Central tenets of the Christian faith include the ideas that God created everything from nothing, knows everything that can be known, and benevolently “watches over” his flock. A problem that believers have to deal with is the pesky fact that a lot of bad stuff happens, seemingly contradicting that benevolence. There are two kinds of bad things that happen: Natural disasters and Man’s inhumanity to Man.
This, the second of two articles, addresses the horrible things that we inflict on each other, and there is a goodly amount of that. Where to start: Murders, rapes, child molestation, imprisonment, torture and even the execution of innocents, oppression of minorities, women, gays and poor people…the list goes on and on. Why does God permit us to do such terrible things to our fellow humans?
The believer’s defense is that God gave us the “precious gift” of free will. The Christian doctrine of sin and salvation depends on “free moral agency.” We can choose to commit all kinds of sins, and then rely on God’s mercy to achieve salvation and avoid the fires of Hell. Any bad things we do will be punished when we die (society may add to the punishment before then) unless we repent and believe in God. But meanwhile a lot of people suffer from things that people do to their neighbors, friends, strangers and even family members. Nevertheless, believers have no doubts that God has his reasons for giving us this precious gift.
Man does not inflict his inhumanity only on Man. Domesticated animals are grown in crowded, filthy pens and then butchered, ending their short and miserable lives on our dinner tables. Wildlife is being decimated all over the planet; killed to provide food, or unable to survive the loss of habitat caused by human encroachment. Some people…mostly men…hunt for SPORT! For the thrill of killing! They claim that it’s the thrill of the chase, stalking their prey. If that is so, hunt with a camera, I say. Most would answer that the culmination must be the kill, contradicting their insistence that it is only the chase they enjoy. To them, I ask a question: What would you think of a soldier who volunteers to serve on a firing squad because he enjoys it? Their answer would be that the Bible says human life is “sacred,” and animals are not. They are just here for Man to exploit.[i]
When you think about it, good and evil, like beauty and truth, are in the eye of the beholder. The soldier who kills enemy soldiers is treated like a hero. A policeman who shoots a fleeing suspect is similarly praised. A desperate immigrant who sneaks into the country to look for work so that he can send money back to his home country to feed his starving family is arrested, imprisoned, and deported. A destitute homeless person who builds a rude shelter on unused property is evicted and his shelter is torn down.
What is good and what is evil in these things? It depends on one’s perspective.
Christians add another dimension to the idea of good and evil. Nonbelievers or believers in other religions will be eternally punished along with all the other evildoers who fail the “repent and believe” test. It matters not how righteously heathens live their lives. They are beyond redemption, worse than murderers or rapists who can still escape their fiery fate. The sin of unbelief is the only unpardonable sin.[ii]
The question of whether we have free will has been debated endlessly by philosophers, and I will not repeat that here. Instead, I ask this question: WHY were we (allegedly) given this gift that seems more like a curse? Let us assume for the moment that there is some justification, other than its essential role in the Christian doctrine of sin and salvation. What do religious apologists say about this?
Here is one answer that I found: “Free will is a blessing and a curse. God has given all of us the absolute ability to makes choices in life. We have the ability to choose good or evil, right or wrong, self or others. Unfortunately, from the beginning of time, we have chosen evil quite often. Many argue that mankind is generally good. Actually, mankind is generally bad. Just look at history. Just look at small children (we don’t have to teach them how to steal cookies or strike siblings). Why did God give us free will then? Wouldn’t it have been easier and nicer to create mankind as inherently good? Well, God’s purpose with mankind is to have eternal fellowship with those who truly love Him. Therefore, to create us as inherently good robots, without the potential for the opposite character, evil, would not allow for true love. For only love that comes from a free choice of the will is TRUE LOVE. Voluntary choice is the key – love isn’t genuine if there’s no other option.”[iii]
It seems, then, that free will is a test. Life is an obstacle course. We are tempted by Satan to do evil, and to blaspheme and deny God. Why? Because God’s “purpose” is “eternal fellowship,” but only with those who truly love Him, and to Hell with the rest. An infinitely powerful, infinitely wise and benevolent deity created us because he wants our love and company, but on his own terms. Follow my rules and force yourself to believe in me…or else!
There is one more “why” issue that begs for an explanation. Along with free will, God gave us another gift: Our “human nature” that is competitive, cantankerous and confrontational. That might have been necessary for our survival when he created us five or six thousand years ago (wink, wink). We needed to be able to defend ourselves from the man-eating dinosaurs roaming the planet (more winks). But now that he has removed those threats, and we are the most fearsome predator on the planet, we no longer need to be so aggressive and confrontational toward each other. Worse yet, combined with our intelligence and inventiveness, especially in the construction of weapons of mass destruction, it seems that he has created the potential for a catastrophe that threatens the survival of his chosen eternal friends. Could this be part of his test…to see if we can resist the temptation to destroy ourselves?
Extinction would drastically limit the supply of souls to keep Him company. Giving us that capability certainly doesn’t sound very wise unless He has decided He has all the admirers He needs.
Regardless of the reason, we have been “gifted” with a lethal combination; free will, human nature and the intelligence to contrive devices that can do great harm. Only a person blinded by faith could escape the conclusion that if the Christian god exists, he is neither wise nor benevolent.