L.B.: Driving to O’Hare

L.B.: Driving to O’Hare October 27, 2006

Left Behind, pp. 228-231

Now is the moment I've been waiting for. Here comes the much-anticipated, elaborately set up scene in which the Steeles attend the evening service for "the disenchanted and the skeptics," where the Rev. Bruce Barnes, speaking for the authors, will justify and defend the theology of Left Behind.

This is exciting. Here it comes:

Chloe had gone with [Rayford] to the church meeting for skeptics the night before, as she promised. But she had left a little over halfway through. She also fulfilled her promise to watch the video the former pastor had taped. They had discussed neither the meeting nor the video.

What the … ? That's it?

Pages of build up, redundant layers of phone calls establishing that Rayford, Chloe and Bruce would all be there, repeated passages of foreshadowing and scene-setting promising that the hard questions would be dealt with, soon, and at length, and then this is all we get? Two lousy, contentless, after-the-fact sentences explaining that the scene in question has already occurred, off-stage, and that we won't ever learn what happened there.

Yeesh.

Chloe left a little more than halfway through the meeting. Why? Did she storm out because Bruce Barnes was being as smugly evasive as the authors? Or was she just bored to tears? Did Rayford leave when she did, or did she have to hang out in the parking lot waiting for a ride home? Was she uncomfortable throughout the meeting, or was she reacting to something specific Bruce said that prompted her to leave just then? What of the others there? Were some persuaded to stay and join Bruce's mid-apocalyptic congregation? Or did they all, like Chloe, get up and leave with their skepticism unanswered and intact? And, in either case, what did Bruce say to make them respond however it was they responded?

We're not told.

Instead of all that, we get to ride along with the Steeles as they drive to the airport the next morning and discuss a few vague impressions of the meeting.

This is Rayford's first trip back to O'Hare since he fled it six days ago, threading his way across the tarmac through scattered charred bodies and the wreckage of multiple airliner crashes. It must have been a very busy week at the airport, as everything there has apparently been cleaned up and restored. Rayford is too distracted even to notice this Herculean achievement of post-disaster logistics. He's too busy trying to figure out how to talk to Chloe about her status as a sinner in need of salvation, and he's not sure how to do that. To his credit, I suppose, he realizes that the approach he plans to take with Hattie Durham — seducing her into heaven — would be inappropriate with his daughter.

On the drive to the airport:

They saw more than a dozen homes that had been gutted by fire. Rayford's theory was that families had disappeared, leaving something on the stove.

Rayford has been driving around for the past week — to the church and back three times, over to Arlington Heights for lunch — and this is the first time he has noticed anything like this, the first time since the day of the disappearances he has seen firsthand the slightest trace of the aftermath. I picture Jerry Jenkins typing away, trying to figure out how he can bring up the subject of the disappearances during the Steeles' conversation on their way to the airport. Hmm, maybe they could pass some burned-out houses? Perhaps, fleetingly, it occurred to Jenkins that this sort of detail ought to have been mentioned elsewhere as well. Maybe he should go back and rewrite some of the earlier …? No. No time for that. He promised Tim a first draft by the end of the month. And if that first draft is good enough for Tim, it ought to be good enough for everyone else.

Rayford's "something on the stove" theory for the fire-gutted houses seems plausible to me. Editing the police and fire briefs for a daily newspaper makes me acutely aware of the dangers of unattended cooking and improperly disposed of smoking materials. (I'd like to think that, somewhere, at least one house was gutted by fire after a couple disappeared and their post-coital cigarettes set the mattress ablaze, but that probably doesn't square too well with L&J's outlook, which only allows one kind of rapture per family.)

The sight of this relatively modest reminder of the global disaster sparks a conversation that serves as a kind of Cliff Notes summary of the meeting we missed the night before. Instead of several (Dozens? We have no idea how many attended the meeting) different skeptical perspectives, we will have only one, Chloe's. And instead of the Rev. Bruce Barnes responding with the knowledge he learned from his years in the ministry, we have only Rayford's uninformed gut reactions. But such as it is, the conversation affords our first glimpse of L&J's responses to the objections of the skeptics.

"And you think this was God's doing?" Chloe said, not disrespectfully.

"I do."

"I thought he was supposed to be a God of love and order," she said.

"I believe he is. This was his plan."

Ah, "It's all part of God's plan." That can mean several different things. It can be the bewildered submission of Job, "Though he slay me, I will serve him." Or be a kind of desperate, unpersuasive Panglossianism. A common variation on this latter response occurs at funerals, when some well-meaning soul hits the bereaved with something like Romans 8:28. That won't work here, in LB, because the reassurance that suffering will work out for the best in the end isn't terribly reassuring when you're already at The End and there's nothing but the suffering.

Chloe's real objection is a matter of theodicy, the fancy term for the problem of evil. That's a Big Question. For my money, it's the most important of the Big Questions. I didn't expect Rayford Steele to have a satisfactory answer, but I would have expected something better than his evasive, kick-the-can, turtles-all-the-way-down response:

"There were plenty of tragedies and senseless deaths before this."

"I don't understand all that either," Rayford said. …

If only he'd stopped there. Stop there and you can take your seat beside Job and join in the great call and response you can hear in any AME church: "God is Good." "All the time." And you can say it as a declaration of faith, one that suggests both that God is good and that that which is not good is not of God. That declaration, however, seems incompatible with the world of Left Behind, in which death and suffering rain down from God's own hand and God seems to delight in all manner of deeds that God's children, because they are God's children, regard as evil.

GeraldineSo Rayford doesn't stop there.

"I don't understand that either," Rayford said. "But like Bruce said last night, we live in a fallen world."

If only he'd stopped there. This is still salvageable. But he doesn't stop there either.

"I don't understand that either," Rayford said. "But like Bruce said last night, we live in a fallen world. God left control of it pretty much to Satan."

Ah, yes, the theodicy of that great theologian, St. Geraldine. If God is all powerful and all good, then why is there suffering and evil? "The devil made me do it."

The Big Questions, the meaning-of-life type questions, also matter in the day to day. If you believe that the world is "pretty much" in the control of Satan that's pretty much going to shape not just what you say in conversations like the one above, but also things like how you vote, how you treat your neighbors (the subjects of Satan), how you spend your time, your money, your life.

"God left control of it pretty much to Satan." Just kick that one around in your head for a while.


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194 responses to “L.B.: Driving to O’Hare”

  1. Chloe left a little more than halfway through the meeting. Why? Did she storm out because Bruce Barnes was being as smugly evasive as the authors? Or was she just bored to tears?
    She had a phone call. She was too polite to take it in church and then her reception was bad so she left to find a phone booth but didn’t have a quarter so she had to find a crowbar and dismantle it but by that time her friend wasn’t answering. When Rayford was finished he picked her up without wondering why the phone-booth was in pieces.

  2. “God left control of it pretty much to Satan.” Just kick that one around in your head for a while.
    Is it even possible for an omnipotent, omniscient being to relinquish control of anything?

  3. Satan controls the world? That seems very blatantly unorthodox. Does he mean Satan controls the world post-Rapture or that Satan has controlled the world ever since the Fall?

  4. Also: The problem I always had with “God works in mysterious ways” is not that the ways were mysterious. I could imagine a being with a much greater perspective than me (and hence more intelligent) having a plan that may seem to me to be bad. Heck, for example you could always think of taking your pets to the vet. It isn’t any fun for them, but in the long run it’s good. The problem I have is: where does that leave me? God is too big to have a relationship with. If my existence is bad for the universe, why shouldn’t he wipe me out despite my prayers? Why pray for anything?

  5. yeah, that satan comment seems like a total cop-out. like they realized, wait, our worldview DOESN’T mesh with the idea of a loving god, and we can’t exactly admit right here in the first half of the first book that we believe in a god who is clearly NOT loving. uhhhh…
    let’s just blame it on satan?
    the underlying supposition of the entire series of books is that the rapture will be caused by God, not by satan. thus that response is meaningless to the point of insanity in this context. by offering that up, he’s just directly contradicted what he said in the beginning of the conversation. ‘god caused this bad thing.’ ‘we don’t understand why god allows terrible things to happen like this all the time.’ ‘it must be satan.’
    proving, yet again, that Left Behind is probably the only series of novels ever to make people who read them stupider.

  6. I think Chloe left because she was tired of the hackneyed cliches Rev. Barnes used in his sermon. Imagine if he preaches like the authors write. =^0

  7. Oh, by the way Fred, O’Hare was cleaned of wreckage in less than a week because as you know, Chicago IS the city that works. ;^)

  8. If only that work ethic and efficiency could be brought to task on some of the repairs to the roads in and out of Chicago.

  9. Imagine if he preaches like the authors write.
    Imagine if the authors preach like they write! One of them is a minister, isn’t that right? In my experience, ministers have to get up there every week and pontificate for at least 15-20 minutes, usually including stories. Any sermon with as little substance as these books provide (“He opened up a Bible, yada yada yada, he got saved…”) would have me walking out too.

  10. Actually I think control of the world by Satan up until Christ’s coming (first or second, I don’t remember, and it may depend who you ask) is a fairly common idea. Some scholars think Satan (and presumably other demons) is meant by “the rulers of this age” (I googled “rulers of this age” devil and came up with one claim that a majority of scholars think so and another that this is a minority view). There is one scenario wherein Satan (= rulers) allowed Christ to be crucified because he didn’t recognize Him, thus unleashing His power and shooting himself in the eternal foot. (Why Christ was needed to “bind” Satan is another question.) Other Christians, the far-out PMD ones, think Satan is still in control.
    In a thread some time back someone said that people who stop believing in God because their grandmother died of cancer or something similar were shallow and juvenile (or words to that effect — and if I am misconstruing whoever said that, please correct me). While it’s probably rather narrow to be able to believe in the all-loving goodness of God only up until something bad happens to someone you know, I don’t know that it’s shallow. You go by your own experience, especially where wishful thinking and not wanting to admit you’re wrong are involved.
    In any event, theodicy is where things get dicey for me. As far as I can see God can’t be omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent: pick at most two. (Would an omnibenevolent being hand the works over to Satan?)

  11. Of course, saying God left the world to Satan is no better than the turtles all the way down; it just defers the question, which one would like to think any person with half a brain would ask next: “Why did God leave the world to Satan?”
    [Which I now see Lucia was already getting at in the post right above.]

  12. … doesn’t square too well with L&J’s outlook, which only allows one kind of rapture per family.
    Nice.

  13. She had a phone call. She was too polite to take it in church and then her reception was bad so she left to find a phone booth but didn’t have a quarter so she had to find a crowbar and dismantle it but by that time her friend wasn’t answering. When Rayford was finished he picked her up without wondering why the phone-booth was in pieces.
    No, that can’t be right. The authors would certainly show us every second of such thrilling phone-connection action. It’s just all that boring complex theology stuff they skip.

  14. Could they be implying that the cleanup was so fast because the people tasked with it are all unsaved?
    As for couples being raptured right after (marital) sex…I’m no Fundamentalist, but I think even they acknowledge the right of _married couples_ to have sex, and to enjoy it. They may _say_ “Just for procreation,” but, you know, it _does_ say “Increase and multiply,” so they can schtup like bunnies, enjoy themselves hugely and say “We were only following orders!”

  15. Do you think the authors can imagine more than one non-believer’s point of view? Or that they’ve thought of a better answer than, “I’m right, you’re wrong, God is real. Worship him, or burn.”
    Because if the books are anything to judge by, they’d probably be the kind of people to quote Pascal’s wager at an atheist, and stand there smirking in anticipated triumph at how unbeatable they think the argument is.
    I’m surprised they included Chloe at all. I thought it was all going to be the Chick-Tract style non-believers, who either never heard of Christianity, basically accept it as true but can’t be bothered to get saved, or are actively malicious. One honest skeptic (at least so far), with real questions, is better than that. The down side is, the authors don’t seem to be able to answer her questions.

  16. I’m surprised they included Chloe at all. I thought it was all going to be the Chick-Tract style non-believers, who either never heard of Christianity, basically accept it as true but can’t be bothered to get saved, or are actively malicious. One honest skeptic (at least so far), with real questions, is better than that.
    Exactly … and that continues throughout the series. In the sequel Tribulation Force an esteemed Israeli rabbi concludes a three-year study on the messianic prophecies by announcing that they all point to Jesus. There is no attempt even to mention, less discuss traditional arguments by Jewish counter-missionary arguments, or question whether the passages are in fact prophecies. In fact, there is no serious attempt anywhere in the series to suggest that Jews, Catholics, Muslims, and atheists even have any valid arguments in the first place! Non-Christians are simply dismissed as ignorant, apathetic, stubborn, or malicious.

  17. Do you think the authors can imagine more than one non-believer’s point of view? Or that they’ve thought of a better answer than, “I’m right, you’re wrong, God is real. Worship him, or burn.”
    I read something a while ago that said that the majority of people think that everyone thinks like they do.
    It’s probably some weird fringe theory that no one with any sense actually believes, but it sure makes sense out of religious extremists of any kind:
    “I believe X, so you must believe X, so you must be consciously rejecting X, so you’re going to hell.”

  18. So Rayford gives three mutually exclusive answers to the Ultimate Question:
    1. It’s all part of God’s plan.
    2. We live in a fallen world.
    3. It’s all Satan’s fault.
    I was hoping to see Chloe go to Bruce’s meeting and ask him this question. By letting Rayford field it, the authors have the excuse that, hey, he’s not much of a theologian, so he fumbles. We never get to see that this is the same fumbling that professional theologians do. Rayford covers almost the entire spectrum of theological answers to that question. (Almost, because he leaves out certain theories that L&J probably find unacceptable.)
    The point is for the reader (who has been led to ask Chloe’s question) to latch onto one of those answers and ignore the words coming out of the other side of the author’s mouth. It’s an impressively subtle tactic, by the standards of this book. But then, they’re evangelical preachers. They’re used to doing this.

  19. at least one house was gutted by fire after a couple disappeared and their post-coital cigarettes set the mattress ablaze
    [Standing ovation during Award for Best LB Comedy Sentence]
    Bravo!!

  20. schtup like bunnies, enjoy themselves hugely and say “We were only following orders!”
    But NO SMOKING afterward!

  21. Isn’t the idea that the world is Satan’s a form of Manichaeanism? And isn’t that a heresy?
    Yep. Christianity has never fully acknowledged its debt to Manichaeanism and other forms of dualism.
    Might as well just admit that the Creator is, in fact, Satan; all matter is evil; & swallow the red pill.

