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Angry at God?

Two weeks ago I wrote the final, in what amounted to be three, post regarding a wikihow article on how to convert an Atheist into Christianity. It was, at times, good but mostly it was just the run of the mill type of argument that I’ve seen time and time again. What did separate it from the others, was the advice that one not assume the stereotypes of atheists are true. For example, that the Christian not assume that the atheism stems from some kind of personal tragedy and that the person really believes but is angry at god. As “Josh” in God’s Not Dead angrily yells at Professor Hercules, “Why do you hate God!?”

I’m not entirely sure why this stereotype exists. I wonder if it’s because it’s the only way that believers can internally reconcile the problem of evil. If a baby is born with spina bifida and dies having lived a life that is nasty, brutish and short it’s no one’s fault. At least it’s no one person’s fault. So, it’s nature. Right? If you have a God that is in charge of nature, then it’s at the end of it, its fault. This is the problem of evil. We can ignore problems of mass murderers because the answer to that, unless you’re a Calvinist, is free will. Natural evil, the death of the many thousands because of the Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 also falls into the sphere of what we are talking about. Evil, tragedy, that is no person’s fault other than the fault of the person being in the right place at the wrong time. In the case of the baby, it’s the fault of merely existing.

The problem of evil thus stated, is whether one should be faithful/dutiful/worshipful to god that allows such tragedy. Wrongly attributed to the philosopher Epicurus the usual text of the problem is that if an all good, all powerful, all knowing god allows evil in the world we have a contradiction. Good enough to have the desire, powerful enough to stop it, and knowing enough to be aware; how can this being exist?

There are many different answers to it. However, one is, to just deny such a being exists thus escaping the contradiction. If you deny one half of the argument the other half no longer applies. This is the “shit happens, what are you going to do?” approach to the problem of evil. In fact, it can no longer be rightly called the “problem of evil” since without the divine being, there’s no problem. However if you do believe in a divine power, are not a deist (those that believe, like the Epicureans, the gods are have no interest in the world or its creatures), and think that the divine being pays special attention to the inhabits of our world you have a problem. There are several attempts to answer this philosophical problem: I’m not going to get into them now, each of the solutions (the more thought out and formulated ones that is) probably deserve a post to themselves.

I’m more interested in the stereotype of atheists. Because I believe that this problem is the origin of the stereotype. I’m basing this on assumption, and will probably have to really hit hard the research in order to come to a semi-definitive understanding. I imagine that the real truth might be elusive.

My thinking on this is that it’s easier to claim that an atheist isn’t a person who doubts the existence of a divine being. Rather, it must be denial because of anger. This misses the point of the problem of evil but in a mindset that refuses to understand the rejection of a religious devotion to a deity, it makes it seem at least plausible.

Moreso, I stated earlier that the problem of evil was wrongly attributed to Epicurus. What’s interesting is that the formulation was originally given by a Christian writer named Lactantius in his work “De Ira Dei” or “On the Wrath of God.” The book is mostly a gloating about how the enemies of Christianity will suffer because the Emperor of Rome had recently converted to Christianity. Parts of the book are polemics against the two dominant philosophical schools that Rome had imported from Greece (as Rome never came up with its own school): Stoicism and the aforementioned Epicurean school.

In the existing writings we have of Epicurus, and his followers, he is affirmly theistic. He believes that gods must exist (even the great Cicero, who hated the Epicurean school, admits this) but, again, they have no involvement or interest in the world. Lactantius agrees with this but then summarizes the problem of evil, using it to claim that the because the Epicureans believe that such an involved god who cares about people does not exist therefore the Epicreans must be atheists. I’m obviously summarizing the point, and for my argument I need to a do a little work in linking the two premises, but nevertheless atheism became identified with Epicureanism. I should note his attack on the other school, Stoicism, resorted to attacks on their hard determinism and view of nature. In Lactantius’ mindset it’s not that the Epicureans were disbelievers, it’s that they had an insufficient faith that didn’t allow them to accept human tragedy and the Christian god at the same time. So in order to discredit them, he just slaps the label of “atheism” on it in order to discredit the entire school and call it a day.

It’s a stereotype that needs to go away, because it’s just resoundly untrue. I imagine that it might the case for a few, anything is possible, but the vasy majority of atheists that I know and the more famous of them (Penn Jillette, Christopher Hitchens, etc.) also have not had the “angry at god” motive. Also it’s self-defeating, and itself a contradiction. I cannot be mad at a person that does not exist. I deny the existence of god so I can’t be mad at it/him/her. That wouldn’t make sense. I can be angry at it like I can be angry at Saruman, but that’s the extent of it.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. oco
    June 4, 2017 at 5:41 am

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