Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A deity's right to choose

I wonder if there really is a problem of evil. Isn't the pro-choice slogan "A woman has the right to do as she pleases with her own body?" Well, how about "God has the right to do as He pleases with his own universe." But I suppose it's a bad idea to try to pull good theology out of bad rhetoric.

9 comments:

JD Walters said...

It's not necessarily inappropriate here. God's right to do as He pleases is an integral part of Hebraic theism. Cf versus from Isaiah, etc. about the potter and the clay. God's only obligation to us is to honor His covenant with us that He entered into freely. He is only accountable for His covenant relationships with His people. I think basically the pro-choice argument is correct, and any attempt to prove that God should care more than He does (or seems to) is anthropocentric, just like skeptics accuse all religions of.

Steven Carr said...

'God's only obligation to us is to honor His covenant with us that He entered into freely'

Where did that obligation come from? What imposed it? And does God's love for His children not impose its own obligations?

Has God got the right to allow all the people he freely entered into a covenant with to die from plague, provided he does not dishnor (sic) His covenant?

'Potter and the clay'? How impoverished a view of humanity do some believers have when they think that people are just clay to be moulded as seen fit.

Pots do not have feelings. People do.

JD Walters said...

As usual Steve Carr shows his usual failure to grasp the language of metaphor, which by definition relies for its salience on the tension between similarity and dissimilarity. In a sense the Christian view does remove humankind from its vaunted, self-construed pedestal; but how is that different from any of a hundred scientists who argue that we should think humanity is insignificant because of the small place in the Universe we occupy? I'll tell you how it's different, because while Christianity concedes that, compared to God, humanity and the nations are like dust and ashes, it also affirms God's love for us and the promise of exaltation, which is more than any secular vision of the world can offer.

Anonymous said...

Steven:

Where did that obligation come from? What imposed it? And does God's love for His children not impose its own obligations?


Don't you think that by definition love requires no obligatory action on the part of the lover?

Anonymous said...

"I'll tell you how it's different, because while Christianity concedes that, compared to God, humanity and the nations are like dust and ashes, it also affirms God's love for us and the promise of exaltation, which is more than any secular vision of the world can offer."

Isn't truth more important than buying into the metaphysic that promises the greatest rewards? Why should the promise of a happy eternal life in heaven even be considered as a reason for believing in the existence of the Christian God?

JD Walters said...

You assume that exaltation is some kind of cheap reward system, where, like in animal experiments, we push a button when the researcher tells us and we get a squirt of juice or a banana. That's not at all how it works. It sure doesn't hurt that exaltation is a good thing for us, but that's not the motivation. The motivation is that, through the knowledge of faith, we know that this is what we were made for and we respond freely and graciously to the call of the One who made us. Best example is the Hebrew prophets, who obeyed God's will even with no promise of resurrection or afterlife.

B said...

anonymous:

Isn't truth more important than buying into the metaphysic that promises the greatest rewards?


I don't see how the two are necessarily mutually exclusive.

Why should the promise of a happy eternal life in heaven even be considered as a reason for believing in the existence of the Christian God?

I don't think JD was offering a proof for the existence of God. Simply, he was comparing the attractiveness (or goodness?) of a world without God to a world with the God. I think you may have jumped to the conclusions where: A is going to be better than B therefor the cause of A must be true. Kind of like the argument "How could something that feels so good be wrong?".

JD Walters said...

Thanks, B. That's pretty much right on the money. But we shouldn't perversely presupposes that truth has to be something 'cold' and 'impersonal' (not that I think you were, I'm just making a general comment). Getting carried away by sentimentalism is one thing; allowing affect to point you to features of reality which otherwise you would not have gathered is something else, on which in fact all meaningful knowledge depends. As John Oman says, knowing the truth about an environment depends crucially on thinking about it in the right way, having the right kind of interest or valuation.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic,
Augustine as well as Luther and Calvin tried that tactic already, viz., "the Deity's right to choose." Calvin wrote that God even knocked people down dead with fallen tree limbs in His providence. All part of God's right to choose, including of course to choose to grant saving grace to some and damn the rest.

