Is God good or paradoxical?
The divine nature
Between the God of the Christians, the Supreme Being of the philosophers and the fictitious mythological being, there is room for an infinity of possible representations. Reducing God 1 to an alternative - existence or non-existence - is an oversimplification designed to hide the underlying question of divine nature. However, before giving God a face, it is impossible to ignore the existence of misfortune and evil, otherwise one would fall into an intellectual swindle.
1 The subject is temporarily restricted to monotheisms.
Misfortunes, suffering, arbitrariness, imperfections and cracks
Why does God create people who are handicapped from birth?
Why did God create diseases?
Why does God allow suffering to develop beyond biological utility?
Why are some people condemned to misfortune for the rest of their lives?
Why did God create natural disasters?
Why did God create drug addiction?
Why does God subject some people more than others to the temptation of drugs?
In short, the existence of a single God proves that Good begets Evil, but it is difficult to accept that misfortunes, imperfections and arbitrariness stem from a deliberate divine will.
In what image of God do we trust?
Man is reluctant to consider malevolence in God and his works. Believers primarily consider a God of love. However, the existence of evil, unhappiness and suffering must be taken into account, and, if we hold fast to the omnipotence of God, we cannot avoid adding at least one of the following corrective options as an attenuation:
On the one hand, the list is not exhaustive. On the other hand, since these different faces of God are not all incompatible with each other, it is possible to combine several explanations. We realise that it is not simply a question of knowing whether a Creator exists, but of understanding what lies behind the word "God".
To make his choice, the human being can only analyse the coherence of the discourse and its adequacy to reality. Since no one can pronounce on the divine nature, the reasonable and prudent man should at the very least reserve his commitment and declare himself an agnostic.
Is evil a by-product of freedom?
From a more personal point of view, only the last explanation [ the mythical God] makes sense, because the others do not fit our need for justice. At the game of life, I was very lucky to be born in Switzerland and in good health. Others, less fortunate, were born handicapped and disabled in a slum in Bangladesh. How can we be satisfied with the Christian explanation that evil is a by-product of freedom?
The aim is not to accuse God, but to test the coherence or inconsistency of the teaching of the Churches in order to assess the degree of trust that can be placed in Christian religions. One insufficiency of monotheisms is to make God the creator of the worst as well as the best. How to reconcile belief in an infinitely good God with horrors that do not come from man? Are natural disasters divine punishment? Have the victims been informed of the reasons for their disgrace?
Without imperfection, perfection is incomplete.
God felt the inadequacy of his perfection. To break his boredom, he decided to create an imperfect world.
The result was worthy of the Almighty. Since then, each day has brought its share of surprises and astonishment which can be told in the manner of the daily news: a war here, an earthquake there, an attack, an epidemic, and so on.
Thus, God has overcome the dissatisfaction of his perfection and is no longer bored ... unless the preceding account is so absurd that the only way out is to admit that such a God cannot exist.
Here is a reasoning by the absurd: let us show that the adoption of the hypothesis "The Creator is just and good" leads to a contradiction, which proves that the hypothesis is false. Let us take the example of homosexuality.
On the one hand, the Creator endows certain human beings with an attraction for people of the same sex. This attraction can be so strong that it is irrepressible. On the other hand, the Bible severely condemns such behaviour and punishes the protagonists with eternal fire. The contradiction is blatant.
We deduce that it is false that "The Creator is just and good". The Bible's description of God must be rejected.
Logic teaches us that, in a system that contains a contradiction, we can "deduce" anything. This is what happens with religions.
Is God good to the living?
When a human being is struck by a misfortune, is it a divine punishment? Is God trying to test his faith? Does he attribute a redemptive suffering to him? Does he make him suffer the consequences of original sin?
Being born in a refugee camp is a punishment, but what is the fault? Unrelated to their merits, some people are condemned to suffering whose only limit is death. Thus it happens that earthly hell precedes future, hypothetical, and probably imaginary sins. Should these trials be accepted as the consequence of Adam and Eve's sin, a just and measured punishment? The idea of a paradoxical God who plays dice, for example to distribute cruel, disabling or fatal diseases to children, offends common sense.
About the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, Voltaire writes:
One hundred unfortunate miles that the earth devours,
One hecatomb follows another in an endless succession: the tsunami of 26 December 2004 in the Indian Ocean killed more than 250,000 people; the earthquake of 12 January 2010 devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti, killing 300,000 people. Since "for God, nothing is impossible", we can wager that the record will be broken.
Some see them as divine punishments that strike only sinners who have deserved their fate, while others, in their irrational desire to see it as love, go so far as to claim that the Lord puts those he loves the most to the test more harshly!
