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Religious Leaders Ask What Kind of God Would Allow this Kind of Suffering in the World After…

Pardon the mistake, I seem to have misread the headline. It actually reads, Religious leaders call for prayer and tighter gun control after Colorado shooting.

To President Barack Obama’s request that when a madman shoots a dozen innocent people dead we “spend a little time thinking about the incredible blessings that God has given us,” and to Mitt Romney’s remonstration to suffering families, “Our prayer is that the Comforter might bring the peace to their souls that surpasses their understanding,” I can only borrow the words of Fyodor Dostoevsky:

I understand, of course, what an upheaval of the universe it will be when everything in heaven and earth blends in one hymn of praise and everything that lives and has lived cries aloud: ‘Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed.’ When the mother embraces the fiend who threw her child to the dogs, and all three cry aloud with tears, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ then, of course, the crown of knowledge will be reached and all will be made clear. But what pulls me up here is that I can’t accept that harmony. And while I am on earth, I make haste to take my own measures.

You see, Alyosha, perhaps it really may happen that if I live to that moment, or rise again to see it, I, too, perhaps, may cry aloud with the rest, looking at the mother embracing the child’s torturer, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ but I don’t want to cry aloud then. While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself, and so I renounce the higher harmony altogether. It’s not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its unexpiated tears to ‘dear, kind God’! It’s not worth it, because those tears are unatoned for. They must be atoned for, or there can be no harmony. But how? How are you going to atone for them? Is it possible? By their being avenged? But what do I care for avenging them? What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell?

… I don’t want harmony. From love for humanity I don’t want it. I would rather be left with the unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it’s beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket.

12 thoughts on “Religious Leaders Ask What Kind of God Would Allow this Kind of Suffering in the World After…”

  1. a1949seeker says:

    For the most part, suffering is the result of the choices of aggregate mankind and is the consequence of choosing evil! The wrath of God is not beget from God, but is the natural consequences of mans hardened hearts. All mankind suffers from the choices of the few because it is apathetic about combating these choices.

    1. Jim Cook says:

      Read your Bible — everything is “beget from God.”

      If it’s God’s Design that innocent kids suffer because some grownups somewhere else made bad choices, that’s fucked up.

      1. a1949seeker says:

        For clarity, I label myself as an agnostic believer; therefore, all my Biblical references are metaphorical (I just don’t know). I was raised in a liberal Baptist church (Wake Forest University) and my user name is a derivative of my ‘faith’ label!

      2. Jim Cook says:

        OK, so strike the Bible reference. The rest of it still stands.

        1. a1949seeker says:

          I think that basically means we are in agreement? Our world is becoming more fucked-up everyday at the hands of the ‘few’. The only chance is people power and that will not evolve from the apathetic!

        2. Jim Cook says:

          Hi again, a1949seeker. The optimistic side of me notes that there’ve been times when the world’s been an awful lot more fucked-up than it is now. But yes, I agree that a lot has to change, and that apathy won’t lead to a solution.

  2. Bill says:

    Jim, pointless tragedies such as the Aurora shootings certainly constitute “the times that try mens’ souls,” and it is well within the bounds of humanity to suggest, as I have averred at some points in my own life, that “If God exists I don’t think I want to know him.”

    Still, what you’ve written here sounds, to my ear anyway, a little like a sneer at people of faith. It is a human enough first response to mindless horror, but I’m not sure what good it does (especially to publish it). I’m pretty sure you don’t mean to lay the blame for this tragedy on people of faith. I’m also pretty sure you don’t mean to suggest there is something evil about public figures making some small offer of succor to people of faith in times of tribulation.

    I can’t explain faith, and I can’t defend it…particularly because it means so many different things to so many different people. I do know that although I am a member of a professed community of faith, I don’t know any of the kind of people Dostoevsky howls against in the passage you quote…people who essentially shrug at horror and say “Oh well, it’s God’s plan….” I’m sure those people do exist, but that’s only one take on faith, out of many. The faithful of my community have faith that mankind is called to be better than we are by raw nature. They campaign for things like sensible gun control, stewardship of the environment, equal rights, and economic justice. They have faith that the love and concern they themselves feel for a suffering humanity somehow mirrors a more universal love which, metaphorically speaking, calls to us all. Is their faith pointless, or somehow wrong? Not if it gets them through the night (which, I would suggest, is perhaps the main driver of faith). Not if it does no harm, and even moves them to do good.

    You and Dostoevsky of course have every right to reject faith for yourselves. But to mock one caricature of it without acknowledging its much broader dimensions…I don’t know, that just doesn’t feel right to me. It kind-of feels like bigotry.

  3. Jim Cook says:

    1. I agree with you that faith that does no harm is harmless. This implies the converse, that faith that does harm is harmful.