  22. OK, so, Fred, and/or anyone who wants to answer: how do you maintain belief in an all-merciful God against so much evidence to the contrary?
    (I’m not trying to be snide here, truly. I really want to know. I can’t do it.)

  23. Maybe I’m repeating something that’s been noticed before, but you keep on noticing things that just don’t make sense when such a tremendous event has happened so recently (the operational airport, the business as usual restaurants, the news stories about things that seem to minor to care about). We keep attributing it to the shortsightedness of the authors who don’t seem to be thinking about the consequences of what has just happened.
    But couldn’t there be another explanation? At least, if we put aside for the moment the fact that all the children are gone…Couldn’t it be that the authors believe that those who will be Raptured are part of a miniscule persecuted minority so small and uncared for that, except for the few unbelievers in their midst, no one will really notice or care that they’re gone?
    Maybe they really expect that there are so few true believers, and that the world cares about them so little, that their dissappearance would be the kind of thing to make front page news for a day or two and then be forgotten as the world that doesn’t really care about them goes about it’s business. Now this view of their place in the world is still rather odd.
    Maybe it’s not these scenes of relative calm that are out of place, maybe it’s the description of chaos that we saw earlier that doesn’t really match.
    Of course this theory falls apart when we consider that the children are gone. But it’s really feeling more and more to me like these authors don’t really expect the Rapture to be that much of an event for the world, Perhaps on par with some old building collapsing somewhere and killing a bunch of people, or maybe at the level of a subway accident in some far away place. The kind of thing that makes headlines for a couple days and affects a couple hundred people.
    So maybe it’s the chaos (and the children dissappearing) that don’t fit with the picture instead of these calm normal scenes.

  24. My first thought about the burned-out houses was that they were most likely ignited by dropped cigarettes. Yes, some True Christians do smoke! And the rapture supposedly happens at about 11PM Central, if I remember right, so there wouldn’t be too many people rustling up dinner at that hour.
    …how do you maintain belief in an all-merciful God against so much evidence to the contrary?
    I’m no believer, but if I were I would have to conclude that God is not all-powerful in the sense that most people want him to be, ie, able to reach in at any time and arrange things just right so that someone will avoid getting hurt. Some Christians like to believe that God has nothing better to do than micromanage the universe so that they can find a parking space. I suppose you can’t blame someone, if they believe that everything happens according to God’s plan, for being grateful when something seemingly unlikely happens to them that is in their favor. But it is undeniably obvious that God is not doing this on an ongoing basis. It may just be an intrinsically impossible task, like creating a rock so big that God can’t lift it.

  25. OK, so, Fred, and/or anyone who wants to answer: how do you maintain belief in an all-merciful God against so much evidence to the contrary?
    I don’t really think anyone, except God personally has the complete answer to that.
    I read a few things that made sort of sense to me. There is Lewis’ book ‘The Problem of Pain’ is a nice summary on different theories – It is however very abstract and not the book to give anyone who is in acute pain/grieve. One notion there is, that in order to communicate with each other, there needs to be something outside from ourselves, which is to be manipulated by both sides (or rather by a lot of sides considering that there are a lot of entieties for potential communication.). As this matter, being manipulated by many forces might not always be in the way most pleasurable to ourselves (since we can not completely control it all the time, otherwise our communication partner would not be able to communicate back.) – pain is the necessary result of existing as destinct indiviuals. (Hinduism, at least some forms of it, agrees with that notion.) The second thought here (in Lewis’ book) was, that a truely free will does not only require that one can think and plan an action, but also, that at least some of these actions can be executed and have conequences – even though they are not good. Thus the Evil we see, would be the result of beings existing as individuums and having a free will. – The problem I have with that explanation is that if Evil is supposed to be the result of free will and individuality and Heaven is without Evil, will heaven than be without free will and individuality?

  26. “It may just be an intrinsically impossible task, like creating a rock so big that God can’t lift it.”
    That’s one of those so-called paradoxes that never made any sense to me — it’s applying anthropocentric signifiers to a fundamentally different order of being. What do the words “big” and “lift” even mean with reference to the Transcendent Source and Ground of Being? You might as well ask “Can God create a rock so fuzzy that God can’t whistle it?” and make as much sense.
    Which is sort of how I look at Fred’s Big Question — which is, to put it in bluntest terms, “If God is so All That, why does it suck to be me (or, to be fair, to be anyone)?” I’m with Job — not only “I don’t know,” but “I can’t know,” and frankly “it’s not important for me to know.” I’ve never heard of anyone coming up with an argument for theodicy which could possibly convince anyone who didn’t already accept the “theo” premise in the first place — and once I surrender to the gloriously implausible idiocy which is monotheism, the whole idea of asking God to justify God’s doings to *me* looks awfully arrogant and nitpicky.
    Infinite love and mercy is inherently unfair. That’s what so marvellous about it. I haven’t yet met anyone or anything yet that has earned their own existence, let alone a better parking place.

  27. To add to my previous comment:
    As a Christian I find it relatively easy to combine the idea of an merciful God and a less than merciful world by considering that God in from of Jesus subjected himself to the same suffering, his creatures have to endure, too.
    And I’m not quite so sure, if the notion of God’s love and mercy necessarily requires that our lives are free of pain and unending. (Personally I doubt that everything I think is good is also good in God’s eyes.)

  28. ako:
    Because if the books are anything to judge by, they’d probably be the kind of people to quote Pascal’s wager at an atheist, and stand there smirking in anticipated triumph at how unbeatable they think the argument is.
    I like to turn Pascal’s wager on its pointy little head. There are a gazillion different theologies, many mutually exclusive. Since not all of them can be correct, and they submit the same sets of rationales (usually “it says so here”), I’m best off believing none of ’em.
    I had a fun lunch hour with two friends who were trying to convince me that the Bible was better proof for the existance of their god than the Bhagavad Gita was for the existance of Krishna. “But John mumble:mumble sez…” Thunk!

  29. …how do you maintain belief in an all-merciful God against so much evidence to the contrary?
    granted, i’m not a christian, but i don’t necessarily see god as all-merciful. i think the idea that deity can be benevolent/merciful/hateful/selfish or whatever is kind of like attributing those qualities to gravity, or the physical properties of fire, or what have you. in my view, god is more of a force or an energy or a law of nature than an individual being which can have petty human emotions. it’s more along the lines of, say, fire. fire keeps us warm and cooks our food. it can also burn forests and houses and people. fire doesn’t discriminate. it doesn’t keep good people warm and burn the shit out of bad people. it just exists, and we interact with it in our own ways. and hopefully don’t get burned.

  30. I’m no Fundamentalist, but I think even they acknowledge the right of _married couples_ to have sex, and to enjoy it. They may _say_ “Just for procreation,” but, you know, it _does_ say “Increase and multiply,” so they can schtup like bunnies, enjoy themselves hugely and say “We were only following orders!”
    Sure, they allow for sex (LaHaye has written a couple sex-ed books – The Act of Marriage: The Beauty of Sexual Love, and The Act of Marriage after 40, which are still relatively popular among Evangelicals (even non-PMDs).
    I think they still have a streak of the sex-hating, though, a la Augustine. Sex may be OK, but we certainly wouldn’t talk about it, let alone make an insinuation in our propaganda book.
    Except that slut Hattie. She deserves what’s coming to her, for trying to seduce our Hero. Sexless Irene goes to heaven, Hattie the whore gets thrown to the Antichrist.
    And Real, True Christians definitely wouldn’t smoke.

  31. Actually, I don’t think there is much theology to be found because there is none. It isn’t “theology” but “WEology” that drives the sort of Evangelicalism that L&J seem to subscribe to. It is Us-verses-Them. It is a plan to reward Us while punishing Them. The god of “WEology” acts according to Our plan. It is all about We. Those of Them who Join We will be saved—nuff said. But only those of Them who are REALLY a part of We will survive—not those who merely pretend to be part of We.
    It is the same religion that “lost” those who Jesus came to seek and find. No matter what it is called, it really is just Weism.

  32. And Real, True Christians definitely wouldn’t smoke
    Not even if someone set fire to them?
    Just as an experiment?

  33. how do you maintain belief in an all-merciful God against so much evidence to the contrary?
    I’m not a Christian either, but my guess is: God has to abide by the rules He set. He gave people (and, presumably, if you believe Satan exists, angels) Free Will. And if people use that free will to screw other people over, then God is more or less powerless to intervene. Otherwise, if He just pointed His finger and made everything right, then what would be the point of free will?
    Then again, this line of reasoning only works if you ignore the bits in the Bible where God keeps hardening the heart of the Pharaoh just so He could rain a few more plagues onto Egypt.

  34. I think the truly unanswerable question about evil is – if evil doesn’t exist in heaven why can’t god vanquish it from earth? What purpose does it serve? Most arguments about the necessity of evil seem to fall apart when applied to heaven. For example, if evil is necessary for free will to function then either 1) there is evil in heaven, 2) there is no free will in heaven, or 3) god changes free will in heaven so as to not necessitate evil. I assume no one will wants to argue 1, 2 sounds like a pretty horrible heaven, and if 3 is true why couldn’t god have created free will on earth in the same manner?

  35. And Real, True Christians definitely wouldn’t smoke
    Not even if someone set fire to them? Just as an experiment?
    You’ve got a point, Jesurgislac. It’s worth a try…

  36. For example, if evil is necessary for free will to function then either 1) there is evil in heaven, 2) there is no free will in heaven, or 3) god changes free will in heaven so as to not necessitate evil.
    I would think the potential for evil is necessary. If memory serves, only if that potential goes unfulfilled do you get to go to heaven.

  37. I’m a Christian and I don’t believe in an all-merciful God. I think Opoponax came closest to describing the way I think of God.

  38. For those interested in Christian responses regarding omnipotence as it pertains to the “big rock” and “Can God commit a sin?” conundrums, see these links:
    Can God create a stone so heavy that He cannot move it?
    God Can’t Do Everything
    Aren’t you sorta misusing the word Omnipotence?
    (I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with these articles, just posting them for those interested in the subject.)

  39. God keeps hardening the heart of the Pharaoh just so He could rain a few more plagues onto Egypt.
    IIRC, this happens after one or two instances in which –according to the Bible — Pharoah first hardened his own heart.

  40. 1. It’s all part of God’s plan.
    2. We live in a fallen world.
    3. It’s all Satan’s fault.
    4. ???
    5. Profit!!!

  41. (Earth to Scott: power and profit aren’t as important as you think they are…Doesn’t justice trump them both?)
    6. Omnipotence is an impossibility.

  42. Okay, I have a sort of technical question that may have been proposed in earlier discussions, but why the heck are any planes flying just six days later? Presumably dozens of planes fell from the sky killing thousands of innocent (but not saved) people. In addition trains have probably crashed and the rate or automobile fatalities took a bit of jump that night. How do the survivors know it won’t happen again? After 9/11 air traffic was shut down for what five days? And we had an explanation for that. Would you get on an airplane in these circumstances?

  43. That’s what really ticked me off, that they were too lazy to bother trying to address any questions a skeptic might have. I mean, is it too difficult to ask that they create a few strawmen or something? Anything would be better than just flat out nothing.
    Still looking forward to the Rayford-Hattie conversation about abortion which would be offensive if it weren’t so jaw-droppingly hilarious.

  44. That’s a cop out and blatently condradicts what later happens in the series:
    Anyone whose read the series knows that the power of Satan is very limited both before and after the tribulation. This is not even counting the fact that virtually all the chaos and destruction and death that occurs during the series is caused by the hand of God, and for fairly evil reasons (People not worshiping him).

  45. So there’s this episode of Dr. Who, _Invasion of the Dinosaurs._
    Some people in it want to retroactively wipe out a fair bit of history.
    This is described as killing people—not just the people currently alive, but generations of the dead who “now” would never have been born.
    This raised a question in my mind, to wit, how is the experience of the dead different from the experience of those who were never born? What is there that notices a transition? What is there, supposing such a monstrous time-travelling deed were to take place, that would say, “Ah! I lived, once, but now I never have?”
    This often comes to mind in discussions of theodicy.
    Suppose that in some distant century when all of us are dust, a theologian were to reach the cause and substance of the universe and say, “Sir or madam, truly, I do hate to impose, but evil is.”
    And the cause and substance of the world were to look up in shock and say, “Oh, my—”
    (As has been its intention to look up in shock and say since the first conceiving of intention, whenupon the theologian should appear, as part of its ineffable plan.)
    “Oh, my: I will fix that.”
    And a great wind were to rise to blow across all time, until never there was evil, and never there is evil, and never evil shall be; and all things in sweetness and in goodness from the moment of Creation until the end of time; and joy suffusing all things, and love, exactly as it should be.
    Then what will there be of us, who lived today and are then dead, to notice that where once we had lived lives that were full of sorrow and evil now we are become the lived-lives-of-simple-beauty dead?
    Rebecca

  46. The … Quirmian philosopher Ventre, who said, ‘Possibly the gods exist, and possibly they do not. So why not believe in them in any case? If it’s all true you’ll go to a lovely place when you die, and if it isn’t then you’ve lost nothing, right?’ When he died he woke up in a circle of gods holding nasty-looking sticks and one of them said, ‘We’re going to show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts . . .’
    Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

  47. “He gave people (and, presumably, if you believe Satan exists, angels) Free Will.”
    Correction, in the 6th book, when someone asks how God could kill hundreds of millions before they can make the choice to convert, Tison says that God used his omniscience to know ahead of time that those people killed would never convert.
    And I’m telling myself, that sounds like predestination. And I ask myself “Why bother? Why not judge everyone immediately, if he’s going to cheat on that by denying those people their chance at excercising their free-will. This is even aside from the fact that God kills those whose only crime is not being a true believer.”

  48. I think the truly unanswerable question about evil is – if evil doesn’t exist in heaven why can’t god vanquish it from earth?
    Well, from what I remember of Catholic school, the answer to the “is there free will in heaven?” question, from a Catholic perspective, is that free will exists in Heaven, but, given that people in Heaven are exposed to the full beauty and wisdom of God, nobody there chooses to act against God’s wishes. This struck me as a cop-out on two levels — (a) why then would a free-willed angel, already exposed to the full beauty and wisdom of God, rebel? And, (b), if you have free will but don’t want to use it, either you don’t really have free will or free will isn’t really all that. The kindly nun who taught our advanced scripture class told us that the answer to (a) was that the angels had a testing period before they entered into full communion with God and those who rebelled failed while those who remained loyal passed. (Her answer to (b) was to ruefully observe there were times she’d rather be teaching chemistry.)
    Me, I take more of a deist bent — similar to Opoponax and contra Fred. The reason evil exists is that God doesn’t have a personal relationship with anyone. God does things like keep the gravity bill paid and prevent ultraviolet catastrophe. This means God is “good,” in that God is a prerequisite for all existence, without which I wouldn’t have a place to keep my stuff, but it doesn’t mean that he worries about the little things, like, say, WWII.

