Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Why God is Not a Sadistic, Egotistical Monster

Our good friend atheist Joe is back with a fresh attack. His latest polemic basically runs something like this: God is a sadistic, egotistical monster because: (1) He created a world that did not need to be created; (2) He created this world even though He knew it would fall into sin, causing temporal misery and then perpetual damnation for His creatures; and (3) He did all this for His own glory. In short, because God willfully caused and causes suffering for His own glory, He is a sadistic, egotistical monster.
There a few major flaws in his argument. In regards to the first point, i.e., why a reasonable (i.e., practical) God created that which did not need to be, I already presented my thoughts here. However, I would like to add a thing or two. Joe's claim that, for a "reasonable person" (which we assume God is), the only motivation for action is because of "a lack, either his own, or someone else's," is utterly false. Though as fallen humans we cannot know this fully yet, there is such a thing as a complete disinterestedness in a thing, i.e., the thing is done and/or enjoyed because of itself, and not what I or anyone else get or benefit from it. Some artists create because they need to express something; like the prophet Jeremiah, their bones burn unless they prophesy. However, other artists (even the one's whose bones sometimes burn) create merely for the enjoyment of creating, because creating is a good thing in and of itself (as well as a joy in and of itself). The artist was not thinking that he or the world needed more goodness (or joy), only that the thing itself was good to do regardless of its purpose or end. In the same manner, God created the world, not because He or anyone else needed a world, but simply because it, the creation and giving of life and existence, was a good (and enjoyable) thing to do. Read Genesis again: "God created...and God saw that it was good."
In regards to the second point, i.e., God created a world He knew people would suffer in and suffer later all for His glory, there is the erroneous (and blasphemous) assumption that suffering caused by Sin brings God glory. The ravagings of Sin may allow an occasion for God's glory to be presented (i.e., to make known His love, strength, joy, courage, wisdom, etc., to those who are ravaged), but the ravagings themselves are not to His glory. They are abominations, and grevious to Him. "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked," says the Lord (Ezekiel 33:11), and when He came in the flesh He railed against those who committed evil (Matthew 23), and wept at the presence of death (John 11:32-36). Suffering and evil neither gives God glory nor is it glorious to Him, period.
What glory, then, does God's get out of this whole mess of a world? Answer: the glory of redemption. Why did God create a world where He knew we would fall into Sin, as opposed to creating a perpetual paradise where the inhabitants (if there were any) had neither the opportunity nor even the ability to fall? The Christian answer has been that the experience of redemption is better than the experience of unfallenness. Is this the "fortunate fall" theory? Yes...sort of. The difference is that while most take the "fortunate fall" to mean that God foreknew, and therefore caused, the Fall, the truth is that God foreknew, and therefore allowed, the Fall. That difference is key: causation necessitates commendation, but allowance does not. God did not find the Fall agreeable (for lack of a better term), but He did see a way to turn its evil into good (which is what He does: Genesis 50:20 & Romans 8:28).
How do we know that
the experience of redemption is better than the experience of unfallenness? Consider this: what are angels? According to the Christian tradition, angels are unfallen beings (and therefore require no redemption) and are continually in God's visible presence (and therefore require no faith). They live the life that atheist clamor for: a life where there is no suffering and no questions, no mysteries or doubts. It is indeed idyllic. Now, consider I Peter 1:12. Peter notes how the coming of the gospel to humanity is a matter that "the angels desire to look into." Imagine that! The idyllic angels, who have tasted neither sin nor doubt, look at our world of the Fall and Redemption and actually desire to know it! Is their idyllic life of unfallenness not good enough? Apparently not. In finding ourselves in the story of redemption, we find ourselves in that which the unfallen angels do not know about and yet desire to know. Apparently, it is better to be redeemed than unfallen. God allowed the Fall so that we could taste that which angels have never known.
One last thing. Atheist Joe uses a quote from
Dostoyevsky’s book The Brother's Karamazov, where Ivan Karamazov ask the question of whether or not one would build an "edifice of destiny so that men would finally be happy and would find peace and tranquility" if it was conditioned that they must torture an innocent. Joe attempts to compare this to God creating our world while He foreknew the Fall, and his comparison is completely ridiculous. First of all, the world (or the universe for that matter) was never predicated as that which would bring men happiness, peace, and tranquility, and God never created Creation because it would do that. As stated earlier, He created it simply because it was good, and it was good to create it. Second of all, God's creating Creation was not conditioned on the Fall. The Fall does not cause Creation, nor did Creation cause the Fall. Thirdly, finally, and most importantly, given that we allow the question for a moment, the answer to the question of whether or not God would let an innocent suffer in order to bring about paradise is a most resounding, "Yes, He would." The difference (a difference that causes Christians to fall on their knees and worships Him) is that He was the innocent that suffered (on the cross) in order to bring about the paradise that is redemption. As Christ, God was (so to speak) that "little girl who beat her chest so desperately in the outhouse," the one who's "unavenged tears" caused the edifice of redemption to rise and tower above all humanity. For this, we praise and thank Him forevermore.

