Every once in a while, I hit a brick wall trying to think about Christianity. The one I just hit has to do with one of the oldest problems theologians encountered. IF all that happens is the perfect and unalterable will of God, THEN God wishes people to suffer on earth, and then suffer for eternity.
I know we’ve all addressed this before, and we’ve argued with Christians until we were blue in the face, and whatever hope we had for human intellect had flown out the window. But every once in a while, the absurdity of it all still smacks me in the face.
There are only two choices:
1) God is NOT omnipotent and all-knowing: In this case, it is possible that God genuinely desires everyone to go to heaven. But if that’s true, then he’s a shitty designer by any stretch of the imagination, and he’s got to be half-retarded (in the helmet and short bus sense of the word). Not only did he supply evidence of his existence to only a minuscule fraction of humans, but his evidence sucks. And his mysterious disappearing act after the dawn of science doesn’t help him at all. If he really wants people to be saved, and this is the best he could do to keep billions out of hell, he’s a shitty, shitty heavenly parent.
2) God IS omnipotent and all-knowing. If this is true, then God is an evil bastard the likes of which Jeffrey Dahmer and Stalin could only dream of becoming. If God knows absolutely everything that will ever happen, and there’s no way that it could possibly change, then he knew — ten billion years before he did it — that billions and billions of people would not believe in him, and that he would send them to hell. (Or that he would allow them to waltz into hell unopposed, if you prefer that interpretation.)
It’s very shocking to me sometimes that anyone has trouble with this dichotomy. I guess where a lot of people get hung up is the free will argument. Free will is a gift from God, and for free will to exist, there has to be evil. I have several problems with this:
1) Science has proved “free will” to be a rather nonsense concept. The first primitive theologians didn’t know anything about brains. They could not imagine that electrical impulses traveling across neurons are responsible for everything we do. So we can’t really blame them for not understanding that we “decide” unconsciously before we become aware of our decisions.
The entire “plan of salvation” relies on a concept of free will which does not exist. It imagines some sort of “consciousness” which controls the body, and exists independent of the body. But it works the other way around. Between 300 and 500 milliseconds before we become consciously aware of a decision, our brain lights up in the area corresponding to the action we will take.
Let’s not make light of this. It’s crucial. “Sub”consciousness precedes consciousness. Once we become aware of our decision, it has already been made. Free will of a sort that would make moral sense in the Christian narrative does not exist.
2) Choosing between heaven and hell is not free will. Choosing a vacation in the Caribbean or a vacation in Italy is free will. Ultimate happiness versus eternal torment is not a choice. Anyone with even the slightest inkling of self-interest can ONLY choose heaven. Especially if there is no element of sacrifice or greater good associated with going to hell.
Or, let me put it simply: Anyone who is not completely bat-shit insane will always choose cake over death. Here’s Eddie Izzard explaining the concept:
When we think about it this way, we’re left with a glaring question: If free will is so blasted important to God, and he is “ultimate love,” why not give us all the choice between three or four great ways to spend eternity? That’s a lovely choice, and I’d be happy to make it. I’d think God was a real swell fellow for loving me so much that he gave me — of his own free will — the gift of never having to worry about pain or suffering. What an awesome gift! And to be able to enjoy my gift on the sun-drenched coast of Magical Heavenly Jamaica or in the majesty of the Magical Heavenly Rocky Mountains? With several gorgeous blondes and brunettes who derived as much pleasure from my company as I theirs? AWESOME!
But cake or death? Not real free will, and not a choice for any sane being.
3) Free Will cannot exist in a predetermined universe. Again, we’re back to the original dichotomy. Either God knows everything that is going to happen, and it is unalterable, or he does not. If he does not, then we can talk about a real choice. Otherwise, our choices are an illusion, and Calvin was right.
Theologians try to get around this by asserting “levels” of free will. That is, God knows what’s going to happen, but we don’t, so our perception of choice amounts to free will. But this simply doesn’t wash. If a scientist puts a mouse in a maze, then the mouse has no choice but to follow the path in the maze. And if there is only one path, and it ends in an incinerator, then the mouse has no free will to avoid the incinerator. The scientist knows from the moment he puts the mouse down that the mouse will die. And the mouse doesn’t know it. And it doesn’t matter.
IF God knows everything that’s going to happen, then he knows everything I will do in my life, and whether I will end up in hell when I die. I do not know at this time, but my lack of knowledge (or my knowledge) cannot alter my course through the maze. The walls are fixed through the will of the maze creator.
There is just no good way out of the trap for God, which seems to indicate that God wasn’t very smart when he put the whole thing together. So which seems more likely to you, gentle reader? Was God too stupid to see that his whole scheme was unworkable? Or was man too primitive to understand the concepts involved when he invented this particular myth?