First, read about the Problem of Evil
Here is one statement of it which seems typical of non-theists:
Atheism: Proving The Negative: God And Suffering
Note the language used in these excerpts:
“Suffering is deserved [part of an enumeration of theodicies]. Perhaps
the most widespread view, on this account when people suffer it is because
they are wicked, sinful, and deserving. They’ve done something that is so
evil that they now deserve to have awful things happen to them. They’ve got
slow starvation, cancer, drowning, dismemberment, or painful disease
coming to them.”
“Suffering is transient. No matter how profound or deep suffering
may be for a person here and now, it all vanishes into insignificance
when framed against the backdrop of eternal life and joy with God.
The suffering may seem awful now, but it will be nothing in the
cosmic scheme of things, and the full breadth of God’s plan.”
“The point is: how could a good and powerful God who loves you stand aside,
unmoved to action, while such things happen?”
“It’s a simple matter to see that suffering is not justified in any of
these cases. Imagine a kind and loving parent who infects her child with
polio for some rule violation leaving her crippled for life. We would even
balk at the cruelty of giving polio to a convicted serial murderer. We
would never tolerate that sort of maliciousness, yet God, if we are to
believe these justifications, is more cruel than any human who has ever
lived. Suppose a sadistic kidnapper defended his actions by arguing that
in fact the cruelties that he inflicted on his victims actually had a
redemptive effect by getting them to turn their lives around. And imagine
that his victims really had benefited in some small way in the end from
his tortures. Would we accept that as absolution for what he did to them?
Would his actions be morally justified by the redemption of his victims?
Imagine Michael Jackson, after engaging in abusive acts with a child for
a night, justified the suffering he has caused by lavishing gifts and a
comfortable lifestyle on the child to balance it out. Does transient nature
of his crime make it seem less like a crime now? Imagine parents abandoning
a child to an awful group of criminals, rapists, murderers, and abusers,
but promising that they will be back in a few years to straighten it all
out to everyone’s satisfaction. Would we insist that they really are
loving parents as long as they fixed it all later?”
It seems the force of this writing comes from an assumption shared by
theist and non-theist that suffering is outrageous. I think the force
of the writing, the emotional attitude beneath the writing is: “God is not
only imperfect, he’s unforgivable.” And it’s the unforgivability of it, not
the simple imperfection, that makes him unacceptable to believe in, because
dystheism is always a possible way to believe in a personal God, if he’s
simply morally imperfect, an alternative which most problem-of-evil
non-theists don’t seem to think about. (In fact, in a way, how are you
supposed to distinguish a devout dystheist from an orthodox Christian who
loves God despite not understanding his morality, at least as far as theodicy
goes?) So the force comes from the outrage.
Next, read this short story (perhaps you might call it a poem?): “The Scythe”
(I wrote it myself and assure you that it is very pertinent.)
The question is not whether the problem of evil argument is logically valid –
its conclusions may even be true. The question is: if you use it, what are
Following the short story, it appears that it probably isn’t because you
hate suffering deeply or have compassion on other people. If “God messed up”
(evil is so outrageous) by making you live a horrible life, well, you still
haven’t “undone his creation” and killed yourself. Life isn’t *that* bad,
after all. If, instead, “God messed up” by allowing just anybody to suffer,
well, you can do something about that, mass euthanasia.
(Note: I don’t believe suicide or mass euthanasia are valid options.)
If you appear to be outraged by evil, is this really so, or is this just a
If a pose, what are your real motives? I can only guess. You must examine
yourself. Here are two guesses:
1. You don’t like the idea of God or something his existence would entail.
Maybe if he were to exist, you would be embarrassingly wrong in action and
attitude. You don’t even understand why someone would want to believe in him.
So you are not a reliable thinker. You have a bias. All the times you look
at a sunset and think “Nope, I don’t see God in this”, it’s because that’s the
convenient thing to think, the comforting thing, because at least, say, God
isn’t going to ask you to do embarrassing things, because he doesn’t exist,
because you’ve never felt him or had him form the thoughts in your mind that
he exists… because your mind has never been open to such thoughts.
2. While you don’t really care about anybody’s suffering (not even your own),
you do care about the truth. You have certain rules for thinking, and
belief in God does not follow from the right kind of thinking. You know
these rules because they work. You consider them to work because they lead
to an outcome you either like rationally or like subconsciously, possibly
having to do with passing on your species’ genes.
So you are not a reliable thinker. You have a bias.
People suppress the truth, although fortunately not all the time.
Maybe the fact that you turn to the problem of evil indicates that there
is a conflict in you. It makes sense to you because you *are* outraged by
evil, so outraged that you don’t want God in your life, so you banish him
even from your belief systems. You’re outraged, but at the same time, you’re
addicted to living (your species would pass no other genetic and cultural
imperative to you), so you live somewhere in the middle of true nihilistic
compassion and narrow-minded personal comfort. Note that the desire for
objective truth is an evolutionary imperative… either that, or a divine
imperative, take your pick — mind control is inevitable.
The alternative is 1. or 2., that you don’t care about people’s
suffering, you just use an imitation of caring to heartlessly disbelieve.
(PS: This is dark and one-sided. As I implied above, I don’t advocate
mass euthanasia or suicide. Don’t try these options based on what I said.
And some may accuse me of making ad hominem or straw man arguments.
As far as straw men go: well, I’m just responding to the Problem of Evil as I
understand it, so I think straw manning it is inevitable if you don’t
understand it the same way. As to ad hominem: with your permission,
that’s kind of the point. In this case, I think it’s valid. If I *combine* ad hominem
with straw man, i.e., I accuse you of being someone you are not, then so be it,
my deconstruction is invalid for you.)
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