When People Suffer, God Is Not Teaching Them a Lesson

So says the Atheist Pig:



About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    It’s everyone’s fault except for the one holding the pursestrings, the car keys and the club for himself. But hey, it’s all good as long as the club isn’t thick enough to easily break a skull, right?

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Hitchens used the example of the woman who’d been held captive in Austria for years but the three women in Cleveland are also a perfect example. Surely at least one of them cried out to any being that would listen for help. Had you or I heard that cry we would have done our best to get help to her. We’d have done something and we’d have done it as soon as we could. How can anyone believe that an all-knowing, all-powerful, compassionate being heard that cry and did nothing for years and years? Either that being is an asshole or just doesn’t exist.

    • C Peterson

      There is another option. Even an all-knowing, all-powerful, compassionate being can be non-interventionist. Indeed, assuming a powerful creator god, what could be more rational than expecting it would observe, but not interfere? That doesn’t make it an asshole. Of course, that also means it gets no credit for doing good, and all the stories about it are made up.

      • busterggi

        Kinda like worshipping Uatu.

      • SJH

        Why would there only be two options? Either he should interfere 100% of the time or never. Maybe its somewhere in the middle.

        • C Peterson

          There are only two options: interventionist or non-interventionist. The former would not require that it always intervene, but I think the latter implies that it never does.

          I’m just saying that a non-interventionist god makes a lot more sense. It leaves people to work things out themselves. The minute a god chooses to interfere, all the problems about evil crop up, and you end up with the typical asshole god of Christianity. The only way a god like that can avoid being seen as an asshole is if it’s strictly hands off.

          • jondrake

            There are more than two options.

            Interference when absolutely necessary is another.

            After all, we’re still here, aren’t we?

            • C Peterson

              Why wouldn’t we still be here? There’s nothing to suggest that any divine interference was required to achieve that.

              No, I think any interference leads to unresolvable ethical dilemmas. Either a god is non-interventionist, or it’s an asshole.

              • SJH

                Why not interfere as much as is necessary. As an example, I interfere with my children’s lives to some degree but do not control every aspect of every second. I assume that they will have to act on their own. I let them make mistakes to some degree but let them learn from other mistakes. If I don’t let them learn from their own mistakes, then they do not learn. Moving out of the microscopic level and into the macroscopic level, the same might be true with God. I do not see any unresolvable ethical dilemmas with that.

                • C Peterson

                  Because if there’s a god, it’s the creator of the Universe, not of people. Any rational person will take that as a fact.

                  A god that can and does intervene is an asshole when it fails to prevent tragedy. It’s one thing to let your children make mistakes. Would you allow your child to be hit by a bus if you could simply push her out of the way? What does a person learn by being struck down by a painful disease, or by drowning in a tsunami? Maybe you think those become lessons for the whole human race? You know, like when you allow one of your children to be hit by a bus so that your other children learn to look both ways.

                  Nope. A god that is interventionist is pretty clearly an asshole like the Christian one.

                • SJH

                  Presuming that the child goes to heaven, then the child has returned home. It is only through our unbelief that the child’s death becomes a tragedy. There have been very faithful people that have lost loved ones and are certainly sad that they will not see them any more but are happy that they new them, happy that they shared life with them and happy that they have passed into heaven. Overall their “loss” is a happy one. In the process we learn to love each other by caring for each other as we pass through the pain of “losing” someone. This all seems like a beautiful dance. In fact, in enhances my faith when I visualize the beauty of it all.

                • C Peterson

                  Obviously, there is no heaven. Every rational person knows this. Indeed, the religious know it as well, since it is primarily the religious who see death as “tragedy”. The non-religious largely deal with it much more maturely.

                • SJH

                  Please explain why or how heaven does not exist.

                  Also please explain your comment regarding religious immaturity. Why do you say non-religious deal with it more maturely? My experience is the reverse. The more deeply religious a person is the better they deal with death. In going to funerals where the families are less religious, it seemed that it was harder for them to deal with. Of course this is anecdotal but if you have studies that show reflect your conclusion I would be happy to entertain them.

