Monthly Archives: December 2009

Theism renders existence unintelligable

I’ve heard many theists say that it takes a god to make sense out of existence.  To me, however, a god renders existence unintelligible, unpredictable, and chaotic.  Although my reasons I think trump those of the theist’s, they do not in and of themselves serve as basis for rejecting god-belief.  After all, a life of confusion may have been the intention of a god all along, as a test of our faith or a sign that our belief is justified (a possibility which I explored in a previous post).

The recent fifth-year anniversary of the tsunami that destroyed over 200,000 lives in Asia (a disproportionate number of whom were children), besides raising anew the problem of evil for theists, served as the catalyst for my thoughts.  In its wake, as is typical with any natural disaster, we heard from various believers of all stripes that their god had caused it as a form of punishment for…well, take your pick among a smorgasbord of reasons: failure to pray the required 5 times a day, abortion, immoral sexual practices of tourists, Swedish “hate crime laws” against the Gospel, etc.  Any one of those reasons could be true, or none of them, or all of them.  The point is, under theism, we would never know, because we’re dealing with a personality whose designs, goals, and plans are almost completely, if not wholly, hidden from us.  And it’s not just tsunamis or other natural disasters this pertains to, but to any event or occurrence.  Was it the will of the god that my mother got cancer?  That the plane crashed, but only two survived?  That I lost my job?  That the Lakers won?  “God is in control” is what the theists tell us.  Ok then, but to what extent?  Down to every last motion of every single atom?  The occasional miracle or smiting?  And what of the role other supernatural entities, like demons or djinns, play?  Theists cannot answer these questions with any sort of confidence.  Anything and everything could have a hidden hand behind it, for reasons we can only grasp at, like straws.  Such is the existential blindness theism inevitably leads.  No wonder believers are admonished to simply “Trust in the Lord.”  They have no choice.  Theism reduces us to puppets whose strings are invisible to us, in a show whose script we can only dimly perceive, if at all.

It wasn’t so long ago that the world was governed by the belief in divine fatalism; things were they way they were because that’s the way they were ordained.  Needless to say, the reasonable position to take in light of such a belief—nah, the duty— was obliging acceptance.  After all, who were you, puny mortal, to oppose your god’s will?  (More cunning individuals justified their actions as carrying out their god’s will).  Little wonder, then, that human progress advanced at a snail’s pace.  But when a few brave individuals began to propose completely natural explanations for life’s routines—essentially curtailing the hand of a god—did humanity make huge strides in its welfare and understanding.  This new paradigm has proved enormously beneficial for our species, but it has been largely resisted by theists, who correctly identify it as a threat to god-belief.  If our lives are what we make it, if we can control, direct, remedy, explain, or predict aspects of our existence through our own means, then our need for and dependence on a deity is rendered practically moot.

My lack of belief in god(s) doesn’t originate from the view they make life incomprehensible to me, or that believing in them hinders us as a species; that would be fallacious (argument from personal incredulity and argument from outrage, respectively).  Rather, I’m explaining why to some people, a god-belief does not help understand existence, but detracts from that understanding.

Reasonable or foolishness?

During a conversation with a Christian, I was reminded of a most excellent verse from the Bible:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In other words, the Christian gospel is purposely designed by its god to appear delusional to non-believers.  When Christians wonder why everyone else scoffs at their beliefs, they need only recall this verse.  The confusion is intentional.

I got to admit, this is a brilliant rejoinder to those who dismiss your message as crazy.  “You don’t understand what we’re saying?  That’s the way it should be!” For a long time, the looniness was touted as a point in the faith’s favor.  As early Christian apologist Tertullian put it, “I believe because it’s absurd.  It’s certain because it’s impossible.”

But then came the Age of Reason, and suddenly, being absurd wasn’t so great.  Ever since, Christianity has been forced to justify itself on rational and empiricist grounds.  Tract after apologetic tract has strived to demonstrate that the Christian faith is grounded in reason, science, and actual history.  As one of the more notable latest products of that endless stream, William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith, states “…it will be apologetics which, by making the gospel a credible option for seeking people, gives them, as it were, the intellectual permission to believe.”

Unfortunately, “intellectual permission to believe” is precisely not what the Christian gospel is supposed to offer.  According to the apostle Paul, the message is unintellectual, unreasonable, irrational, i.e., foolishness.  That is its virtue, a sign to the growing believer that the “power of God” is at play.

But Christians can’t have it both ways.  Either their message is absurd, or it’s reasonable (unsurprisingly, Craig never mentions 1 Cor. 1:18 in his book).  If it’s reasonable, then Paul is wrong.  If Paul is wrong on this, what else is Paul wrong about?  Christians can’t argue their gospel is reasonable without fatally wounding their theology.  But if they argue it’s absurd, then welcome to the club of bizarre beliefs, of which this world is littered.  Christianity becomes no better than Scientology.  Such is Christianity’s conundrum, but it’s a bed of it’s own making.