Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"God is not here today, priest."

That line comes from two movies: The Exorcist: Beginning and more recently The Rite with Anthony Hopkins. In the Exorcist prequel, Fr. Marin recalls an SS in WWII Poland saying that to him right before he executed some small children. In The Rite, Anthony Hopkins’ character, who is possessed (sorry if I ruined the film for you), ominously growls that line to the principle character.
Tuscaloosa owned.

Title explication aside, I got the inspiration to write this article when I read about how victims of the tornado stuff going down in Alabama are turning to their faith for comfort in the wake of the disaster. I don’t necessarily blame them or fault them for doing so, as I can’t criticize someone’s grieving process.

So this is more about the nature of God’s presence among us. Most faiths believe that God is here with us, in some form of existence, and that he is constantly imposing his will upon the world. “If it’s God’s will,” you’ll often here believers say. Sometimes people pray for God’s favor, or for him to do stuff for us. When I got my current job after nearly 7 months of searching (apparently a BA in history and political science means little to anyone here in Columbus, even with Summa cum Laude attached to it), my fundamentalist aunt proudly proclaimed, “see, prayer does work!”

At the risk of upsetting or alienating my theist readers, I’m going to have to say that I agree with the Nazi. God is not here.

Now before you get all incensed over that, just remember that I do believe in God. Although I have my doubts—more often than I’d like—I have faith that God probably exists. I can’t know for certain that he does, but then again that’s the whole thing with Faith: it’s a theological virtue that has nothing to do with knowing.

Be that as it may, I don’t believe that God exists in the way that is traditionally believed by Christians, the Catholic church included. I am a Deist, so I believe that although there is a creator of all things I don’t believe the notion that this creator constantly exerts his will. I believe that he created the universe and the physical laws by which it would govern itself, and that’s it.

This sort of answers the question of theodicy, that burning question in our hearts of “if God loves us so much then why does he allow us to suffer the evils of the world?” Why does God allow some to die but others to live? Why does God allow good people to suffer in unimaginable ways?

The short answer is that he neither allows nor disallows these things to happen. They just happen. They happen because he created the human experience and wants us to have that experience. I don’t think God wants us to suffer, but life isn’t all about unicorns and rainbows (yes Bowser, I linked to my own article).

So no, God doesn’t answer our prayers. I got the job because I was lucky. God doesn’t grant good things to the pious and horrible shit luck to the unfaithful. Actually, quite the contrary. Usually it’s the pious and virtuous who get shit on the most in life.

I don’t pray because I have nothing to ask from God. Just like everyone else, I was put on this planet to live my life the way I see fit. If I fuck that up then it’s my fault. If someone else fucks it up for me, well then that’s not my fault but it’s up to me to change it if I can. And if I can’t change it, then I have to cope with whatever shit hand that has been dealt to me.

God will not strike down my enemies. He will not help me win the lottery, and he won’t part the sea to give me a lifetime supply of free sushi (I am addicted to the stuff). He will not provide for me via earthly, temporal goods or money, and he will not grant me any sort of favor just for worshipping him. Good people die horrible deaths because that’s just what happens sometimes. Shit happens because he’s not here, or at least does not exist in the way that we imagine. It’s not that he’s apathetic, I’m sure, but more that he would probably rather let nature take its course.


Karen Howes said...

Obviously, I don't agree with some of what you say, but I think you make a great point.

Too often, people look at God as some bearded, celestial Santa Claus in the sky, a vending machine who's there to do stuff for you. Like you say, "God, help me win the lottery!"

Prayer isn't about asking God for stuff, or even thanking Him, necessarily. It's about opening yourself up to Him, to His love and grace (one of the things I LOVE about the Eastern Church is its emphasis on theosis, or oneness with God).

God IS with us, and cares deeply for each of us-- the Bible says he knows the number of hairs on our heads.

This doesn't mean that He doesn't allow bad things to happen. We can't always see the reasons... I shake my head at the existence of Alzheimer's disease-- the cruelest disease you can imagine. But we're not Him, so we can hardly understand.

Hope this didn't come across as preachy, but those were my thoughts.

