What Job, Earthworms, Tree Squirrels, and Mark Twain's Wife Have in Common


Even if PEW is right about 15% of liberal Episcopalians being nonbelievers (see last post), that leaves 85% who are. While I doubt that most liberal Episcopalians believe in the virgin birth, the triune God, or that Christ died for their sins, I would imagine that they do believe in some nebulous force for universal good, a view that I daresay lacks currency among earthworms, earthworms being creatures that I reflect upon quite a lot this time of year. The reason for my reflection is that western Oregon gets almost daily rain each winter, and in order to breathe, earthworms must take to the pavement where there's nothing to eat, and they are subject to being run over or stepped upon.

Another case in point. I feed tree squirrels, so it sometimes happens that I witness their suffering. One recently lay on my porch with a skinned leg, and although I fed him, he soon disappeared. I should think that a God who is capable of creating stars by the trillion could save, or at least euthanize, suffering tree squirrels, but God does not, and this leaves but eight possibilities: (1) God does not exist; (2) God is ignorant of the suffering of tree squirrels; (3) God is indifferent to the suffering of tree squirrels; (4) God is unable to help suffering tree squirrels; (5) God allows tree squirrels to suffer for some unimaginable good; (7) Descartes was right, and only humans suffer; (8) the Judaeo-Muslim-Christian religions are right, and God became so disappointed in human beings that he made the whole earth suffer in retaliation. 

If you're a believer, which option do you choose, or do you simply throw up your hands and say that everyone must have faith in something, and your faith is in the Rock of Zion. Yes, we all must have faith in something, but I would offer that your argument has a serious problem in that faith must be based upon a record of reliability. For instance, I have faith in my wife because my wife has shown herself reliable, but upon what record of reliability do you base your faith in God, and when you answer that question, how do you know that God deserves the credit?

Mark Twain's wife was a devout Christian until her father and small son died, after which she regarded God as unreliable, her faith in God's reliability having remained constant through other people's losses. The faith of the Biblical character Job was not so shaken. In that account, Satan told God that he could make God's rich, devout, and happy servant, Job, curse God to his face, upon which God said prove it. Satan then killed Job's children, destroyed his home, made him a pauper, and afflicted him with boils, but Job remained steadfast. Where the story fails is that it gives the reader no understanding of Job's constancy and no reason to prefer the morality of God to the morality of Satan, since both had conspired to wreck Job's life--and kill his children--simply to prove a point.

In a very limited way, I go to church; I benefit from going to church; and I have no intention of not going to church; yet there remains an incalculable gulf between most churchgoers and myself. This means that my welcome at church is conditional upon keeping my mouth shut regarding scores of objections to the very concept of religious faith. Sadly, I have been in a similar dilemma in other groups, not because I'm generally unpleasant, but because I find it nearly impossible to remain silent about things that make other people cringe. Socrates was killed for asking uncomfortable questions as was, perhaps, Jesus Christ, only they died knowing that they had made a positive difference, while I can't tell that I have ever made such a difference. I simply anger people, and then I leave, and the more I come to trust a group, the closer I get to the day of my departure.

15 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

I am glad that you benefit from going to church.
As you know I am not a believer. I may be wrong, but I am fine with that too. I have been and will be wrong about many things.
I think that questioning things is as integral to you as is your skeleton and hope that you never stop.

Andrew said...

Reason number eight for the suffering of squirrel is the one that appeals to me. If only around the world the energy that is put into god worshipping was directed to better things.

rhymeswithplague said...

(9) God is able to help suffering tree squirrels through caring human individuals such as yourself.

rhymeswithplague said...

We are very limited in our understanding. There may be 800 or 8,000 or 8,000,000 possible conclusions. In my feeble estimation, God is able to give His full attention -- His full attention -- to each of the billions and billions of human beings on this planet. Not His divided, splintered, inadequate attention, but His full attention. This is something humans cannot comprehend. With men it is impossible but with God all things are possible. One of Paul's letters saysGod is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think or can even imagine. Hence, 8,000,000 or billion or trillion possible conclusions. Not only did God create all the stars, He calls them by name. He knows your name too.