  49. And, (b), if you have free will but don’t want to use it, either you don’t really have free will or free will isn’t really all that.
    I may be misreading something here, but it sounds like “acting on your free will” is basically the same as “doing evil”.
    I kinda disagree, of course.

  50. I may be misreading something here, but it sounds like “acting on your free will” is basically the same as “doing evil”.
    I think the read the nun encouraged here was supposed to be “acting on your free will” means “free to make mistakes.” Or, further, that without free will there’s no evil, but also no good, since without choice in general there’s no moral choice in particular. Sort of like how we were told that the early church father Origen erred theologically when (or, since not everyone agrees he ever actually did it, if) he castrated himself to defeat the sin of lust. You get no divine credit for overcoming a sin if it’s no temptation.
    (You also don’t get much credit from a nun when you ask how a castrated man could be a father of the church, or of anything…)
    Hm. Now that I read this, I wonder if the Catholic conclusion on the issue of free will in Heaven could be that by the time you’ve made it to Heaven, you’ve already exercised your free will to make the right moral choices, and part of the reward of Heaven is that there immorality comes without any temptations, so you can finally relax.
    Bear in mind that all this was a long time ago — jeeze, coming up on two decades now — and that the idea that someday I would be speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church would have reduced the nuns and monks of St. Joseph’s to gales of hysterics post-haste.

  51. … and part of the reward of Heaven is that there immorality comes without any temptations, so you can finally relax.
    Okay, I know this was a typo and you meant “immortality,” but I love the idea of immorality without any temptations. Is there wife-swapping in heaven? ;-)

  52. The Peter David run of Supergirl had an interesting idea about this. It said that while God knew everything that was known at the time, he didn’t know everything that could be known. The Tree of Life failed, because there never had been people before, so it didn’t occur to him that it would be a temptation instead of a rule that the people would naturally follow. It was only after it happened that it became obvious.
    I don’t know if I buy into that any more than any other idea but at least it doesn’t make God a force of evil.

  53. Okay, I know this was a typo and you meant “immortality,” but I love the idea of immorality without any temptations. Is there wife-swapping in heaven? ;-)
    Actually, that wasn’t a typo. I meant immorality without any temptations. On earth, the world is full of opportunities to obtain short-term personal benefit at the expense of others and/or long-term personal benefit, so immorality is tempting. Why not cheat your shareholders, or dump toxic waste in a playground, when you’ll benefit now, won’t be punished for a long time if ever, and the people who suffer aren’t you? In heaven, though, we may be fully aware of how our actions will cause suffering for people who aren’t us, and so we would never choose to act in an evil manner. In heaven, we may have free will, we may theoretically have a “choice,” in the sense that I have the freedom to choose to either have a piece of peanut-butter cheesecake for desert or stab myself in the tongue with a fork. Yes, it’s a “choice,” but not a hard one.
    So, according to this theory, is there wife-swapping in heaven? Well, yes, but only moral wife-swapping. ;-)
    (Now, remember I don’t necessarily believe any of this, since I don’t particularly believe in a personal afterlife. I’m just riffing on a theme by St. Thomas Aquinas here.)

  54. Question, regarding problem of evil:
    It’s possibly fair to say that evil happens because of the fallen state of man. We aren’t perfect, the argument goes, and we have free will that isn’t (by restraint) overriden by His Deityness, so therefore evil acts happen. “We bring it on ourselves,” the argument goes.
    But how does this excuse natural disasters, which cause extended suffering to great numbers of people, a significant fraction of which must be undeserving of their fate. What explains those acts of “natural” evil? It cannot be a part of free will, as it is humans, not the tectonic plates, that have free will. To someone who believes that there is a compassionate, omnipotent Deity running the natural world, natural disasters are squarely in the almighty’s court.
    This is also entirely ignoring the argument that free will and lack of knowledge are orthogonal. It would be entirely possible for an almighty, personal Deity to implant in all of us, either at birth or at some age, the revelatory knowledge that He exists, and that The Scriptures (du jour) are Holy and True and Infallible, and All That Jazz. Free will then would then be a more legitimate choice between following or rejecting the Almighty (precisely what the scarier evangelicals think all agnostics/atheists/etc are doing — rejecting), rather than a fuzzy choice between a multitude of possibilities given incomplete and incredible information.

  55. In re free will and Heaven, the Blessed African Doctor set it up like this:
    1. Humans were created with the ability to freely choose both good and evil.
    2. As a result of the Fall, our free will was corrupted (not by God, but by our own choice) so that we can now only freely choose evil — or between various flavors and degrees of evil. Sort of how like when you choose the left hand fork on a divided road, you remain on the left, no matter how many times or how far you wander to the right side of the road.
    3. Only Divine Intervention (“grace”)allows us to truly choose good in this life (sort of transports us over the median to the right); we can still freely choose evil, and get on the wrong road again.
    4. In Heaven, our ability to freely choose good will be restored, but at the cost of our ability to freely choose evil.
    Angels, by the way, sort of got a “once for all time” free choice between good and evil; neither angels nor devils (fallen angels) currently has free will for either good or evil.
    Disease, pain, premature death, and natural disasters are the result of our corrupt wills interacting with a good creation. We are “out of sync” as it were, with the goodness of creation, and so keep getting in the way of natural processes to our detriment.
    I’m not saying I believe this, or that it’s even appealing, but it has the advantage of being logically consistent.

  56. This is why in my mental rewrite of Left Behind I made it turn out all the disappearances were the result of aliens, because there’s absolutely no way to write the current plot they have set up without making God look like the Supreme Asshole.

  57. Suppose that in some distant century when all of us are dust, a theologian were to reach the cause and substance of the universe and say, “Sir or madam, truly, I do hate to impose, but evil is.”And the cause and substance of the world were to look up in shock and say, “Oh, my—”
    There’s a sci-fi book in which time travel becomes possible. When a time-traveller goes to the past, however, he/she finds that the past is immutable – one cannot so much as pick up a blade of grass (IIRC, this was mentioned in the preface to C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce). Of course, other books and movies have also played with this theme – from Back to the Future to The Butterfly Effect.
    With regards to “God”, we in the West often think in very Greek terms (omniscient, infallible, omnipresent, immutable…I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two from my Christian elementary school). I’m not so sure anymore that that’s what “God” is. I tend to think now that “God” is a being completely beyond our ability to imagine, describe, grasp; yet at the same time he has chosen in some way to reveal [a part of] himself to humans, to interact with humans. As Meister Eckhart said, “The unnameable is omni-nameable”.
    It’s hard (impossible) to speak for God, but I imagine that God is simultaneously in some way beyond time (hence his ability to hear all prayers at once, and the Catholic/Orthodox practice of praying for the dead), and limited or bound by time (perhaps this is a self-limitation?). He doesn’t (that we know of) change events of the past (so getting back to the original question of “God” removing all evil from history, this may be as unfair a proposition as God creating a rock so heavy he can’t lift it), and he doesn’t (again, to our knowledge) mandate the future or have it set in stone.
    I believe that God enters into relationship with his creation – a real, two-way relationship, with the ability for both “parties” to change and be changed.

  58. …like when you choose the left hand fork on a divided road, you remain on the left, no matter how many times or how far you wander to the right side of the road.
    Oh, Augustine…
    This seems to fall right in with L&J’s portrayal of all unbelievers as being completely morally bankrupt. Real, True, Christians are unable to do anything bad; everyone else is unable to do anything good.
    What if, to extend the metaphor a bit too far, there is no barrier wall between the roads on this journey – there is only a direction that leads to life, and a direction that leads to death? One would be able to make more nuanced choices – any “step” on this journey could be taken in an infinite number of directions, and would lead either more-or-less closer to the destination, or farther away from it.

  59. To someone who believes that there is a compassionate, omnipotent Deity running the natural world, natural disasters are squarely in the almighty’s court.
    But it also falls under the Laws of Physics (I think) – the set of rules God used to create the Universe, keep it together and, of course, keep Earth twirling around the sun in such a way that all the life on can stay alive. But then to prevent a natural disaster God has to change the laws of physics. And if He changes the laws of physics, He changes the way the whole universe works.
    No good can possibly come of that.
    (Of course, you could argue that God should’ve created a better universe where the by Him created laws of physics (or whatever) wouldn’t lead to natural disasters. But I suppose that’s ineffability for you.)

  60. Sue W., I *did* hear Tim LaHaye preach, in 1984. He was a guest preacher at First Baptist in Atlanta (this was before Charles Stanley got there, when it was merely very big and not a behemoth). I gritted my teeth at the “abortionists and women who have abortions are murderers” bit — I expected it — but when he stated that women who left their kids in daycare were selfish evil sinners, I stood up and, making as much noise as I could, stomped out. (And I didn’t even have kids — he was just so obnoxious.) I never went back to that church. The lack of compassion and sheer… I can’t find a word for it, arrogance, maybe, and disregard for the plight of other human beings I found appalling. So I find Fred’s LB series very interesting because so far it has confirmed the impression I got of the man 20 years ago.

  61. a mathrock band, obviously. sorry for the aside. cminus’s comment made me think of it. now back to theodicy!

  62. Gyah! I’m 68th into the pews? Oh, well.
    One of my first college papers was discussing Milton’s Paradise Lost. My only conclusion: God lets Satan do God’s dirty work (kinda like Bush lets Cheney drive…)
    Oh.
    Never.
    Mind.

  63. That’s actually what the Hebrews held before contact with Persia and Zoroastrianism. The dark angels/demons and their leader Belial were CREATED by God SPECIFICALLY to visit woe and ruin upon those who acted sinfully (whether in terms of individuals or nations). It wasn’t really until the run-in with the Persian dualists that the Satan shifted from being the head of God’s black ops division to being his greatest enemy.

  64. And Real, True Christians definitely wouldn’t smoke
    Not even if someone set fire to them? Just as an experiment?
    Judging from the Pentecost, nope.
    What confused me about Left Behind was just how little theology is in it. I expected lots of Socratic dialogues and Biblical interpretation and clever gymnastics to find plausible ways to apply prophecies envisioned by a guy alone on an island with a lot of highly lickable toads to actual events.
    I got phone conversations.
    Very disappointing.

  65. It wasn’t really until the run-in with the Persian dualists that the Satan shifted from being the head of God’s black ops division to being his greatest enemy.
    I’d have to disagree with that.
    First, which Belial? The only Belial mentioned in the Bible is a mortal man.
    Secondly, there’s Genesis, the apple and the snake, where snake is portrayed as an enemy of God. It is generally assumed that that story is much older than the Persian influence. And yes, there’s Job, too. But that is most likely a much older story.
    And thirdly, people always forget that Persian dualism is in fact no dualism at all. Even Angra Mainyu was created by Ahura Mazda. So if anything, the Persian mythology may well have been the source of the “fallen angel” theme.
    As for God’s black ops division, there is something similar in 1 Samuel, where “an evil spirit from the Lord” (KJV) troubles Saul. But nothing else so far. Could you be more specific?

  66. Dahne: Maybe LaHaye thinks that the theme has been gone over so many times (and so well) that he thinks it unnecessary. There are certainly enough elements that you can find in other dispensationalist literature. There is, for instance, a scene in “The Rising” where one of the female protagonists (I can’t remember whether it was Nicolae’s surrogate mother or Irene) who is brought to weeping, grateful conversion by what appears to be a leaflet, apparently not much bigger than one of the Fellowship Tract League’s offerings. This is more than a little redolent of the Jack Chick theme that just to hear the CONCEPT of the Christ’s vicarious atonement is, for anyone with anything resembling virtue, to practically swear fealty to him.
    I suppose it’s worth considering that the sanctification of the believers, rather than the mechanism of that sancification, is a main theme. The example that comes to mind here is the beginning of…{scowls} either “The Remnant” or “Armageddon”…where Nicolae has just bombed up Petra, where many of the remaining Christians have taken refuge from the G.C. forces. However, the flames completely fail to even singe the hair of the denizens–as one of the main characters says, they’re basically hundreds/thousands of Abednegos and Shadrachs (and whichever was the third of them). In other words, LaHaye is concerned less with why God acts and rather what God does.
    In fact, LaHaye opened “Babylon Rising” with an explanation that he was spearheading the series in order to address end-times prophecies that he wasn’t able to bring up in “Left Behind”. I think he even referred to the two series as “prophecy fiction”.
    In other words, LaHaye sees the value of Christianity not so much in its ideals as in its certainties for its True Followers™. For him, religion is all about eternity/the future, with the present as nothing, except to prove one’s worthiness for the future.

  67. RE God delegating the earth to Satan, according to LeJenkins: this actually explains a lot about why many Christians don’t seem to give a shit what happens to people or the world. Basically, earth is a rental, so we can treat it anyway we want, and the people in it are sorta like the loud neighbors we wish would move away so they don’t bother us.
    As for why Chloe left: if the sermon was anything like most Baptist sermons, she was bored shitless and decided she’d rather go to hell than hang out with this bunch of losers for all eternity.
    That’s my guess, anyway.

  68. The Free Will Defence ™ only explains, at best, why people do bad things. It doesn’t explain why nature does bad things, such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, plagues, and meteorite strikes, just to name a few. I’ve heard several answers to this question, all of them unsatisfactory:
    1). It’s all a part of God’s plan, so STFU
    2). Bad things happen so that we can really appreciate the good ones
    3). Natural disasters are AoE punishments for our sins
    4). Satan did it
    5). We live in a fallen world (sort of (3)+(4) )
    However, it still seems to me that an omni-everything God could at least make a world that was earthquake-proof. *shrug*

  69. Pleather Naugahyde,
    ok, Job 34:18. But the original word is either a name of a person (as in Judges or 1 Samuel) or a sort of curseword (ungodly, worthless, wicked; especially in Psalms and Proverbs). There is very little indication it is a name of an angel/demon. On second thought, with a name like that..
    Tell you what, I’ll check the Talmud and report back.
    Skyknight,
    they’re basically hundreds/thousands of Abednegos and Shadrach (and whichever was the third of them).
    Meshach? ;o) It was “The Remnant”.
    LaHaye is concerned less with why God acts and rather what God does
    Right on. Look no further than “Glorious Appearing” for scores of pages filled with miracles upon miracles and endless quotes from the Bible spoken by – wait for it – Jesus.

