Monday, July 29, 2013

Well That's One Solution for Theodicy

"I am the flail of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you."

-Pagan Genghis Khan, to the many faithful he slaughtered

Theodicy is a problem that arises for people who think that God is all good, all powerful, and yet still recognize that evil exists. I very much doubt that the Muslims and Christians pulverized before the Mongol armies would have found Khan's smirking explanation acceptable, that this infidel foreign devil was actually the hand of Allah/Yahweh/etc. - yet, if these poor confused peasants thought they lived in a morally orderly universe ruled by their gods, they kind of had to. Or worse yet, a third option, that at best their god was weak or not that nice, or maybe even that it was all B.S. and they were just between a rock and a hard place. What to do!

This tasty quote is reminiscent of Jerry Fallwell's saying that the 9/11 terrorists were a punishment sent by God. Again, if you don't think Falwell was spouting offensive nonsense, then you do think that Mohammed Atta was the Lord's avenging angel, and to try to stop Atta would have been to obstruct the Lord's work. I don't know any Hindus or Christians who think that. And yet the lack of outcry about Fallwell's comment at the time from Christians who I personally knew to be decent, intelligent people was astonishing. Does nobody actually think about their moral values for more than two seconds?

According to Jerry Falwell, this man was just doing God's work.

But it turns out you can use this same logic on Hindus too. In fact it works even better there, because Hinduism claims that the law of karma is a natural law of moral balance. Here's how it works. Every time you're in a bad mood, you can get out your frustration by going for a walk and finding someone to hit in the face for no apparent reason. And to the poor person nursing the black eye and wondering why you picked them, you can say that while there was no apparent reason, there must still in fact have been a hidden reason, and this is made possible by the Law of Karma - they must have done something to deserve it! Something conveniently hidden in a past life that they can't remember, of course. (Whereas Christianity sometimes puts the hidden guilt in the actions of ancestors rather than previous incarnations, i.e. original sin.)

Hey man, don't complain to me. I didn't make up the universe's moral rules, I just work here. Now hit this sword with your neck and let's not be a whiny Wesley about it.

This is a neat trick - that is, if it doesn't matter to you that you're destroying people's sense of personal moral responsibility in the process. For people who insist on believing that they live in a universe that keeps a moral bank ledger, but meanwhile they actually live in a universe that doesn't care, when things don't add up, they can just print more moral play money for themselves (or take some away) until the numbers look how they need them to look so they can to keep believing. Imagine if banking worked this way! "Yes, I know that the statements say I still owe money on my mortgage. But in a past life I must have been a millionaire. Plus your great grandfather beat up my great grandfather once. So we're even." I'm not exaggerating. This is the Law of Karma, AND Original Sin. As always, if you read this and you think it's wrong, let's discuss in the comments.

See how nice this is for anyone that wants to avoid personal responsibility? By hitting people (or whatever) you are merely the instrument of karma. You might not know why you're the one doing the gods' work any more than the victim remembers their past lives. And, dear reader, who are you to question the workings of the universe and other people's gods? If you had not hit those people, karma would have remained unbalanced! It would have been immoral for you NOT to hit them. Or for Khan not to flail Christians and Muslims; or the hijackers not to do what they did; or anybody who ever did anything bad not to deliver god's retribution. See?

Fortunately, most people's innate moral sense isn't confused enough by these religious moral accounting frauds to distort their sense of responsibility for their actions that much. But I challenge anyone who believes that original sin or karma (especially karma) are real to explain otherwise. This is exactly what they claim to believe, and it's either childishly inconsistent, or grossly distorting to personal responsibility.

Full credit is given to my friend John (a devout Christian) for noticing this disconnect.

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