NOTE: All posts on this RANDOM AXE of KINDNESS blog will be earnest dialogues -- and some salty dialectics -- between parties with traditionally intractable disagreements who seek gracious ways to carve out common ground. Though dedicated to rapprochement, these antagonists will allow no dissembling nor manipulative spin-jobs. Thus, the "Axe" of candor may fall when one party needs to call B.S. on a logical fallacy or a fictional assertion. There is a surfeit of strife and rancor sloshing back and forth in daily tides across the intellectual landscape of the Free World -- Muslims hating Jews, Jews returning the favor, rednecks baiting black folks, Christians heaping judgmental coals on agnostics, gays and lesbians screaming back at bigots, and bigots doing what they do best -- rolling in their own effluvia like swine in a State Fair sty. It's all exhausting and dispiriting to most folks. Therefore, in search of healing and even a little enlightenment, this forum will explore new ways to find peace and cooperation in a world consumed by ideological bickering. Intransigent blockheads, partisan obstructionists, synaptically challenged fundamentalists and resolute haters will be encouraged to head on down the road. Life is so short. Sorry. No time for you guys...
© Copyright 2015-2020 John Hessburg & The DICTION AERIE.™ All rights reserved.
In today's episode, an American Christian man ("Sig"), who's a news magazine publisher and one of the New Liberal Evangelicals, debates an Atheist Italian woman, who's a pediatrician ("Beretta"). Their topic today is this -- does urban child abuse conclusively prove there is no God? Both characters are figurative folks, composites...
Setting the stage... Sig walks into Beretta's office in a Midwestern clinic during lunch break and he notices a poster on her wall that states in bold crimson letters -- "If the sincere prayers of a little child, begging God for protection from a sexual predator, cannot save her from repeated abuse by an ordained "Man of God," then what does that say about God?"
SIG: Holy mother of pearl... Your poster ticks me off, Beretta. Faulty logic, dear friend -- a classic "post hoc ergo propter hoc" error. This abuse says absolutely nothing about God, but plenty about men -- church men (pastors, bishops and cardinals) -- who looked the other way, like cringing cowards, to preserve their comfy status quo. This sickening abuse cannot be laid on God's cosmic doorstep, any more than global warming, Ebola or burning pilots alive. Nearly all theologians of all faiths agree that the God of this universe leaves this planet completely in the domain of human free will plus randomly-ordered Nature, which interact –- you guessed it -- randomly. These are existential imperatives bound together by the inscrutable fabric of the Time-Space Continuum. Our churches, our nations, get the leaders we deserve. Our planet gets the temps and torrents it deserves. No joy in reporting these hard facts. Even Darwin would sigh in sad agreement.
BERETTA: But I disagree, baby doll. If God is all-knowing and all-loving, why does s/he allow this to happen? What possible sins has a child committed that would warrant this? And, if god knows everything that we will ever do in our lifetime, then how do we have free will? As an atheist I see no evidence for a god. And then the question becomes which god since there are thousands. If god's plan is to sit back and watch people commit horrendous atrocities against one another, especially the innocent, then that god is demonstrating some classic signs of psychopathy.
SIG: Oh boy, I can see this discussion might take us past our lunch hour.
BERETTA: And I don't know about you, but ... "we get the leaders we deserve," you say? Look here Sig, speak for yourself, amigo. Because I, for one, do not deserve leaders who allow such depraved garbage to go on. Most people don't deserve it. The whole "born-a-sinner" line is such a load of happy bull crap.
SIG: Great to disagree in a manner not disagreeable, which we both have done. So far. God bless the 1st Amendment for that. (Smiling yet?) This is not an ad hominum rationale, Biretta. Not talkin' about you... The term "deserve" is used in a classic theological sense, for western culture at large -- not specific individuals. One widely-held theory posits that every society, due to the moral weaknesses and/or virtues of its majority culture (the one in power) gets precisely the leaders who tickle the ears of most of the people, most of the time. Ergo, any culpability lies with those folks who enable weaklings to gain high office, where they can make weak-willed decisions that place vulnerable people in harm's way. Thus, though assigning moral blame does little to heal long-held wounds, it gives some intellectual satisfaction to those so inclined to clutch it. While anybody, anytime, can assign blame -- blame is cheap and plentiful. Goodwill is rare and dear. So theologians of all faiths agree that the only folks who should suck it up -- raw -- are those who commit the error Edmund Burke warned us about.... "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing."
BERETTA: The problem with that is the assumption that once elected the official will keep his/her promise to the public, which we see time and again they do not. So, who is to blame if a person was elected based on one set of promises and then changes after election? Certainly not the public. And it isn't the majority that I am referencing with the above post, it is the individual because that is who is suffering. A child molested has nothing to do with the majority, but everything to do with the person who molested the child. Again, if god is all-loving and all-powerful why doesn't it intercede on behalf of its innocent creations? What possible motive is there for allowing such suffering and trauma?