  70. I’m late to this discussion, so I’l just say that I know the real reason all the airplanes had been cleared away… and believe me, these guys definitely don’t fit with L&J’s idea of the raptured…

  71. she’d rather go to hell than hang out with this bunch of losers for all eternity
    I thought that was the same thing…

  72. The example that comes to mind here is the beginning of…{scowls} either “The Remnant” or “Armageddon”…where Nicolae has just bombed up Petra, where many of the remaining Christians have taken refuge from the G.C. forces. However, the flames completely fail to even singe the hair of the denizens
    It’s funny, because the newly saved characters believe that they are not protected and could at any time be killed before the end of the tribulation. Yet in many instances L&J have God or an angel interfere with the events in order to prevent certain of the saved from death. It reminded me of a child playing war with toy soldiers.

  73. The minister/pastor/preacher/God guy at my grandfather’s funeral attempted to comfort our family with the story of Lazarus. Lazarus.
    Dude, Jesus is not going to raise my grandfather from the dead. You have a gigantic bible, you can pick a more appropriate story.

  74. However, it still seems to me that an omni-everything God could at least make a world that was earthquake-proof.
    Maybe not. Maybe there is simply no way to construct an earthquake-proof world that is suitable for life. And if you have creatures with their own agendas, acting on their own volition, somebody somewhere is going to get hurt eventually, even if it’s only by accident. There is nothing God can do about it, except possibly on rare occasions.

  75. Maybe there is simply no way to construct an earthquake-proof world that is suitable for life.
    I’m sure an omnipotent, omniscient being could figure something out.

  76. Anyone wanting to find out what a Health & Safety Earth would be like only has to read Michael Frayn’s Sweet Dreams (the only portrayal of heaven that makes it sound attractive; basically a journey through your life with you winning all the shots you lost) where Howard is designing an earth with oceans that are only three feet deep so that people can’t drown, peaks that are only ten feet high so people can’t fall off, bacteria that are six inches high and can be kept as pets – and then has to make the odd compromise, such as introducing the black death to placate the zero population growth people.

  77. That sounds like quite a dull (and, frankly, small-minded) way to make a planet safe.
    Make the oceans superoxygenated, so that people can breathe underwater. Make the ground become spontaniously soft and spongy whenever something is heading towards it at terminal velocity. Make the human immune system far better, so that E. coli can continue to live in the gut where it’s needed, but dangerous, mutant strains can be killed off immediately. And make the Earth expand at the same rate as the population. That ought to keep the zero population growth crowd quiet.
    And I’m sure an omni[scient|potent|benevolent] being could come up with even better ideas.

  78. How about, instead of an earthquake-proof world, this Personal Benevolent Deity just grant everybody a supernatural sense of when an earthquake is coming?
    If you know an earthquake’s going to hit in, say, two hours, then getting killed in it is pretty much your own damn fault. It violates neither the laws of planetary physics, nor free will.

  79. That’s actually a really nice sfnal concept, Maj, but I disagree that “it would be pretty much your own damn fault” if you then got killed. If the epicenter of the earthquake was the center of a large city (Los Angeles, for example) and several million people got the 2-hour earthquake warning at once, plenty of people would be killed in the struggle to get out, and there would inevitably be people who would need to leave, want to leave, and be unable to leave for want of money. (See: Katrina.)

  80. hapax wrote:
    Only Divine Intervention (“grace”)allows us to truly choose good in this life (sort of transports us over the median to the right)
    So… the grace of God allows you to move to England?

  81. a few answers to this quandary:
    #1: occam’s razor.
    #2: “He [sic] works in mysterious ways.”
    #3: i’m not really sure humans, or any one species, are so at the center of creation that deity would put everything else on hold to make sure we don’t drown, or get diseases, or any of the rest. that’s just such an absurd notion, if you know anything about how science works. i guess i could see a world where natural disasters don’t exist, because i don’t know enough about weather patterns or tectonic plates or the physics of mudslides. but if i knew more about it, i could probably see how or why they must.
    #4: other animals have a lot of instincts and ways of knowing things about the world that humans don’t have. humans who live in non-sedentary societies are equipped with ways of dealing with the nefarious side of nature, which often work better than what we ‘civilized’ folk have to make do with. humans have become much stupider, in certain ways, than we started out.

  82. In this particular case, I do like Augustine’s solution. Originally, all Creation was designed to work as a systemic whole, each individual serving to benefit all the others (his detailed example was childbirth, which in an unFallen state would happen without pain or risk, because the woman would have complete conscious control over every aspect of the biological process, but the same idea was applied to external events as well) Earthquakes, for example, would still be able to carve useful rivers and heave up majestic mountains, but as opoponax says, humans would have the wisdom (and grace) to stay out their way.
    But by defying the will of the Creator, humanity has “opted out” of the system, like a loose bolt constantly getting caught in the gears. Augustine say, but I think would accept, the idea that the human rejection of the Divine plan also threw the rest of the system out of whack — therefore the lion no longer “eats straw like the ox” and so forth.
    Of course, for all we know, anthrax bacilla also have (had) free will, and can be bollixing up the works as well.

  83. It’s funny, because the newly saved characters believe that they are not protected and could at any time be killed before the end of the tribulation. Yet in many instances L&J have God or an angel interfere with the events in order to prevent certain of the saved from death. It reminded me of a child playing war with toy soldiers.
    In all fairness Chloe does get her head chopped off, Rayford’s second wife dies in a plane crash, Bruce dies when Chicago gets nuked, Buck’s face is horribly scarred when he jumps out of an airplane and lands in some bushes and various other characters die.

  84. But by defying the will of the Creator, humanity has “opted out” of the system…
    What kind of a weak system is this, that one loose bolt can throw the entire thing out of whack ? I’d expect this from Microsoft, but not from an omni-everything deity. In fact, even a reasonably skilled programmer can create a stable system that is highly resistant to erroneous inputs (such as a birdthdate in the future, a negative weight, illegal filenames, SQL injection attacks, etc.). I’d expect God to be at least as good.

  85. I suppose that saying “Just wait for the plot-twist” is the same as “he moves in mysterious ways”, then?

  86. Bugmaster, despite their apparently random malevolence, none of Microsoft’s programs are *intended* to have free will. I can’t imagine how the concept of free will could even be meaningful without the ability to “opt out.” How can we reasonably expect the system to “work around” our “erroneous input” by protecting us from nature, when (according to most standard Christian interpretations) there are no “innocent victims” — that is, there are no humans (except One) who completely and freely choose to function as designed?
    As I said earlier, I have no opinions about the moral culpability of lions, oxen, or bacteria. In the deepest possible sense, that’s none of our business.

  87. @hapax:
    Lol ! Yes, I think you are right: despite their apparently demonic demeanor, Microsoft’s apps are probably not infested by Satan, after all.
    However, what I meant was that Microsoft is known for writing buggy apps that respond very poorly to any kind of unexpected input. These apps are designed in such a way that deviating even an iota from their standard operating procedure crashes the entire system.
    However, there are other, better apps out there, which are robust and resistant to damage. For example, it’s pretty hard to crash Apache, although I suppose it is possible.
    According to the “fallen world” explanation, God is a Microsoft programmer. Our world is written so poorly that, by exercising our free will even once, we were able to crash the whole thing, to the point where even Jesus couldn’t patch it. That’s just bad programming.
    As I said earlier: a semi-competent deity would be able to write a robust world that allowed free will in a way that wouldn’t “fallenize” everything the instant some creature in the world chose to exercise it. A loving deity would create a world whose chief purpose was to support and nourish its chosen beings (those would be Jews, or Christians, or Muslims, depending on whom you ask, heh), as opposed to attempting to destroy them every step of the way, which is what we have now.

  88. Hmmm. I don’t want this to devolve into a back-and-forth between the two of us, but I really don’t see *why* a loving deity must design a world/program that can’t be “crashed” by our choice to disobey — or that such a world would actually “support and nourish” us, either. To allow us to live in a consequence-free creation would perpetualize infantilize us, I think.
    After all, aren’t a lot of these critiques of theodicy sort of like saying “How dare you give us free will? And how DARE you make us suffer the consequences of our own poor choices?” Accountability isn’t any fun, I know (just ask the current US government) but it’s the flip side of the Spider-Man credo — without allowing for such (literally) cosmic responsibility, humans couldn’t be granted the incredible power of free will.
    Yeah, I’ll agree that God took a heck of a gamble on us — but most Christians would argue that God was also willing to back up the bluff…

  89. We were made in God’s image and we failed at the first sign of temptation. Hence, God must have some sort of inherent flaw that prevents Him from being perfect. Therefore all his designs are flawed, therefore we have earthquakes and disasters and the choice to sin or not to sin, etc. Yes, God is a Microsoft programmer.

  90. Everyone here seems to assume that pain, suffering, and natural disasters are bad things. What if your assumptions are wrong, and those things are actually good? But how could that be? Read The Brothers Karamazov by Doestoevsky. It is not a quick read, so it might take a while before you get the point. We spend so much time taking drugs to avoid every twinge of pain or discomfort that we do not take the time to investigate *how* that pain or discomfort can be a blessing. Then when real pain enters our life, we are so used to thinking of it as bad, we *definitely* cannot see anything good in it. I try to avoid pain as much as everyone else does, but I do not see it as a curse from God or proof that a non-sadistic God cannot exist. I do believe that God is bigger than my parkinson’s, my sister’s incurable cancer, and the hurricane that crashed through our city. Hurricanes are downright fun compared to the choices my grown son is making–those will surely lead me to an early grave.

  91. @hapax
    To allow us to live in a consequence-free creation would perpetualize infantilize us, I think.In other words, you’re saying that hurricanes and plagues and such are not design flaws; they are deliberate feedback mechanisms, installed by God, to modify our behavior to be in accordance with his plan. Is that right ?
    If so, I argue that God is still incompetent at best, cruel at worst.
    Incompetent, because his AoE punishments destroy hundreds of thousands of innocent lives (such as children, for example) that never had a chance to sin; they also destroy those few True Christians ™ who choose to live in accordance with God’s plan. Earthquakes do not discriminate.
    Cruel, because the punishment does not fit the crime. God is killing off people for minor infractions; he is then sending most of these people to an eternal Hell. Actually, come to think of it, God is still incompetent in this case, because he could’ve just skipped the intermediate step (earthquakes, etc.) and materialized the sinners in Hell directly. God is starting to remind me more and more of a Visual Basic “programmer”, who drags ActiveX controls onto his form without caring for what they actually do, and ends up creating a program that takes 20Mb and 10 minutes to display “Hello World”.

  92. he could’ve just skipped the intermediate step (earthquakes, etc.) and materialized the sinners in Hell directly
    naaaaah. He lets the sinners stay so they can repent, since he’s omnibenevolent. See, I believe Hell was made after Earth and Eden and all that jazz, so skipping the sinners off Earth would seem like playing off his initial creation(life, the universe, and everything) as a prototype, and flawed, and that would be a bit awkward for an omniscient, omnibenevolent, etc. being. He’s an omnibenevolent but flawed Deity who thinks He’s also omniscient.

  93. Two things I haven’t seen in the thread so far. Feel free to fold, spindle or mutilate as you see fit:
    1) No account of “free will” gets God off the hook, either for the world as we observe it or for the alleged rewards and punishments of the alleged afterlife. As Creator, God is a moral agent responsible for the Creation. To say that a small subset of the Creation is flawed, to God’s anger and/or sorrow, is to point directly back at the Creator and say He messed up. (hapax – what does it mean to say God “took a…gamble”? Is the universe of possibilty greater than God’s knowledge and ability?)
    2) Regarding free will itself, and specifically its manifestation as the human tendency to sin – Suppose we grant that we could not be human without the possibility of sin. Why, then, is sin *easy*? Why is it natural? Why can’t it be as possible, yet as difficult and un-natural, as walking on your knees? Why could we not have a built-in “sin” sense that would be as universal and consistent as our ability to tell the temperature of the air?

  94. Why, then, is sin *easy*? Why is it natural?
    What is sin, anyway? Most of what we call “sins” are normal self-preserving behaviors gone too far: gluttony is eating to excess, adultery is sex outside the approved boundaries, killing may be necessary for self-defense, etc. Christian doctrines regarding original sin notwithstanding, I don’t believe that life without sin is even a logical possibility. Likewise an ideal world where nothing bad can happen; nearly any scenario I’ve ever seen for making the world perfectly safe seem to involve violating laws of physics.
    Some Christians like to assert that “God can do anything” in what strikes me as a naive fashion, such that they have to answer yes to *any* question that asks “Can God do so-and-so?” or risk denying his omnipotence. Maybe omnipotence isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

  95. Why, then, is sin *easy*? Why is it natural? Why can’t it be as possible, yet as difficult and un-natural, as walking on your knees? Why could we not have a built-in “sin” sense that would be as universal and consistent as our ability to tell the temperature of the air?
    i think we do. it’s called morality. there are relatively few people who are so immoral as to be able to perceive no emotional obstacle to true sin. i also disagree that sin is easy and/or natural. of course it depends what we’re talking about when we talk about sin. sure, it’s easy to cut someone off for a parking space, to be short with a salesperson, to be a bystander to injustice. but anything beyond that basic level of selfish and unthinking behavior is pretty damn hard, unless you are psychotic. in which case there’s a part of your brain’s wiring that simply doesn’t experience what it should. we all know when we are doing something morally wrong. some of us choose to transgress those boundaries. but we still know, “i really shouldn’t be cheating on my wife,” “i really shouldn’t beat my kids,” “i really shouldn’t have killed that guy.” just as much as we know when it’s cold outside. and i don’t think those choices are easy ones to make, at all. people do make them, all the time. we make immoral choices for all kinds of reasons, all the time. but we know when we’re doing it, and if my own experience is in any way typical, we probably make more moral or neutral choices every day than we do sinful ones.
    now, of course, you can go into the banality of evil, the fact that it’s that everyday selfishness that enables true evil to go on existing. you can talk about karma and the butterfly effect and the fact that months of monosyllabic surliness to my neighborhood postal worker might influence said postal worker to go ballistic and shoot all his coworkers one day. but the bottom line is that i don’t think you can be so pessimistic as to say that sin and immorality are ‘easy’ and natural. because they’re not. if they were, morality wouldn’t exist and we’d do what other animals seem to be capable of doing: killing over a chance to mate, eating their children when food gets tight, attacking when we feel threatened. most of the time, cooler heads prevail and humans don’t do that sort of thing.

