God, Suffering and Salvation

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I have complete sympathy for atheists and agnostics.  I’ve wrestled with questions my entire life and whether or not there is a God is always one of them.  But the one thing that I can’t understand is being angry about human suffering, from a rational basis, if God does not exist.  If there is no ultimate good, no greater purpose or meaning to life, on what basis do we make a moral judgment about suffering?

Okay, let’s back up a second.  I’m here at my local establishment drinking another Long Island, one of many since the death of Uriah, and it hasn’t given me an answer as to why he would die of cancer at twenty-four.  The medical diagnosis is simple enough.  He had cancer.  The aggressive kind.  It started with the lump on his ankle during boot camp.  I still have the picture on my phone taken out of morbid curiosity and never dreaming it was a death sentence.

Uriah and I, despite our difference in age, got along in a way that only cousins do.  He was like me.  We didn’t simply accept those easy cliché answers.  He was someone who was both determined and also full of doubts.  He was also the six-foot tall and better version of everything I ever was.  The best part was that I could claim some of his success for myself given that I had encouraged him to continue his college education, telling him that it was better to keep going than to live a life of regrets.

Watching Uriah sacrifice a leg only to have the cancer be found in his lungs a year later. It was a gut punch.  I think I stopped praying, at some point, because I just knew what the prognosis was.  

The hardest part, however, is that Uriah was not the first of his family that I had to carry out of the church on a cold winter day.  His parents had already lost one of their children to a seizure disorder.  His two other siblings are severely disabled and will need constant care.  Judy, his mom, is an incredible woman and has extraordinary faith.  Ed too has great strength of character.  And neither of them wastes any time feeling sorry for themselves despite losing the one healthy child they had to this terrible disease.

Where was God?

When my little Saniyah died, unexpectedly, it was a really big struggle for me.  It took me years to get my feet back under me again, spiritually and emotionally speaking, and I had both doubted my own faith along with the existence of a loving God.  The death of Uriah, along with my disappointments with those whom I put my trust in, and my long wait for Charlotte, have really tested me the past few years.  But, I have those who need me to be strong this time around and, for this reason, have had to push back against falling into despair again.

Nevertheless, I totally get why someone who has encountered suffering in a personal way is angry and denies the existence of God on this basis.  I mean why would this kind of pain and loss be allowed if there is an all-powerful good in the universe, right?  Why would God not intervene and stop this all rather than let us go through such terrible experiences?  It doesn’t make much sense, does it, that we should be left so lonely and struggling if God is good.

However, if we eliminate totally God from the equation, then we dismiss religious morality and must acknowledge that there is nothing written in the fabric of the universe that says our existence entitles us to good feelings.  I mean, as far as evolution goes, pain is more or less a survival tool, a feedback system to tell us what to avoid.  Feeling sad about the death of a friend or family member is, by this logic, a malfunction. 

In this harsh environment, where everything is out to kill us, why would we ever expect anything more than suffering?

The moral reasoning that makes this bad, if you are truly an atheist, is nothing other than a construct.  In terms of pure biology, it is good that fire hurts or we might burn our arms off.  That is pain for a very practical and utilitarian purpose.  Undeniably good if there is such a thing.  But what reasonable good is there in mourning those already dead?  No point in crying over spilled milk, right?  A totally rational being would simply move on to the next social resource and not be so attached or sentimental.

Being upset over suffering and death, if there is no God, is irrational.  And, if there is a God, like that of Christianity, then suffering and death are exactly what we’re promised in this life.  Sheesh.  Did you read the story of Jesus and how he was betrayed, beaten, and then unjustly killed in the most brutal fashion all as part of a redemptive plan?  If you actually believe in eternity then why be angry about a few years living out this rich narrative we call life? 

At the very least, how can we judge anything, especially a fictional character, on the basis of a moral standard that doesn’t exist? 

If there is no God, then there is no basis for morality either.  That too, including the idea that suffering is bad or pleasure is good, is entirely a construct.  Pain is good in some circumstances, it protects us from injury and causes us to change behavior in ways that are beneficial.  In other words, without the discomfort of hunger or thirst, we would not correctly prioritize our life.  Pleasure can be bad when it makes us eat too many donuts and become diabetic.  So how does one truly know that their own interpretation of these signals is the correct one?