                • C Peterson

                  Please explain why or how heaven does not exist.
                  Please explain why Valhalla does not exist. Please explain why the Egyptian Kingdom of the Dead does not exist. Please explain why the Greek Hades does not exist. Please explain why reincarnation does not exist.

                  Heaven is merely one of thousands of stories about the afterlife… despite the fact that we now understand there is no soul (that is, we need not invent a soul to explain any aspect of life).

                  To believe in heaven is to very selectively believe in one cultural meme in the absence of any evidence whatsoever. That is sufficient for any rational person to conclude that the likelihood of its existence is vanishingly small.

                  You are apparently unaware of several recent studies that reveal a correlation with the depth of grief following death and religiosity. Google is your friend.

                • SJH

                  So philosophically, all you are saying is that since you can’t prove it, it does not exist. That is very weak. I can’t prove that those other heavens exist. I am confident that they don’t but, without knowing more than I do about the beliefs of those cultures, philosophically, I cannot definitively say that they don’t.
                  Also, just because there are thousands of beliefs in heaven does not mean that it does not exist. Certainly there are many theories of why or how a particular “thing” exists but that does not automatically mean that it does not then exist. Take any scientific theory which has competing theories for example. In fact, I would say that if there are many theories then it probably means that the scientists are onto something and that particular “thing” does exist in some way but we are still trying to figure it out.

                  I am aware of those studies. I did a quick search but did find anything. Admittedly, I don’t want to spend the time to search any more thoroughly. If you know of them please point them out and we can have a discussion about them independently.

                • C Peterson

                  I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist because I can’t prove that assertion. I’m saying it doesn’t exist because there have been thousands of different afterlife models that are, in most cases, mutually exclusive, and because not a single one of them is supported by the slightest shred of evidence.

                  It is as reasonable to lack belief in heaven as it is to lack belief in Russell’s teapot, and equally irrational to believe either is real.

                • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

                  Valhalla is total real. There’s operas about it and even a movie!

                • Michael W Busch

                  Presuming that the child goes to heaven, then the child has returned home.

                  There is no evidence for any heaven existing. And, no, you can’t get around that by saying “but it might exist” – when the evidence is consistent with something not existing, the null hypothesis that it doesn’t exist is the correct conclusion (because there are far more possible false claims than possible true claims, so anything without evidence to support it is almost certainly wrong).

                  But even if there were a heaven, we’re not talking just about people dying. We’re talking about all the different forms of suffering. Any god that would let people suffer for no reason when it was able to stop it would be a horrific immoral monster. And again, your earlier attempt at rationalization by saying “God lets you learn from your mistakes” is incredibly offensive to anyone who has ever been a victim of someone else’s mistakes.

                • Michael W Busch

                  There is far too much evil in the world to count as a learning experience.

                  And in every case where someone is harmed by someone else through no fault of their own, your attitude counts as blaming the victims. Don’t do that.

                • Glasofruix

                  Your children need you to survive, but we don’t need an imaginary being to do the same. Any way, you wouldn’t inoculate an incurable disease to your children in order to “teach them a lesson”, would you?

              • sara

                Or imaginary. That option is not off the table.

              • C Peterson

                Of course, imaginary is, by far, the obvious choice. Indeed, it is the only rational choice. My point was purely hypothetical: what characteristics could a god have in the extremely unlikely possibility of its existence.

          • Guest

            I hate to argue with atheists, because it sounds like proselytizing, which I hate, but to set the boundaries you do shows that you’re more interested in bolstering your viewpoint than actually discussing any viewpoints about G-d. Which is perfectly acceptable, & your right to do so, & no one should force you to do anything else – but you should just be aware that you’re doing it.

            • C Peterson

              Which boundaries are those? I think I covered all possibilities: a god that doesn’t intervene, a god that does intervene, and a god that intervenes selectively. Have I missed one?

              Beyond that, it’s merely my opinion, based on my own ethical system, that a god that can intervene and chooses to allow people to suffer is an asshole. You may feel differently.

            • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

              Doing what? Please provide examples for your claims.

          • Michael W Busch

            Well said. And then you have the follow-up: any god that is entirely non-interventionist is by definition indistinguishable from a god that doesn’t exist. Which then leads to functional atheism.