  96. I think this kind of argumentation about God is fruitless. It would be nice if we could find a logical system that could fit in every phenomena in the universe and explain everything, but history seems to indicate that we can’t. Atheists have problems fitting everything into their systems as well as Christians or anyone else.
    As a believer, I don’t rest my belief on the fact that I think that I can explain everything that happens. I believe because of my experience with God, the relationship that is deeply real and does bring meaning and purpose to my life, even those parts that are hard.
    The Bible has a long-term perspective on the problem of suffering and evil, and the hope offered is that it will be overcome through God’s work and his plan, that there will be a new heavens and a new earth. This will be the vindication of God as Creator, that he will bring everything in the end to the way it is supposed to be.
    Playing logic games with the ‘omnis’, the attributes of God, doesn’t lead to faith or understanding. It exposes our ignorance of what is actually going on in the universe (we only live on a small planet, and we have a very limited view). The Christian faith is about trust in God, about hope, and we look for the answer to suffering that will come in time.

  97. > Why, then, is sin *easy*?
    Well, strictly speaking, *easy* sin is easy.
    I mean, as easy as it is for a human to commit the sin of Adam, it is very hard for a human to commit the sin of Galactus. And even leaving practicality aside, there are lines that very few people cross.
    It stands to reason that if the Creator had made immorality difficult, then we’d just invent a new category of sin to handle more minor, easier imperfections; “microvenial” perhaps, or “nanovenial.” This is ultimately isomorphic to the categories we have today.
    I mean, perfect creatures are pointless; and imperfect creatures are imperfect, and perceive imperfection according to the scale of their own; so you’re gonna *have* flawed people, right? And the central tenet of morality, right, is still going to be, “Don’t settle for the easy road?”
    So I think “making sin difficult” falls into the category of logically impossible things, unless humans preceded their own Creation and served as an absolute reference frame.
    Rebecca

  98. Our world is written so poorly that, by exercising our free will even once, we were able to crash the whole thing, to the point where even Jesus couldn’t patch it. That’s just bad programming.
    Our world has crashed? As far as I can see it’s still running, maybe not exactly as you’d like, but the fact that you haven’t killed yourself suggests you think it’s better than nothing (or whatever alternative may exist). Forget Microsoft. I don’t think even Linux could run billions of years without a reboot.

  99. Do theists never get tired of tieing themselves up in knots to justify the non-existent? So much mental effort, just to maintain the illusion of Santa Claus. Leaving aside the arguments about whether religion inspires people to evil acts as often as good, the fact that it is the cause of such wasted thought should be enough for people to shrug it off.

  100. Ray, that’s classic.
    I think most people have a sense of sin vs. good behavior because they had parents who were selfish enough to brainwash them when they were little defenseless tots into treating them the way they wanted to be treated, which the children then applied more generally to others, at which time the behavior approximated the golden rule. As the children get older, culture tweaks & molds that basic foundation.
    This simple mechanism explains, to me,why practically all religions have some similar foundation of “being good”, with cultural flavors added to it, so that Christians 800 years ago may have beaten their children, but Christians now, living in a different culture, don’t. Logic is beholden to experience, so if the culture says that slavery is ok, gays are the enemy, or the tribe living down the way is fair game for target practice, then the foundational golden rule is simply defined to accept those ideas.
    To make this a metaphysical question seems unnecessary. Take a band of hominids, with language and the social living structure required by the long weening period for their young, and the golden rule & some version of a broader ethic will happen, with or without a rule-making god.

  101. To take it a step further, I don’t see that we’re any different from any social animal. Dogs, baboons, or gorillas have some sense of what behavior is expected of them. That’s really why we find dogs easy to live with – they have a sense of wrong or right. Is that any different than our idea of “sin”, except that they don’t have the language to create a metaphysical justification for it?

  102. @Beth:
    You say that “even Linux could run billions of years without a reboot”, and you’re probably right… but… Linux was written by Linus, who is human and fallible, and then expanded upon by many other fallible human. Despite this, Linux is still stable enough to run for years without crashing. Our world was written by an infallible God. How could it possibly suffer any damage at all, especially due to the actions of weak, finite humans ?
    So, either God wants humans to suffer needlessly, or he’s not nearly as omni-competent as he claims to be. Free will is no excuse, because we’re talking about the operating system here, the kernel space — i.e., the world, and everything in it — not about the user’s input.
    Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is. Why is it more difficult to believe in a fallible, short-sighted God, than an infallible one ? The Ancient Greeks had no problem with this, and neither did most other cultures, from Babylon to China, to Scotland.

  103. I think Chloe left to have a huge, hot sticky three way with a couple of skeptics in a tub of jelly, but that paragraph was cut because it was, you know, a bit risky.

  104. > i think we do. it’s called morality. there are relatively few people who are so immoral as to be able to perceive no emotional obstacle to true sin. i also disagree that sin is easy and/or natural. of course it depends what we’re talking about when we talk about sin. sure, it’s easy to cut someone off for a parking space, to be short with a salesperson, to be a bystander to injustice.
    But what people have moral problems with varies from culture to culture. The Spartans left babies out on the hillside to freeze or be eaten by wolves, with nary a moral flicker. The Vikings believed that breaking a promise was a greater crime than murder. People have argued that slavery is a moral good for thousands of years, and it’s only comparatively recently that idea has gone out of fashion in the west. Many people still think it’s right to beat someone to death because of their sexual orientation (and if they have any twinges of doubt, then the Bible can always set them right). People even disagree on whether eating beef, or pork, or dog, or any meat at all is morally justifiable.
    If you were right, I’d expect far more consensus on what is morally right and wrong. As it is, I can’t think of anything that is universally agreed upon in all cultures. Maybe rape, though there’s plenty of cultures that justify that as “she asked for it”. Maybe murder, so long as it’s against a close family member, and you don’t have a good reason…

  105. Wintermute, I think that there is a general consensus: the general consensus is that hurting other people for no good reason is wrong.
    Of course, there is little consensus about who is included in your definition of “people”, and even less consensus about what constitutes “no good reason”.
    To a homophobe, the belief that LGBT people should be either celibate or closeted may seem like a perfectly good reason to hurt someone who is neither. To a misogynist, the belief that women shouldn’t be allowed to decide how many children to have may seem like a perfectly good reason to force women through unwanted pregnancy, without permitting any excuses for health reasons. In both instances, the homophobe doesn’t think of LGBT people quite as “real people”, as well as believing that their own homophobia constitutes a “good reason”: and similiarly, a misogynist doesn’t think of women as being real people, as well as believing that their misogyny constitutes a “good reason” to make women suffer.
    Most “morality” consists of justifications for and against believing certain groups of people are real people, and justifications for and against hurting people.

  106. In all fairness Chloe does get her head chopped off, Rayford’s second wife dies in a plane crash, Bruce dies when Chicago gets nuked, Buck’s face is horribly scarred when he jumps out of an airplane and lands in some bushes and various other characters die.
    It’s true that lots of characters die or suffer serious injury … and the point the authors keep driving home is that no one actually is protected (and yet they DO protect the primary characters, not from injury, but from death … for much of the series). At the beginning of Tribulation Force Barnes tells Rayford Buck, and Chloe that since 3/4 of the earth’s population will die before the end of the tribulation, in all likelihood, only one of them will survive to the end of the series. (Thus a primary mystery for the reader is whether it will be the porn star or the GIRAT. I assumed that Chloe wouldn’t survive to the end … specifically because she did not appear in the opening pages of LB.)
    And the authors had to kill off Bruce early in order to drive home that point. Rayford’s wife Amanda played a minor role — I recall no attempt by L&J to make the readers care about her destiny. Anyway, my point is that each of the three primary characters survived until the penultimate book … and at that point the authors had obligated themselves to kill off two of them.

  107. A loving deity would create a world whose chief purpose was to support and nourish its chosen beings (those would be Jews, or Christians, or Muslims, depending on whom you ask, heh)
    At least in Judaism, chosen people doesn’t mean what you think it means.

  108. Aarggh! I had just typed an extensive (and unnecessarily alliterative) essay in response, only to have Typepad eat it. Probably for the best.
    The gist of it was that sin — or at least Original Sin — has nothing to do with not being nice, or virtuous, or our relationships with other people or even ourselves. The sin that divorces us from our proper place in the created order is refusing to acknowledge our true relationship with God — to continually insist that “I want this” or “I have the power to do that” or “it’s really all about me.” No human being — newborn babe or saint or True Christian ™ is immune from this sin — even our most charitable works are contaminated by the underlying egoism of “see how *I* solve this problem.”
    As we refuse to accept our proper created role, Creation cannot function correctly around us, and the natural consequence is pain, suffering, and disaster. To complain about this as excessive “punishment” is meaningless — you might as well complain that heat and light are the punishment for fire.
    Whether or not this sin is an inevitable consequence of free will — created in the image of God, we simple can’t help but see ourselves as gods — is up for dispute. Origen thought so; Augustine argued otherwise. In his opinion, we were given free will so that we could freely give it back to God — the only sacrifice truly acceptable and sufficient. Whether that is “fair” or “just” or “loving” is tough to argue. If you accept the premise that all our faculties, our very existence, are unmerited gifts from the Creator, it’s hard to say that it’s not fair that God sets the conditions for their use. If you don’t accept that premise — well, there you are, back in original sin.
    What Christians believe, trust, hope — is that every good gift we willingly surrender, we will receive back again, “thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold.” I can’t witness to that myself; at best, I’ve managed to freely offer a few token coins, an occasional snippet of time. But then, as far as I’ve heard, only one human being has managed to offer that whole-hearted sacrifice of his own will to God’s. I have to hope that that’s enough.
    Man, this was supposed to be the SHORT version. Shutting up now.

  109. It stands to reason that if the Creator had made immorality difficult, then we’d just invent a new category of sin to handle more minor, easier imperfections; “microvenial” perhaps, or “nanovenial.” This is ultimately isomorphic to the categories we have today.
    By this logic there is no point in trying to ban land mines or cure diseases, as some other problems would then come to the fore. I don’t think the isomorphism is that close.

  110. Bugmaster,
    You say that “[not] even Linux could run billions of years without a reboot”, and you’re probably right… but… Linux was written by Linus, who is human and fallible, and then expanded upon by many other fallible human…. Our world was written by an infallible God.
    But is Linux even as complex as a mosquito? I don’t think so, yet our world consists of billions of mosquitoes and other insects, probably trillions of plants and lower animal forms, not to mention all the higher life forms that make mosquito-design look like child’s play. If Linus Torvalds were an infinitely knowledgeable and powerful programmer, he could perhaps create an infinitely complex system, but could it be expected to run better than Linux? Keep in mind too, that you’re expecting it to not only fulfill the requirements of the Great Spec Writer in the Sky, but also to work to the perfect satisfaction of every subroutine in the system. I assume you’re not setting yourself above creation. If your complaints are justified, then so are the complaints of the blade of grass that gets trod underfoot, the deer that gets brought down by the lion, the lion that goes hungry if it can’t bring down a deer, and even the mosquito, who believes that a benevolent god would never have given humans hands to swat her with. It seems like a bit much to ask.
    Mostly, though, your line of inquiry seems to me rather fruitless. Whatever the nature or reality of the Programmer, the Program is all we have. If you have an alternative universe we can migrate to, or a patch for eliminating earthquakes from this one (without screwing up everything else), please let us in on it. Otherwise, all this just seems like kvetching.
    Hapax,
    In general, I agree, though I’m more comfortable with Buddhist terminology (‘attachment’ in place of ‘ego’). I can’t help feeling though, that you’re imputing post-Fall thinking to a pre-Fall Adam and Eve. I don’t think they could have been capable of ego (or attachment) before the Fall. From the moment the serpant spoke, Eve was forced to make a choice. Saying, “*I* see the fruit is good and therefore I will eat it,” or “*I* see obeying God is good and therefore I won’t,” seem equally ego-driven. Perhaps the real Fall occurred not when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, but when they were presented with the option of eating it.

  111. > By this logic there is no point in trying to ban land mines or cure diseases,
    I think it’s very important to do these things.
    But I also think it’s very important to recognize that the world still won’t be perfect when you’re done. No matter how many bad things you ban or cure, people will still have reason to say, “Hey, I am experiencing dissatisfaction and suffering; why is that?”
    Perhaps one day we will make a world where every problem would seem terribly petty to those of us who live today, but the people born into that age will still wonder why the world is so messed up, and perhaps discuss theodicy on Slacktivist 3000.
    Rebecca

  112. Would someone please make some t-shirts that read: “No need to wait for the rapture on my account, y’all can clear out right now as far as I’m concerned”, and please send me an assortment. I’m too busy sinnin’ and what not to do it myself.
    greetings

  113. If your complaints are justified, then so are the complaints of the blade of grass that gets trod underfoot, the deer that gets brought down by the lion, the lion that goes hungry if it can’t bring down a deer, and even the mosquito, who believes that a benevolent god would never have given humans hands to swat her with.
    Yes, indeed they are. You just can’t justify any part of our universe morally. Logic gives you no recourse except to take it on faith. In other words, your argument seems worse than pointless. You won’t convince anyone who doesn’t already hold your position.

  114. What Christians believe, trust, hope — is that every good gift we willingly surrender, we will receive back again, “thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold.” I can’t witness to that myself; at best, I’ve managed to freely offer a few token coins, an occasional snippet of time. But then, as far as I’ve heard, only one human being has managed to offer that whole-hearted sacrifice of his own will to God’s. I have to hope that that’s enough.
    Hmmm… As an atheist, I actually profess this same sort of faith — that “every good gift we willingly surrender, we will receive back again.” I guess I just don’t need the story of Jesus to motivate me to do the right thing, when I already know what the right thing is. The hard part is carrying out the action.

  115. Paul, when I saw your URL, I thought it was “the reefa head”. I thought you might have been a Rastafarian.
    Heh.

  116. I don’t actually understand what’s so sinful about the whole *I* thing. I’m an atheist, so this is all pretty much idle speculation on my part, but how is having a sense of self, or making decisions as myself any kind of sin? Sure, egotism, or an inflated sense of self can be damaging. Gluttony can be damaging, but that doesn’t mean hunger is bad. Sloth can be damaging, but that doesn’t mean rest is bad. Is ‘sinful’ just conceptually different from bad, or wrong? Is there something I’m missing here? Is it event the kind of thing that can make sense without starting from the premise “There is a God,”?

  117. I don’t actually understand what’s so sinful about the whole *I* thing. I’m an atheist, so this is all pretty much idle speculation on my part, but how is having a sense of self, or making decisions as myself any kind of sin? Sure, egotism, or an inflated sense of self can be damaging. Gluttony can be damaging, but that doesn’t mean hunger is bad. Sloth can be damaging, but that doesn’t mean rest is bad. Is ‘sinful’ just conceptually different from bad, or wrong? Is there something I’m missing here? Is it event the kind of thing that can make sense without starting from the premise “There is a God,”?

