August 05, 2014

Dear Christians: I don't think Satan is a good explanation for Evil in the world

Dear Christians is a recurring column that deals with my intersection between belief and nonbelief. It looks at my personal views of belief and deals with the myths of nonbelief that I was taught growing up. All opinions are, of course, my own. To see more Dear Christians columns, click here.

Dear Christians,

When I was young, I asked a question that's probably familiar to most of us: If there's a good God, who watches out for us, why do bad things happen? Why is their evil in the world?

And I received the patent answer: Satan. The Fall. Original sin.

For years, this idea confounded me. You see, I simply don't accept these--can't accept them, no matter how hard I have tried--as good explanations for why bad things happen.

Let me explain.

In the beginning, there was God. Am I getting this right? I assume that I am.

And then, God created angels. And one angel rose up and tried to exalt his throne above God in the heavens, and that angel and his followers were cast out. That angel was Lucifer, Satan.

But this brings me to my very first question: Do angels  have free will? If angels don't have free will, how was Lucifer able to rebel? How was he able to bring other angels with him?

The answer I was given is kind of. Angels have a free will, but they never choose to sin, except in the case of Lucifer. They can sin, but they never will. Some said there was a probationary period, where angels could choose to sin, and some did, but now that period is over and none of them can sin, except the fallen ones that already did.

But...doesn't this kind of mean that angels are superior to humans? Why even create humans then?

The obviously contradictory explanation was that humans had to be created because God was lonely. But didn't he have angels? Angels that would never sin against him?

This is but one problem, however.

If God created angels before humans, and God is omniscient and knows all that has ever been, currently is, and ever will be, why create humans? He already knew that we would fall. He knew that souls would be sentenced to damnation. Why create so much suffering to begin with?

Furthermore, if he had a preference for humans, why create angels? Why create Lucifer, knowing Lucifer would sin and fall? Why create Lucifer, knowing that some would follow him and be sentenced to damnation?

If I could look down the road, and see that my child would become a terrible person, a murderer, a rapist, what-have-you, I would probably take steps to never have a child.

If God's actions aren't predestined, if he can choose to do whatever he likes, why would he allow such things to happen, with complete foreknowledge of what was coming? He had a choice, and he made that choice. Following this cosmology, he made the choice to allow suffering to enter the world.

And it doesn't really stop there. Pro-life supporters argue that life beings at conception. We were is already actualized, and many of them say that God cares, at that moment. And yet, if God can see who we are to become, why let Jeffrey Dahmer be conceived? Why not prevent that? Simply so that he would have the free will to choose? If God is truly all-knowing, he already knew what Dahmer would choose. He knew that 17 people would lose their lives. He knew what Adolf Hitler would choose, what Stalin would choose. He knew, and yet he allowed these people to be born. If conception is always--ALWAYS--the work of God, how does one account for these atrocities?

But I digress. Let's veer back to talk about original sin really briefly. Eve was tricked by the serpent. Of course, we now assume that the serpent was Satan, and yet that is not what the text says. It says only:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
But again, I digress.

My point is this: Why create the serpent? If you knew it was going to create the Fall, why even create it?

For that matter, why create humans? You know that billions of them are going to die in sin and be tortured for eternity, why create them? Why even take that chance? Because you were lonely? That seems like a selfish reason to sentence billions to eternal damnation.

And yet, there will be those that read that last thought and go, "But he gave them such a simple way to be fixed. They only have to believe." But considering it's a solution to a problem he created himself, I'd say that's a far cry from selfless. I recently read an essay by Dan Barker. Here's a great quote, emphasis mine:
At the 2005 World Religions Conference, I was asked to represent atheism, sitting on the stage with a Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Sikh, Hindu, and Native American Specialist. (I accepted the invitation only after making it clear that atheism is not a religion, and they agreed to included it as a "world philosophy.") The theme of the conference was "salvation," and each of us was asked to summarize our respective positions on that topic. After pointing out that "sin" is a religious concept, hence "salvation" is merely a religious solution to a religious problem--would we respect a doctor who ran around cutting people with a knife in order to sell them a bandage?--I ended with these words: "If salvation is the cure, then atheism is the prevention." Many in the audience laughed, some who should not have been laughing. They got the point: Much of religious education is an endeavor to solve a non-problem. It is a confusing waste of time.
 The concept of negative forces makes much more sense in my current worldview: no, no one has my back out there in the great blue yonder, but they also aren't stabbing me in it, so there's that. Instead, "evil" is an interplay of genetics and environment, something to be dealt with when it comes up but that isn't overly complicated or mind-blowing. No, the world will never be free of it, not until we someday fade into the sun, but I am somehow okay with that. It makes sense. For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction.

The world will never be perfect because people are not perfect, and that's okay.

I don't need God to tell me that.

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