            • C Peterson

              Well, deism (which can be quite closely related to atheism, but is also a sort of theism) basically supposes a god that created the Universe and then stopped taking interest in it (or at least, doesn’t intervene). I think you can believe in an intelligent creator and also believe it is non-interventionist.

              In fact, you can believe in a completely natural (as opposed to supernatural) creator of our universe. Where things get rationally sketchy is when you start making it a god that intervenes in the operation of the Universe. Presumably, it might have created the Universe and be totally unaware that the Earth even exists.

              • Michael W Busch

                You could believe an entirely non-interventionist god, but by definition you should not behave differently if such a god exists or not – there is never any way to tell the difference. So such a form of deism, like apatheism, is functionally equivalent to atheism – while there is a philosophical distinction, it doesn’t propagate to actions (e.g. no thinking prayer is an effective replacement for medicine, no thinking everyone must pray in a particular way to a particular version of god or they’ll be eternally tortured, no thinking there is a divine mandate about what sex people have).

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        the god of the Bible is frequently interventionist. No explanation is ever given for why that interventionism stopped.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Don’t forget that this theoretical Yahweh let one of the girl’s mothers die of despair from thinking that her child was dead, and that by now that young woman has certainly learned such and will live with it for decades.

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        I blame some of that on the phony psychic that told that woman her daughter was dead when she wasn’t. Perhaps she would have died anyway but the despair and grief of believing her daughter had died a gruesome death likely contributed to her decline. Sylvia Brown needs to be exposed as the fraud she is and made a pariah for preying on desperate people and telling them lies.

        • http://www.everydayintheparkwithgeorge.com/ Matt Eggler

          Phony psychic is redundant ; )

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          Oh, the psychic was to blame for all of that, even if the mother had a health condition. The Christian god, however, would also be culpable were he to exist.

    • jondrake

      Just remember that EVERY Officially Atheistic Government has been an abusive monstrosity.

      Now, they were atheists…yes…but they want you to believe that you are being imprisoned, given drugs, or killed for the long term good of atheism…not “because” of atheism per se.

      That should make you all feel better.

      • C Peterson

        Name a single non-despotic officially atheist nation that has been abusive. Name a single despotic officially religious nation that hasn’t been.

        See the critical factor here?

        • $18575921

          Yes, “despotic” because you switched it around to avoid having to mention China & Russia.

          • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

            Actually, Russia and China specifically fit the despotic officially areligious category. The USSR was despotic, and China is a one-party state-controlled economy system. England is technically a theocracy (established state church with guaranteed political representation in the House of Lords), but no one would call it horribly abusive today because it isn’t despotic about, well, anything.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        It’s sad that you’re too dumb to even repeat the argument back correctly that you’re trying to refute. Let’s try one more time for the reading comprehension-impaired: Totalitarian atheistic governments have persecuted the religious because they felt that religion was a threat to their ideology. Atheism is not an ideology. Humanism is an ideology, Marxism is an ideology, American Capitalism is an ideology.

        Does it click this time? The Soviets cracked down on Christianity because it was COMPETITION for their brand of Marxism. They were competing ideologies. Marxism is closer to Christianity than it is to atheism. Jesus wept, why is this hard?

      • Michael W Busch

        You are equating authoritarianism with atheism. They are not the same thing, as C Peterson said.

        And it happens that a government should be secular, promoting neither a religion nor irreligion.

        And how is any of this relevant to this story?

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        That has nothing whatsoever to do with what I said. I am not in favor of an officially anything government when it comes to religion. The state should neither promote nor discourage religion. That’s not its job.

  • SJH

    This cartoon is misleading. Most pastors would not say that God is teaching them a lesson through suffering but that there is a lesson to be learned from suffering.

    Is it unreasonable that God would not interfere with every event? Should he stop all forms of suffering? If he did so wouldn’t that just make us robots? If he should only stop some suffering, which should he stop? Should it be a matter of the severity, quantity or maybe a combination of the two? Which of us has the capability to understand the complexity of the world’s suffering and be able to determine if he is doing a good job? Which of us should be tasked with determining whether the severity or quantity of the suffering which exists proves that he does or does not exist?

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      If he intervenes at all, there is no justification for not always intervening if he has the ability to do so.

