February 01, 2016

Bricks in the Wall: Natural disasters and other praises

A carbon monoxide leak affected 200 people at Marshall Middle School in Beaumont, Texas, last Thursday, requiring either on site treatment or even transportation to a hospital.

Brandon Basinger, the principle of the school, posted a public Facebook note about the event, saying:

Everyone believes in something.. be it luck, coincidence, God, or some other higher power. So call it what you will. Me, I believe God was at work yesterday and sheltered all of us; making sure all of the right pieces were in place at just the right time.

Now, this was on his private Facebook page, so as The Friendly Atheist points out, totally, perfectly legal.

But it reminds me of this headline from my state this past week:

Coroner: South Carolina Couple Dies of Carbon Monoxide

The 87-year-old man and his 86-year-old wife lost power during last weekend's terrible snowstorm. A relative set up a generator in the garage, so that they would have heat, and left the garage door propped open to ventilate it. Something slipped, the door closed, and the home filled up with carbon monoxide fumes. They were dead before anyone checked on them again.

These types of situations left me, when I was a Christian, with a deep sense of discomfort, because here's the rub, here's what it boils down to:

Why were those lives in Texas more important than the lives of this couple?

Because that's the only explanation I can come up with. If 200 lives could be saved in Texas from the same kind of threat, why could two not be saved in South Carolina? It couldn't possibly have taken more effort, could it?

I had a similar thought when I read this:

We actually went outside and started commanding the winds because God had given us authority over the winds — the airways. And we just began to command this storm not to hit our area. We — we spoke to the storm and said, go to unpopulated places. It did exactly what we said to do because God gave us the authority to do that.

Sabrina Lowe said that. The tornado in question may have left Lowe's home intact, but it went on to kill eleven other people. Eleven other human beings died. Is she really taking credit for that?

It reminded me of a time when I was young, and we had a terrible thunder storm. A mile or so from our house, a tornado touched down. We heard a BOOM. It ripped through a trailer park, killing one man. Alarms were going off, sirens. My father--a volunteer firefighter--was summoned by the violent screaming of his pager.

And as it all ended, as my father tore out of the driveway, but the thunder and lightning died down and my mother tucked us into her bed, I found myself muttering a prayer, "Thank you, Lord, Thank you for saving our home, for saving us."

In the morning, the storm cleared to beautiful sunny skies and the knowledge of one fatality, and I couldn't help but wonder--why? Why could God protect our family but not this man?

Tragic deaths are a dual-edged sword for theism to explain. On the one hand, there's a benevolent deity who is just and righteous and who takes an active role in our everyday lives. On the other, there's the overwhelming frailty of human existence, the million-and-one ways that we can die in any given day. And always that question: Why?

It's difficult to reconcile, and for me, it finally came down to bluntly confronting it with none other than the razor once wielded so fiercely by William of Ockham.

Because what's easier to believe, that God (at least the God I was raised to believe in) allowed all of this bad to happen or that there is no deity out there at all?

For me, the answer was simple: there is no deity out there at all.

I know that others have come to different conclusions, but I've yet to meet an explanation that satisfies Occam's Razor quite as well. No god satisfies all of the conditions easily, without me having to contort to fit it all in. Instead of this being an unfathomable dilemma it's easily reconciled. It's random chance. That's why some people live and others don't.

The idea that God could weigh in on some cases, and not on other cases--especially ones that are so very similar--was a strong argument against the nature of God that I was raised with, and the traditional response that I received were never particularly strong. There was always a plan, or mysterious ways, or things that I couldn't understand. A few people suggested that my human mind just couldn't understand. Even fewer suggested that just asking the question was a sign that my faith was shaky.

In the end, though, the simplest explanation wins for me, and this became yet another brick in my wall.

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