Friday, December 31, 2004

Theodicy 101

The tsunami disaster is rapidly approaching a point of diminishing returns in terms of our ability to comprehend it. By the time this is said and done, the dead- whether from the wave itself, or from the plagues and famine likely to follow- will be in the hundreds of thousands. September 11th, heretofore the largest scale disaster I had ever witnessed (via TV, anyway) was miniscule in comaprison. But this is unfathomable. One second, Banda Aceh was. One second later, Banda Aceh was not.

Some people blame God (at least, when it affects other people). (Curiously, some people blame Clinton.) God does not cause earthquakes, nor tsunamis, nor drunk drivers who run school buses off the road, nor the reelection of warmongering Texans. God does not participate in the daily monotony of commuting to work, nor of the sex lives of Starbucks baristas, nor of the tectonic motion of the Pacific plate. This is probably a Deistic attitude, and (despite the assertions of Red Staters) it was the prevalent theology in my country at the Founding.

My wife, who does not believe in God, frequently asks me why I do believe. Let me explain something- I was raised in The Church, meaning the Roman Catholic Church, but I realized some time ago that I didn't really belong there. I experimented with Wicca, and found many great things there. I flirted with Bhuddism- and I definitely found much in its philosophy that inspired me. But when I need church, it has to be a catholic (note small c) church, preferably the Episcopalians (who recite the Mass without any of the other horseshit I find so distasteful about Catholicism). As a catholic, I place no greater emphasis on Jesus than I do on God- that's an Evangelical thing.

More than any other Christian worship system, catholicism permits a certain amount of theological exploration. It is, at its heart, a thinking person's church (although most of the rank and file attend more out of obligation than deep conviction). The church that gave us Augustine and Aquinas surely wants an engaged congregation.

None of which explains why I believe, but the framework is necessary. God exists in pi, in Avogadro's Number, in the Golden Ratio. God exists in the Big Bang, in evolution, in poetry, in the Japanese alphabet, in the curveball, in the Lotus 7, in the First Amendment. Where some people human works, or scientific laws- I see God. I believe in God because I sense Him/Her/It everywhere I look.

I do not, however, expect God to give a rat's ass about me, or George W. Bush, or whether the Steelers win the Superbowl, or whether Banda Aceh exists or not. For one thing- God is not a person. God has no will; God neither creates nor destroys. God is- to use computer terminology- the operating system. Without the OS running in the background, the machine can do nothing. And even with the OS running, sometimes the machine will crash.

This philosophy bears no resemblance to the Catholicism of my youth, nor even of the catholicism I profess to practice (a rare occasion, it only occurs when I need a sense of the divine). It is much closer to the Buddhism or Wicca that I toyed with over the years- neither of which fits with my sense of "worship." Then again, who says that "worship" and "belief" are necessarily synonymous. There is no one true faith, as if Mormons were saved and Lutherans bound for hell (not that I believe in heaven and hell, either).

God bears no responsibility for this tragedy. The ground shifted, causing the ocean to swell. Scientifically speaking, it's not much different from the ripple left by a stone thrown in a pond, just bigger. This is little comfort to those who've lost people, or homes, or even entire cities. Let me ask you this- if God held a press conference, and announced that, yes, He caused the waves, and He was really, really sorry about it, would that be comforting to those people? I suspect not.

I once asked my wife why she did not believe, and she said, "Because I prayed for good things, and nothing happened." I replied, "What right do you have to ask God for anything in particular?" When I pray, it's little more than a short thank you for all that I have, and all that I do not have. So do not blame God, if for no other reason than it will get nothing accomplished when so much needs to be done.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

it's not quite as simple as that for me...but very nicely put.