  118. From waaaaaaay upthread, I think that “immorality without temptation” may be fine (I can do something wrong, but I have no desire to do so), but I think any Proper Heaven would have morality without question. One can still have free will (Should I wash my car or take a walk on the beach) without being zapped for non-compliance.
    If your complaints are justified, then so are the complaints of the blade of grass that gets trod underfoot, the deer that gets brought down by the lion, the lion that goes hungry if it can’t bring down a deer, and even the mosquito, who believes that a benevolent god would never have given humans hands to swat her with.
    As I said in another thread — these complaints actually work against the Christian God. The blade of grass, the deer, the lion, the mosquito, none of these had a voice in the Fall, yet all were kicked out of the Garden as surely as Man. Seeing as animals don’t have a LOT of free will (what with those instincts running so much), I’m sure they’d be happier lying down together without being ate.
    Changing topics somewhat, if “Christ died for our sins”, why didn’t we get a reset back to the Garden? Adam screwed up, God-as-Christ finds it’s impossible not to screw up (fig tree, anyone?), God says, “All right — you’ve suffered enough. Let’s try it again.” Of course, Man continuing to suffer for thousands of years for one act does fit the concept of hell.

  119. I just can’t buy the “world is imperfect because man is fallen, and he can’t get up” line. It’s just hiding the complexity under another layer.
    I’m perfectly willing to accept a theory that “the world is imperfect, and it’s impossible to make a better one.” That’s irreducible complexity, or emergent behaviour of a chaotic system (pick one).
    What I’m not willing to accept is “the world could be perfect, but because Man Is Fallen ™ it isn’t.” Saying Man Is Fallen ™ doesn’t actually mean anything — you may as well be saying that Man is Forpidated, because the claim does not carry intrinsic meaning. We already see evidence of this in the thread, because we’ve delved into side arguments about what exactly “Fallen” means — if it were clear, we wouldn’t have to debate the point.
    You cannot point to an example of an Unfallen man, nor can you even construct a thought experiment to define the properties of one. That rarity is, in ironic form, one of the major points of most branches of Christianity — that it does take divine intervention. Within a particular religious system, the qualities of being Fallen are taken as a matter of faith.

  120. May I say that this whole thread is Forpidated?
    I kind of think of this thread as the event log for a system process gone awry. It’s very hard to read and understand but somewhere in here, there are clues to why the system is fubared.

  121. You won’t convince anyone who doesn’t already hold your position.
    I’m curious as to what you think my position is and what strange leap brought you to that conclusion.
    how is having a sense of self, or making decisions as myself any kind of sin?
    I don’t think it is, but attachment to self gives rise to attachment to myriad things, which in turn creates suffering. Imagine you’re walking down the road and see someone lying there, injured and groaning in pain. Like any normal human being, you have an impulse to try to relieve that suffering. But stopping to help is going to mess up your schedule; you’ll have to put out a lot of cash for the inn. Do you really want to get involved? Who knows what you may be letting yourself in for? So attachment — desire for money and position, aversion to change and fear — cause you to squelch that initial good impulse and keep walking. Having a sense of self doesn’t cause all of those attachments, but it is a prerequesite for them. For the untempted Adam and Eve there was no separation from God, no sense of themselves as separate from them, and so no opportunity for attachment or sin. The serpent, by offering an alternative view, created a space there. Personally, though, I’m not convinced that eating the fruit was a sin. They were disobeying God, which is by definition sinful, but I see them morally more as babies or animals than fully conscious human beings, and therefore not really capable of sin.
    …none of these had a voice in the Fall, yet all were kicked out of the Garden as surely as Man. Seeing as animals don’t have a LOT of free will (what with those instincts running so much), I’m sure they’d be happier lying down together without being ate.
    All of this is extra-textual. Not saying it’s wrong, but it’s not in the biblical story. There’s nothing about animals being kicked out, only Man and Woman. Also, I thought lions and lambs lying down together was post-Messiah, not pre-Fall. Finally, as a cat owner, I can’t really agree that animals would be happier that way. My cat never seems happier than when she’s stalking some small creature (I’m sure the mice would have a different perspective on this, but you can’t please everone.)
    I’m perfectly willing to accept a theory that “the world is imperfect, and it’s impossible to make a better one.” That’s irreducible complexity, or emergent behaviour of a chaotic system (pick one).
    At least someone understands my position. I’m not sure that theory is true (don’t want to get all Panglossian here), but it does seem like a possibility.
    You cannot point to an example of an Unfallen man…
    No, but I can point to lots of examples of Unfallen children. I’d say any child under the age of one is unfallen, though I don’t know if believers would agree with me. Even in adults, I see Unfallen behavior sometimes. Someone sees someone else is hungry and hands them food without a second thought, or performs some other spontaneous act of kindness. In other contexts, that same person may be thoroughly fallen, but there are always flashes of Eden, if we only look.

  122. “They saw more than a dozen homes that had been gutted by fire. Rayford’s theory was that families had disappeared, leaving something on the stove.”
    Well, this was pretty irresponsible of them, wasn’t it? If they believed they would be raptured at some point, should they have been cooking in the first place? If they were truly good people, they would have avoided any possible risk and eaten raw good all the time.
    And as to Job, there is at least debate about whether he actually said those words. Sometimes it’s “yet I will trust in him,” which is a little different. But other translations have a completely different take — in the RSV, it’s “Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope; yet I will defend my ways to his face.” Not quite the same thing. William Safire’s book on Job, particularly his discussion of this one line, is pretty interesting. I don’t like the “slay/serve” Job; I have no use for him. In the other translations, he’s much more moving — he speaks for due process rather than the rule of whim.

  123. “No, but I can point to lots of examples of Unfallen children.”
    Really? Newborns are entirely selfish. There is not a single cell in their little bodies that is devoted to anything other than getting what they want. If they saw a hungry man with one cracker in his hand, they would try to take it from him. How can they be unfallen when they embody the selfishness that is supposed to be the cause of our falling?
    Honestly, kids are total jerks except to the extent that their parents force them into unselfish behavior. Show me a single case of a child being remotely unselfish that wasn’t the result of parenting.

  124. Show me a single case of a child being remotely unselfish that wasn’t the result of parenting.
    I’ve had kids hand me things they find all the time, without any cajoling from the parents, etc. I don’t think they’re necessarily being generous any more than taking things is being ungenerous, but do I think norms of societal ‘good’ are hard-wired into human beings? Yep. Otherwise we never would have lasted this long.

  125. Beth:
    All of this is extra-textual. Not saying it’s wrong, but it’s not in the biblical story. There’s nothing about animals being kicked out, only Man and Woman. Also, I thought lions and lambs lying down together was post-Messiah, not pre-Fall. Finally, as a cat owner, I can’t really agree that animals would be happier that way. My cat never seems happier than when she’s stalking some small creature (I’m sure the mice would have a different perspective on this, but you can’t please everone.)
    Animals were in the Garden after Creation, yes? (Adam had to name them somewhere.) They’re not there now. If they weren’t “kicked out”, then how are they not there?
    As to your cat:
    1) It seems pretty Fallen of you to put her enjoyment above the lives (not to mention the horror) of mice. In fact, I would think that the pre-Fall cat would stalk the mice, but with their permission (a sort of very benign version of “Tom and Jerry”).
    2) She probably wouldn’t like being eaten by a coyote, or being run over by a car or contracting Feline Leukemia. There was an attempt to talk about the reason for pain in a designed universe in another thread but it didn’t go far.

  126. twig:
    I’ve had kids hand me things they find all the time, without any cajoling from the parents, etc.
    They’re handing these things to you on their terms. If you don’t take it, or if you keep it when they want it back, their “generosity” runs out Real Quick.

  127. I think the idea that the world is a terrible place and therefore theodicy is necessary is based on two inevitable factors: i) suffering and ii) death. I don’t intend to deal with i), as it’s been dealt with far better by my betters here; but people seem to get awfully worked up about death. Within the Christian conception, death is, essentially, an illusion. Whether one believes in bodily ressurection or a spiritual heaven or whatever, the Christian sees death as merely a transition.
    I say this only because people seem awfully concerned about the idea that animals may be fallen, because they have to suffer death. For an animal, death may be no disadvantage at all (although of course they try to avoid it). It may be no greater penalty than a child being “out” in hide and seek. Sure, you’re out of the game, but you can still have fun.
    Ultimately, much anger about the supposed evil nature of our lives often falls into this class. People assuming that their personal concerns are evidence of unfairness in the system. However, if you ask people who have really suffered, and who continue to suffer, unbearable pain and sorrow throughout their lives, few of them (in my limited experience) complain that life is “unfair.”

  128. I don’t actually understand what’s so sinful about the whole *I* thing. I’m an atheist, so this is all pretty much idle speculation on my part, but how is having a sense of self, or making decisions as myself any kind of sin? Sure, egotism, or an inflated sense of self can be damaging. Gluttony can be damaging, but that doesn’t mean hunger is bad. Sloth can be damaging, but that doesn’t mean rest is bad. Is ‘sinful’ just conceptually different from bad, or wrong? Is there something I’m missing here? Is it event the kind of thing that can make sense without starting from the premise “There is a God,”?
    If I’m not butchering it, CS Lewis (an evangelical favorite) wrote that there is no such thing as evil – anything we consider to be “evil” is simply a corruption or excess of a good thing. He called the devil “the great impostor”, because he cannot come up with anything original.
    As for sin, Christians are not (ideally) talking about specific actions judged to be wrong. It is the Greek amartia (and I forget the Hebrew), both of which essentially mean “missing the mark”, i.e. coming up short of a goal [of God’s desire/our potential/whatever]. In the older churches (RC and Eastern Orthodox), confession of sin includes sins of action and non-action, conscious and unconscious.

  129. In fact, I would think that the pre-Fall cat would stalk the mice, but with their permission (a sort of very benign version of “Tom and Jerry”).
    But a cat is a *cat* — like lions and tigers et al a superb hunting *carnivore*. If it had been “designed” to eat straw like the ox and, well, shall we say to lie down peacefully with the mouse, it would be a whole different animal.

  130. Beth, I already knew you wanted to defend the Panglossian position. I’m saying that on the surface, this theory seems impossible to reconcile with the possibility of an omnipotent Christian God. I know of several changes I’d feel morally compelled to make if I had that power, and I don’t have the option of starting from scratch. You will not convince anyone that God made the best of all possible worlds unless they already accept the premise about an omnipotent loving Creator. Without that assumption, all this talk of justification and the best of worlds seems like the wrong question entirely. It would make more sense to ask how we could change the Universe and/or our brains.

  131. Beth, I already knew you wanted to defend the Panglossian position.
    But I didn’t. At least not unless, “It’s possible that this is as good as God could have done,” is the same as “This is the best of all possible worlds.” The rest of your post is kind of confused. First you say an omnipotent, Christian God seems impossible to reconcile with a Panglossian view; then you say that belief in the former is a prerequisite for the latter. Those statements can’t both be true, can they?

  132. Eileen,
    And as to Job, there is at least debate about whether he actually said those words. Sometimes it’s “yet I will trust in him,” which is a little different. But other translations have a completely different take — in the RSV, it’s “Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope; yet I will defend my ways to his face.”
    For one thing, this verse appears in slight variations in various manuscripts (Westminster Leningrad Codex and Aleppo Codex certainly differ here) and the difference is an important one, the negative particle ‘lo’. KJV apparently does not take it into account and thus translates ‘ajachel’ (“to have hope, to wait in hope”) with “I trust”. Other versions (like RSV, but also Luther) do take the negative particle into account, hence “I have no hope, there is no hope”.
    I don’t like the “slay/serve” Job; I have no use for him
    I’m sorry, I’m not so sure whose words these are, your or Safire’s.
    On second thought, nevermind. “I have no use for him” is certainly an interesting approach to interpretation. Is it from the same school of thought as “Truth is irrelevant, pick one that works”?

  133. If I’m not butchering it, CS Lewis (an evangelical favorite) wrote that there is no such thing as evil
    You are indeed butchering Lewis. Big time.

  134. Beth: sure they can.
    1. The best of all possible worlds theory seems either blatantly false or intolerably vague (best for who?) unless one postulates a human-like Creator. I doubt anyone would ever consider this theory unless they wanted to explain seeming contradictions in theology (as you do).
    2. The theory does not provide a compelling answer to those contradictions for someone who will not take the Christian premise on faith. Nor does the modified version that says “It’s possible that this is as good as God could have done,” or in other words the limited Christian God theory. (If God has absolute power than the two versions seem logically equivalent.) This leads to a host of new questions, like: why this particular God? Why only one? Why these particular limitations? Again, I can think of several improvements that I’d expect this God to make if He has the power. And I find it hard to imagine someone who lacks that ability creating the world (although we may have different definitions of “world”). It doesn’t seem like a compelling possibility unless you already have faith or want to have faith in a biblical God.

  135. bulbul, would you expand upon that? How, in your opinion, was the Lewis butchered, and what, in your opinion, would be a more correct representation of Lewis’s position?

  136. I dunno. Every time someone above seems to argue that this is not “the best of all possible worlds”, the unstated (or stated) subtext seems to be “it’s not the best for ME.” Even the concern for mice and grass, etc., is essentially egocentric — how do we know that mice don’t want to be eaten by cats, that grass doesn’t want to be trod underfoot — I know that I wouldn’t like it, but I think it’s best all around to not worry about justifying God’s ways to vegetation.
    And it’s this egocentrism that is the fundamental difference between the atheistic and theistic view of the universe. If there isn’t a creator — omnipotent or otherwise — it is perfectly rational to place yourself (or your species, or your planet) in the center of the universe. But if you start with the presupposition that there IS a creator, it’s pretty easy to make a compelling case that God is, on the whole, more concerned with making this the “best” creation for bacteria — or for hydrogen atoms, for that matter — than for us. Just because I think that God is all-loving and all-powerful, doesn’t mean that I don’t think there are Divine priorities, and I have no reason for assuming that my particular concerns top the list.
    But of course any argument about theodicy presumes the existence of a Creator; it is worse than pointless to try to examine it with people who don’t accept that presumption. I’m not saying that atheists are bad or stupid or anything like that; I’m saying that, frankly, this isn’t their argument. It’s like trying to analyze character motivations with someone who not only hasn’t read the book, but doesn’t even accept that it was ever written.

