Monday, August 06, 2007

God is 'good', 'almighty' and 'all-knowing', isn't (s)he?

I wondered for awhile whether this is a real cheap shot, and not even an entirely original at that, and decided to go for today's blog entry anyway. While it is true that all monotheistic religions have in common one feature, namely intolerance (they believe their's is the only 'true' religion and every competitor's religion is bollocks), I think that not all of them also claim what the Christian religions have on offer re their God. Christianity makes the following claims about its God:

God is all-knowing (omniscient)
God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
Gods is good.

These three claims form to a large extent the basis for the proposition that we should worship God. Of course, there's that tiny issue of not knowing whether God actually exists at all, but this is not at the moment of concern to me. Let's assume God exists, what does the world as it exists tell us about these three claims?

What does, for instance, the Holocaust during the Nazi regime in Germany, the genocides in Rwanda and elsewhere tell us about God? Indeed, what do millions of HIV infected newborns in developing countries tell us about God? What does the fact that God doesn't interfere when George W Bush claims to execute its wishes tell us about God?

Well, for starters, we would need to agree that the Holocaust really happened, and that it was a pretty horrendous thing (ie if you belong to the Holocaust deniers, we would have little to argue about; equally, if you think the Holocaust was kinda cool, we would have little to argue about either - this is not because I agree with you, but my first premise really is that the Holocaust happened and that it was a very bad thing). Equally, the genocide in Rwanda was a terrible event, and even with a lot of fantasy I can't see how one could conclude that millions of HIV infected newborns are a good thing. It's also probably fair to say that neither the Jews nor the Tutsis nor the newborns really deserved their fate.

Which brings me back to our good, all-knowing and all-powerful God. If God exists at all, it seems to me that it is not very likely to be either good (how could a good, omniscient, omnipotent being not intervene when such injustice is being perpetuated?). Or, perhaps it isn't omnipotent and omniscient (how could it not foresee what was going to happen and put a stop to it?). So, my main point is that these events and very many like them either demonstrate that God does not exist at all (because the claims made about it are untrue), or that God, if it exists, might actually be evil. Evil, because it had the power and knowledge of upcoming events like the Holocaust, Rwanda's genocide, the kidnapping, rape and murder of innocent children by pedophiles, (the list of human made atrocities seems kind of endless), or natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and the like, yet it chose not to do anything about it.

Either of these two outcomes suggests that we should not worship this particular God, because God either doesn't exist or is not what we are made to believe (by religious leaders) that it is. A substantial religious cottaging industry has developed to explain this problem away (the theodizee problem, ie God and Justice). The most famous response to this challenge came from a German philosopher, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Leibniz suggested a couple of hundred years ago in his Essais de Theodicee sur la bonte de Dieu, la liberte de l'homme et l'origine du mal : suivi de La monadologie that because God has all those attributes I have just mentioned it follows that this is the best of all possible worlds. If anything, we're less then perfect and for that reason unable to see how wonderful it all really is. Voltaire responds in one of my favourite works of enlightenment philosophy, his Candide. It's one of those books that I think one should have read before one hits the sack for good. - So, I am not really aiming to reinvent the enlightenment wheel here, but I thought it's worthy of repetition as those confronted by it (namely monotheistic religions making these three claims) truthfully had nothing to say in response.

A lot, in fact follows from this critique. For one thing, we should be suspicious whenever representatives of these types of religions tell us that this and that technology (stem cell research), or that this and that behavior (extramarital sex, gay or otherwise) is bad, because their God doesn't like it. Frankly, their God, if it exists at all seems to be a loser of such gigantic proportion that we have no reason to give a hoot at all. In fact, knowing that their God doesn't like something that we would like to do should encourage us to go for it (subject to no non-consenting parties getting hurt or harmed in the process, of course).


  1. Post of the month!

  2. A case of mistaken identity?

    I think you've mistaken the atheists' God for the Christian one.

  3. Hear! Hear! I think that continually questioning the true believers' underlying claims is as important as "doing" ethics in a way that does not rely on such claims.


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