When everything is going well, it is reassuring to think that Someone is in charge. But whether misfortune occurs, frustration requires a guilty party. Since it cannot be God who follows impenetrable plans, it is we who are guilty. And that's where religion comes in!
This is how Jean d'Isieu, in Signed Catherine published in 1960, puts the following words in the mouth of a priest who addresses a young girl permanently confined to a wheelchair:
«Like a nun in her convent, Catherine, you are there in your armchair. This is the cloister that the Lord Himself chose for you.»
To share responsibilities, telling a fable is not enough. Misfortune strikes people every day, and religion celebrates divine love. Actions are certainly divine, while words are only debatable. To be credible, an explanatory theory must not be contradicted by the facts observed. What is apparent is unjust, but the believer imagines that God makes the necessary corrections in the invisible. In short, one should believe the opposite of what one sees.
To punish out of love, convincing justifications must be presented, and the diversity of religions shows that the information has been insufficient. If, on the one hand, the arbitrariness of the Almighty grants no protection or rights to the weakest and, on the other hand, religious doctrine forbids us to attribute indifference to Him, then religion gives us such a contradictory and aberrant representation of Heaven that it can only be erroneous. It is an inconsistent and immature thought to believe in a God who is full of goodness, but who does not respect human rights. What is more important: the "truth" of the doctrine or the truthfulness of the facts?
The polytheistic conceptions of Antiquity were in better agreement with daily experience: the gods of Olympus were capricious and distributed blessings and misfortunes according to their changing moods; translating into a more modern vocabulary, we would say "at the whim of natural laws".
It is claimed that faith is a support in life's difficulties, but I have often observed the opposite: when bereavement or illness occurs, the believer may rebel against what he feels is injustice, while the non-believer shows a better acceptance of natural laws.
When parents, having lived in accordance with their religion, lose a child, they ask themselves "Why is this happening to us? What have we done to the good Lord to deserve this?". Belief in a Creator generates the artificial problem of divine, sometimes hostile mood swings.
On the contrary, in a non-religious vision, events are not the result of the will of a demiurge and do not obey any plan. The question of why is objectively irrelevant and is reduced to an expression of uneasiness. It seems less dramatic to me to simply think "I was unlucky. But since chance had neither intention nor memory, I was not personally targeted. No evil spirit pursues me, just as no angel protects me. Man is not pursued by the curse of original sin. Since the future is neither predetermined nor written down, everything remains open, including happiness."
In an even more constructive attitude, we can ask ourselves "How can we overcome this difficulty? What are the objectives to aim for?", which questions, not the meaning of life, but the meaning I want to give to my life. It would be an opportunity to grow up and behave as a responsible adult.
In the category "He who loves well punishes well", the Church has understood the heavenly message well. Thus Joan of Arc was judged by a bishop, condemned for heresy and burned alive, then, 25 years later, cleared and rehabilitated, and finally canonised in the 20th century. The suffering granted is a sign of love since it is redemptive.
Will God be good in the afterlife?
[Matthew 5:29] «If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna.»
[Mark 9:43] «And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.»
What a nice atmosphere, full of warmth, kindness and love! And let him be reproved who would see it as implacable, vengeful and barbaric justice.
In the French proverb "He who loves well punishes well", I see less the expression of wisdom than the search for an unfounded justification for dubious practices.
«I propose to compare:
Michel Bavaud, Little reflections of an old man [in French]
I understand that the work of the theologians is difficult: they are faced with a mountain of absurdities with the task of reducing them or, at least, getting around them.
Is God paradoxical?
«Garden of Eden: Yehudic irresponsibility. This Yehvah places in the same place the man, the woman, the two forbidden trees and a tempting snake. Either he is stupid or unconscious, or he voluntarily wishes an accident to happen. What about parents who would leave two children alone in a garden with petrol, matches and a little cousin who is a pyromaniac? Let's admit that some parents are humanly fallible or unconscious. Do we wonder about the seriousness of a god who is humanly fallible or unconscious? If Yehvah, supposedly omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent is neither fallible nor unconscious, it is because in this case it is perverse and criminal. He does everything possible to ensure that mathematically a fatal accident occurs in order to grant himself the right to punish in addition.»
«Conceptual and moral aberration. The woman is accused of original "sin" for having tasted the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. De facto, she did not know good and evil before tasting the fruit. Ipso facto she was unaware of evil and could do no harm. In extenso she is innocent because she was not conscious. Certainly responsible but not guilty. Once again the omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent god of mercy unjustly punishes an act that he himself has provoked. By whom will Yehvah be punished for wilful endangerment and iniquity? Because in any court of law, Eve would be innocent and Yehvah condemned.»
To put the Redemption in perspective, we must not lose sight of the fact that it follows the curse of original sin by which the descendants of Adam and Eve were condemned even before they were born. Redemption, the essential effect 2 of which is a lifting of the punishment for certain persons, resembles less an act of love than a partial correction of an injustice.
