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A group of essays donated by Susan Humphreys.


Part 3: A solution to the problem of Theodicy:
earthly evil with a perfect God. (Cont'd):
The fallacy of perfection: the perfect "Catch 22:"

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay

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A solution to the problem of Theodicy (Cont'd):

Buddhists teach that the state of Nirvana comes from a complete annihilation of the will. I use annihilation rather than surrender, because in today’s world we understand surrender to mean that we give in to someone else, to annihilate is to do away with completely. It isn’t handing control over to someone else that might use us for their personal agendas.

“Will” we are taught from an early age is an imperfection, something to be subdued, so how could a perfect God even have a “will”? How could a perfect God cause or “will” anything (bad or good), to happen to anyone?

If a question is phrased properly the answer appears in the question itself! How can a perfect God allow suffering in the world? The answer is simple a perfect God would neither allow nor disallow, nor cause anything to happen, he could only watch what transpires. This is the answer Diests figured out.

How could a perfect God not love homosexuals as they are? How could a perfect God love ONLY Christians and not Hindus, and Buddhists, and Muslims and Jews and Atheists? How could a perfect God claim that the Bible is the only holy book and not respect and admire and honor the sacred texts of other groups or the writings of our great secular thinkers? Humans might fail to see the beauty and wisdom in the sacred texts of other religious groups, a perfect God that is all knowing, seeing, wise, loving wouldn’t.

How could a perfect God show favoritism to one person or one group over another person or group? Bribery we are taught is a bad thing to do. Showing favoritism to one group in exchange for being worshipped is a form of bribery. How could a perfect God intervene in the affairs of men? It isn’t that he is unable as Deists state; inability would be a sign of imperfection in many people’s way of thinking. It isn’t that he is unwilling, since that would mean that he isn’t compassionate and loving, and that would be another imperfection. It is that he can’t choose sides.

We also consider narcissism a character flaw. Webster defines it as “self-love; excessive interest in one’s own appearance, comfort, IMPORTANCE, etc.” Isn’t demanding to be worshipped a form of narcissism? It seems to me that a perfect God wouldn’t need to be or care if he was worshipped. He’d be beyond such petty human desires.

We learn from the Bible that we are to “turn the other cheek” when we are wronged, to “not cast stones at sinners”, to “forgive others their trespasses as we hope to have our own forgiven”, to “love our neighbors as our brothers”, so how could a perfect God expect more from us than he does from himself? Wouldn’t he forgive sinners, and love everyone the same? How could a perfect God even think of demanding a blood sacrifice (the death of his son in exchange for forgiveness of others sins)? How could a perfect God cause something bad to happen to anyone? If told he had to cut off his right hand or his left hand wouldn’t he say I can’t cut off either, you will have to do it? Or if forced to decide wouldn’t he cut off both?

A perfect God wouldn’t have the character flaws we find in ourselves, flaws spawned by fear and self doubt, jealousy and envy, desire for wealth or power. A perfect God wouldn’t have favorites. An imperfect God would.

All a perfect God can do is watch in horror and despair, turn his back and hang his head in sorrow as his cantankerous minions commit evil in his name. Or would he? Aren’t concepts of despair and sorrow signs of imperfections?

A perfect God would be beyond all such human frailty. Or to take a phrase from Nietzsche he is beyond concepts of “Good and Evil”. On Gods time scale everything “washes out” or as we learn from Taoism, balances out in the end. Good and Evil are parts of one whole. For God, our problems and petty squabbles are nothing more than the annoying buzz of a single gnat on a sunny day in May.

Many folks don’t really want a perfect God they want an imperfect one--a God that will favor them, or their tribe or group. But then that raises a whole bunch of other theological problems and spawns the religious wars (my God is better than your God) that have torn the world apart.

Is God all knowing, seeing, wise, loving, powerful, perfect in every way? If so it seems to me that some folks are going to have to rethink other aspects of their theology to accommodate what is for them a very uncomfortable reality, a perfect God has no favorites (he sees no differences, no sides to choose between), he neither hears nor feels cries of pain or suffering or of joy, he sees no sinners to punish, no sins that require a blood sacrifice, he has no enemies to smite, he has no desire for vengeance, he has moved beyond (risen above) all of that.

