Documenting the Coming Singularity

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Fall as Fall Guy

By 9:34 AM
A few recent headlines:

Cops: Murdered Coed's Body Grilled

Quake Kills 1, Injures 170 in Japan

Suicide blasts kill 47 in Iraq

Aids deaths fall but HIV virus continues to evolve rapidly

What do these headlines have in common? Human suffering, sometimes brought about by other humans, sometimes by forces in the natural world. Suffering is part of living. These stories form only an infinitesimal fraction of all the suffering in the world, most of which goes on without the notice or sympathy of readers like you and me.

For those who believe in a loving and omnipotent God, suffering must be explained in light of God's existence. Why does God, if he loves us, allow or even cause us to suffer? Of course, there are many answers to this troubling question, ranging from the mysteriousness of God's ways to the benefits of suffering upon our souls to the idea that we all deserve much worse than any calamity we could possibly encounter in this world. Ministers whose job it is to console the grieving parents who have suffered the death of a beloved child or some other crushing loss have found out that these answers often seem to lack any power to satisfy, to bring us to the point where we can say, in effect, this still hurts, but I understand why it was necessary.

Christianity has staked out its positions clearly: God exists. God is omnipotent. God is good. I ask this question: On what basis do you make these claims, believe these things? As far as I can see, the answer comes down to this: There is a book, called The Bible, that says so.

To be fair, many people also base their belief in God's goodness on the good things that have happened to them. If you have a happy marriage, well-adjusted kids, a good job, if you recovered from a serious illness, a brush with death, then you say God has been good to me. But the converse is typically not true. If your spouse is unfaithful, your kids unreliable, your health terminal, God is still good. The good things are of God, but the bad things are not. The man who lives through the tornado proclaims to the world that God was looking out for him; the family who lost a loved one in the same storm says that God will see them through. Such is our need to believe in a powerful, benevolent God who will protect us from harm, except when he doesn't.

But there is one explanation for human suffering that occurs under the aegis of a loving and omnipotent God that seems to absolve God of all responsibility. Every proximate cause of all human suffering is explained by the Fall. The Fall is the ultimate fall guy.
Gen 3:14-19 GNB Then the LORD God said to the snake, "You will be punished for this; you alone of all the animals must bear this curse: From now on you will crawl on your belly, and you will have to eat dust as long as you live. (15) I will make you and the woman hate each other; her offspring and yours will always be enemies. Her offspring will crush your head, and you will bite her offspring's heel." (16) And he said to the woman, "I will increase your trouble in pregnancy and your pain in giving birth. In spite of this, you will still have desire for your husband, yet you will be subject to him." (17) And he said to the man, "You listened to your wife and ate the fruit which I told you not to eat. Because of what you have done, the ground will be under a curse. You will have to work hard all your life to make it produce enough food for you. (18) It will produce weeds and thorns, and you will have to eat wild plants. (19) You will have to work hard and sweat to make the soil produce anything, until you go back to the soil from which you were formed. You were made from soil, and you will become soil again."

Natural disasters happen because of the Fall. Sickness and death happen because of the Fall. Men are treacherous and evil to one another because of the Fall. And every human being who ever lived or will ever live, without exception, will sin and thus earn an infinitely long stay in guessed it, because of the Fall. (The snake only received the punishment that it must crawl on its belly all its days. So how did it move around before?)

OK. But let's look at this explanation a bit more closely and see where it leads us. We are saying that, according to Christianity, the Fall is to blame for every bit of human suffering, ever. Now, who caused the Fall? Well, Adam and Eve did. But what did they do? What was so wicked, so heinous, so devilishly abhorrent as to cause God to cause or allow such untold suffering? They ate from a tree that God had told them not to touch. That's it. For that, the entire planet and all its inhabitants were cursed by their Creator.

One question: Does this seem like a proportionate response to you?

Disclaimer: I know that Christians say that God is the Creator and can do whatever he wants with his creatures and that we as his creatures have no right to say a darn thing about it so we should just shut up already.


Spaceman Spiff said...

"On what basis do you make these claims, believe these things? As far as I can see, the answer comes down to this: There is a book, called The Bible, that says so."

This just isn't how people work, not even Christians. Why do they choose Christianity when there are plenty of books saying all sorts of different things? Would you say its because of how they grew up? Then why do some people leave Christianity while others stay and why do completely unreligious people convert to Christianity?

Speaking of which, how do people become atheists? Don't books play a role in that too?

I'd suggest there's a lot more going on. All people look for ways to make sense of the vast range of experiences they have. Emotions play a role in *everyone's* conversions and aversions.

Some people read the Bible, and see Christianity practiced, in such a way that resonates with, that *explains* what they see in a way that nothing else does. They read about God and recognize that the God in those pages is what, or more properly, Whom they have been experiencing their whole lives.

Others read it and see only fanciful stories. All humans have what we could label "external" and "internal" experiences, but the question is which is to frame which, and how is their relationship to be understood? How does someone decide that the external has such primacy and that the internal shouldn't be trusted?

