About Me

Just a person in recovery from years of spiritual abuse at the hands of good, upstanding Christian folks.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

So you say you want heaven on earth...

Challenging one’s assumptions is an excellent mental exercise that I try to engage in occasionally. Recently I’ve been pondering the problem of evil, which, in a nut shell, works like this:

1.) God is supposedly both all-good and all-powerful.
2.) But evil exists.
3.) If there were truly an all-good and all-powerful God, He/She/It would not allow that to be the case.
4.) Therefore, there is no all-good, all-powerful God.


Are we absolutely sure about # 3? Theologians who defend the traditional idea of God have formulated a number of responses to it. For example, they have argued that there can be no free will without the possibility of evil, and that without evil there would be no way to develop our moral character. CS Lewis uses a combination of the two responses in his book The Problem of Pain.

Others have taken another tack, arguing that, yes, God is all-good, but is not all-powerful. Thus He (forgive my use of the male pronoun in reference to the Deity; it’s an old habit) is doing everything He can do to prevent evil, but some tragedies slip through anyway. That is the approach Rabbi Harold Kushner uses in his work When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

These approaches, as well as others, have much to commend them, and they have brought peace and comfort to many. But underlying the whole issue is an unspoken assumption: that a world without evil would be better for humans than the one we have now.

“Of course!” we are tempted to respond. “The world would certainly be better without pain, disease, suffering, death, car wrecks, toothaches, cancer, ingrown toenails, war, etc., etc., etc.” This seems so obvious that it’s almost never questioned.

But what if it’s wrong?

I was watching The Matrix recently when I noted something one of the agents said to the character Neo…

If you’re not familiar with the plot of The Matrix, it’s that the world we see around us is an illusion created by a massive network of computers that send signals to our senses, fooling us into believing that what we see, taste, touch, feel, and smell is real. We’re all actually held immobile while nutrients are pumped into our bodies.

Back to what I was saying. An agent (sort of a computer generated government spy) tells the hero, Neo, that originally the illusory world created for the human race was a perfect one. But our brains rejected it. In order to keep us happily deceived, the computer network had to introduce a degree of pain, toil, and trouble into the images it feeds us. It seems we humans couldn’t stand living in an ideal society.

That may sound silly. Maybe it is. But I invite you to try a little experiment. Imagine waking up tomorrow and finding out that overnight all nations had disbanded their militaries and renounced the use of force. The soldiers are leaving Iraq and Afghanistan and are on their way home for good. Down at the army base they’re fitting tanks with bulldozer blades and tossing all the guns into a giant pit. Fighter planes are returning to their home bases to have their bombs and missiles removed. Battleships are throwing their shells in the ocean to make room for relief supplies to hungry people.

Sound good so far?

Let’s carry it a little further. You soon learn that there is no more crime. All the crooks, from petty thieves to corporate villains, have reformed and are now devoting themselves to good works. The jails and prisons release all the former bad guys, who immediately go about making amends for all the wrong they ever did. Police officers have little to do besides direct traffic and give directions. No one even speeds anymore.

Still with me?

Follow this line of thinking a little further. After war and crime have ceased, a group of scientists discover a simple chemical formula that eliminates all disease and death. Pharmaceutical companies manufacture it and sell it at cost. “How could we even think of making a profit off of something that can help so many persons?” declares the president of Johnson and Johnson. He then announces that he is turning his posh mansion into a homeless shelter.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? There would surely be lots of tears and hugs and church services. At first.

What would things be like a year from then, when people turn on the news only to hear that all is well throughout the world? What will conversations be like when the government is run entirely by true statesmen and women who never take bribes and who think only of the common good? What will Letterman and Leno use for material, when all Hollywood celebrities are clean and sober and stay happily married forever?

What would you do if that right-wing/left-wing pundit you despise came up to you, admitted they had been in error, and told you they would be fair and balanced for real from now on? Would you rejoice at their turning over a new leaf? Or might you be a tad disappointed that you no longer had a reason to resent them?

Imagine everyday life in this idyllic society. “How you doing tonight, Jim?” says someone to their neighbor, who is walking his dog through Central Park at 3 a.m., while a group of Crips hands out candy to children and tells them to be careful crossing the street. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, a man loses his wallet, only to have it retrieved by a fellow in a Heaven’s Angels motorcycle vest, who runs after him to give it back.

When the sun breaks people turn on their TV sets, while a cheery announcer tells them that everyone is well fed and safe, that the climate has balanced perfectly across the globe, and that the musical recording artist Big Nice Guy has just released a CD entitled, “Life Sure is Swell.”

Would you really want to live in that world?

You can quibble with parts of this scenario. You can say that we could still have songs about the ghetto and social injustice and broken hearts and movies filled with violence and mayhem. But how silly would they seem in a world where nothing like that existed? We could still have alcohol and illicit affairs, yes. But why drink when there’s nothing you’re trying to forget? Why cheat on a perfect spouse? Why have television, when all Jerry Springer can put on his show are well-adjusted families talking about how much they love each other? Would anyone even bother to watch?

What would humans do in a world where there was no death or disease to remind us of how precious life is, no abhorrent evils to fill us with moral anguish and outrage, no common threats to make us forget our differences and band together?

Might we grow desperate for relief from paradise? Might we use our human ingenuity to invent imaginary wrongs to be angry about, fictitious insults and injuries to pick fights over? Would we take a world where all the gentle, peaceful creatures are happy and safe, and turn it into a nightmare for them and for us? Was the script writer for The Matrix right?

What is 1st Thessalonians, chapter five, verse three talking about when it declares, “Just as people are saying, ‘Everything is peaceful and secure,’ then disaster will fall on them...And there will be no escape.”

I have always thought that verse was a reference to divine wrath pouring itself out on Judgment Day. But what if it’s not? What if it's simply an astute observation of what we will do to ourselves, once diplomacy and science and education have done all the things we wish they would do?

What if this really is the best of all possible worlds, at least for creatures like us? Given freedom from the Devil, would we turn into demons? Could we live in Heaven, or would we make it into Hell? And if we would, what does that say about the kind of people we really are?


  1. Hey Bill,

    Great post. Happily Ever After is unsustainable because of human nature itself. Personally, I see no contradiction between God's judgment and humans doing it to themselves. It could be that God's just giving us enough rope with which to hang themselves. I myself see a few parts of the Old Testament that permit, if not mandate, such an interpretation of Scripture.

  2. Thanks, and for anyone else reading these words, I urge you to check out Filrabat's blog by clicking on his name above. It's thoughtful as well as thought-provoking!