I'm on a roll, but I'm sure you will have a comeback.

Snowbrush said...

"I think that questioning things is as integral to you as is your skeleton and hope that you never stop."

Only senility could stop me, and that is something that I worry about because whether the problem is disease-caused or the transient result of all the drugs I take, I know I'm not as sharp as I used to be. I've also developed a voice problem that is making it increasingly hard to talk--and embarrassing me when I try-- and this making me even more isolated.

Reason number eight for the suffering of squirrel is the one that appeals to me."

I think you mean to say that the whole earth is cursed by our species, and I agree.

"(9) God is able to help suffering tree squirrels through caring human individuals such as yourself."

For beginners, I really couldn't help that squirrel, just as the people in Australia really can't help but a relative few of the half-billion-plus animal victims of its fires. Another problem that I have with your view is that you believe in a God who is PERFECT IN JUSTICE, so how do you explain the fact that this just Being would (or even could) allow any part of his creation to suffer unjustly? In the case of Job, God assumed that could make things right with Job simply by replacing what Job had lost, but even human justice is better than that because human justice demands both restitution and punishment for the perpetrator, and in this case, God WAS the perpetrator. No doubt you will say that we can't judge God by our standards, but I would ask why God shouldn't be judged by the same standards of justice that he, a Being perfect in justice, instilled in us?

Snowbrush said...

"Not only did God create all the stars, He calls them by name. He knows your name too."

Rhymes, I am so very honored by you comments because I know that you dislike disputation. As the Bible puts it: "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."

Maybe this will surprise you and maybe it won't, but I don't believe that a human life is intrinsically more valuable than a sparrow's life. I instead think that we put anthropocentric sentiments in the mouths of our deities because it is we rather than sparrows who create those deities, and we seek to use them to justify our injustice toward other species. Now...God might know the names of each Yemeni child who is starving, or bleeding to death, or emotionally scarred for life, due to US-backed Saudi atrocities, yet they still starve, and they still bleed, and they are still without comfort. I heard yesterday that half of Ethiopians are stunted for a lack of food, and even if you are right, and God has tallied the very hairs on those stunted people's heads, they still suffer. Could we humans put an end to the world's suffering? We could surely do much, but no matter what we as a species do, criminals and outlaw nations will still do bad things, and tornadoes, diseases, and accidents will still occur.

Tom said...

I have a close friend who disagrees with me on almost every subject. We don't even like the same movies or TV programs. But we don't get mad at each other. We laugh about it. Because we know we are both good at heart, and we know we both would help the other out if we got in trouble.

Strayer said...

I wonder why in the religious world, only human suffering counts. People have told me animals were given us by God to use and abuse, either way, they're for us. What a pile of bs. If God existed and had a female partner, she'd be rescuing cats and dogs and going vegan. I don't believe in anything except today and surviving today, enjoying it. Yes, ok and saving cats. From humans. It's a losing battle. But I've learned a lot doing it. Give Peace a Chance: Neuter World Leaders. I had to add that.

angela said...

I envy those that have undying faith. I really do.
I believe there is something out there. I really hope there is. If we are the only intelligence in the know and unknown universe I seriously think the universe has screwed up
And I hope there is a very good reason for suffering because when I die and I find there is something after, I’m going to have a few stern words with those in charge

Snowbrush said...


I screwed up in my paragraph spacing in my last comment, so am redoing it.

"But we don't get mad at each other. We laugh about it."

