Saturday, February 20, 2010

That God Stinks

Inasmuch as a nonexistent entity can stink, god achieves this -- see, he really is capable of the most improbable of things!

Ahem. My point of departure is this remark from Ophelia Benson:

I share the feeling, or intuition, that in some sense we would be worse off if sympathy just didn't exist. What, even if suffering didn't exist either? Yes, sort of. But the thing about that is, we are what we are, and what we are is an animal that is never immune from suffering, and that (obviously) shapes how we think about these things. So we're trapped in this circle.

Anyway I don't think sympathy is worth the worst kinds of suffering, which are all too common. And I don't think we should make friends with whatever it is that makes suffering inevitable. Natural selection stinks. If you think God did it, you should think God stinks. We shouldn't let God get away with the 'suffering is necessary for compassion therefore it's a good thing' excuse. We can have doubts about life with no sympathy at all, and still think God stinks.
A hackneyed anti-atheism debating point claims that "god stinks" amounts to a simple-minded rejection of authority, a juvenile anger at god reshaped as a rejection of his existence.

To which I think the best response is that it happens to be true to say "god stinks," since it's a manner of expressing that the world is hostile to everyday human druthers. We don't want to get cancer, but we do. We don't want to watch our children die, but we sometimes must. We don't want to be cornered by a raping priest or a rapacious thief, but we sometimes find ourselves in that circumstance. We don't want to become paralyzed, or frightened, or heartbroken, or confused, or outmatched, or bereft of options, but it happens, even to the most virtuous and well-meaning. We have to endure the families, communities, societies, and frailties into which we were born. We are subject to all manner of privations, pains, and stresses, and we confirm this even in the annals of the most privileged and fortunate who have ever lived. These and a million other depressingly familiar burdens are constants of the world as we experience it.

Ophelia Benson's key insight is in the conjunction of "natural selection stinks" and "god stinks," which come to the same thing for anyone interested in truth: namely, reality stinks. Reality is not arranged for our convenience, happiness, or comfort if it is "arranged" at all. This is manifestly so no matter the theory drawn to explain it.

The world is harsh and merciless, and any euphemising gloss of that -- nature is benign, god is loving -- is not just a denial of reality but an insult to our power to perceive reality. The non-juvenile, mature, serious option is to accept reality and to dismiss stories in which "they lived happily ever after" by any means other than blind chance or our dedicated striving.


Reuben said...

To the well-identified varieties of the stench of general affairs I would like to add another perspective, because I have time to blow. To wit, lasting pleasure or happiness or good vibes are very complicated things that require the alignment of a great many variables; as such they are very hard to come by. Even the delicious muffin I just ate is the result of an enormous convergence of particular facts - good organs, a developed mind, a healthy appetite, economic resources to have bought ingredients, the existence of industry producing said ingredients, availability of information on muffin production, etc. Whereas pain or suffering is had in infinite variety at any moment by any simple means. I can punch a wall, jump down stairs, bite my tongue, scratch my eyes, sit still for hours on end, turn the steering wheel slightly left, all with little effort, not to mention the horrible circumstances that may befall me through no effort of my own.

If someone should happen to defend this asymmetry as being good or right on the grounds that the complexity and difficulty in achieving, say, sweet confectionery is what makes the achievement worthwhile, I would like to know why the person(s) in charge of operations could not cut out the middleman.

Proud FA said...

I suspect that in the great battle for heaven Lucifer won and he is now posing as God. It's either that or God was always evil.

Dale said...

Proud FA, that makes more sense than the conventional version. I'm not saying it hangs together perfectly, but it's not as glaringly, insultingly wrong-footed as "god is all knowing and all loving so don't worry if everyone around you is dying from the plague / raping hordes / holocaust / malaria / cancer because it's all part of his wonderful, wonderful plan."

El said...

Only an evil God would create evil.

Bally Balldez said...

God, if it exists is a cruel and evil tryrant with an insatiable ego.