When I heard Christian fundamentalist Pat Robertson say that the Haitians "have been cursed by one thing after another" after they made a pact with the devil (actually voodoo), at first I vowed to ignore his idiocy -- not wanting to give him any publicity even in criticizing him.
But Lisa Miller's recent interesting article in Newsweek, "Why God Hates Haiti: the frustrating theology of suffering" brought me to change my mind.
In his narrow, malicious way, Robertson is making a First Commandment argument: when the God of Israel thunders from his mountaintop that "you shall have no other gods before me," he means it. This God rains down disaster—floods and so forth—on those who disobey.
Miller points out that many modern theologians argue that God's ways are mysterious, so we can't explain this or that as being caused by a divine intervention in the world.
OK, I'm big on embracing mystery myself.
However, if you do this, you'd better reject the Bible, because it's crystal clear about God being vengeful, malicious, and murderous. In "Godless" Dan Barker, an evangelical minister turned atheist, devotes quite a few pages to enumerating the nasty shit God wreaks on people.
A few examples of threats from the "loving God" in Leviticus:
"If you will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments... I will appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it... and ye shall be slain before your enemies."
"I will punish you seven times more... for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits... I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle... and I will bring a sword upon you..."
This isn't a God that I want to follow or believe in. So it's hard for me to understand why so many Christians, Jews, and Muslims do -- given that monotheism's personal God who chooses to intervene in the world is such an unappealing character.
Theodicy is the branch of theology and philosophy that tries to deal with the problem of evil. How is it possible to reconcile a loving, just, and forgiving God with all the evident suffering in the world?
Theodicy remains the most powerful tool in the atheist's kit, however, and many a believer has turned away from God over the suffering of innocents. Ehrman did. After a lifetime as a Christian, "I just got to a point where I couldn't explain how something like this could happen, if there's a powerful and loving God in charge of the world. It's a very old problem, and there are a lot of answers, but I don't think any of them work."
A few days ago Scott Roeder was found guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting of an abortion provider, George TIller. That was great news.
Roeder's defense attorneys argued that Roeder was trying to save lives (of fetuses) by killing Tiller. The judge allowed this argument, but in the end told the jury that they couldn't convict Roeder of a lesser offense, like manslaughter.
So murder it was.
How is it, then, that religious fundamentalists believe that it is fine for God to get away with murder?
Some faiths consider that God causes earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and other natural disasters to happen in his unfathomable "mysterious ways." Other faiths of an Eastern persuasion see the less personal divine force of karma operating in the world, causing some people to suffer horrible early deaths while others prosper into happy old age.
Dan Barker says:
Many Christians claim that the genocide of idolaters is permitted because "God knows best." But every murderer feels some kind of justification for the crime. Why is God special? Why should a deity get away with atrocities that would send you or me straight to prison?
Beats me. That's why, along with Barker, I'm churchless now.
I can't believe that either a personal deity or impersonal karma intervenes in the operation of Earth's plate tectonics to cause an earthquake to happen here, rather than there, now rather than then, with X magnitude rather than Y.
If such a God does exist, I say "to hell with you."