If the Revelation has followed a plan, the plan has failed. God would have manifested himself 2'000 years ago. Since man (Homo sapiens) has existed for about 300,000 years, isn't it strange that God allowed mankind to macerate in the mist for 298,000 years? Waiting so long before launching a rescue operation does not correspond at all to the idea we have of a rescuer or a saviour. Did his infinite love fail?
Moreover, as the multiplicity of religions testifies, the proclamation of the Good Word has been botched. While the Coca-Cola brand is universally known and everyone knows how to distinguish the original from the copy, why hasn't God been able to do the same? Assuming that we know what "true faith" 3 is, the abandonment of so many humans to error, ignorance or uncertainty tends to discredit the thesis of the divine origin of Revelation. God would judge us on the basis of "rules of the game" of which only a minority of human beings have been educated. Some were born further from Paradise than others, and the sense of justice is hard to find. We may feel that we are being forced to participate in an unfair game.
The emergence of Christianity possesses the characteristics and imperfections of a human creation. On a global scale, no divine message emerges from the background, except to consider that God is voiceless or that He invites us to a guessing game. The objection cannot be lifted by speaking out against religious relativism. Moreover, among Christians, only a minority of the elect will be saved 4. Would Redemption be limited to a narrow lifeboat, reserved for the privileged few?
Another implausibility lies in this: God cannot ask men to forgive their enemies and, in defiance of consistency, threaten poor sinners with the worst punishments 5. Can one trust a Being who seems to act according to the principle "Do as I say, but not as I do"?
2 I am not talking here about the means used, which escapes all logic.
3 See document The likelihood that a given religion is true.
5 See document Overcoming the fear of death, under the heading " The Christian understanding of divine justice".
«First of all, one must disobey. This is the first duty when order is threatening and cannot be explained.»
Maeterlinck, Ariadne and Bluebeard
The Church's explanation, its recourse to mysteries, is content to throw a wordy veil over incompatibilities that discredit doctrine. It is also to be devoid of any critical spirit to the point of renouncing the use of reason.
Logic dictates that any theory containing an internal contradiction can prove any assertion, as well as the opposite assertion. Such a theory is not an acceptable rational explanation; it must be corrected or abandoned. The serenity of the heart cannot be established in the confusion of the mind. That God is ineffable is acceptable, but He cannot be absurd. The believer certainly sees this as a problem, but, in all inconsistency, it does not call his convictions into question. Faith is blind trust, which shows that this feeling ignores reason. To accept to live in contradictions is to condemn oneself to perpetual malaise. To trust in spite of everything in a very real God, one must close one's eyes so as not to see the misery, cover one's ears so as not to hear the complaints, and pray a lot, on both knees, to the point of dizziness !
God is a myth or an impersonal force
Man is endowed with reason. Unfortunately, this does not mean that he is governed by reason because, more often than not, he puts his intelligence at the service of his passions. However, despite age-old speculative efforts, theologians have failed in their attempts to present a coherent doctrine and have had to resort to the expedient of the mysteries, showing that faith is a motley amalgam, an inconsistent tinkering, of which no mind has been able to put the pieces together. To assert that evil is the fruit of freedom is clearly incongruous. Even if God is only indirectly responsible, it would be foolish to maintain that He has nothing to do with it. It is unreasonable to place the ultimate responsibility on a spiritual being, endowed with goodness and love, who would follow an indecipherable plan. Instead of overcoming the paradoxes of traditional religions by putting common sense on the back burner and taking refuge in the irrational, I prefer to abandon the above-mentioned religions. God - the supreme vanity of man who believes himself to be "chosen" - is neither good nor paradoxical, because he is mythical. The probability that "true faith" will be nested in one of the monotheisms is slim. God is good as Pegasus is winged.
Knowing that our brain has a natural propensity to create myths and to make them evolve, we can enrich our culture while having the distance to consider myths for what they are: wonderful, but fictitious stories. God is only the mirror of human concerns. This is why it varies from one culture to another and evolves throughout history.
At first glance, the existence of a Creator is a secondary issue. It is more important for us to know whether it is true that we would be eternal and that our post-mortem happiness would be conditioned by our religious practice. It is therefore the God who judges, rewards and punishes whose existence I seriously doubt.
To explain inconsistencies, disasters, misfortunes, injustices and arbitrariness, the impersonal chance of nature is more satisfying to the mind. Without intention, nature, which mixes goodness and cruelty, has many qualities. She designed us and we are a conscious part of the universe. We can therefore respect and love it as our mother and as ourselves.
As we have not found any supernatural being to whom we should shoulder part of our responsibilities, it is therefore up to us men to assume the consequences of our decisions and the course of our history.
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