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Natural disasters and the absence of G-d

I woke up this morning with an odd tweet in my head: Just about everything in the universe is bigger than we are.

I didn’t tweet it because it’s false: There’s an awful lot of dust in the universe. But I was pleasantly surprised to find (via Leiter Reports) an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, by Samuel Newlands, sort of on that topic. It’s about Haiti, Leibniz, and the problem of evil.

The problem of evil is the philosophical way of referring to the fact that an awful lot of bad sh*t happens to innocent people for a world supposedly watched over by a benevolent deity. Traditionally, there are a number of ways to resolve the problem. You can say that people get what they deserve, so that what looks unfair in fact is not. That’s a little hard to square with the death of babies, but people have certainly tried. Then there are the big three properties of G-d: All powerful, all knowing, all loving. Take away one of those three, and you can explain why bad things happen to good people: G-d is powerless to prevent it (Leibniz’s answer, in a clever form), G-d can’t predict it, or G-d just doesn’t care.

If I were to believe in a god, I think the only one I could muster up any loyalty to would be one who created us but not the universe. The Earth looked like a good place to plant us, so the Deity set us down carefully, gave us some useful texts to get us started, and then left us on our own.

Beyond that, it’s a mystery to me. But, then, it’s supposed to be a mystery. After all, most of the universe is bigger than we are.

5 Responses to “Natural disasters and the absence of G-d”

  1. G-d? Anyway, I guess the textbook cop-out answer to those kind of difficult questions is, the god moves in mysterious ways, right? :) Our thought processes can’t follow the same patterns as the god’s, so it is impossible for us to understand.

    However then it also seems highly questionable that we would even have the same concept of good and evil. Sometimes, what we think must be evil the god thinks is good, and vice versa. Thus, the god can not be pure good (so why worship that?). Actually probably the god does not even have such concepts as ‘evil’ and ‘good’ at all.

    Anyway, if there is such a thing as a god, it seems most likely to me that we are just a giant sandbox in the playground of the universe. ;p

  2. A god “who created us and not the universe” or human beings who created god and not the universe. The universe is a mystery that has created us.

    We have not created ourselves. We have created religions in order to bring us closer to this mystery.

    Monotheistic religions seem to be more an egoic projection of human attributes rather than a spiritual apprehension of divine mystery.

    Shamanic traditions, which monotheistic religions eradicated as ‘pagan’ or ‘savage’, have been constructed upon direct gnostic experience of spiritual mystery rather than blind faith.

    Death,accidental death, and evil are part of universal mystery. Free will allows human beings to choose to become evil, to create death, to create misery and suffering for others.

    The universe randomly and unmercifully creates death and suffering for all species of life. The universe also compassionately and benevolently creates all species of life, the world they inhabit, and our own individual and precious lives.

    Human beings, however, can choose to become evil or they can choose to to become benevolent and compassionate. The Dalai Lama has said that his ‘religion’ is essentially one of kindness.

    We can not avert random accidental tragedy or natural disaster. We can only strive to control our own influence upon the world. As each one of us becomes more compassionate and benevolent, so does the world. But our compassion will not prevent earthquakes, plane crashes, or epidemics.

    As far as human evil, I suppose I side with Rousseau. Evil societies foster evil individuals.

    We live in a world of dualisms: Good and evil, day and night,,hot and cold, body and spirit. Perhaps technology has made us feel monolithic. Air conditioning and central heating have collapsed the dualism of hot and cold. Tragedy and natural disaster collapse the benevolence and wrath of the universe into meaningless, random suffering. Fundamentalist religion collapses the mysteries of these tragedies into the certainties of God’s plan.

    Perhaps we need a new paradigm that understands the universe beyond both monolithic and dualistic perspectives. A wider view that contains and evolves without eradicating any of the apparent contradictions we view in our daily lives.

    Part of the mystery of the spirit is that it is unknowable. All religions may be intimations of an immortality that we are only beginning to comprehend.

  3. I never did find an adequate theism in this life.

    But it seems to me that the concept of a benevolent god would make better sense if he/she/it were up against another, different god — the one that causes the bad shit that happens to innocent people. It would be a kind of bitheism — a theological construct I’ve never actually heard of. There’d be a good god and a bad one, in essence.

    In such a belief system, we couldn’t blame our benevolent god for random disaster any more than I can blame the Mets for losing another game. He/She/It would have tried hard, but lost this particular round to the mean god. But on the day I discovered my missing wallet, hey, the good god won.

    Yeah, well, I don’t see it catching on either. But it makes more sense to me than an omnipotent, unfathomable yet loving single entity.

  4. Something that always bothers me about this line of thought is that it presumes that this life is somehow the totality of experience, and that nothing is worse (or good enough to be worth) pain and suffering. What if allowing pain and suffering is necessary to achieve some greater good, something that might not be realized until after this life? And what if that pain and suffering itself manages to achieve something sufficiently good in this life, like refining human empathy and enhancing our experience of joy and pleasure.

    I don’t mean to be insulting, but the character of this thought seems to me like that of a child who doesn’t understand how the pains of working hard at something can ever be justified. If there is a God, and he does allow pain and suffering, it might be because there’s something much better that will come from it as a result, or at the very least something that couldn’t come in the absence of it.

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