The differences you listed don't suggest that the other person is callous or lacks integrity the way that differences regarding religion and politics often do. The reason for this is that our choices in those areas reflect our core values. As you probably know, one of my readers--Marion--is a Trump supporter, and this difference has created an enormous wall between myself and someone who I could otherwise be close to. Yet, because I can empathize with Marion's physical suffering, because I value having friends from my homeland in the Deep South, and because I respect Marion for her sensitivity, her constancy, and her love of poetry, animals, and nature, I have been able to remain her friend. In saying this, don't mean to imply that there haven't been many, many times when I would conclude that I was done with Marion, that she could go to hell for all I cared, yet my anger would eventually cool, although on one occasion we didn't speak for years. While I am far from laughing over our differences, I surely feel closer to Marion because of the many times that we've railed at one another than I would feel had we maintained a cordial silence, because to rail and still remain friends is like having successfully jumped a very wide ditch. It is indicative of loyalty and a desire for intimacy, and it shows the person being railed at what the other person's limits are. Most of us never see our friends' anger being flat-out directed at us, and this absence creates a degree of unreality, a sense that if we ever got really mad at one another, the friendship might not survive. Marion and I have moved beyond that.

"I wonder why in the religious world, only human suffering counts."

Well, there are the Jains who won't swat mosquitoes, ride in automobiles (cars kill an awfully lot of living creatures), or even sit in chairs without making sure that they won't be crushing a spider or insect). As for the rest of us, it would be damn difficult to exploit animals if we allowed ourselves to believe that they suffer as we do. I alluded to Descartes because he went so far as to claim that while animals appear to suffer, they lack the God-given capability of actually suffering. Some of his followers were even known to deliberately torment animals while praising God for the clever way that he instilled in them the false appearance of suffering...I should add that I've never even heard of a church-sponsored rescue group for species other than our own. The church I go to helps homeless people and addicts, but the thought of helping non-humans isn't even discussed, perhaps because Christianity rests upon the notion that humans alone are made "in the image of God" (whatever that means) and that other species are not, therefore, terribly important. Of course, my own values are such that if I could save the life of one good-hearted dog or100-billion sweat-shop owners, pedophiles, dictators, etc., the bad humans would be killed. Yet, I eat fish, eggs and dairy products, despite knowing that baby roosters and bulls are killed. I mitigate the cruelty somewhat by buying free-ranging eggs, and so forth, but I'm still in the wrong.

"If we are the only intelligence in the known and unknown universe I seriously think the universe has screwed up."

I heard on a series of documentaries about astronomy that our galaxy contains a trillion stars and that the universe contains a trillion galaxies. I heard in that same series that one of the moons of Saturn appears to contain all the ingredients for life. I find it far easier to believe that life exists on other planets than that it doesn't, and I'm not even sure but what the entire universe is alive.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

I think we as humans have evolved from an ancient sort that had animal like lives with a need to create more and gorge out a way of survival. As the brain changed and evolution sent us to be more and more curious we developed new ideas and skills including story telling . The God and faith concept came from the need to believe our purpose was more than just daily existence. Over time humans made up tales of people who had special power and that it may be God given. It might just be a birth of a gifted one. Hard to prove God is all knowing and also cruel letting so much life suffer. Do not forget plant life full of energy is also suffering when fires rage. Life is cells and DNA and all of it is awesome yet we fail to take all aspects of life as awesome and interconnected even including space rocks are falling onto our planet daily. So all matter is full of power and perhaps some want to separate power and need a God to be able to cope. So glad that some people are able to show respect and care . Not great are those who like a bullying way of life and it is sad that humans fail to use ideas to reduce all suffering but then again they have forces much tougher that challenge them. It seems Rituals help and they are not unique to humans. There is an underlying order that moves all . Death Isa part of the Order. So is renewal.

Snowbrush said...

"I think we as humans have evolved from an ancient sort that had animal like lives with a need to create more and gorge out a way of survival."

Heidrun, as always you give me much to think about and respond to... The earth is 4.2-billion years old, our species a mere 300,000, which is, what, a little more than 1/13 of 4.2-billion, so if, as the Bible claims, God's purpose was to create human beings in his own image, why did he wait? Was he savoring the moment, and was he really surprised when we turned out to be less than he wanted, but exactly what he made us? And did you know that the Mormons interpret "in his own image" to mean complete with male genitals, which surely suggests that men are more like God than are women.