    2. I disagree with you that worship of [imagined or real] divine authority is harmless.

    3. I have no problem with the right of people to have private unproven faith in things. When the two candidates for President and all manner of political figures below them use their positions to invoke this God character, it becomes public business, and I deeply distrust efforts make critical questions about the God character off limits while uncritical appeals to God drench American political life. Search for the terms God, Colorado and Shootings in a Google news search for the past 24 hours and you’ll get 5,720 news articles. These appeals are everywhere, and they’re public.

    4. I disagree with you it is comforting to calls for supplication toward [imagined or real] deities that are supposed to have the power to create or ameliorate conditions of suffering for innocent people. I consider it perverse.

    5. I disagree with you that religious figures in America don’t generally heap responsibility on God characters for good things that happen while avoiding mentions of divine responsibility when bad things happen. It happens every time there’s a funeral or a national disaster.

    6. If you consider such positions to be “mocking” or “sneering” or “biogtry,” then that’s your right. I, in turn, consider such labeling to be reflective of just how well religious institutions have made any questioning of deeply irrational and dangerous supernatural propositions to be off limits.

    1. Bill says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. But (using your numbering system):

      2. I didn’t make any reference, implicit or explicit, to “worship of divine authority,” so I’m perplexed as to how you can disagree with me on that. Nor, if I had mentioned it, would I ever dream of asserting that it is necessarily harmless…I am certainly not unaware of thousands of years of examples of horrors committed by some religionists. This is kind-of my point: I wasn’t talking about ‘religion’, I was talking about faith; but when I said “faith”, you heard “religion.” My point is that that is not altogether unlike seeing a black kid with saggy pants and thinking “hoodlum.”

      3. I’ll resist the temptation to argue that we all have unproven faith in things and go instead to what I think is the heart of your point. You seem to object to public displays of faith. I’m frequently almost there with you…I often find them tacky, tone-deaf, and disrespectful of others’ beliefs/disbeliefs, but hardly a moral fault. Me, I don’t like bankers, but I would feel kind-of wrong publicly disparaging others for public displays of bankerness.

      4. Much like my response to your point #2: I never said that, and furthermore I don’t believe in “deities that are supposed to have the power to create or ameliorate conditions of suffering for innocent people.” You’re stereotyping me (and millions of other people), quite unjustly.

      5. Again, I didn’t say anything like that. Indeed, I didn’t address “religion” at all in my comments. There is no commutative principle that faith and religion are the same things. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. Here as elsewhere, it pays to judge individual cases, not sweeping classes.

      6. Not much to say here. My father felt that all black people were “deeply irrational and dangerous.” My neighbor feels that way about all gay people. I feel that way about all bankers. You feel that way about all people of faith. And we’re all wrong, because we’re all stereotyping.

      1. Jim Cook says:

        On 2. You may not have made such reference to “worship of divine authority,” but the article did. I assumed you were discussing the article when you were criticizing what I wrote.

        On 3. I have no problem with public displays of faith. I believe that when people make public pronouncements about what’s religiously appropriate given a current event, it should be acceptable for their words to be evaluated, especially when the people making pronouncements are in positions of power like Obama and Romney and church leaders (see article).

        On 4. Again, why do you want to make this about you? The article’s not about you. The article contained references to prayer, blessings and The Comforter bringing peace to souls. These are references to supplication to a deity who is very much supposed to have the power to “ameliorate suffering.”

        On 5. Yet again, this isn’t about you. You were the one who brought up “faith,” not me. The article’s about religion — and you came here criticizing my comments regarding religion. Proclamations by religious leaders calling people to do things are indicative of acts of religion, not of private faith events. The President and the man who wants to be President making public proclamations as politicians to the role of “God” and “The Comforter” in current events are not engaged in exercises of private faith. They’re religious declarations.

        On 6. What a cheap and silly shot. Evaluating ideas for their irrationality and their implications is fundamentally different than evaluating the rationality of people according to the color of their skin or where they stick their ding-dongs. First, I referenced irrational and dangerous ideas and you equated ideas with people. Second, evaluating ideas and finding them irrational is not called bigotry. It’s called critical thinking.

        1. Bill says:

          Alas. I really need to stop succumbing to the temptation to seek thoughtful give-and-take on difficult, important questions here. I.T. seems to work very well indeed when all join hands and agree on a diatribe, but for some reason it doesn’t work at all when someone says “well, wait a minute, can we discuss that, please?” I suppose it’s the medium; the lonely keyboard is a fine sharp tool for being dismissive, but a blunt one indeed for discourse. I keep hoping that I.T. can rise above the rest of the web’s low standard on that count, but that is, I guess, unreasonable. I wish peace for you, sir.

        2. Jim Cook says:

          We are discussing, Bill. I’m just not agreeing with you.

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