From what I’ve observed in myself and in others, unbelief stems from disappointment when things do not go as expected.  It is about who is in control.  We can cling, in our own arrogance, to this notion that the universe should bend to our will.  Or realize that our own perceptions, based on senses which are not very reliable and a brain prone to making mistakes in judgment, are not infallible or ever actual truth.

The thing is we only ever know if suffering is good or bad if it is properly contextualized if we understand the end.  For example, feeling the burn of exercise is good pain because it is what accompanies muscle development and so we embrace this.  So what is the real context of our life?  To what end, or for what reason, did we become conscious?  What is behind this ‘accident’ if it is one? 

How do we contextualize our existence enough to judge what is good or bad?

If there is such a thing as an eternal reward, that would change the calculus, right?  It would mean that all pain can be gain, and all suffering can draw us closer as much as it drives us away because defining the moral character of any experience depends on the end.  I am willing to subject myself to many hardships if the reward is big enough.  No, this doesn’t take away the question of why we must go through here to get there.  But seeing past our immediate feelings is pretty much the only way to make progress.

Angry is a feeling, not a guide for life…

I was at this time living, like so many Atheists or Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.

C.S. Lewis

People don’t walk away from Christianity for rational or scientific reasons.  Sure, they may guard their emotion-based unbelief behind a wall of post hoc justification.  But the reality is that they’re upset about something.  They had expectations and are now disappointed and acting as wounded people do.  It’s just strange that anyone at all Biblically literate would suddenly lose faith over our suffering when that’s literally the only we’re promised in this life.

What really doesn’t make any sense is why anyone would rather suffer with no hope at all of eternity.  If God is dead, then nihilism is the logical next stop and that life has no real meaning or purpose.  But the suffering does not go away simply because we’re angry at the giver of life.  No, it will only intensify and become a spiral of despair.  Our salvation is in our understanding that, smart as we may think we are, we’re truly quite ignorant and even our most ‘concrete’ reality is not real:

The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you. 

Werner Heisenberg

For those who don’t know who that is, Mr. Heisenberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, in 1932, for the creation of quantum mechanics.  Materialism, despite the zombie corpse of this thing staggering on, died with the discovery of things in defiance of this entirely too simplistic conception.  Sure, this kind of physics is well-beyond most, but it does support a notion of reality that requires a Universal Perceiver (as described in this article) and we could call that God.

So, if you’re actually serious about science, then the hard science of physics is the place to start and, with its mathematical origin and proofs, is much less likely to be clouded by emotion one way or another.  We can’t run from God.  But we may need to leave behind the baggage of our own misconceptions and learn the value of true repentance.  Maybe Uriah died, and went to his reward, so some of us would have our flawed thinking broken and seek our salvation in Him?

Maybe some of us are just too stubborn, or too needing of control being in our own hands, to admit we can’t save ourselves?

I’ll tell you this.  The universe, without God, is an infinitely dark and lonely place.  It is that starring abyss of which Friedrich Nietzsche warned, the existential horror H.P. Lovecraft describes.  Highly intelligent men, both of them, and understood the implications that come with true unbelief in God.  You will not escape your suffering simply by denying that the Divine all-powerful good exists.  No, rather you will just remain in that hell of your own creation.

Postscript: Questions Remain

I still grieve Uriah, as I do Saniyah, uncle Roland, and others that seem to have been taken before their time. I’ve long struggled against sources of trauma much more basic, the lack of unconditional love in the church that could make up for my shortcomings, and much of that is unresolved. At the time of my writing, the impossibility is something yet to be fulfilled. I do not have answers for any of this nor do I expect to. I’m not the arrogant kid who argued with his high school biology teacher, not a Bible-thumping fundamentalist at all, and yet must believe.

Empowerment: When One Plus One Can Equal Three

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The pro-choice versus pro-life argument is only one manifestation of a bigger divide in worldviews.  For some it may be as simple as dichotomy between Patriarchalism and Feminism, the latest iteration of the gender wars, or an oppressed versus oppressor narrative, but the truth of the matter is a bit more complicated in that the dividing line is not where the two competing ideological extremes put it.  

Rather than Patriarchalism versus Feminism, there are actually three distinct hierarchies, two that are openly male-led (and are often lumped together) and one that is covertly male-led in that it both minimizes the most unique female strengths and is almost entirely defined by masculine pursuits of power.

