Republished from 2007 in response to the front page diary about crazy televangelists calling down the wrath of God on America
According to Reverend Phelps, Dobson, Falwell, D'souza and various other jugheads, God crashed an airplane into the WTC to punish us for homosexuality. More specifically, we're being punished for all that darned sodomy.
I can go with the first part: God crashed those airplanes into the WTC, God killed the dinosaurs, and someday God will kill me. But televangelists' claim that God did this to punish specific people seems unlikely, and the idea that God killed these people because someone else committed sodomy is somewhere between stupid and obscene.
I'm leaning more towards "obscene" because televangelists have adopted one of Al Queda core beliefs - that Osama Bin Laden is an instrument of God's will. "Aid and comfort" indeed! Our televangelists seem to be Al Queda propagandists. Both Al Queda and our televangelists make OBL sort of like Santa Claus. He's knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.
The idea that terrorists are merely carrying out the will of God raises an interesting question - although Christians have enough free will to chose between good (having kids) and evil (having butt sex), apparently OBL lacks free will. I guess that mean that for our televangelists, OBL is not a sinner. Lets ponder their Bizzaro world theology...
The televangelists' idea that disasters and personal bad luck comes directly from God predates the Book of Job. But the idea that evil people are agents of God seems more novel, more like some sort of heresy that would get people burned at the stake. But in everyday experience it seems to make some sort of sense since nearly every woman that microwaves her baby claims to be directed by God. And doesn't W claim to be directed God? And don't the teles concur? 9 out of 10 lunatics agree!
Terrorists seem to have replaced natural disasters as examples of God's wrath. We did not hear the televangelists claiming that the Indonesian tsunami was punishment aimed at all those Indonesian Muslims that got killed. Interestingly, the Muslim clerics in the region were quick to claim bragging rights to the big wave, saying it was Allah's punishment for loose morals and letting those filthy Christians on their nice beaches.
Strangely enough, although the televangelists see terrorists as the hand of God, the rest of us sinners still have enough free will to go to Hell. Free will causes us to do all sort of bad things over and over. Masturbating once is a lapse of judgment, but doing it 5,000 times is just plain wrong. If OBL crashes a plane, in the eyes of terrorists and televangelists alike, he is merely following Gods orders. Televangelists see OBL as an act nature like and earthquake or tornado. Is a tornado a sin? It kills, but it can hardly be called "sinful." After all:
The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD has his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. (Nahum 1:3)I believe I have free will, and I know that I've committed all kinds of sins: major, minor, mortal,venial you name it (not to mention sins of omission). I've done baaaad things. But is it fair that I'm a "sinner" just for buying an issue of Penthouse or Playboy (or Hustler or Gent or Club or Jugs or Barely Legal or Cherry or - well you get the idea)? But if terrorists lack free will, then they aren't sinners. Is this fair? Maybe the GOP doesn't care about catching OBL because they see it as rebelling against God's will.
I also consider this model of sin and punishment unfair because we don't seem to be getting any credits for our good behavior. Sure we have elevated levels of sodomy, but a general lack of access to livestock means that we have relatively little bestiality. Surely that has to count for something. I mean, come on!
And what is this thing where God now kills strangers to punish us for our sins? Punishment is most effective when it is linked to the sin. An atheist would know this. When a driver gets drunk and crashes into a bridge abutment, any fool can see the direct relationship between bad behavior (drunk driving) and consequences (fiery death). Traditional versions of hell even included punishment tailored for each sin.
But the Old Testament repudiates the idea that misfortune is always a punishment for sin, and it is very clear on the idea that sometime bad things happen to good people. In the Book of Job, even though Job is a righteous man, he loses everything in a series of calamities. None of these seem to be his fault, such as the wind that knocks down his house and kills his sons, or the terrible disease that leaves him disfigured. And the point is, that God did all these things to Job for no reason whatsoever. The story starts with a conversation between Satan and God (the only one on the Bible) where they wager like Greek gods that misfortune can turn Job away from God. It is God who does all these things to Job. When Job questions God, the allmighty gives him a serious lecture about how he works in mysterious ways. Job's neighbors (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) come over and berate Job that he must have committed some sin that requires him to repent. God appears to tells "Job's comforters" to all have a tall cold glass of shut the fuck up, and restores Job's health and fortune.
