Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Gods Are Wonderful and They Also Suck

Yesterday I got into a religious back-and-forth on Facebook with a really smart and nice guy who lives in North Carolina and has a deep and devout faith in God.

You know, one of those people who, when using pronouns for God, writes He Him and His, instead of, he him and his... as if pressing the Caps Lock key for the letter H is really going the extra mile to show respect for God... as if a capital H is needed to show how important God really is... I mean, He supposedly created the universe, and He controls everything within it, but that capital H... well, we need it to stress His importance.

I don't mean to mock this Facebook friend of mine, though. He is a really cool guy. Very bright. Kind. A thinker. And he didn't invent this capital H tradition, so I'm not knocking him personally.

The reason we got into the topic was that he saw what I have written on my profile under the Religious Views heading. What I wrote there was: "If there's a God, he doesn't know who Larry is".

I stole that line from my aunt Maria. When I first heard her say it about her own views on God, I laughed out loud, because I feel the exact same way, and that one line expresses so many things so compactly and efficiently.

Well, this guy (whom I've never met in person) sends me a message offering me the good news that even if I don't think that God knows who I am, that He (note the capital H) really does know who I am, intimately. He cares about me, He loves me, and He is involved in my life.

As an Agnostic, I asked him what I always ask Believers: "How do you KNOW this?" Well, this guy told me what Believers often tell me: that God has revealed Himself to him. He has a personal experience with God. He feels His presence. To which I wrote:

"How do you, a mere fallible human being who hasn't lived in this teeny-tiny corner of this 15 billion year-old universe for more than a few decades KNOW this about God? Because you FEEL it. You feel his presence, right? Well, how do you know that you're not self-manufacturing that feeling?
For example, just to take a famous case, just because Joan of Arc heard voices from Heaven doesn't really mean she was actually hearing them. She was honest and sincere, she believed they were voices, she felt them in her heart and soul, but that doesn't mean those voices were real.
I simply don't know about God, whether he exists or not, and I don't presume to think myself wise or perceptive enough to be able to make statements about such profound and incomprehensible matters."

I then asked him what I have asked many religious people, and no one has ever been able to answer it to my satisfaction. It is the age-old question asked to people who believe in a single, loving, compassionate and OMNIPOTENT God:

"If God is loving, and compassionate and omnipotent, then why does he allow so much pain, suffering and injustice in the world?"

Well, this guy answered with a very loooooooooong written reply, which was actually very cogent. I could copy and paste it here, but he hasn't given me permission to do so. LET'S JUST SAY HE HAD ANSWERS. Lots of them. He wrote with such certainty, giving me examples, telling me what God thinks, what God's perspectives are, His desires, why He intervenes at certain times and doesn't intervene at other times, why He lets the good suffer and the bad be rewarded, what His scheme is in doing so, why He lets children suffer, what God expects from us, etc. etc. etc.

My head was spinning at this guy's hubris.

Again, he is a very nice guy. From what I know about him, I like him.

But Oh, the HUBRIS!

To think that you've got God figured out!

To be so goddamned CERTAIN and self-assured!

So I wrote to him:

Man, I just looked on your profile. You are 23 years-old! At the ripe old age of 23 you've got God and his workings and perspectives all figured out, huh?
Please don't think I'm being dismissive or belittling of your opinions and your age, but really, think about it. You've been on this planet since **1985** (the year I got my driver's license) and you've already got God understood with a personal knowledge and self-assurance that would make me think that you and God hang out at Starbucks every day, discussing the great questions of eternity over a double soy vanilla latte."

(We both belong to a Facebook group called, "I Am Fluent in Sarcasm", so I knew that this sarcasm on my behalf wouldn't offend him)

I then went on to tell him what I've thought for a long time:

The ancient Greeks were religiously more logical and sophisticated.

The gods of the ancient Greeks were not totally benign and compassionate deities. They were vain, they were jealous, they took sides, they settled vendettas among themselves using human beings as pawns... they were fickle, at times irrational... as well as being loving and generous and rewarding.

In my opinion, the pagan Greeks didn't have this conundrum that Jews, Christians, Muslims and other present-day religions have. Their gods were imperfect, so they presided over an imperfect world. It made sense that they would allow, and even CAUSE, pain, suffering, catastrophe and injustice. Their gods often lacked compassion. But they were also marvelous. Just like Nature: often lacking compassion, but also marvelous.

I think that if I had lived in ancient Greece, I would not have lost my faith and become an Agnostic, because a lot of the intellectual questions that bar me from believing in the God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam would have been answered to me satisfactorily (and I wouldn't have had that pesky thing called MODERN SCIENCE to debunk all the myths).

Yes, I would have been a practicing pagan. The world is wonderful and it also sucks, because gods are wonderful, and they also suck.

Questions answered. Faith intact.

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