The first is what is what is most commonly referred to as Patriarchalism and refers to a male dominated social structure, it is where the stereotype of men that keep women barefoot and pregnant originates, it is what motivates Feminists everywhere.  The second is that of the secular world, the American mainstream, where the focus is career, success is about earning more money, climbing the corporate or political ladder and sacrificing anything that stands in the way of these ambitions.  In these first two hierarchies the leadership role is about imposing our own will through brute force or coercion.  The third, which I will get to later, is vastly different than these two and inverts the power structure.

The Rejected Patriarchalism 

It is no big secret that traditional hierarchy, in the West, has been on the decline since the Protestants pulled out from under the Papal authority and rejected their kings.  There is certainly a case to made against Rome and their abuse of power over the centuries.  But that hasn’t stopped their wayward children from following in their footsteps.  

Like Father, like son, right?  

The misuse of authority did not end or begin with the Pontiff and the Patriarchalism of the most defiant fringes of American Biblical fundamentalism is clear evidence.  You won’t ever tell these men what to do, but they sure like invoking God’s will to make their wife and children submit to them.  The far extreme of this small minority, if they could ever agree on anything, may even resemble the fiction of Handmaid’s Tale if given power.

However, there’s about as much chance of this type of hierarchy gaining prominences as there is of Joseph Smith resurrecting himself from the dead.  This is the strata of internet trolls who post memes and enjoy calling women whores for prudently avoiding men like them.  And, this, incidentally, is what feminists happily use as a stereotype and strawman version of all men on the religious right.  Misogyny is a good term, as these are men threatened by strong women and see their rule as entitlement rather than a respect that is earned.  These men *do* stifle women because it is the only way they can feel strong or significant.

Opposition to abortion isn’t really isn’t about the babies, for the loud mouths of this particular patriarchy, rather it is about the competition and gaining back the social position they think they deserve.  In their cult groups women play the role of enabler, they must smile sweetly as their dear husband speaks of his superior role.  The great irony is that this is the kind of narcissistic man who creates his own mortal enemy, the angry ‘liberated’ woman, because he’s the embodiment of unqualified, irresponsible and just plain bad leadership.  No intelligent woman wants to be his baby making machine.

The problem with this hierarchial structure is that it is all about male dominance without male accountability, it is entirely populated by morally (or otherwise) deficient men and abnormally weak women.  It always spawns rebellion.  It is precisely what has led to the alternative, which has risen up in reaction to abuses, and is the ultimate expression of an American ideal gone off the rails.

The Dominant American/Western Order 

Industrialization has changed the world.  The United States was once envisioned as an agrarian society, of small communities, but the rapid technological advancements of the past two centuries have rewritten the vision.  The American dream of upward mobility and greater economic independence has now inspired generations in the working class.  This ideal of more more more has given birth to our age of consumerism.  But the thing is, this has not lived up to the promise, those who do achieve find their success to be a hollow victory and those who do not will always be chasing the next fad.

Many believe more money and increased independence will make them happier.  It started with men, the bread winner, leaving the home in the wee hours, with lunch pail in hand, working in the factories or mines, but since WW2 it has ‘progressed’ to include women.  I mean, Rosie the Riveter, who started her life as cynical war propaganda tool, has taken root as women have both increase labor supply (driving down wages) and have also provided a generally more compliant workforce for our powerful corporate overlords.  

The sad reality is that the rapid changes have not provided additional security for women.  Women told that their significance can only come from following masculine pursuits are not any more empowered than their grandmothers a couple generations ago.  Indeed, this idea that happiness comes earning more money or that empowerment comes from women filling traditionally male roles is the greatest myth of our time.  

Worse, unlike husbands or children that have a real emotional connection to their wives or mothers, these corporate and government bosses only see women as ‘human resource’ to exploit.  Sure, they might promote this idea and image of the emancipated woman, claim to care about rights, but it’s all a lie to keep women enslaved.  We are made to think fulfillment comes from our next paycheck, but it’s all a ruse.  The working class is benefitting less and less from their long hours, big corporations make record profits at our expense.

It is no big surprise that corporations are offering to pay for abortion and even the travel expenses.  The bottom line is that they can’t make their huge profits without docile and compliant employees.  It is simply much cheaper for them to end a pregnancy than it is for them to pay maternity leave benefits and potentially lose the services of a female employee forever.  It is never actually about her well-being or the future of the nation, it is always about the parasitic self-serving elites and their political or financial interests.