11 comments:

Baus said...

Jonathan, thanks for linking me on your sidebar, I'll be sure to reciprocate shortly.

Please do stop by my main blog, and check out my new profile 'about' page here:
http://ideolog.googlepages.com/

All the best in your literary aspirations, bro.

Jonathan Vowell said...

Wow. Wasn't expecting you to notice little ol' me. Thanks for the encouragement, too.

Drew said...

The problem is exactly the third part: God does NOT create for his own glory. He possesses being and life in uninhibited, immutable, unchangeable fullness in eternity. There is nothing a creature can give to God that God does not already possess, and to affirm the opposite is tantamount to asserting that the will to create is nothing more than an expression of God's love for himself and then we are back to Hegelianism or any number of other flawed understandings of God's relationship to the world. One are where (philosophical) atheism can be quite useful is in refuting concepts of God that really are incompatible with the gospel, and the Calvinistic tenet that God creates for his own glory is one of those heretical ideas that modern atheists are right to criticize. When you have time, you should check out Walter Kasper's book "The God of Jesus Christ" for a more thorough treatment of the relationship between Christianity and modern atheism. You may also want to check out David Hart's "The Doors of the Sea."

Drew

Baus said...

Drew, Revelation 4:10-11

"The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created."

I suggest that Drew read the Bible ;) ...and maybe a little John Piper on God's Self-centeredness.

Drew is confusing the inherent glory of God's immutable deity, and the revelation and recognition of God's glory in history. Reformed theology has always recognized the distinction.

Jonathan Vowell said...

Oooo...touché, Mr. Baus, touché.

Drew said...

Nope, not confusing anything here. As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, the distinction between God's immanent being and his revealed glory is at the forefront of my mind. Simply quoting Scripture does not constitute a sustained philosophical/theological argument. I am aware of those passages in the Apocalypse, along with others in the Pauline corpus. The position I am attacking is two-fold: (1) that a creature can give something to God which God does not already possess, which would imply panentheism, and (2) that God overrides the free choice of his creatures, which is morally repugnant. Anybody can bring up proof-texts, and the discussion of such passages wasn't really what I was after...

Best,
Drew

Jonathan Vowell said...

Nicely done, Drew. Very nice.

Baus said...

Drew, you stated that "God does NOT create for his own glory."

In this case, my Scripture quotation actually does constitute an argument, in as much as it is an absolute defeater (in the form of counter-example) to the claim as stated.

Nuancing the original statement, and saying that in the sense that the Bible declares God DOES create for His own glory, that you agree, --this means we are in agreement.

You clarify what you are claiming and state your opposition to both:
1) that a creature can give something to God which God does not already possess... and 2) that God overrides the free choice of his creatures

In your opposition to these points, I agree (though probably for different reasons).

Jonathan Vowell said...

Game, Set, and Match, I say! (Though, apparently, it was a tie)

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