      You may wish to rethink whether you want to be on the side of the argument “Who could possibly know if it’s okay to let millions of children die slowly, painfully and afraid if you can prevent it with literally no effort at all?”

      • SJH

        Why should I rethink it? It only makes sense. How do you know that it is the best option to eliminate such things? We do not have a full understanding of the world in all of it’s complexity. How can we say what is best for the world? You can’t make the claim that your scenario is so tragic that it deserves intervention. If you do then you should have evidence of such a thing correct? Show me with scientific or philosophical proof that your scenario is one that should be intervened by a god. I want to see that there is a net positive effect on the history of the world due to God’s intervention.

        • Michael W Busch

          How can we say what is best for the world?

          We can’t. But we can say how to make the world better than it is, in many different ways. And so your idea makes no sense.

          You can’t make the claim that your scenario is so tragic that it deserves intervention.

          What part of “millions of people are dying slowly and painfully” can possibly not be “so tragic that it deserves intervention”?

          And that isn’t a scenario. It’s reality, and we quite rightly invest a lot of human effort to trying to change it for the better.

          Show me with scientific or philosophical proof that your scenario is one that should be intervened by a god.

          If there was an omnipotent god, it could have made it so that smallpox did not exist. Instead, we had to figure out how to kill it. See also polio and malaria. An omnipotent god could have made it so that HIV never mutated into the current harmful strains. Instead, 30 million people have died from AIDS and the number will go higher still – even if we have finally figured out how to minimize transmission and manage infections.

          Good thing there almost certainly is no such god. Otherwise, it would be the most evil entity in existence.

          • SJH

            O your first point, are you sure you can know what is better for the world? I think you give us more credit then we deserve. George Bush thought it was best for the world to go to war with Iraq. Was he correct? Hitler thought it best to kill millions of Jews, was he correct. The communist regime in the USSR thought it best to control its population and murder millions, was that better? Obviously there have been people who thought they knew what was best but obviously they were wrong. We as a species do not have the best track record. Are you sure you want to entrust us with the task of determining what is better?

            Looking at it from another direction, lets take the African slave trade as an example. This thought is purely a thought exercise because we cannot measure it but lets think about slavery for a second. Is it possible that, although extremely evil, slavery had a net positive effect on the Africans that were forced to come to the US. Although we had to fight and defeat slavery, is it possible that by God allowing slavery, the overall net effect actually ended up helping the African population that currently lives in the US? Some would say know others might agree. Of course we will never know but is it possible?

            Regarding your other point, God could have solved those issues but it would have also prevented us from then loving and caring for each other. Think of the millions of people who cared for and sacrificed for those dieing people. How beautiful was that. Our suffering serves the purpose of forcing us to love each other. If I did not have to care for anyone because God took care of it for us then where is the love in that. He might be loving by fixing our problems but we would not be loving.

        • Brian Pansky

          “We do not have a full understanding of the world in all of it’s complexity”

          full understanding isn’t needed for us to be highly (and rightly) suspicious.

          “How can we say what is best for the world?”

          again you are asking unreasonably for 100% ce

          • SJH

            You are correct, a full understanding is not necessary for us to be suspicious. We should all be skeptical. Unfortunately we are not talking about people who are skeptical but who believe that they know for a fact that God does not exist. Skepticism implies that there is a possibility that God might exist. So have your suspicion but don’t claim that the occurrence of suffering proves that God does not exist.

            To your second point, you are also correct. I should not require 100% certainty just as you should not either. I don’t have to prove with 100% certainty that God exists in order to believe in him and I should not demand 100% certainty that we know all the answers before I agree that God does not exist.

    • Michael W Busch

      Most pastors would not say that God is teaching them a lesson through
      suffering but that there is a lesson to be learned from suffering.

      If there were an omnipotent god, which there almost certainly is not, then said god would be guilty of not stopping the suffering. Saying “There is a lesson to be learned from suffering, and I’m going to let you suffer” is little different than saying “Suffer this, so that you learn what I want you to learn”. Both are horrifically abusive.

      If he should only stop some suffering, which should he stop?

      That suffering which a person with any degree of empathy would stop if they had the ability to do so – a child starving; someone dying in extreme pain without relief; cancer destroying my friend’s brain; someone being kidnapped, imprisoned, raped, and tortured; and on and on.