For C.S. Lewis, conversion from atheism to theism, and then to Christianity, centered around experiences of desire for joy and wonder in his life. Some experiences seemed to meet this desire, but never quite satisfy or fulfill, instead pointing beyond to something greater. For him, this seemed inexplicable by materialism. So he concluded that there must be something else. Eventually this led him to Christianity, because his experiences resonated with what he found there.

The way it resonated with his experience, combined with the fact that reason led him to believe that the Bible is generally reliable as a historical document, led him to become a believer.

I know for me, the feeling of having been fooled has made it very difficult for me to trust anything hopeful that comes from what we might call "internal" experiences. I imagine that the same is true for a lot of atheists, and that this has about as much to do with them becoming atheists as an honest academic dissatisfaction with the myriad of responses to the problem of evil.

Spaceman Spiff said...

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Jarod said...

Eating from the tree was evidence of something deeper within the first man and woman. In terms of Romans 3:23, they came short of glorifying God. They desired the fruit and the promise of all knowledge more than God. It is the same reason Satan and the angels that followed him were kicked out of heaven. They wanted the glory that only belongs to God. God is infinitely glorious and failing to see and savor His glory warrants infinite punishment. The suffering in this world is used to show how heinous sin is. The good thing is that God did not leave us in our sin and ultimate damnation but Christ died that He might bring us to God. 1 Peter 3:18 says, "Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God." Paul understood the role of suffering in a Christian's life. In 2 Corinthians he wrote, "So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated...For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities." St. Augustine once wrote speaking of God, "Our heart is restless until it rests in You." That is what it means to become a Christian. We turn from the fleeting pleasures of this world to the all satisfying God of the Universe.

Anonymous said...

"This just isn't how people work" - Spaceman spiff

Having had many conversations with Christians, many have stated "they believe it because the bible says so"

So I guess some people do work like that.

As for "Why do people choose Christianity" (or any other religion)

Of course, there isn't just one reason, there are many. Society is bombarded with claims of the supernatural, religion and countless more dubious, unprovable claims. People are spoonfed this nonsense throughout their lives. Few think about such things critically, they rely too much on hear say, pseudo nonsense in the media and the indoctrination imposed on them by their peers. Many are so ignorant as to the workings of society, history and science etc, they find little reason to question. There are people who perhaps have suffered and seek comfort in cults and state endorsed religions, these religions or cults allow them to gain friendship and re-enforce their new found beliefs through mutual indoctrination. Then there is the age old fear of death, not knowing what happens when they die. This thought terrifies many people, so they adopt beliefs that may give them some sort of comfort.

Of course, the above doesn't make their belief systems true.

"How do people become atheists? Don't books play a role in that too?"

I simply don't believe in the many claimed concepts of Gods and Goddesses - I see them for what they are, claims made from ignorance, wishful and delusional thinking.

Anonymous said...


Your line of reasoning exemplifies an issue that I have noticed more and more in our postmodern society.

You argue that people believe in Christianity because of a litany of social and personal factors. This can be, as you say, because society has "bombarded [them] with claims of the supernatural, religion and countless more dubious, unprovable claims." We may try to explain belief as a way of wishing our uninformed, and sometimes unreasonable, worldview mystically into existence. I may need comfort, and, therefore, I turn to an omnipotent and beneficent creator to satisfy this desire. Additionally, I may fear the unknown and seek a God as some solace or explanation for the existence of heaven. You then assume that this is a product of lazy thinking or a lack of intellectual rigor, that is, that Christians may be too afraid to ask the hard questions that atheists ask and their beliefs are "wishful and delusional thinking."

The problem as I see it, is that this argument never proves why Christians are wrong. It simply assumes that they are and then goes about explaining why. C.S. Lewis calls this Bulverism (an eponymous term for its fictional creator). This, too, is a fallacy: ad hominem. We attack those who believe instead of dealing with what they believe.

Such an argument glosses over the fact that your position cannot be "proven" -- not by the same standards to which you hold Christianity. It is an argument idicative of your worldview.

This argument sets up atheists as the only clear thinking individuals to weigh in on this topic. If Christians are tainted by society and personal believes, what makes atheists immune?

Could a Christian not, just as easily, explain the atheist stance as a result of some nihilistic upbringing? Just as you charge Christians with believing in God because they are too afraid to accept the implacations of His absence, can we not accuse atheists of some deep-seeded anger towards God for some tragedy, or disappointment with the way their lives turned out? It makes perfect sense that people would want to deny the existence of a God who will one day judge all men and women. If they do that, they can live their lives any way they choose without consequence.

If you are don't feel scandalized by these propositions, I know many atheists who would and with good reason. There is no doubt that many of us have met atheists who doubt for all the reasons I have given, but you may argue that this is not a just or accurate representation of the atheist worldview and you may be right.

So, what I am proposing is that we some way to argue the issues without resulting to this kind of intellectual "Bulverism." It may make you feel better to point out the oversimplification in the oversimplified versions of Christianity, but you're a far cry away from dealing with the real thing.