The whole system is structured to downplay the most uniquely feminine contribution to our future and that being childbearing.  Men cannot do this.  Sadly, many women, due to corrupted patriarchy and various narratives designed to subdue her potential (climate change, overpopulation, etc.), have been convinced that their most wonderful asset, the ability to bring new life into the world, is a liability and that they should work for ‘the man’ rather than invest in the only ones who would ever truly love them.  

Abortion is truly a result of female despair and not empowerment.  It is a ‘choice’ that is brought about by insecurity, a fear of being alone raising a child or their own inadequacy, and stifles the real strength of women.  The most insidious thing about this patriarchy is that it is sold as Feminism and freedom, but it is truly as denigrating of female achievement as the widely rejected traditional version of patriarchy.  In this new order women are simply the lower cost, lower maintenance, rented mules to replace the poor immigrant men of a prior generation.

Unfortunately, many will realize too late that they’ve been fooled into giving up their youth to the soulless industrial machine.  Women, in particular, with their narrower reproductive window, will carry regret as their only lasting reward for their academic excellence and being the employee of the month.  No, not at all saying that we should not have a career, or that money is unimportant, it is nice to have financial freedom, but who will care for this current generation as they age?Communities and social structures, like marriage, things that provide stability, have faded.  The patriarchy of corporate boards and government bureaucracies is only truly concerned with expanding their power or profits.  Even if the intent isn’t explicitly to subjugate, this regime run by controlling men and women attempts to monopolize our choices.  To corporate bosses even the competition of a baby is too much for them to handle, that’s why they promote and pay for abortion.

The Faithful/Healthy Patriarchy 

Patriarchy gets a bad name because most people see the first two manifestations and not the ideal.  There are patriarchs just like there are matriarchs, some are very good while others are very bad and, therefore, we must approach the topic with appropriate nuance to sort the better examples from the worse.  

The ideal role of the patriarch is to use their male strength as a means to provide and protect.  He is not a tyrant nor a pushover, he is never in competition with or threatened by a strong woman.  Instead, he lifts everyone around him up, is the model of submission to authority and willing to sacrifice himself fully for the good of others.  He is, like the Centurion commended for his faith, “a man under authority,” and a stark contrast to the abusive Patriarchalism of small men.  This is an authority that comes through actions and example rather than through his physical stature, his feelings of entitlement or bellicose demands.

It is the way of Jesus, who both spoke with an authority not matched by the religious elites of his day and yet was also gentle to those of lower social status.  In saying, “the last will be first, and first will be last,” (Matthew 20:16 NIV) Jesus points to an inverse hierarchial structure—one that is led by humility and repentance, defined love and faithfulness, rather the power to dominate others through brute force or disparaging comments:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Mark 10:42‭-‬45 NIV)

Men who do not lead by the self-sacrificial example of Jesus, who as a man equal to God still fully submitted to the will of the Father, are not worthy of their position and make a mockery of the leadership role.  We live in an era where there are flamboyant displays of gender stereotypes, but none is more ridiculous or absurd than these grown little boys who try to dress themselves up as men and yet have nothing to offer the world besides shit posting on social media.  

Some need the male genitalia dangling from their loud smoke spewing vehicles to try to prove what would otherwise be open to question, they call women whores for being single moms or sexually active (in a way that excludes them) and yet seem to forget for every sexual encounter there is another party involved.  Women certainly do not impregnate themselves.  And most women would not seek to terminate the life inside their womb if they were in a relationship with an emotionally secure and Godly man.

No, the alternative of soft and sanctimonious men is not better. The enablers of the current political establishment, who appease women in a desperate bid to gain sexual access, are just as much an embarrassment to masculinity as their fake tough guy ‘conservative’ counterparts.

Women could be fully actualized as women if men were adequately filling their role.  No, this is not to say that women are incapable of sinning, of being power hungry or evil, but only to say that good men will be like Jesus and even take responsibility for sins that are not their own as a means to bring salvation to the most damaged individuals and lost sheep of this world.  Sure, laws to protect the innocent and vulnerable are important, but they themselves cannot hold back the rising tide of self-centered abusive men and angry reactionary women.

True empowerment is about giving life, not in taking life.  It is about creating, not controlling others.  It is found in the soldier’s sacrifice and also in the woman who bravely and courageously carries her pregnancy to term in an uncertain world.  Salvation came through Mary’s womb and was finished by the life-bearing Cross of Christ. Two plus two can become three when men and women both contribute to the whole, by selfless participation in the transcendent space of loving relationship. It is when two are brought together in spiritual union with the Divine that a new generation can find a good home.