More questions than answers
I've had several things keeping me from posting to the blog in the last week, including holiday time spent offline (how novel) and finishing up year-end work. Like many people, however, I've struggled to think of anything valuable to contribute in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. I had started a post about legal developments of 2004, but haven't returned to it. Other issues preoccupy, but they're issues upon which I can't offer any special insight or expertise. What worth is it for yet another person to write about how difficult it is to comprehend loss and suffering on this scale?
I spotted this piece in the Guardian off of ALDaily last week along with other discussions of related topics. I won't reiterate the points made in the original piece or some of the follow-ups. As a non-theist from a family and community where believers are the norm, I'm often drawn to think of events within the context of religious faith or its lack. Non-believers are naturally drawn to point out the illogic, the perverseness of an all-powerful, benevolent God causing such spectacular, unreasoning pain and death. Of course, it shouldn't require such a spectacle to make clear the preponderance of random, cruel and amoral outcomes that visit people every day. Insensitive as it may seem, events like the recent tsunami are only different in scale from other examples of nature's indifference to justice and desert.
It's a mistake to think that Christians or other believers are insensitive to these questions. Atheists often unfairly assume that belief in God must result from a preference for fantastic, comforting certainty over self-evident, difficult doubt. Sure, for some believers, faith is safe and effortlessly reassuring, but for a lot of theists, believing in God means having to face conflicts like those raised by the tsunami and much smaller scale tragedies regularly. Many theists express mystification at how atheists can encounter the goodness and beauty in the world without a loving God to provide some explanation for it. How could a random, blind universe, cold and utterly indifferent to human concerns and feelings possibly produce the pleasures and beauties that bind people to each other in couples, families, communities and societies? In the end, isn't belief in God just about which of these implausibilities one finds easier to live with?
Yes, the Indian Ocean tsunami raises serious questions for anyone who believes in a God that is simultaneously omnipotent and benevolent. When I was a child, questions like these brought an end to my belief in God. But even as non-theists raise these questions, we can't also maintain that those who do believe in God do so in order to avoid any difficult questions. For many intelligent and thoughtful people, believing in God means having to live with a great deal of uncertainty.
I may post some thoughts about the institutional responses to the tsunami later.