SIG: That is why since the days of Hammurabi, then Moses, then the Magna Carta -- we have laws. And Beretta, in nearly all cultures most of the people, most of the time, do follow those laws; while most public officials, most of the time, enforce them reasonably well. Otherwise we'd be living in a totally dystopian Mad Max asylm. Granted, most of this bloody globe is hurtling in that direction, but we're not there yet. So that means there's still hope. And hope is the fuel of the engines of will, run by the hearts and minds of those who care, and who then get off their duffs to do something worthy.
BERETTA: Also, your faith-based opinion assumes that the general public has any real power to change things -- which we have seen many times it doesn't -- because (especially in the USA) our officials are bought off by the über rich and corporations.
SIG: Way too broad a generalization. Careful not to cop out. Not much strength of will in this kind of reasoing, Beretta. Whoever promised us a bed of posies in this life?
BERETTA: So, who is to blame if a candidate gets elected based on one set of promises and then changes after election? Not the public. And it isn't the majority that I am referencing with the above post, it is the individual because that is who is suffering.
SIG: It doesn't matter a bumblebee's belch who's to blame. Irrelevant. Like fretting over the nightfall -- who's to blame for that? Or a baby boy whining when he drops his lolly on the beach -- "Oh dear God, please wipe away all that sand -- now!" What matters is the HERE and NOW. We see something wrong, we do like Shakespeare said, "Take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them." Best thing we can all do is get our cans off the couch, go out during campaigns and meet those running for office, button-hole them, ask them polite-but-firm questions about these critical child-safety issues, and do not let them weasel out or issue mealy-mouthed, morally squishy answers. If they are dolts, or worse -- ethical cowards -- then we toss them aside and vote in good men and women with the guts to fight for the sanctity and security of childhood. I personally have interviewed dozens of public officials over the last 30 years I've been voting. Have met and shaken hands with a number of presidential candidates and a couple U.S. presidents too, plus countless municipal and church leaders. It feels good to look 'em in the eye, drill the question politely though firmly, then give 'em a fair chance to speak -- but never let 'em wriggle off the rhetorical hook if they pull a fast one.
BERETTA: I think you are a dreamer, dude.
SIG: "You may say I'm a dreamer... but I'm not the only one..." When offenders are caught, they need to be punished vigorously and forever constrained from harming another child again. But do we stand there chanting, "Oh Lord, woncha buy folks a Mercedes Benz; then a prison for pedophiles, we must make amends..." NO! We use tax money to build prisons, rehab people if possible, or lock their sorry souls away for keeps. We do not whine after the Lord to do the work. Nor do we blame Him for the evil that led to the need for that work... Obviously, all our hearts get caught up in a question this searing. Nearly anybody with a pulse loves children and would die to protect their own.... Excellent question, Beretta, and one of the most elusive answers in the 4,000 years of written Eastern and Western philosophies alike -- waaaay too profound a mystery to be solved right here and now. But I can tell you one thing, esteemed sister, that the answer has to do with free will and humankind's collective decision to -- in a free society -- place reasonable restraints on unreasonable people. God allows all of that to happen as it will, free of a puppeteer's master hand. We are not floppy marionettes, dangling from deified strings. We are free men and women, living and working together. And as such, we carry deep moral responsibilities as parents, as voters, as leaders, and as thoughtfully led -- to care for those unable to fully care for themselves.
BERETTA: I do not disagree with what you say, what I disagree with are people who say that evil things are god's will/plan. I have a close girlfriend, a pathologist who performed an autopsy on a baby who was shaken to death by a drunken boyfriend, and someone had the audacity to say it was god's plan. WTF?! If one believes in a god answering their prayer for a new dress/car/etc., then how can they explain a very serious prayer, like ending their abuse or torture, not being answered? Prayer is a placebo, it does NOTHING because there is, most likely, no god. Now, as an atheist I see it as humanity's responsibility to help each other out. Alas, we are having a hard time doing so because of the division that religion invariably creates in this world.
SIG: We do not need to trouble ourselves over the babbling of fools. Why waste even a moment reflecting on absurdity? That's like rolling in baby powder. Folks who speak like that are careless in their word choice. Few, except confirmed idiots, believe that God actually orchestrates the great Symphony of All Good vs. All Evil, and therefore is sole proprietor of evil actions and events. If they were to sit and think, as I have for many years on these themes, they'd likely rephrase that to be "God allows things to happen and most often, does not intervene. Ergo, God seems to be far more interested in how we respond to stresses, loss, calamities and sadness -- what character, courage and moral fiber we show, and whether we sincerely seek the power of grace to live life more selflessly -- rather than waiting to instantly grant the knee-jerk wishes of all the so-called faithful who whine for a Mercedes Benz, a color TV or a night on the town.
BERETTA: The whole god-loves-us thing is absurd! And oh how he loves the little children, right -- "cuz the Bible tells me so." Geez what a laugh. And I have played the game of meeting politicians, asking questions, demanding responsibility from them; it got me absolutely nowhere. I have yet to meet a politician who genuinely gave a damn about anybody but himself.