But hey, I was taken in by it for a little while myself and wrote this about it in my testimony in Leaving the Fold:

Calvinism appeared to me to be a "solid" faith, even an attractive one. God "made some vessels for eternal honor and made others for eternal dishonor" simply to bring glory to Himself and embody His attributes of eternal "compassion" and eternal "justice". Conversion was up to God. He either bestowed upon people the "gift of saving faith," or damned them.

In a sense it was a relief, knowing that you were not responsible for anyone else's salvation. You did not have to plead with anyone, or devise clever gimmicks to entice them toward the faith, like many Christian youth ministries utilize. The "absoluteness" of God's will was emphasized. If someone did not agree, such was God's will, let them be damned.

It was also a demanding faith for those already in it. They had to avoid unclean associations, i.e., anything that might intrude on the "purity" of their theology and behavior. From thence have arisen "Reconstructionist" Christians who would like to see ancient Hebrew laws writ into America's Constitution.

I rejected Calvinism after realizing that, unlike the believers I had met, I could not relinquish the "nonelect" to God's eternal "justice." Heaven would not be heaven for me if that were true. Neither could I conceive of any reasonably good person maintaining an eternal concentration camp, let alone God Himself. And I could not accept the doctrine of "total [spiritual and mental] depravity," nor the Calvinist rationalization that any and all righteous behavior manifested by the nonelect was merely "common grace," without which the world would be a "living hell."

John Calvin's teachings appear in their most blunt form in his Institutes [Bk II, chapt xxiii, sect. 7] "Whence does it happen that Adam's fall irremediably involved so many peoples, together with their infant offspring, in eternal death unless because it so pleased God? . . . The decree is dreadful [horribile] indeed, I confess." I had to agree that worshiping a God who was pleased by such things was horrible!

Martin Luther, another advocate of the biblically based view known as "predestination," wrote in his classic defense of that view, On the Bondage of the Will.

This is the acme of faith, to believe that God, who saves so few and condemns so many, is merciful, that He is just who, at his own pleasure, has made us necessarily doomed to damnation, so that He seems to delight in the torture of the wretched and to be more deserving of hate than of love. If by any effort of reason I could conceive how God, who shows so much anger and harshness, could be merciful and just, there would be no need of faith.

I agreed with Luther that worshiping a God who "seems to delight in the torture of the wretched" would take more faith than I had.

I would sooner side with Voltaire than with Calvin and Luther on such matters.

For Voltaire in his Philosophical Dictionary had the guts to stand up and say:

The silly fanatic repeats to me. . . that it is not for us to judge what is reasonable and just in the great Being, that His reason is not like our reason, that His justice is not like our justice. Eh! how, you mad demoniac, do you want me to judge justice and reason otherwise than by the notions I have of them? Do you want me to walk otherwise than with my feet, and to speak otherwise than with my mouth?

Even Christian apologist C.S. Lewis was too smart to fall for Calvin's "horribile decree" and Luther's "acme of faith":

[There are dangers in judging God by moral standards, but] believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him "good" and worshiping Him, is still greater danger. . . . The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scripture is to prevail when they conflict. [Lewis was replying to the Biblical accounts of what he called "the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua" and the account of Peter striking Ananias and Sapphira dead, called "Divine" decrees by those who believe Scripture is without error.-ED.) I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible. . . . To this some will reply "ah, but we are fallen and don't recognize good when we see it." But God Himself does not say we are as fallen as all that. He constantly in Scripture appeals to our conscience: "Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?"--"What fault hath my people found in me?" And so on. . . .

Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason) . .

If "good" means "what God wills" then to say "God is good" can mean only "God wills what he wills." Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.6

The real danger is of corning to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not "So, there's no God after all," but, "So, this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer."7