Monday, November 21, 2016

Inconsistencies in crediting success and suffering to God

On the inconsistency of crediting success and suffering to God:

Some people credit mainly good things to God. In his memoir, Donald Miller wrote of his immature concept of a "slot-machine God:" "If something nice happened to me, I thought it was God, and if something nice didn't, I went back to the slot machine, knelt down in prayer, and pulled the lever a few more times."

Christopher Hitchens wrote in God is not Great:

"But the human wish to credit good things as miraculous and to charge bad things to another account is apparently universal. In England the monarch is the hereditary head of the church as well as the hereditary head of the state: William Cobbett once pointed out that the English themselves colluded in this servile absurdity by referring to “The Royal Mint” but “The National Debt.” Religion plays the same trick, and in the same way, and before our very eyes. On my first visit to the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, a church that was built to celebrate the deliverance of Paris from the Prussians and the Commune of 1870-1871, I saw a panel in bronze which showed the exact pattern in which a shower of Allied bombs, dropped in 1944, had missed the church and burst in the adjoining neighborhood..."

Deepak Chopra wrote: "As they surveyed the wreckage of their lives, the dazed survivors mumbled the same response: I'm alive only by the grace of God.They did not consider (nor express out loud) that the same God might have sent the storm."

Other people tend toward anger at God for their suffering. Rick Warren wrote in his bestseller The Purpose Driven Life: "People often blame God for hurts caused by others. This creates what William Backus calls 'your hidden rift with God.'" Another possibility is that a cosmic force of evil, the opposite of God, perpetrates injury. The effect, however, is the same. "The more that Satan is guilty, then the more that Adam is innocent! If the devil is the instigator of sin, then the sinner is only a dupe," wrote Vladimir Jankelevitch. In other words, blaming either God or Satan lets humans off the hook for the injuries they cause each other.

Frederic Luskin said that forgiveness is "learning to make peace when something in your life doesn't turn out the way you wanted it to. It's an inner quality not dependent on anyone else, an assertive and necessary life skill rather than a specific response to a particular life situation. People who are hurt have a narcissistic perspective that it's unusual to be hurt, but in fact it's common. When you understand how common it is, you can forgive life."

For others, neither good nor bad is credited to God. They may be atheists; they may be religious people who do not believe that God is responsible for causing personalized, specific effects in the lives of individuals; or they may claim to believe that God does this without being able to bring themselves to acknowledge any specific instance as God's handiwork. Of the last category, Carol M. Swain writes: "...even though we say we believe in God, we live like atheists. We consider God to be either nonexistent or irrelevant — and certainly not in the business of distributing rewards and punishments."

One could be clever and attribute both varieties to God. George F. Will: ”The theologically serious and mordantly witty Peter De Vries wrote in one of his novels about a Connecticut river flood to which a local pastor responded by praying 'that a kind Providence will put a speedy end to the acts of God under which we have been laboring.'”

The theologian Charles Hartshorne asked: “There is only one solution of the problem of evil 'worth writing home about.' It uses the idea of freedom, but generalizes it. Why suppose that only people make decisions?” Very well, but it should be clear that having God make decisions only transfers responsibility onto God. Positing different moral rules for God creates a new problem. H. J. Rose framed it: “...if some things were right for men and others for gods, was there any real moral difference between actions at all?”


Donald Miller. Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson Books, 2003. p. 9.

Christopher Hitchens. God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2007. pp. 76-77.

Deepak Chopra. How To Know God: The Soul's Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries. New York: Harmony Books, 2000. p 58.

Rick Warren. The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. p. 94.

Vladimir Jankelevitch. Forgiveness. Translated by Andrew Kelley. University of Chicago Press, 2005. Originally Le Pardon, 1967. p 58.

Frederic Luskin, quoted in Rahel Musleah, "The Dance of Forgiveness," Jewish Woman, Fall 2002. p 36.

Carol M. Swain. Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America's Faith and Promise. Thomas Nelson, 2011.

George F. Will. "Leviathan in Lousiana." Newsweek. September 12, 2005. p 88.

Charles Hartshorne, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes, p 13.

H. J. Rose. Religion in Greece and Rome. New York: Harper and Row, 1959. p 91. Originally published as Ancient Greek Religion (1946) and Ancient Roman Religion (1948), London: Hutchinson and Co., Limited.

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