Friday, May 23, 2008

Bad Things - vs - Good People

If you're a religious person, the most difficult question for you to reconcile with your beliefs is this one: why do bad things happen to good people?

It's a legitimate question with no good answer. Why did some 175 schools collapse in China's devastating earthquake, killing hundreds of children - many of them only children, thanks to China's one-child policy? Between Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong, tens of millions of people were murdered in the first half of the 20th century...why would the loving God of Christian belief allow such a thing? Tens of thousands of people were killed outright or later died of disease or starvation when typhoon Nargis ripped through Burma...were they all evil people, deserving of a biblical (or Koranic) fate?

Peter Singer looks at this question in an interesting and thought-provoking article you can find on the Project Syndicate website (accessible through my recommended link list at the left). Take a minute to read the article, because Mr Singer does a much better job than I could of looking at this devastating philosophical/religious question...I'll wait.

Now that you've read the article, ask yourself how this question might apply to the presidential campaign.

Barack Obama has suffered political embarrassment (if not personal revulsion) at the racist rantings of his longtime pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. John McCain has just gone through the similar task of rejecting the intemperate, if not outright bizarre, pronouncements of Reverend John Hagee. And you can always count on calm, rational and dignified commentary from that paragon of evenhanded compassion and racial reconciliation, Reverend Al Sharpton.

You sometimes have to wonder just what the qualifications are to earn the title "reverend" in front of your name, and what makes some people worthy of "reverence."

But back to the original question: why do bad things happen to good people? Every religion has some convoluted explanation for this, usually boiling down to some variation on the basic riff that people are inherently bad, and God's punishing them. Perhaps so. I personally have a problem with that. But the bottom line is that bad things will always happen to good people, whether God has decided to do it, or just lets it happen out of indifference.

My parents were fond of saying, "God helps those who help themselves." We can sit back and helplessly accept everything that God and nature throw at us with an Islamic shrug of inshallah ("if God wills it"), or we can make things happen. We can shake our heads at the ludicrous quasi-religious pronouncements of the Wrights and Hagees and Khomeinis of the world, or we can reject them and work together as human beings, regardless of religious beliefs and traditions, to solve the terrible problems God throws at us.

I know which way we should go. The next time you're worshiping in your church, synagogue, mosque, forest, or stone circle, make your own decision.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

For the most part, God doesn't have to punish us, most of us punish ourselves pretty well.

I feel no remorse for Obama with Wright. I hope that man becomes the bane of his existence.

Oops I'm letting my feelings on that man show again...Grrrr.

Amanda said...

I always use that saying "God helps those who help themselves"

Also, perhaps bad things happen to good and bad people but, we just notice it more when it happens to the good. Its not a matter of who's deserving or just happens.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Amanda is right. That phrase is very truthful.

ssgreylord said...

I've always hated that phrase that people are inherently bad, and God's punishing them. Things happen. Bad things happen .

I believe in a compassionate God who's just as sad and confused as we are by these events and his role is to help you get through them. So I'm all for working together as human beings to solve the terrible problems that happen (I don't believe "God throws them at us"). They just happen.

The secret is to reach out and help where you can, regardless of beliefs and traditions.

Sorry for the long comment. So much to say...

Mona said...

Good & Bad are such loaded values... I don't think that people are good or bad.People just behave foolishly or wisely.

Then again... Leaving any & every religion alone ( I think there could be as many as people out there ) Lets take God as the Center or the central power in the universe. Then considering that God is 'running' the show, it is quite understandable that amongst the larger plan of God, we just sometimes might not fit in. & then again, in the larger perspective, there may be a reason for things to happen the way they do.

Sometimes what we consider as 'bad' things happening to us, may be just lessons in the process of our growth...For every cause there has to be an effect.

People being wiped out on a mass scale by earthquakes & cyclones etc. Malthus would explain that as the law of population balance.. that is whenever population increases more than in limit in a threatening way, it tends to balance itself by a mass destruction of people through a natural calamity, or by some wars , in accordance to the law of survival of the fittest!

Life has a way of preserving & balancing itself, because the very purpose of Life is Itself!

As far as God doing things is concerned...I feel God is like a catalyst agent. He does not have to do anything. He/she is just like a catalyst in the Presence of who things begin to happen themselves. The catalyst is something that is not essential ingredient for a chemical change to take place, but whose Presence is necessary for the change to take place more effectively.

Anonymous said...

I personally believe that evil is a necessity of the universe in which we exist; it is what God wants. Most important, this fact tells us nothing about the nature of God. What would life be like without evil? What meaning hath life without death? All of that which we call evil consists of bad things that people do to people (including themselves), and death itself. That is the essence of life on earth; we are not in heaven, and it is unreasonable to expect this life to be eternal and perfect! God has created a universe in which our free will makes a difference. We are in a game which is played for the highest stakes of all; life and death. God wants it that way. That's the point; in this universe we must use our free will to create our own fate, and live or die with the consequences. That's the system, wishing won't make this world go away. I believe in God and pray daily unto him for blessings on those I love and for his guidance; but as Mark Twain warned, I do not ask him for a fishhook if I have only line--the fishhook I must find or fashion myself. You notice that this answer avoids Singer's trap; I will not stop believing in God because He has set up a system that makes life hard; I am determined to do my best within His system. Bilbo: you know who this is, as usual.