      • SJH

        So why stop there? Why not stop more suffering? Why not stop all suffering? By doing so he would create a bunch of robots that only move unless he says so; only speaks unless he permits it. He must allow some amount of suffering. Not doing so does not make any sense unless he is creating an armada of robots.

        • Michael W Busch

          He must allow some amount of suffering.

          That statement is meaningless, because there is no evidence that any god exists.

          And as I said, there is a very large quantity of suffering that an omnipotent god could prevent without “creating a bunch of robots”. I will quote JT Eberhard, another of the bloggers here: “we don’t need to have malicious options to have free will” (or at least the appearance thereof). In fact, you should go listen to JT: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLU7KW5mED8

          • SJH

            Do I have to keep watching? This is such nonsense. There are so many problems in the first ten minutes that I don’t know where to start. I wonder if his lack of reason is due to the bad education that he received, his prejudice, his lack of intelligence or a combination of all three.

            • SJH

              That’s it. I’m done. I am at a loss for words. I can’t watch 47 minutes of this and possible respond to everything here.

              • Michael W Busch

                Your responding to everything is not required, and would be out of place here regardless. The point is that JT’s talk addresses the nonsense that you have been promoting, as well as a large number of other forms of nonsense. That would be why I linked it.

            • Michael W Busch

              No, you don’t have keep watching. But you should.

              JT is not speaking nonsense (especially not in the first 10 minutes – 3 minutes of that was introductions and thanking people). Nor are there any particular problems what he said, nor does he have any “lack of reason”. JT is an intelligent person, and his education was not lacking. He is an activist and seeks to deconvert Christians, for reasons he has explained. You may call that prejudice if you want, but it is not a bad thing.

            • Isaac

              Wow, you really are a hopelessly ignorant and arrogant pos.

              • SJH

                Sorry, I was frustrated. I deserve that.

    • C Peterson

      Most pastors would not say that God is teaching them a lesson through
      suffering but that there is a lesson to be learned from suffering.

      Sorry, but all that “mystery” bullshit isn’t going to sail far in this forum. In fact, there’s no difference between the two. If a god can intervene, and does so sometimes, it’s an asshole for allowing suffering (especially suffering that doesn’t come from one’s own action).

    • DesertSun59

      Given the example, there is no lesson to be learned.

  • aoscott

    The artist should draw the clouds in different positions each panel :]

  • Michael W Busch

    Am I the only one who has just started having a problem where Disqus keeps indenting reply-to comments, to the point that they vanish off of the right margin if there has been a long enough exchange?

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      No, it seems to be pretty universal. I’m having the problem, allein mentioned it happening with Chrome but not IE, and I’ve seen a few other people complaining about it other places too.

    • C Peterson

      No, it’s been further downgraded. Not just that, but I’ve responded to a couple of comments and had them attached to completely different comments. Makes for confusing reading.

      It sure would be nice if the forum dumped Disqus. Other Patheos blogs use different (and better) systems.

    • Michael W Busch

      Fortunately, it now appears to be fixed.

  • abc

    Consider a situation where God is infinitely compassionate but has limited power. What if God and Devil shared power-sometimes God has 25% power and Satan 75% and sometimes God has 75% power and Satan 25%.In that case God would require us to be compassionate towards ourselves and others and cooperate with him and his workers and not cooperate with Satan by forgiving our own mistakes and those of others, knowing that not forgiving is equivalent to allowing Satan to fool and torture us even more. When we forgive ourselves and others and do everything to help ourselves and others we are working against Satan and with God. God doesn’t punish even those who do some wrong or are considered evil. Society has cultivated this understanding for its own benefit-to create fear. God tells us to be free of fear and do good because it makes us happy.

  • DesertSun59

    Reading below, I see that people are heavily engaged in a philosophical debate about an imaginary deity. I find that quite amusing. You see, an imaginary deity can have ANY ATTRIBUTE ONE CARES TO INVENT. Thus, this discussion is irrelevant and moot. It’s not much more than either a mental exercise or mental masturbation. You pick.

    • 3lemenope

      Lots of people do things I consider silly.

      I generally don’t go out of my way to tell them so.


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