Wednesday, November 11, 2009

At Least One of These Is Wrong

Eulogizing the soldiers killed at Fort Hood, President Obama spoke, in part, as theologian-in-chief:

It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know -- no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. For what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice -- in this world, and the next.
It's a good thing our system of government does not actually grant the theologian-in-chief role to the president or any other office, because this theological declaration is wishful thinking, and more to the point, flatly false.

Taking the claims one by one, first, the logic behind the killing is not hard to comprehend: it has been spelled out again and again, and there's nothing abstruse in it.

Second, no, we do in fact have no trouble identifying at least one well-known, much-discussed faith that justifies these and similar murderous and craven acts.

Third, since we do know of a faith that justifies these deeds, and since that faith comes bundled with a god whose devotees zealously characterize as just and loving, it follows that a just and loving god looks upon these deeds with favor. Such a god and such devotees are ispo facto disgusting, despicable lunatics, but characterizing them so does not make them go away.

Fourth, we know nothing of what will happen to the murderer after death, and certainly nothing of whether it will be just or unjust. The available evidence indicates he will moulder away as his immune system, now as dead as the rest of his body, no longer opposes the forces of natural decay. Soon enough his body will be converted to food energy of other organisms; or perhaps his chemical constituents will be scattered by fire, erosion, corrosion, or some of all of these. Beyond that we know nothing.

The faith that the president finds so elusive, and the theology whose logic he professes to be so incomprehensible, is presented clearly in this video -- and while I don't speak the language, it's obvious that the speakers are confident of their theological declarations, at least as confident as the president was of his:

Disputes of this kind can never be settled by the confidence, sincerity, or brashness of the speakers. So long as opposed declarations are adjudicated by apparent sincerity, or by the number of supporting citations of ancient books (filled with still more wild claims), or by the number of believers, or by any of the assorted forms of wishful thinking, humankind will stumble along shouting baseless assertions at itself.

By contrast, those who want to say something definite, credible, and enduring should ground their claims in publicly available evidence. On that basis, all theology is bunk.

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