Monday, July 21, 2008

Reconciling Evil With Faith

I am responding to a USA Today opinion article by Michael Novak in which he says

The New Yorker (of all magazines) gave a good number of pages early last month to a quite brilliant book reviewer, James Wood, for a long essay on why he could no longer be a Christian. Stories like his are widespread. They usually cite the natural evils that too often crash upon humans — in China a stupefying earthquake, in Burma a cyclone, elsewhere tsunami, or tornado, disease, flood, or cruel slow-working famine. They then add the evils that humans inflict upon other humans.

Apparently he thinks this is the only argument that atheists use...

Of course, ceasing to be a Jew or a Christian does not wipe these evils away. They continue. They roar on. The rejection of God does not diminish evil in the world by a whit.

Nobody is claiming that atheism will rid the world of evil. We are only stating that it is difficult to reconcile the idea of a loving and all powerful god with all of the suffering that goes on in the world. We have trouble with the idea that we should worship a god who would allow such things to occur to his creation and then claim that the blame lies with us.

In fact, the turn of Russia and Germany from more or less Christian regimes to boastfully atheist regimes did not lessen, but increased, the number of humans who have horribly suffered, by nearly 100 million. Even under atheist interpretations of science, the vast suffering under ferocious competition for survival, for a vastly longer era than was known, far exceeds the evils earlier generations knew.

I don't know how many times I will have to tell someone this: Hitler was not an atheist and Nazi Germany was not an atheist regime. All you have to do is read Mein Kampf or some of Hitler's quotes to see that he clearly believed in god and his religious beliefs drove his hatred of the Jews.

Let's take a look at the definition of an atheist again: a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings

Hitler believed in a god. Hitler was not an atheist. Just because you don't agree with how or what he believed about this god, does not make him an atheist just as much as it doesn't make every other denomination or religion you don't agree with athiesm.

And no, I do not want to blame Christianity for Hitler. Hitler had issues that went far deeper than his religious beliefs. But some religious people constantly try to pin the blame on atheism, and I only want to show that this is totally false.

Good, glad we got that one cleared up.

Here is one of my favorite quotes:

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg

One can find similar statistics if we look at suffering and death in religious countries all around the world, such as the Middle East or in Africa. One could also point to the longer life span and overall better health of human beings thanks to the scientific advancements of society that were made despite religion's attempts to squelch them (germ theory, cell research, birth control, and processes that make childbirth easier).

Worse, the world seen by evolutionary biology alone is even more rife with suffering, yet rather more merciless. That world is characterized by raw chance, accident and the death of about 90% of all species that have ever lived.

I find the idea of an omnipotent creator sitting by while we suffer to be much more disturbing. What makes people think that life or the universe owe them more than raw chance?

Would a conviction that our sufferings are meaningless, and due to blind chance, ease the pain of the poor and the unjustly tortured? Raging against the night seems to be an evasion of reality.

If you were going to die, would you rather your doctor told you the truth, or would you rather he told you some comforting lie to give you hope? Now that would be an evasion of reality.

Sustained public conversation about these matters — long, intelligent conversation — can help to diminish mutual misconceptions about the terms of this argument. That conversation could be critical for the future of liberty on this planet.

I agree, but I hope you bring something a little more substantial to the table next time.

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