Perhaps we should strive to do the same, find that perfect balance of tranquil bliss for ourselves. Or should we?

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The fallacy of perfection, the perfect "Catch 22:"

God has sometimes been called the “unmoved mover”. BUT how could any living thing be unmoved, undisturbed by the buzzing of billions of pesky little gnats (the cries of human suffering and pleas for help)?

A living being couldn’t be unmoved or undisturbed. Even the patience of a Saint would shatter when confronted with the cries of the multitudes, as would the perfection of God.

Is God a perfect being? There are three possible answers.

One is that there is no such thing as perfect.

In Chinese Philosophy/Religion there is the concept of Yin and Yang, a concept of compliments not opposites.

Westerners see all things in terms of black and white, as opposites, opposing forces constantly at war with each other. Things are either good or they are bad, moral or immoral, right or wrong, true or a lie. God is either ALL good (and therefore perfect) or if not he would be ALL bad, there is no middle ground, no halfway point.

In the concept of Yin and Yang there is good in things that are bad just as there is bad in things that are good. All assets are also liabilities just as all liabilities can also be assets. I think the phrase “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” stems from this basic understanding.

Moral actions can have immoral consequences. Good intentions can have disastrous outcomes. I might point out how the Bible has several stories about how Gods “good intentions” have disastrous consequences. If you read any concept of truth into the Biblical stories the problems in the Middle East today are living proof of the disastrous consequences of God's interventions. And a good argument for why God (and outside governments) should keep his hands out of human affairs and leave us to settle our own disputes and solve our own problems, to be blessed by or to suffer the consequences of our own actions or inactions. Granting favors to one can lead to bigger problems on down the road for many.

There is no such thing as TRUTH since all truths are only a part of the picture and therefore contain some degree of untruth just as all lies have a small particle of truth within them. Even the concept of perfect has a little imperfection within it and is therefore impossible.

Inaction is actually passive action. Now I know that will blow some strict black and white thinkers minds away. If a house is on fire and people are trapped inside and you do nothing, just stand there and stare in horror, aren’t you guilty to some degree of doing nothing? You could at the least sound an alarm, call for others to come and help. Not taking action to help is taking action to not help.

If people write hateful Letters to the Editor that condemn homosexuals, call them unloved by God, a threat to the moral foundations of society, or whatever, and you stand by and say nothing aren’t you guilty of your failure to say something? Isn’t your silence complicity? The perpetrators of hate see it that way and are emboldened and encouraged by your silence along with the silence of the vast majority of folks who just don’t want to get involved.

How can a perfect God stand by and do nothing, how can he pretend he doesn’t see and hear, when children are being blown to bits by warring factions in the Middle East or gunned down in a school room in Connecticut? How can a perfect God shut his ears and turn away from the cries of starving children? How can…….. I have come full circle, returned again to the basic problem of Theodicy. Except….

I recognize that the very act of “doing nothing” is an imperfection. The very least he could do is yell stop it (a crack of thunder or lightning bolt out of the blue), enough is enough, no more, “a pox on all your houses”, when his warring minions commit evil in his name. Gods very silence becomes complicity. Choosing to remain silent is doing something and is an imperfection.

For those that want to argue that God can’t interfere with human free will I’d like to point out: Yelling at someone to stop is not interfering with free will. Voicing your displeasure at a person’s words or actions is not interfering with their free will (or their civil/legal rights, or freedom of religion). Offering advice about a different way to handle a situation is not interfering with free will. The person is still perfectly free to continue what he is doing or he can choose to not do what he is doing and do something else.

I think the whole idea of perfection is actually the perfect Catch 22. A Catch 22 is a situation where the solution to the problem is actually denied by something inherent to the problem. I don’t think Saint Anselm knew about a Catch 22!

To reach the stage of perfection, having no favorites, seeing no differences, taking no sides, having no needs for “stuff” or for “things” (wealth, power, adulation), having no feelings or emotions, no desires to punish or to reward or please, being unmoved, not having your tranquility or equilibrium disturbed, having no WILL to do anything, means (at least to me) that you would have to be imperfect or you’d have to be dead. Silence, being unmoved (when you are physically capable of saying something or doing something) when confronted with evil and suffering is an imperfection.

