Because it’s a day that ends in -y, I spent a couple of hours screwing around on Reddit in the event something caught my eye to talk about. As luck would have it, I came across an image with a quote underneath from Primo Levi, one of the more well-known survivors of the Auschwitz death camp. The tangled mass you’re looking at on the top is a pile of eyeglasses, taken – along with rings, watches, and other personal belongings – before they were sent to the gas chambers. Such images are very effective in illustrating the sheer scope of human loss that occurred during that time:
I remember sitting next to a devout Christian woman during one of my last business trips, and we got to talking about the entire range of topics you’d normally expect when it came out that I wasn’t very religious (“… actually, I’m an atheist. Are … are you taking out holy water?”). We began with evolution, where she thanked me for explaining the difference between the colloquial and the scientific use of the word “theory”, and why it carries so much weight in the scientific community. (She actually did ask me why there are still monkeys if we supposedly evolved from them. No joke.) We moved on to Big Bang cosmology, the Christian co-opting of Pagan holidays, biblical versus secular morality, and finally … evidence of God.
A friend of hers was hosting a family picnic, and didn’t have the spare cash to buy all of the linens they needed for the event, including a new set of fancy washcloths. Blue ones, to be exact. So, along with her regular prayers, she asked God if it could possibly be within His divine providence to allow her to come into possession of said washcloths. Well, wouldn’t you know, after several days of praying, a friend of hers came to her door, and do you know what she had? All of the linens she needed for the church picnic! Including a set of fancy blue washcloths! Just what she had prayed for!! What do you think of that?
I’m paraphrasing because it’s been a while, but I assure you the essence of the story, in all its ridiculous splendor, is intact. Needless to say, I remained unconvinced.
Stories like these are a fairly common occurrence, a number of which I have experienced personally. A woman who used to work in our rental office told me she had proof of a personal, loving god in the form of an extra $100 in her bank account that she swore she didn’t have the day before. “God provides!” she said. “I am so blessed.”
“Uhh,” I stood there for a moment, wondering whether to bite. Her husband was out of work, she had no health or dental insurance, and recently discovered that she was both pregnant and losing her job. Aww, what the hell. “You think you maybe just didn’t notice the extra mon-“
“I AM SO BLESSED.”
“Got it. Blessed.”
Why do I bring these up? Why do I care? If someone wants to believe that they’re blessed or that there is a god who shows his love by making little good things happen in the midst of hard times, who am I to interfere?
Consider recent events regarding Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina de Jesus:
Initial police reports obtained by Cleveland TV station WKYC said kidnap victims Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were raped by Castro. Knight was impregnated five times during her captivity, then starved and beaten, forcing the termination of the fetuses. Berry, also impregnated, gave birth to a baby — now 6 — in Castro’s basement, according to the report.
Ten years. For ten years, they were held captive and lived a nightmare that no one should ever have to experience. Upon their rescue, there were countless people desperate to be the first to praise God for delivering these poor children back to their parents and families. Our prayers were answered! God is good!
Still no clear answer to why He sat for ten years, watching idly by, allowing them to be repeatedly raped, beaten, and starved. This is where, and why, I have no faith.
I was writing this piece and only after I had cobbled some of it together in my head did I run into this scene from “God on Trial”. It’s about ten minutes long, but I highly recommend watching it.
I can’t speak for my own future, but neither can I imagine that I will have faith when I get there. Eleven million people died in death camps during the Holocaust. Tens of millions more during Stalin and Mao’s regimes. Today, AIDS is ravaging sub-Saharan Africa and rape is regularly being used as a weapon of war by government soldiers. In Eastern Europe, young girls are being sold into prostitution as young as ten years old, where they will be forced into a life of sexual abuse and drug addiction, only to be discarded when their usefulness is expired.
Yet, in spite of this, I am expected to listen attentively to the testimony of my flight companion and the miracle of her fancy washcloths, or the rental office manager’s previously-unnoticed bank deposit, or the long list of countless trivial personal events that take place in the steel-grey backdrop of profound human suffering … and believe that God exists, and He loves me.
I consider the situation and find myself desperately hoping that God does not exist. If there is no God, then we are the ones who perform acts of utter cruelty and selfless love. In each of our own lives, good and bad things happen, and we notice coincidences not because of divine intervention but because that’s what our minds are simply evolved to do. Most importantly, it is up to us to improve the world for the next generation and make it a better place.
For if we are to assume for a moment that there is a personal God, then I think we can say with certainty that He is not good. Any divine being who remains silent and unmoving for years while unspeakable tragedy unfolds around the world should not be praised when it finally ends at the hands of His creations. His inaction in response to such horrific events alone should be interpreted as complicity, but that would require that we ignore His hand in creating them to begin with.
I have no capacity for faith in a god who exists in this fashion, and whose presence is validated by the occurrence of trivial favorable events in the lives of First World suburbanites.