The televangelists have tossed out the idea of direct consequences, and even the idea of a mysterious God. Will having impure thoughts about your hot cousin cause OBL to fly a 757 through your bedroom window? Not according to the televangelists, who tell us that Gods punishment is more likely to kill a soldier in Iraq than punishing the sinner. Back in the Old Testament, God could smite like a laser, putting the triple whammy on scofflaws like Lot's wife and Onan. Nowadays, the televangelists tell us God's aim is no better than your drunken roommate that would never put up the toilet seat. According to folks like Phelps, when someone sins in Detroit, a soldier dies in Iraq.
To me, this is not very satisfying. God won't kill me for sinning but he'll randomly kill some stranger 5000 miles away instead? He's going to kill me anyway, so get on with it! Most people would not see the deterrent value in God killing some corporal in Anbhar, most of them would say "Yeah baby, sign me up for that, let someone else be the scapegoat." That also raise the question of who the Iraqi civilians are being killed punish - the Australians? We're left with this ambiguous sense of God as a very clumsy disciplinarian.
In addition to the obvious awkwardness of the televangelist model, they also can't make predictions based on their supposedly amazing knowledge of God's ways. When they have tried to predict divine wrath, things have fallen flat. When the Dover Pennsylvania judge shot down Intelligent Design in the Dover schools, Pat Robertson predicted the Jehovah would go all Cecil B. DeMill with Old Testament style disasters. But it didn't happen. No, they can only claim credit for stuff that already happened. So they have to claim that apparently sins and distant disasters are connected. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, baby. But we should not be too harsh on them, since religion by definition is based on untestable beliefs.
So in the televangelist world, given God's notoriously bad aim, maybe the residents of Greensburg Kansas got hit with the tornado meant for Dover Pennsylvania. Or maybe the tornado was pay-back for Las Vegas where there's real sin going on. Well, we can be relatively sure that someone should take the rap for causing that. Was it the homosexual's again?
This would seem to cast teh Gays in the role traditionally given to witches. Witches provided a kludgey workaround to explain all the bad things that happen to good people without making God look like a real jerk. A couple hundred years ago, we would have blamed everything on witchcraft. Tornado in Kansas? Witches! Cow died? Witches! Washed my car and it rained? Witches! But witches weren't really in the business of punishing sinners - as agents of Satan, not God, why would witches punish sinners? No, witches cast spells on good people. Then, when good people suffered bad luck, they would accuse their neighbors of being witches and have them tortured to death.
I posed this question to someone raised in a rural church congregation for a more traditional slant on things,and they said the answer was simple - demons! People do bad things because they are influenced by demons. I have always considered this to be a disturbingly pagan outlook because it requires a weak God and a pantheon of minor supernatural players.
So where are the GOP candidates on this - several of them dispute evolution and seem to understand the mind of God to the smallest detail, so as long as we're playing the "tear down the wall of separation," I'd love to hear more. Is OBL an agent of Gods will or is he demon possessed? Do Americans have free will or are they demon possessed? If we lay off the sodomy, will we win the GWOT? I'd love to hear that debated. Even if OBL isn't demon-possessed, how many of the GOP candidates believe that we demons control the average American?
The possibilities are endless. Do we want to shape our foreign policy around a belief in demons? I suggested to my friend that we should have the GOP candidates debate the finer point of demonology. And if this is going to be part of our federal policy, then there should be a federal agency in charge of demons (if there isn't one already) and some federal policy papers on the subject. Let the American Enterprise Institute tackle the subject as well. They've apparently been using Ouija boards for years, so this should not be too much of a stretch.
Of course, this reduces God to a rather feckless deity struggling in a larger supernatural cosmos where our world hangs in the balance. God needs our prayers and sacrifices like so much Red Bull. While fundamentalists' moral take-it-or-leave absolutism has always been effective at making their children into estranged atheists, their weak and petty vision of God also provides a solid philosophical basis for atheism. This is nicely summarized by the Epicurian paradox, as paraphrased by David Hume
"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?Wikipedia has a nice article on the concept of evil
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him god?"