If we are going to be honest with ourselves we are faced with the uncomfortable choice, either we accept:

  1. God is NOT a Perfect being. This means he can and has made mistakes. This also means that if you are looking for justification and sanctification of your actions you may not have it. If you are hoping that God will rescue you, save you from harm you may have to look somewhere else for help or will have to help yourself. This also throws into doubt whether he can come through with many of the promises people claim he has made, i.e. eternal life for simply believing in him.

  2. God is not a BEING and by this we mean an anthropomorphic, entity separate unto his or herself with the physical ability to speak or hands, arms, and legs (or some sort of psychic power) needed to physically act (to intervene in the affairs of men, cause floods, send down fire and brimstone, cause the sun to stand still, cause miracles to happen, answer prayers, raise people from the dead).

    “God” is simply an abstract or existential idea, a product of our hopes and fears and imaginations (we created God in our own image, he didn’t create us in his own image), or “God” is a metaphor for good as the Devil is a metaphor for Evil, or as some might put it “God” is the energy of the universe, or “God” is the universe itself. People that take this option have many different views on what such a “God” is.

    This position isn’t new. From the beginning Jewish scholars refused to even give “God” a name, they realized that if that was done people would give God all the characteristics they possess, they would make God into their own image, anthropomorphize God, turn God into an idol. Taoists also realized this and use the term the Tao, the Way of all things. Buddhists don’t mention God. For Hindus the idea of Brahmin is that of the supreme reality not of an anthropomorphic Being.

    Some might try to argue here that God is spirit not physical substance. This is in one sense, the essence of an abstract idea. They are still stuck trying to prove that the “spirit” that moves them, or speaks to them is God and not their own subconscious or not that of the Devil. Quite honestly from what we know about history many men that claimed they were moved by the Spirit of God weren’t, they have shown by their actions they were moved by their own greed and desire for power or fears and prejudice.

    Folks are stuck trying to prove that the book they claim was inspired by Gods spirit was not the work of men’s minds or of the Devil. With all the contradictions and errors, with some of the evil action that it promotes -- slavery, rape, genocide, -- it looks very much like the work of men claiming though not necessarily having divine inspiration.

    I might add that the Bible even warns us to beware of false prophets.

    Matthew 7:15-16 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits:….”,
    by their day to day actions.

    Unlike some Atheists I think the Bible is a beautiful book, full of great wisdom for those that will read it thoughtfully and critically. I accept it for what it is--a mix of myth and metaphor, poetry and prose, historical fact and fantasy. The claims and arguments of inerrancy quite frankly are a distraction, they keep people from getting the messages the book contains. Wise words stand on their own merits and need no claims of Divine, inerrant authorship to have value for us today. I might add you don’t have to buy into everything the Bible says. Since it is the work of men who claimed divine inspiration OR of an imperfect God, humans have to decide which words of advice have value for us today.

    Some folks might try to argue that we don’t know whether the spirit of God tried to reason with the shooter in this latest mass murder, that the shooter ignored Gods warnings and went ahead with his plan. If you try to justify this event with this argument you are stuck with asking why didn’t God warn anyone in the school of the coming danger so they could take extra precautions, and no one has come forward and said they had any “premonitions of danger”. Arguments work both ways.

    Folks are still stuck with the reality, even when God is understood to be spirit not physical entity, a perfect spirit has no favorites and is beyond interaction with this earthly plane or the spirit that moves them is an imperfect one.

  3. There is still a third choice. God is dead. Or at the least “dead to the world” as some might say about someone in a coma or a deep mindless sleep.

    Or He may have existed, been a real entity at one time, long enough to set off the Big Bang, but is no more. He gave all that he had to create this universe, his last full measure of devotion.

    Or like the Buddha he achieved Nirvana, that stage of enlightenment (perfection) that has taken him Beyond concepts of Good and Evil, beyond all the suffering and joy and direct interaction with this planet.

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Originally posted written: 2012-DEC-21.
Latest update: 2012-DEC-22
Author: Susan Humphreys

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