March 13th, 2013

mene mene tekel upharsin, religion

Irrational ≠ inconsistent

The other day I saw an "inspirational" post pop up in my Facebook newsfeed. I'm not going to inflict the whole thing on you, because it's silly and horribly written, but let me describe it and quote a bit of it so I can make fun of it.

The gist of the post is that some guy — I'm going to call him Timmy — is complaining to God about all the bad things God had let happen to him, such as his car not starting and his getting the wrong sandwich and his foot massager not working and such. But God points out all the things Timmy thought were bad thing that God had allowed to happen were actually examples of God protecting him from various dangers!

I didn't let your car start because there was a drunk driver on your route that would have hit you if you were on the road. … The first person who made your sandwich today was sick & I didn't want you to catch what they have, I knew you couldn't afford to miss work. … Oh and that foot massager, it had a shortage that was going to throw out all of the power in your house tonight. I didn't think you wanted to be in the dark.

To my way of thinking, this conception of God make no sense. He doesn't seem to be the person who decides what's going to happen, but he knows that they're scheduled to happen, and he's capable of keeping those things from happening through indirect action. That is, God couldn't have prevented the traffic accident, but he could prevent Timmy's car from starting so Timmy wouldn't be involved. I'm assuming there was still an accident, since God doesn't say anything about preventing the drunk from being able to start his car, and that only the drunk was involved. But the power outage, that definitely didn’t happen, and it definitely "was going to" until God caused the foot massager to malfunction. (The foot massager thing also suggests that while God is capable of temporarily or permanently disabling mechanical devices, he can't repair them.)

Meanwhile, God apparently is capable of directing human action — he made a sick deli employee get Timmy's order wrong — and yet he wasn't able to make that employee to stay home from work or go to the doctor. (God probably didn't think the deli employee could afford to miss work either.) Nor could God keep the drunk driver from drinking, or driving, or both; nor prevent Timmy from bitching about the petty inconveniences he experienced during his day.

Of course, none of this indicates a problem with God, but rather with the writer, who seems to be so narcissistic as to believe God is a personal guardian angel who looks after him and him only. But that makes no sense! A God who personally intervenes in Timmy's life would certainly intervene in the lives of everyone else. The drunk driver wouldn't be drunk or driving; God would have protected him from that. The deli employee wouldn't be ill; God would have prevented him from getting sick just like he prevented Timmy from getting sick. The manufacturer of the foot massager wouldn't have sold that defective product.

Look, I'm no theologian, and I don't pretend to know the true nature of God. My point is that belief (or unbelief) in God is fundamentally irrational, in the sense that there's no way to prove it one way or another. But just because your beliefs are irrational doesn't mean they shouldn't be internally consistent, and these definitely don't qualify.