SIG: If you gave them a chance to sort logic from dizzying grief, perhaps they would refine their diction. If not, then just label the event lightly in your mind, wish them well and move on. Why fret over it? If you are so incensed, perhaps as the Bard says "Methinks thou dost protest too much." Maybe these questions go much deeper into unresolved areas of your own heart. Perhaps, working as intimately as you do daily with human life -- fingers on the aortas and thumbs on the bones -- there are serious questions you are still sorting out. That is a good thing. May God give you the time, health, wisdom and good humor to sort through all of them. Anyway, what is God's plan, friend, is to closely watch how we play the cards we're dealt, and whether we feel we can do it all alone.
BERETTA: If one believes in a god answering their prayers then how can they explain a very serious prayer, like ending their abuse or torture, not being answered. Prayer is a placebo, it does NOTHING because there is, most likely, no god.
SIG: Good, you are a thoughtful woman of science, remaining open to new proof, new possibilities, new revelations.... You used the word "likely." I bless you for your objectivity. Sincerely. Clearly, for you, all the evidence is not in yet... For me, prayer is simple -- just chatting with my Creator, sharing thoughts, kind of an easy conversation. And yes, he does reply, but not in ways I can readily detail in this conversation. They are wonderful ways, but almost ineffable. Just think of it in Star Trek terms, like a sub-space telecomm link, only sacred. Like a feeling/thought that just filters into your heart, envelopes you until you cannot ignore it.
BERETTA: Now, before you keep dodging my train of logic... Let's get back to it, Sig. OK, as an atheist I see it as humanity's responsibility to help each other out. Pure and simple.
SIG: Yes, we all do have a serious responsibility to look after one another. I agree -- big time. But I am not an atheist. I'm a believer and caring for others is the core precept of my faith -- to love -- without fear, without favor, with no strings attached, no expectations. When I was a young boy I once asked my Dad, "Why do you say you love Mom? What does that mean?" He replied with a warm smile, "Because I prefer Mom's well-being before my own. And every day I feel happy figuring out new ways to show her that. I like to see her smile." I've never forgotten that moment. Never will. That is the quintessence of my faith, Biretta; and that of most Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists the world around. Just that -- simple uncluttered selfless love. Here's a cool example: John the Apostle, for 3+ years the best buddy of Jesus as he walked this troubled earth, the dude who rested his head on Jesus' shoulder at the last supper, once wrote this... "God IS love. He (she) who lives in love, lives in God and God in him.... There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us." Pure and simple, as you say. Whoosh...
BERETTA: Crapola, not again; we are having a hard time doing so because of the tension and anxiety that religion creates in this world. The whole damn faith thing is so cock-eyed absurd!
SIG: Careful now, don't spoil your good clean objectivity, already evinced here... What's absurd is to blame religion for all division in the world. That's potentially ludicrous, like blaming human genitals for rape, or rifles for civil wars, or voting booths for moron politicians. Serves no logical purpose to blame a tool for the misuses it's put to by misguided tool-users. Love is the breath of God, religion the breath of people. Religion is a man-made construct, man's way of struggling to codify the eternal verities of love in a hostile world. If you still find it helpful to blame, then blame the user of the tool for malfeasant will, for existential selfishness and pride (that is my definition of sin!) How can we ever profit from blaming the tool, a lifeless mindless THING until activated by human will?
BERETTA: And I have played the game of meeting politicians, asking questions, demanding responsibility from them; it got me absolutely nowhere. I have yet to meet a politician who genuinely cared a bit about anything beyond his own re-election and his public image, carefully groomed by some spin doctor.
SIG: You have not played the game long enough then, nor hard enough. That's bordering on a cop-out. Live longer, try harder, keep at 'er, friend. As a reporter for major metro dailies for more than a decade, I sure did meet a few duds, but there were many wonderful public servants whose passion to help, and compassion for those in need was vibrant, vivid, vital and vigorous. And they made a difference. And you can too.
Keep your mind and heart open, as the only way I think you will ever know God is via a personal friendship, not by being preached to, nor by "book larnin' " ;) I am going to pray every day, from now on, that in his own way, and your own time, somehow he inspires you to press deeper for that personal relationship. NOBODY can lay God on you like a sticky layer of duct tape.
You may find him at a moment, and in a place, when you least expect it. Like stumbling onto a treasure on some remote tropical island. Or like falling in love with a stranger at your workplace. Bam... it happens all of a sudden, and believe me it is beyond warmth, beyond wonder, beyond words.
Speaking of "beyond words," I am hungry as a horse now and I'm heading home for supper -- home to the folks I love -- so guess what: you get the last word, Beretta.
BERETTA: Take care, my friend. Yes, I do mean friend... Best wishes for a happy healthy weekend. Thank you, sincerely, for your respectful and well-stated opinions; you have an alert and lively mind. And I enjoy your good company, even when you drive me bonkers with your right-wing rants.
© Copyright John Hessburg & The DICTION AERIE.™ All rights reserved.
RANDOM AXE of KINDNESS
Reaching for Real Rapprochement
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