A group of essays donated by Susan Humphreys.
Part 1: Theodicy: the presence of earthly evil
Extremism: the problem,
to respond to it.
This essay was posted on 2012-DEC-21, one week after the massacre of 20 young children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. The author refers to this disaster repeatedly in her essay.
Why is widespread evil present in a universe run by a perfect God:
There has been another mass shooting. I have lost count of how many there have been, this year. This time most of the victims were young children. Once again people are asking "why?."
Some will take this as the time to push for gun control legislation. That is only part of the problem. Some will take this as the time to discuss our mental health system and push for more funding for early treatment, to prevent people from reaching the point where a mass shooting and suicide is their way out. That is also only part of the problem.
Some religious leaders will try as one pastor on television said, to help people make sense of this tragedy. Some people will ask:
"How could a perfect God have allowed this to happen or caused it to happen?"
"What possible reason could he have for taking these children and causing such grief to their families and friends?"
There is no sensible reason for this kind of a tragedy. Yet, bad and terrible things happen.
The world is a mess. The Middle East is being blown to bits by religious hatreds. In America
there are many conflicts:
All are based on the basic assumption that God is a
perfect Being and his word as found in the Protestant Bible (as literally interpreted) is inerrant TRUTH. Further, it must be obeyed by everyone: believers, non-believers, and people of other faith traditions.
Like many liberals and unlike the militant Atheists, I believe that people have the right to believe whatever
they want to believe, to practice whatever religion they choose, or to not to practice any
religion. They don’t, however, have the right to make public policies and laws that affect the rights (religious and
civil) of ALL people to adhere to their specific religious beliefs. When they do, I feel I have no choice but to speak
up and point out the errors of their basic assumptions.
I came to the conclusion quite a while ago that it isn’t what religion a person follows or whether a person
follows any religion. ALL that matters are our day to day actions, how we treat our fellow man -- especially those
that are different from us -- and how we treat our planet -- the only one we’ve got.
All the world’s religions and secular philosophies can help people become better people OR they can be used
to help people become worse people--more self-righteous, judgmental, hypocritical, egotistical, and
intransigent. If each group would just work at making themselves better people we could go a long way towards
making this world a better place for all of us.
Extremism: the problem and how to respond to it:
Extremism, whether from the militancy of the Atheist with his sense of intellectual superiority, or from the
religious fundamentalist with his sense of self-righteousness and spiritual superiority, or from Tea
Party conservative with his sense of doctrinal purity, is a major problem for our world. Extremists think that
they are the ONLY TRUE representatives of their group. They misuse and abuse anything, even what they hold
as sacred, if it suits their purpose. It is their way or no way. There is never any sense of working cooperatively
together for the benefit of all, no consensus building, no abililty to compromise. They make arguments that are
unsupportable and based on nothing more than beliefs. For the militant Atheist the belief is in the infallibility
of logic and human reason. For the fundamentalist it is a belief in the inerrant word of a Perfect God. Both go
round and round in circles. They are more interested in tearing each other to bits than trying to help this world get out of
the mess it is in. I think they look at each other and see a dim, though recognizable reflection of themselves and
that just adds to their feelings of frustration and impotency .... AND makes them even more intransigent.
Personally I wish both sides would just cut it out, chill out, live and let live. I wish they’d just mind their own
business and let others mind theirs. Their actions and words are causing greater harm, creating greater strife.
Rather than becoming a part of the solution they are the main part of the problem. Unfortunately I have come to
realize that neither side is willing to listen to simple reasoning or appeals for tolerance and respect.
I can continue to appeal to common sense and reason and get nowhere. I realize that for the Atheist who feels
that their intelligence and sound reasoning has no bounds and the Theists who feel that everything they say and
do is sanctioned, justified and sanctified by God, this approach doesn’t work.
I can give up and stop trying, retire to my books and my garden, take my own advice and mind my own
business. However, in the Analects of Confucius Book 14 #3:
“The Master said, The knight of the Way who thinks
only of sitting quietly at home is not worthy to be called a knight.”
I realize my silence when facing intolerance,
bullying, abuse (physical & verbal), persecution, would be complicity -- an imperfection -- and part of the problem.
Instead, I will have to show the militant Atheist that I can do what he can’t do with his belittling and demeaning
approach. I will have to show there is much we can learn and great benefit for those of us who study the Bible
and the texts of other religions and writings of our world’s great secular thinkers. For example, I have learned
from Chinese philosophy, in The Art of War, that one common error people make is to underestimate the
intelligence and strength of their opponents. That comes because they have never bothered to learn anything
about the other guy. They don’t understand his theology/philosophy, his thinking or reasoning. I realize that
sometimes the only way to fight fire is with fire—that a person will have to know their opponents arguments
inside out, understand the Bible as well as they do, if not better than they do, and then turn their opponents
arguments against them. The militant Atheists have let their Egos get in the way of their logic and reasoning.
The fundamentalist has also let his Ego get in his way. His refusal to listen to appeals to tolerance and respect
for others (concepts that are taught in the Bible they claim to honor) leaves me no choice. If there is any chance
of putting an end to their claims that their words and actions are sanctified by God and his word as found in
the Bible, I will have to expose the basic error (the fundamental flaw) of Theistic theology, the concept of
perfection is a Catch 22. A perfect God can’t exist. All arguments are only as good as their initial
suppositions. If you can show the fundamental flaw in the initial supposition you pull the base out from under
the entire argument.
Originally posted written: 2012-NOV-21.
Latest update: 2012-nov-21
Author: Susan Humphreys