Conversations: Impotent or Evil?


Lysandra
We should note that people of all faiths regularly assure us that God is not responsible for human suffering.

Helena
This belief undermines the claim that God is both omniscient and omnipotent. Now, this is the age-old problem of theodicy, and we should consider it solved. If God exists, either He can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil.

Lysandra
Even though your reasoning is correct, it might be rendered null and void by the belief that any omniscient being cannot be judged by human standards of morality.

Helena
Caution, that is a pirouette. We have seen that human standards of morality are precisely what theists use to establish God’s goodness in the first place. And any God who could concern Himself with something as trivial as masturbation, skirt length, gay marriage, headscarves, your thoughts on capitalism or the name by which He is addressed in prayer, is not as inscrutable as all that.

Sappho
There is another possibility, of course, and it is both the most reasonable and least odious: the biblical God is a fiction, like Zeus and the thousands of other dead gods whom most sane human beings now ignore. Can anyone prove that Zeus does not exist? Of course not.

Helena
And yet, just imagine if we lived in a society where people spent tens of billions of dollars of their personal income each year propitiating the gods of Mount Olympus, where the government spent billions more in tax dollars to support institutions devoted to these gods, where untold billions more in tax subsidies were given to pagan temples, where elected officials did their best to impede medical research out of deference to The Iliad and The Odyssey, and where every debate about public policy was subverted to the whims of ancient authors who wrote well, but who didn’t know enough about the nature of reality to keep their excrement out of their food.

Sappho
This would be a horrific misappropriation of our material, moral, and intellectual resources. And yet that is exactly the society we are living in. This is the woefully irrational world that many Christians, Jews and Muslims—to name a few—are working so tirelessly to create!

Helena
Indeed! And do not misunderstand us, it is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion—to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious taboos, and religious diversions of scarce resources—is what makes the honest criticism of religious faith a moral and intellectual necessity!

Sappho
Unfortunately, expressing such criticism places the non-believer at the margins of society. By merely being in touch with reality, this person appears shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbours.

(Based on: Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 15-16)

See other: Philosophical Conversations

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