  137. I am 80% positive that I’ve said it before in the Left Behind posts, and I apologize to go here again if I have, but the thing that makes me the most nuts about the book thus far is Chloe. She’s supposed to be this smart girl but she’s inexcusably incompetent when it comes to debating the points her father or Bruce Barnes have made. She asks good questions and there’s no follow up. Her father is all over her to convert and she makes a few points and then seems to just throw up her hands and let her dad have at her. Even when Chloe is getting in a few good licks, like when Rayford springs his near-affair with Hattie on her, the authors quickly button her lip with an accusation that she’s being bratty. I once read a right wing blogger somewhere having a conversation with a Democrat that existed entirely in his mind. For the purposes of the imagined conversation, he’d made the Democrat about three years old and on the slow side, or so the pretend liberal seemed to be from the discussion. He wasn’t even really faking debate; he was shamelessly setting up a neat field of strawmen and then riding through with a chainsaw, Ash-like, giddy with delight at his mental prowess, having finally defeated all liberals forever. It was weird and kind of creepy. It’s also the same feeling I get when the Left Behind authors deal with a non-believer or some opposing viewpoint to their ideology (Mouse said it, I’m glad I’m not the only one waiting for that hysterical little conversation with Hattie–I’m practically on pins and needles). I feel like they’re arguing with people who have both hands tied behind their backs. It’s cowardly and it pisses me off from that aspect, because I’ve heard some great arguments that really challenged me before, and these are not among them. I’m not a genius but I like to use my brain and my vocabulary and be forced to articulate a reasoned response. And it’s a cheap trick and unpardonably wimpy to not put brilliant things in the mouths of those with opposing viewpoints when you’re writing fiction that’s supposed to sell your viewpoint. LaHaye and Jenkins don’t seem long on imagination, but they could have put in a few minutes finding some smart atheists to quiz. If I needed brilliant commentary from someone I vehemently disagreed with, I’d find someone smart I disagreed with and write down everything they said I didn’t like. It’s not that hard, surely.
    The other problem I have with this is…geeze, what kind of spiritual warfare are you prepping people for?! I don’t agree with the idea that Christians should be girded for battle against a hostile world, I think it’s nonsense that encourages people to view Others as Hostiles, but…just for the sake of argument, if that’s what your goal is, then why wouldn’t you prepare Christians to deal with agressive disagreement from intelligent, reasonable, moral, sane people? I feel the same way about Chick Tracts, heathens who reject Christ are ugly people with scrunched up faces who drip acidic evil off the page while the good Christians are clean and sanitary and smiling and so beautiful. Lil’ Suzy looks like Snow White. You expect to see her feeding squirrls and singing with birds in the next panel every time. If Christians are suppose to be prepared to deal with the outside world, this isn’t going to work. What do they do when they come across smart people who think they’re full of shit? Or pleasant, good, kind, intelligent people who don’t agree with them? I just don’t like people half-assing something.

  138. It’s also the same feeling I get when the Left Behind authors deal with a non-believer or some opposing viewpoint to their ideology … I feel like they’re arguing with people who have both hands tied behind their backs.
    Actually there is no argument. Unless you count straw men.
    She’s supposed to be this smart girl but she’s inexcusably incompetent when it comes to debating the points her father or Bruce Barnes have made.
    It’s not Chloe’s fault. Her limitation is a result of her authors’ lack of experience with skeptics. It’s the same reason why many Christians are utterly unprepared to deal with the arguments of skeptics.
    why wouldn’t you prepare Christians to deal with agressive disagreement from intelligent, reasonable, moral, sane people?
    That would require the authors’ acknowledging that intelligent, reasonable, moral, and sane people could understand Christianity and still reject it. You’re asking for too much.

  139. it must get very tiring spending all this time coming up with ways to explain to yourself that all of creation (including babies, of course, definitely babies) is evil, selfish, godless, and completely immoral.
    maybe i live in some sort of bizarro disneyworld alternate reality, but from where i sit, people in general (and especially living things, in general), seem more good or value-neutral than anything else. sure, there are evil individuals, and those individuals cause terrible things to happen with a certain degree of frequency. and our own banal self-centeredness often aids and abets that occasional evil. but it’s pretty fucked up to assume that cats hunt and toddlers fuss because they’re evil and we’re all living in a fallen world.
    housecats hunt because they’re predatory carnivores and they were designed that way. by God, if you believe in it/her/him/them. an infant honestly doesn’t have the cognitive ability to know that anything exists outside of herself. a toddler’s games of giving and taking away are a way of understanding boundaries between himself and others, and learning to understand that other people have different needs, desires, motives, and opinions from him. you have to be one sick fuck to honestly really and truly believe that all this behavior is because the world an inherently evil place.

  140. “Fallen” doesn’t mean the same thing as “evil”, which doesn’t mean the same thing as “malevolent” (which seems to be your usage, opoponax.) Nor do Christians believe the world is “inherently” evil — the very term “fallen” sort of implies that, doesn’t it? (Fallen from what, exactly?) If you believe in an omnibenevolent Creator, it usually follows that you believe that Creation is good (indeed, “very good”); it’s just not AS good as it could be, as good as it was meant to be. That cats or children could possibly be BETTER is kind of hard to imagine (I’m very fond of both myself), but faith requires all sorts of things that are hard to imagine.
    But I’ve always been puzzled by people who think it’s lazy or stupid or wrong to live by faith, instead of “proof”. Reason is a mighty powerful tool, but almost always stems from faith-based assumptions. Do these folks require their parents to furnish DNA tests? If so, why do they trust the folks at the lab to do competent work, and so forth? If I, or anyone, form my basic outlook on the universe is rooted on what seems to me to be a logically compelling and satisfying (if unprovable) conviction that there is an omni-omni Source behind it, why does that get up anyone’s nose?

  141. I doubt anyone would ever consider this theory unless they wanted to explain seeming contradictions in theology (as you do).
    No I don’t. And as I already stated explicitly, I do not hold a panglossian view. I was offended by all this criticism of ‘creation’ not as a theologian, but as a programmer. I’ve known the frustration of people saying, “Why can’t you just change this,” and having to try to explain to them why changing ‘this’ would have repercussions throughout the entire system and would require a major rewrite. Considering that even the most complex systems I work on are simplicity itself compared to a blade of grass, I can’t help sympathizing with the Great Programmer when someone says, “He should have just left out earthquakes,” or “He should have just made us fireproof.” I’m also reminded of the Army Corps of Engineers who used to go around saying things like, “This river is nice, but if we just straightened it out, it would be more navigable.” There are still areas in Florida that haven’t recovered from the ecological disasters brought on by such “improvements.”
    Whether there is a Creator or not, the world is certainly incredibly complex system. Maybe it could be better than it is; maybe it couldn’t. As someone who can’t possibly grasp the complexity of even a single living creature, much less all the interactions between the living and non-living pieces that make up the whole, I don’t see how I can make any definite judgements on its quality. And I don’t see how anyone else here can either.
    I also assume that if there is a Creator, he/she/it didn’t create the entire universe for me alone. There are certainly things I might wish were different, but without understanding the totality of the design or its purpose, I can’t really call them design flaws.
    If anything, my view is more along the lines of Job. I can’t catch the Leviathan (or program it). I don’t have a universal view or understanding. So while I can — and often do — bitch about the way things are, I have no business setting myself above the Creator and critiquing his/her/its work.

  142. I have no problem with people saying they believe something on faith. Go right ahead. It annoys me when people then give logically flawed arguments for their position, since people often point to these arguments when atheism comes into the picture and say, ‘See, we act from reason after all!’ No. Those arguments make no sense unless we regard them as offering other Christians a way to preserve faith rather than proving a claim by logic and evidence.

  143. To put it another way, if you don’t think non-believers have any place arguing theodicy, change the name. Just call it “faith aids”. In Greek that would give you dox- something or other.

  144. hf,
    You are either confusing me with somebody else or you have been paying much attention to what I’ve actually written. I’m not a Christian. I don’t know whether God exists in any sense. I think that if anything, ‘God’ is really just a metaphor for some universal something that I can’t possibly comprehend.
    I do find it interesting that the most obmoxious, “I know the truth, and if you disagree, you’re a loser” attitudes on this thread have come not from the theists but from the atheists.

  145. hf, what part of the “theo-” in “theodicy” don’t you understand?
    Theodicy ALWAYS assumes that there is a God, and that said God is perfectly just, good, loving, and potent. The arguments are about HOW this can be reconciled with the world we experience. The discussions may or may not logically flow from those premises, but saying they are not logical because you don’t accept the premises isn’t relying on “logic and evidence”, it’s being irrelevant. It’s like butting into an argument about how Captain Kirk’s actions in a certain episode can be reconciled with the Prime Directive with the announcement “Hey, you nerds, don’t you get that Star Trek is a fictional TV show?” What does that have to do with the matter at hand?
    If you don’t accept the faith assumptions, you’re not doing theodicy. You are, in effect, a “concern troll.” You want to find the Greek term for that?

  146. Beth, I said you defended a certain view (rather than believing it) because you defended it several times, albeit in order to use it as a confusing metaphor for something else. You invoked the Bible to defend the theory of a loving Creator. I used the word Panglossian for your position solely because you wrote it here:
    At least someone understands my position. I’m not sure that theory is true (don’t want to get all Panglossian here), but it does seem like a possibility.

  147. Oh, Beth, to make myself clear, I did not mean to say that “non-believers [don’t] have any place arguing theodicy.” Your comments have been very thoughtful and provocative (in the best sense of the term). It’s just that any sensible discussion of theodicy must accept *for the purposes of the discussion* the premise of an omnipotent benevolent Creator. The question of whether such exists is a totally different argument, one that I have always conceded cannot be resolved on the basis of reason and evidence.

  148. (That should read, ‘the position you defended for reasons I don’t fully grasp’, rather than “your position”.)
    hapax: And from my point of view, theodicy tries to answer the question, ‘If a loving God exists, why does all of this happen?’
    Like I said, I don’t say this out of concern for you, I say it because I don’t want apologists using faith aids for some other purpose.

  149. (From my point of view, the field either defends the assumption of a Creator God, or provides aid to faith. God, if he exists, does not require your defense.)

  150. hf, Okay, I think we agree on two things:
    1. God does not require my defense. This is a good thing, I don’t think I have the chops to defend against anything that could conceivably threaten God.
    2. Theodicy is an argument about IF (faith statement) x, then why (apparently contradictory observable fact) z ?
    My contention is that “IF not x, then any discussion about “why z” is meaningless. THEREFORE, we must assume x if we wish to have a logical discussion.”
    You seem to be saying (forgive me if I’m missing something) “I cannot see any logical way that x can be reconciled with Z. THEREFORE, nobody can.
    Corollary a) anyone who says they can must be misusing logic.
    Corollary b) anyone who misuses logic in this way must not be allowed access to logic in case they misuse it in some unspecified nefarious way in the future.
    Corollary c) Corollaries a and b also apply to anyone who accepts faith premise x, even it’s just for the purposes of this or any other discussion.
    Is this a fair summation?

  151. I see, hf. So you interpreted my statement that I wasn’t being Panglossian to mean that I was. I see. Ok, I admit it, I’m totally Panglossian. (Now will you accept that I’m not?)
    Thanks, hapax. I actually didn’t take your previous post too personally because I’ve gotten the impression throughout this thread, that though we’re coming from very different starting points, our conclusions aren’t really that different.
    It’s just that any sensible discussion of theodicy must accept *for the purposes of the discussion* the premise of an omnipotent benevolent Creator.
    But is the Christian God really ‘omnipotent’ in a functional sense? If he gave us free will, doesn’t that mean he’s placed limitations on his own powers?
    To return for a moment to the original subject, I think Fred got it about right. Saying, “It’s all part of God’s plan,” as an answer to theodicy requires a Job attitude — “We can’t hope to understand God’s plan, so we can’t really judge,” — and/or a Panglossian one — “Once we know God’s plan, we see that everything really is for the best, even if it doesn’t appear so at first.” Rayford’s use of it doesn’t seem to fit into either category. He already knows exactly what God’s plan is (having seen the video), so he can’t be relying on unknowability. Yet it’s far from obvious how all those plane crashes, car crashes, fires, etc, could have helped anyone or been in any way necessary to the plan, and he makes no attempt to explain it, so Pangloss doesn’t seem to work either.

  152. I think you’re absolutely right, Beth. I suppose any Christian theodicy does require a voluntary limitation on God’s functional omnipotence — which is certainly different from essential, inherent omnipotence. I guess where most would see God as handing over this power to humans (and possibly other creatures)out of love via Free Will, La Haye/Jenkins and their stand-in Rayford sees God handing ultimate power over to Satan out of– I dunno — sadism? incompetence? a desire to avoid responsibility?

  153. I’m glad to see people standing up for toddlers & cats!
    Since I wouldn’t want a world without either of them.
    My thinking is that life is a Force. It seeks to express itself in everything– cats, toddlers, e.coli, everything. I don’t have any qualms about wiping out whole civilizations of bacteria if they come into conflict with me, though I escort spiders out the door. But not houseflies at the end of fall, they are just annoying and now it’s a mercy killing.
    And that’s where morality comes in. Morality is always a choice, the essence of free will. If it wasn’t a choice, it wouldn’t be morality, would it?
    I think the biggest part of the dilemma is the inability for some people to realize that the world just IS and there isn’t a big paternal type fellow who has his hand on all the levers. The indifference! WE have to be the center of the Universe, because that’s the way we think.
    Without death, there would be no afterlife. What form that takes I don’t know. But if we think of LIFE as an ongoing force, death and destruction has to be a part of it. Or there would be no room for more life. Which is the point. Not that some live lives that are nasty, brutish, and short, but that they had a chance to live at all.
    Which is, literally, better than Nothing.

  154. Not quite, hapax. On a practical level, “theodicy” seems to have two related goals: justifying the assumption of a loving Creator God to people who don’t share this premise, and aiding those who wish to maintain or develop faith. It invariably fails at the first goal. (You can paper over the apparent contradictions in the system, viewed from within, but you lack any evidence that would persuade skeptics to enter the system in the first place.) I’d like you to explicitly restrict it to the second goal in order to spare me the personal annoyance of people trying to use it for goal 1 (and also from an abstract love of truth.)
    Sometimes people also use theodicy (and theology in general) in a more vague way, to argue that Christians have rational reasons to believe. By my definition, this seems blatantly false. At most, theology can remove reasons to stop believing. It’s never given anyone a rational reason to believe in the first place. (Science therefore concludes, tentatively, that it never will.)
    Beth, I know I sometimes write imprecisely, but it helps if you read all of what I wrote: (That should read, ‘the position you defended for reasons I don’t fully grasp’, rather than “your position”.)