Jack Camwell said...

I don't mind preachy. I don't mind anyone expressing their opinions here, even if they are contrary to what I believe. That's why I don't have moderation enabled.

One thing no one need be afraid of here is speaking your mind. I say some acerbic shit, and if other want to then that's fine.

Silverfiddle said...

Like Karen, I don't share your views, but I find your approach interesting. You've obviously thought about it and studied the issue.

All I can really say is bad things happening on earth is not incompatible with with a loving, omnipotent and omniscient God who has also given us free will.

LD Jackson said...

The Bible says that it rains on the just and the unjust. Just because a person tries to live their life exactly as the Bible says, or how they perceive God would want them to live does not insulate them from bad things happening in their lifes. I could give you example after example of that and one of them would include your's truly. By the same token, living an evil life doesn't necessarily mean you will die an early and horrible death, or suffer greatly during your time on this earth.

As Silverfiddle has already said, God has given us the free will to live as we choose. Also, there are many times when nature does take it's course, such as a mile-wide tornado tearing it's way through Alabama. Those kinds of things happen all the time, but even with my faith in God, I find them hard to understand.

Jack Camwell said...

Silver: Yes, I've spent some years thinking about all of this. 12 years of Catholic school, even the college I went to was a Catholic university.

To all of you, don't mistake this as me thinking that God does not exist, or even that I'm sure that he's not present among us. I just don't think that he is, at least not in the way that is traditionally believed.

I don't think there's anything to "understand" about disaster and misfortune. It just happens. The only thing we can do is cope.

Harrison said...

Many of the Founding Fathers were Deists. You get to have your cake and eat it too. There IS a God so that's good but everything in life is very logical.

The thing about God is when things go your way He's rewarding you but when your entire family dies and you're left missing a leg He's testing you.

Good mind fuck, ain't it?

KP said...

My view:

Life on earth is a test. No matter if you believe in God or not. We are meant to value other opinions, avoid ideological malice and be willing to serve. Do those three things and we all have the opportunity to learn more about ourselves, our attitudes and behavior.

It is helpful for me to remain open minded; present my case and then listen to others who are willing to offer reviews, opinion and personal experience. To communicate we don’t have to be 'right’. Making others feel valued means listening. It might just be enough that we hear what’s on each others mind or in our hearts.

Valuing others is a way to help ensure they will do a task well. I once read that one of the best ways to show respect is to simply listen. “We offer our presence and open our ears, listening to the hidden hurts and heartaches, the deepest dreams and desires of one another.” If there is a God, I think he would approve. Now, if only I could meet this standard.

“In the play, the main character, Everyman, is stripped, one by one, of those apparent goods on which he has relied. First, he is deserted by his patently false friends: his casual companions, his kinsmen, and his wealth. Receiving some comfort from his enfeebled good deeds, he falls back on them and on his other resources -- his strength, his beauty, his intelligence, and his knowledge -- qualities which, when properly used help to make an integrated man. These assist him through the crisis in which he must make up his book of accounts, but in the end, when he must go to the grave, all desert him save his good deeds alone. The play makes it's effectively grim point that man can take with him from this world nothing that he has received, only what he has given.”

Jack Camwell said...

I only disagree with the notion that earth is a test. I think that considering it to be a test sort of trivializes the beauty that is the gift of life. God means for us to have a certain experience, the human experience, I think for reasons other than testing our mettle. There are tests in life, to be sure, but I don't think they have anything to do with proving anything to God.

And Harrison, I don't think God tests us. That would be an awful thing to do, knowing that some people can't handle it and would be ruined forever. I can't imagine a God that brings down misfortune upon creatures he loves. The only explanation I can think of is that he doesn't actually make these things happen, they just happen.

KP said...

I agree, test is not the best word choice. Better would have been to say life is challenging. How we handle the challenges can say a lot about us. I don't mean the challenges (or tests) are sent from God, but everyone is challenged. As well, the good things in life are also a challenge (love, children, sudden wealth, power)

Harrison said...

What do you mean don't you think God tested Abraham regarding killing his Isaac? Of course he did. Read Fear and Trembling.