Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Avoiding an evil god

I'm angry. (A good critical thinker acknowledges their emotions!!) I was recently sent a PowerPoint presentation which argues that there is no such thing as chance or coincidence. The author provides some emotive slides of the Twin Towers attack and its aftermath. He or she has a series of statements on the slides. Here is an outline of the statements: 1. The author has 'heard a story of a man on business whom I will never know, but I know God wanted me to hear his story.' This is a completely unverifiable story as the person is not known. We're not off to a very good start. On the assumption that God organises every event that happens, the author assumes that God has sent this story to him/her and, therefore, must be true. 2. The man in the story was allegedly the 'head of security at a company that had invited the remaining members of a[nother] company who had been decimated by the attack on the Twin Towers to share their office space. Once again, no names of people or companies. We are to just accept that this is all true. What we have is a group of survivors of a company who escaped the destruction of the Twin Towers -- the rest of the company were killed in the attack. 3. The head of the security company is alleged to have, 'with his voice full of awe, ... told the stories of why these people were alive and their counterparts dead.' Note the question that is being asked: Why did some of the people in this company live and the rest of the company die in the Twin Tower attacks?' What follows is the answer given. 4. The reason that the few did not die was because of 'just little things.' They were: a) The head of the company had a son who started kindergarten that day - so he arrived at work late. b) One person was alive because it was his turn to bring donuts to the office and was absent when the attacks occurred. c) Another one put on a new pair of shoes that morning. On his way to work he developed a blister on his foot. He stopped at a drugstore to buy a Band-Aid. Consequently, he is alive. 5. The author then shares with us that 'when I am stuck in traffic, miss an elevator, turn back to answer a ringing telephone... [sic] all the little things that annoy me... [sic] I think to myself, this is exactly where God wants me to be at this very moment.' The implication is clear: Everything that happens to us -- no matter how minor -- occurs because God is arranging for us to be in a certain place at a certain time. If we take this conclusion back to the Twin Tower attacks, then we are meant to conclude that the three people mentioned were saved from death in the attacks because God had arranged things so they wouldn't be there at the time. If this is true, then one of two things follows: 1) God only arranges things for some people and leaves the rest of the population to chance OR 2) God arranges everything for everybody. The author doesn't accept the first of these, because the author asserts on one of the slides that '... [[i]sic[/i]] there is no such thing as "coincidence."' That leaves option 2, that God arranges everything for everybody. The overall conclusion, then, is that God arranged things so that some would be saved from the Twin Towers disaster and others would die. If this is true, then God must also have arranged for the terrorists to drive their planes into the Twin Towers. He must have arranged all the details of the terrorists' lives, and all events around them, to bring about those attacks. God must also have arranged everything so that all the people who died in the attacks were at work on time, in the places in the buildings where they would be sure to die, plus all the events and people that interacted with them up until that point to make sure that those people were in the right place to die when God wanted them to. God must have manipulated the events that led to the man buying new shoes - when to get up that morning - the speed at which he walked to work - the location of a drugstore on the route to work (something God would have had to arrange many years before). God would have to have arranged for a kindergarten to be built at a certain location - the birth of the boy to occur at the right time so he would grow up and start kindergarten on that very day - and for the father to leave the school at a certain time - and so on. The most offensive thing about all this is the implication that God wanted all those people to die. And also offensive is that this all takes place so that the author of this trite little piece can think nice thoughts about all the little annoyances he or she experiences from day to day! Here's the argument: God arranges every event. God arranged for most people to be killed in the Twin Towers attack but for a few he arranged for little annoyances to enter their day so they would be preserved. So, if I am annoyed by something, be grateful, because that's just God arranging things so I will be where God wants me to be. And this is supposed to be good news? For who? The only people I can think of for whom this would be good news are those who didn't experience any loss of a loved one in the Twin Towers attacks; those who weren't there and haven't suffered. And those who aren't dead from the attacks. How peaceful it must be to know that God arranges those little annoyances for us and arranged for terrorists to kill hundreds of people just to show us how wonderful God is when he spares a few people by arranging sore feet, kindergarten starts, and a donut run while leaving the rest to die. How reassuring for those who have lost loved ones in those attacks! The second part of the presentation is entitled 'A Tiny Voice Inside'. The voice of God speaking to us is, according to the author, evidenced by: 1. Suddenly feeling as though you want to do something nice for someone you care for. 2. Receiving a phone call or letter from someone you happened to think about and for whom you haven't thought for a long time. 3. Receiving something nice you didn't ask for, 'like money in the mail, a debt that has been mysteriously cleared, or a coupon to a department store when you had just seen something you wanted, but couldn't afford'. 4. Looking back on a situation that turned out better than you could have imagined at the time. How lovely! But why didn't the author mention some of those things from the first part of the presentation? If the argument by this author is valid, he or she should also have mentioned that the voice of God is speaking when: 1. Our loved ones die in terrorist attacks because it wasn't their turn to get donuts. Or, 2. Our friends or family die from cancer despite the fact that we have been praying constantly for their healing. 3. I can't get a job and have been unemployed for years and can't feed my family. 4. My son or daughter becomes addicted to drugs. 5. My loved one contracts AIDS from a blood transfusion and is going to die. 6. Thousands of people die in a tsunami. 7. Thousands of people die from famine, pestilence, earthquakes. 8. Hundreds get killed by death penalties because they are wrongfully convicted. 9. Thousands are killed and tortured by dictators. 10. Children are sexually abused by pedophiles or family members. 11. Women are physically and emotionally abused by their husbands. How reassuring to know that God has organised all this because where we are is exactly where God wants us to be! Is it any wonder that the Christian God appears evil to so many people when Christians distribute this sort of codswallap around the world? Theodicy - the problem of evil and the nature of God - is one of the most urgent issues to deal with if we are going to convince people that Christianity has good news to offer. But the sort of thing contained in the PowerPoint presentation that was sent to me does absolutely nothing to resolve that problem. It only makes it worse - particularly if you have a thinking person on the receiving end. The presentation finishes with this statement: 'Keep smiling.......... It's one of the best advertisements for God..... It makes people wonder what you've got.........' If the presentation preceding this statement is what 'you've got' then it might be better not to smile until you've got better news! The challenge for us is, I believe, to be able to assert God's sovereignty, omnipotence, and omniscience in a way which is true to Scripture but avoids the sorts of conclusions that the author of the presentation does. Otherwise, why would anyone want to believe in the Christian god?

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