Snowbrush said...

"The God and faith concept came from the need to believe our purpose was more than just daily existence."

It is my understanding that animism was the first religion, and if this is true, then our original religious impulses were probably aimed more at survival than purpose. However, as I sit here with my survival needs furnished, I am drawn to religion because it claims that I was created for a purpose, and not just a purpose that I give it, but a divine purpose. Also, I don't want to die, and religion promises me that I never will. So, while religion claims to offer these things that I am desperate to have, I cannot avail myself of the peace that many find in religion because I don't believe its promises are real. Not only that, I can't understand why anyone believes its promises are real. How DO they pull it off? I don't think they can tell me because I don't think they know. Perhaps they look at me and wonder how it is that I am able to NOT believe.

Snowbrush said...

"Over time humans made up tales of people who had special power and that it may be God given."

And this was followed by a belief that some people were closer to God than others and were entrusted by God to pass along sacred messages. The problem, of course, was that some people's messages contradicted other people's messages and that all people's messages were contradictory and confusing. Why then, if God exists does God not speak to everyone of us directly. I also find it worthy of note that if someone who is alive claims to speak on God's behalf, he (usually it's a he) is dismissed as insane, and if he believes that God is telling him to kill his own child, he is dismissed as dangerously insane, yet the Bible is based upon the word of people who believed that God did these very things.

"Do not forget plant life full of energy is also suffering when fires rage."

Oh, I won't forget! From my boyhood, I believed that ALL things were alive and conscious. I no longer know if this is true because while it FEELS to me that it is, but feelings don't constitute evidence, and I know from experience that my feelings have sometimes been very wrong.

"It seems Rituals help and they are not unique to humans. There is an underlying order that moves all."

No, ritual is not unique to humans. For example, my five cats (holy be the name of Bastet!) are highly ritualistic beings in that they have an emotional need to do the same things in the same ways at the same times everyday. Part of the reason that I relate so well to cats is that I am so much like them. Participation in ritual marks my primary interest in church, and it's not just the ritual of the service, but the ritual of setting up for the service, and then putting away after the service (these are things that I take an active part in). The Episcopal Church that I attend is what is called a High Church in that it is more like how the Catholic Church used to be (complete with incense and the splashing of holy water) than how it and most other churches now are. When I reflect upon people who go to churches that scorn ritual, I ask myself, "Why would you settle for THAT? Why would you content yourself with a service that is centered around a sermon, of all things, when sermons are so teeth-gnashingly trite and forgettable? Is it because you truly believe that this is what God demands?" But, of course, there are those charismatic churches that are instead centered around saccharine songs, the waving of outstretched arms, speaking in tongues, and in other ways working to a fever pitch of emotion that make their services the opposite of "in good order." When I've been to them, I was annoyed no end by their repetitive use of the word "just," as in, "Oh God, we JUST ask thee to bless us this day as we approach thee in worship, and we JUST ask that, in your great mercy, you will bless those who were too sick to be with us, and, Lord Jesus, we JUST ask that you will bless our pastor as he travels to Kansas to preach your holy word to the people of Lawrence." I marvel at these people's fixation on the word "just" because the way they use it would suggest that it means "only," yet they say it again and again through a long string of requests.

ellen abbott said...

everything suffers, even squirrels. and in the myth of an omniscient god, then of course that god knows it. I'm an unbeliever in the Abrahamic god. who needs a god that is so insecure that he needs constant worship and will condemn you if he doesn't get it. who needs a god that is all powerful and omniscient but refuses to intervene to help his creations that he claims to love? 10 million dead in the Nazi holocaust, all those prayers and supplications didn't move him not to mention starving children so I can only surmise that god is not all loving, all powerful. because if he is? he's an asshole. I have many other objections to that theoplgy but I'll stop here.