  155. If Christians are suppose to be prepared to deal with the outside world, this isn’t going to work. What do they do when they come across smart people who think they’re full of shit?
    I’m wondering if the authors weren’t deliberately writing for an audience that isn’t too bright. They almost seem to regard anyone with any intelligence or indendent thinking as beyond salvation and not worth bothering with. When Chloe says she has to be intellectually honest with herself, they describe her as “pseudo-sophisticated” and go on a rant about “academic pretense”. Sheesh!
    Or maybe they’re just not too bright themselves, and decided to settle for preaching to the kiddie section of the choir, all the while dreaming of the day when they can say “I told you so!” to all those mean old Smart People who didn’t listen to them.

  156. “it must get very tiring spending all this time coming up with ways to explain to yourself that all of creation (including babies, of course, definitely babies) is evil, selfish, godless, and completely immoral.”
    I think you miss my point. I would never say they were evil. My point is that there is no sin, there is no evil, to the extent that these terms are metaphysical. There is just behaving in a way that other humans approve of versus behaving in a way that they don’t approve of. To the extent that babies resemble “evil” in your way of looking at the world, it’s because they have absolutely no regard for the moral judgments of other people. That’s fine – they’re just babies – and they are frequently darned cute. But, if they aren’t taught how to behave, with MUCH effort, from parents & community, they would act like animals unless someone takes that effort. Unfortunately, this has been empirically verified.
    So, if you insist on using metaphysical paradigms, they aren’t born good only to be corrupted later. I contend that it is quite the opposite.
    But, my point is that the metaphysical paradigm is off base. God isn’t necessary for the behavioral expectations that define morality. If no God exists in any meaningful way as it relates to our short time on this earth, the human race would still certainly retain a moral code that served its best interests.

  157. Nicole,
    If I’m not butchering it, CS Lewis (an evangelical favorite) wrote that there is no such thing as evil
    My main problem with this interpretation of Lewis is that he did in fact recognize that there IS such thing as evil and did not hesitate to name it as such (e.g. the sci-fi trilogy). If you were to present this statement to Lewis, I’d bet his reaction would be “Nonsense!” (or perhaps “Bollocks!”).
    I’m guessing that daniel is basing this statement on Lewis’ preface to “Screwtape letters” where Lewis wrote (quoting from memory, sorry) that the minions of hell do not do what they do because of a desire to do some abstract evil, but out of hunger.
    Then again, it is true that Lewis considered evil to be a corruption of the good. Even Satan is a fallen angel.
    “Hey, you nerds, don’t you get that Star Trek is a fictional TV show?”
    *GASP*
    WHAT? You mean it’s not REAL???

  158. On a practical level, “theodicy” seems to have two related goals: justifying the assumption of a loving Creator God to people who don’t share this premise, and aiding those who wish to maintain or develop faith.
    No it doesn’t. The definition of theodicy {OED, but e.g. the Catholic Encyclopedia completely concurs) is ” The, or a, vindication of the divine attributes, esp. justice and holiness, in respect to the existence of evil;”. Nothing about unbelievers nor justification. What you describe seems more like the job of apologetics.
    rather than proving a claim by logic and evidence
    If I may say so, hf, you seem to mistake logic for common sense.
    if you don’t think non-believers have any place arguing theodicy, change the name
    Combine what I said about theodicy and what hapax said about Star Trek.

  159. the human race would still certainly retain a moral code that served its best interests.
    a) Who is “human race”?
    b) What are those “best interests”?
    It was certainly in the best interest of the settlers in the American West to exterminate the Native Americans. What up with that?

  160. My point is that there is no sin, there is no evil, to the extent that these terms are metaphysical.
    ‘Tis funny how often people insist that there is no sin or evil, that these categories are mere constructs.
    Rarely does one see someone claiming that love or good are metaphysical terms and nothing more (I know, Nietzsche does).

  161. It’s funny, I always saw the use of the problem of evil as exactly backwards to the apologetics. I always saw it as the back breaking argument that athiests bring out and fire at theists to prove that their whole system of belief just HAS to be wrong. “if God is who you say He is, and omniomni perfect” goes the argument “and the world is how we see it is (i.e., well endowed with suffering and evil), then something has to give – and it’s not the world.”
    Then there’s the beautiful middle ground that has been so well articulated by Beth, that the universe is such a complex system that it is impossible to say for sure that this is not the optimal arrangement. You can’t disprove God, because with theodicy, because you can’t prove this world ISN’T optimal… Which, let’s be totally honest, IS a form of panglossian thinking… If God is omnipotent (in the “constrained by logic” sense of the word) and benevolent, then s/he is obliged to have come up with the best of possible worlds, however flawed such a thing may be, and this has to be that world. Anything less than the best of possible worlds means God wasn’t giving it his/her all.
    Free will is a pretty good argument, but I think it still isn’t comprehensive. If you look hard enough, you can find evils that have nothing to do with any human action ever… a meteorite that crashes in from the outer reaches of the solar system at close to the speed of light, and crushes an innocent person – there’s just no way this was the result of human decision making gone awry. Maybe some weird aliens with free will somewhere else could have dislodged a rock from their planet and caused one of these, but I can’t see it being the explanation for everyone.
    But metoerites logically might have to crash, you migth argue. Yet your or I could easily imagine ways to avoid any of these events that would be achievable by human force – and so if human force, it MUST be achievable by divine force too… otherwise omnipotent truly means nothing. If a few synapses fired differently, a few steps landed on dirt differently, a hill wasn’t tilted quite the way it was, the victim could have stood 10 feet over, and not been hit.
    Of course (geez, this is getting long, sorry), one might THEN argue that if God can only use logically possible force, and logic tells us that force is one object physically moving another, then without having physical form himself, you might wonder how a bound-by-logic God can move anything? How can he shift a petal if he does not have a hand to move it with… If he shifts it by sheer will alone, then that is just as illogical as producing a weight that he cannot lift.
    But that is yet another side line.
    The other escape from the problem of evil that I’ve seen presented here by the theists, is that we just can’t know what evil is. If I suffer, I call that evil, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe higher things come from it. But surely it seems that this is the path th nihilism. If we are incapable of recognizing evil (we see an action and cannot condemn it as such), then what possible debate can we have? If I pull your eyeball out with hot tweazers, do we not have to agree that this is evil, or can we say “this is just some strange egocentric attachment to having eyeballs that I’ve developed because I’m not able to connect properly with a divine munificence? I don’t see that it washes.
    So really… In the final analysis, it’s believe or don’t believe, there’s not much anyone can prove one way or the other… but it does seem to me that theodicy still poses some big problems that theology has yet to fully wriggle out of.
    As a last side note (promise, honest to… Goodness), it’s also funny how both sides can feel so under attack by the other. The theists accuse the athiests of being snotily condescending (which they sometimes are, as can be seen above), and the athiests accuse the theists of being out on a predatory streak to try to convert them (which some of them are). .

  162. Sorry for nitpicking but the word is
    “atheist” not “athiest” — it’s just “theist” with an “a” at the front.

  163. >So there’s this episode of Dr. Who…Some people in it want to retroactively wipe out a fair bit of history.
    Isn’t that the plot of a fair proportion of Dr Who episodes? :)
    Torchwood!

  164. —-the human race would still certainly retain a moral code that served its best interests.
    a) Who is “human race”?
    b) What are those “best interests”?
    It was certainly in the best interest of the settlers in the American West to exterminate the Native Americans. What up with that?—-
    Sorry, I slightly mis-spoke. Ethical constructs frequently end at the edge of the community. For instance, all the “God-approved” murderous rampages of the neighboring tribes or of dissenting Israelites in the Old Testament, or, as you note here, the “God-approved” notions of early Americans who saw the Native Americans in the same way.
    These sorts of tragedies can happen with or without God. I guess it’s my hope that by taking God out of the equation, the community will be forced to take one step closer to admitting the real motivations that are informing their ethical constructs.
    As a side note, I just read 1491, which I thought was a great book. One of the points the author makes is that while early Americans thought that the frequent plagues that were killing off the Native Americans were a sign that God was against them, and modern observers frequently find this distasteful, what we forget is that the Native Americans at the time agreed that their constant battles with the diseases brought by European settlers were a sign of the gods’ displeasure with them.

  165. athiest, atheist… guess I need more edumacation. (and that was the least of the typos in my rampage you could have picked on, so… uh, thanks :)

  166. >So there’s this episode of Dr. Who…Some people in it want to retroactively wipe out a fair bit of history.
    Isn’t that the plot of a fair proportion of Dr Who episodes? :)
    Actually, surprisingly few. It’s usually just a side effect.
    (eagerly awaiting Torchwood as well…)

  167. bulbul,
    Thanks for your clarification, and apologies for being imprecise regarding Lewis. Indeed, I was meaning to say “that Lewis considered evil to be a corruption of the good” – I should have said that he thought that there is no such thing as pure evil or original evil.
    I believe my source is somewhere in Mere Christianity, in his discussion about sex.

  168. The other escape from the problem of evil that I’ve seen presented here by the theists, is that we just can’t know what evil is. If I suffer, I call that evil, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe higher things come from it. But surely it seems that this is the path to nihilism.
    Not really. Most people would agree that surgeons do good, but we don’t go around taking scalpels to each other. We recognize that surgeons have knowledge, training and skill that we lack. When they cut people open — gross as that might be — it really does serve a higher good, but “don’t cut people” is still a good rule for the rest of us. It may be that an omniscient God can use suffering and even death for a higher purpose, but that doesn’t mean we limited humans should try this at home.

  169. bulbul:
    [[I don’t like the “slay/serve” Job; I have no use for him]]
    “I have no use for him” is certainly an interesting approach to interpretation. Is it from the same school of thought as “Truth is irrelevant, pick one that works”?
    There are many here for whom the Bible is no more than an intriguing work of fiction, history, philosophy and poetry, but is not “The Word of God”. As such, we can find some parts useful for our own philosophy, some parts not so much. I don’t know if the original quoter is like that, but I have incorporated the loving books and verses, while rejecting ones like Job (who comes off useless no matter how he translated).

  170. hapax:
    I dunno. Every time someone above seems to argue that this is not “the best of all possible worlds”, the unstated (or stated) subtext seems to be “it’s not the best for ME.” Even the concern for mice and grass, etc., is essentially egocentric — how do we know that mice don’t want to be eaten by cats, that grass doesn’t want to be trod underfoot — I know that I wouldn’t like it, but I think it’s best all around to not worry about justifying God’s ways to vegetation.
    My starting point was the Garden of Eden. Death did not exist there, and it was Paradise; therefore, a Christian should assume that mice don’t want to die in pain, and grass probably is having a rough go of it as well.
    …she … seems to just throw up her hands and let her dad have at her. Even when Chloe is getting in a few good licks…
    I wouldn’t mind reading this version of the books!
    Beth:
    I have no business setting myself above the Creator and critiquing his/her/its work.
    Isn’t that why we’re here? Why give us reason and free will if not to question the way things are? Otherwise, you’re just a robot.
    bulbul:
    ‘Tis funny how often people insist that there is no sin or evil, that these categories are mere constructs.
    I’d say there is no “sin”, but there is good, evil and love. My definition of “good” and “evil” may not be the same as yours (wherein lies the problem), but I do have one.
    Beth:
    Most people would agree that surgeons do good, but we don’t go around taking scalpels to each other.
    Is doing breast enhancement and face-lifts on teens good, evil or neutral? What about weight-loss surgery (where the long-term effects are far worse than not having the surrgery)? I’m sure there are a lot of other gray areas, just in regards to surgeons (should they train on animals, for example).

  171. Does anyone have the chapter and verse for “the Garden of Eden. Death did not exist there, and it was Paradise”?
    (I will feel very foolish if it is in the first couple chapters of Genesis)

  172. cjmr’s husband:
    It is, indeed, an extrapolation from Genesis 2 and 3:
    2:8 Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

    2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

    3:22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side [r] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

  173. I love it when they bring up that verse. If there was no death in the Garden, why is God worried about Adam eating from the Tree of Life?
    (Creationists always forget that bit)
    cjmr found the relevant verses: they’re in the Apocrypha. Wisdom 1:13-14 and 2:23-24.
    The cool thing about that is that Sola Scriptura creationists *can’t use that verse*, but non-creationist Catholics have it!
    Not that Daniel is a creationist (I don’t have my Slacktivist DB handy), but I keep seeing the argument put forward by anti-evil-utionists, and it’s good to know where it comes from.

  174. Ooh, I’m definitely not a creationist.
    Sorry, buddy, we can’t just take your word for it. Duane, would you please check?

  175. Duane, would you please check?
    Certainly. In a post on what appears to be Daniel’s old blog (neotheologue.blogspot.com), he notes,
    “Somehow, in some way that’s beyond my capacity to understand, God is using the Cubs’ phenomenal run this year to advance all of creation toward His purpose for it, “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).”
    Daniel appears to have a long history of referring to “God’s creation”. This doesn’t necessarily indicate one is a creationist as there are a those who think God created the universe using evolution. (Asimov comes to mind.) And there are a million microviews on the origin of the universe between hardcore creationism and godless evolution.
    There is also the possibility that Daniel’s views have evolved in the years since he wrote the above-mentioned passage.
    If I may be allowed to editorialize, it seems to me that a belief system that supports God waving His magic wand for the Cubs’ benefit isn’t so far removed from God waving His magic wand to create the universe.

  176. Sorry, buddy, we can’t just take your word for it. Duane, would you please check?
    You guys are hilarious.
    In a post on what appears to be Daniel’s old blog (neotheologue.blogspot.com)
    That’s not mine! I’ve only ever lived in the Western three states – promise (thus I really don’t care about the Cubs – no offense, of course)!
    My old blog is otterpop.blogspot.com, and I’ve recently began posting at radicalcongruency.com.
    As for creation – actually, my wife is a die-hard 6 day-er. But me – I just can’t buy it. I really can’t make myself believe that the first several chapters of Genesis are trying to answer that kind of question.
    Please update my entry in the DB accordingly. And if the other Daniel is still around, I suppose that I may need to change my handle. I make no claims to being the first with my name – I’m quite a newb here, actually (although I have read all the LB posts – couldn’t resist!).
    Speaking of which, what does one have to do to get a copy of said DB?

  177. If you aren’t a Cubs fan and wintermute isn’t out somewhere delivering a well-deserved spanking to a naughty trollop, then the database is CRAP!
    I shall consign it to the fire at once.