottled up inside and except whatever is "God's will."

As a former Christian minister who defected to the atheist's camp, I can tell you straight-up that the best apologists in the world, the most deluded people on the planet, feel at least a slight burning in their guts when a story like this, or any other major tragedy gets mentioned. They won't admit it, most of them, but don't think it escapes them.

The problem of evil is one of those arguments that can't be covered up by the presentation of syllogisms or fancy talk. It speaks right to the soul--just like these and horrible incidents!

In brief, the mental justification process of the believer is very twisted...

A thing could be God's will (he could be teaching you or someone you know a lesson on life by killing a child or allowing a woman to be raped!). This is, of course, a catch-all explanation; it cannot be proved or disproved, so it sort of just hovers in the realm of ridicuous and absurd possibilities.

The psychological need of the believer to believe, to be in harmony with the religious identity he developed, warps all judgment and skews all thinking processes. Thinking he has something to learn from God, the believer cowtows to the tragedy and learns to accept it as the will of the almighty, and bizarrely enough, ends up having his or her faith strengthened by atrocity. Such is life for religious thinkers, unfortunately!


Anonymous said...

For me, this is akin to asking: Why did you, parent, allow your child to bully another? Hit another? Do anything wrong at all?
Like children, children of God have a choice on how to behave. Like parents, He gives us guidance. Like parents, He could choose to control our every move. But then what would we learn? How could He distinguish which persons were truly faithful and worship Him- and which ones were merely doing what they were told/made to do?

When I sin, it isn't because of any divine intervention or suggestion- it is my own fault, and mine alone. As a criminal does not (usually, w/o mental illness) blame God for making the choice to engage in criminal activity, we should not blame him either-- He tried his best to guide that person.

Accordingly, it would be useless to insist that our Savior account for this random cruelty, because believers know that Satan is the real source for human sin. As unfortunate as innocent human suffering is, it reminds us that this world is far from a perfect place due to everyday human choices and even MORE reason to hope and pray that we are indeed worthy to worship at the foot of the Lord in Heaven.

The Exterminator said...

Explainer, to use your metaphor of a parent and child:
Your free will argument is like saying that a father gives his small children rusty nails and glass shards to play with just to see whether the kids will obey his rule to leave such things alone. What a despicable, sadistic parent. I guess your god is like that.

Parents who withhold love for only those moments when their kids worship them, wind up with some pretty sick offspring. Maybe your god wanted humans to be nuts. Then we could be more in his image, eh?

You said: Like children, children of God have a choice on how to behave. Like parents, He gives us guidance. So what guidance do you believe your god gave Cho? More to the point, what guidance do you think he offered the people who got killed? And why didn’t he offer his guidance, or at least a little hint, to the cops who were off on a wild-goose chase.

If I accepted your statement that Satan is the real source for human sin, why wouldn’t I then ask, “Who made Satan? And why?” You’re still stuck with explaining why your Sky Buddy let evil loose in the world. Are you saying that he warns his creation: “Give me what I want (unconditional worship) or else!” Sounds like a terrorist to me.

The god you paint is not benevolent, loving, or omnipotent (since he is powerless, according to you, to prevent free-willful slaughter). His only superpower, the way you describe him, is a megadose of malice for his creations.

Unknown said...

prevent free willful slaughter... how so?

Anonymous said...

I am wondering about a 'resonable' explanation. I am only reading a lot of 'beating up' on god (s). Would you exterminator et al, like to explain why this happened and what we may do to prevent a recurrence.

Anonymous said...

Beaj and Joe are quite right. There is a cognitive dissonance that they equip themselves with. Existance is framed a certain way, a heirachical society demands (or tries to) a belief in a Supreme Authority which is always in contro, has a Plan and is Good. If you want to remain immature in some part of your life, this is good. Takes the worry out of life. "There Is A Reason I Just Don't Know Yet".

Over the years I have been prayed for by various relatives, and they have prayed bad things to happen to me. This was in order to 'Bring Me To My Knees' that I would have to recognise their diety. All for my own good, of course. In the last two years my youngest son was wounded in Iraq, I had a stroke, and was run over by a car. What did they think would be a ripple effect consequence to others if they thought their prayers were answered? The possible widowhood of my daughter in law, the loss of a father to my grandsons, widowhood of my wife, pain? First, they never thought about it, second, "God would be in control." Therefore it wasn't their concern. I shudder to think of the havoc in the world if what they believed was reality.

Two days ago I played at the funeral of a beautifu young woman who fought a long, horrible battle with cancer. They wept, grieved, but couldn't actually say this was bad. No, I was told, this was a celebration. And it had happened for a good reason they just couldn't see yet.

vjack said...

Maybe that is what "god-fearing" means. They know their precious Jee-zuhs goes around slaughtering innocents, but they fear him so they say nothing and just keep building churches.

Adam said...

I have not read any of the comments below Joe E. Holman's first comment, and this writing is only in response to his comment.

He is quite right that there is a burning in the gut of the theist when he sees things like this. There should be such a burning in any empathetic person's soul. Further, he's right, there's a psychological need to believe on the part of the believer. I don't doubt there's such a thing on the part of the atheist either, when he ponders some of the more miraculous events of human history...

But that aside, the problem of pain is very knotty for the believer. All systems, in some way, deal with it. Buddhists seek to limit their pain through non-attachment. Hindus are promised reincarnation into a higher caste for dealing with their present sufferings. For Christians, it is part of their salvation, which, in some way in part beyond human understanding aids and edifies their steps towards God. In all these systems, there is delayed gratifiacation. That's all. It doesn't speak a word to whether any of them are inherently rational or not.

I think y'all harp too much on rationality, personally. Any belief, even atheism (and please, let's not try to hide it in semantics of "lack of belief") about what is non-testable is irrational in some way.

To want something better when horrible circumstances rush you doesn't appear to me to be irrational. That such beliefs are founded on hope, desire, etc does not prove they don't exist. Just proves there's a strong correlation between desire and belief.

God bless the victims and their families.

TK said...

Folks, here is some positive action we can take-worth a try!