Saturday, November 23, 2013

Where is God?

Below is the "Where is God?" blog entry I wrote and then deleted, which prompted me to write a follow-up entry oh so appropriately titled, "Why I Deleted My Last Blog Entry." I decided to leave the "Where is God?" blog entry exactly as I wrote it, adding only this introduction, as well as the comments left by my brothers-in-blog Mike D and Tristan at the end. After reviewing it with a clearer and much calmer mind, I think my only major misstep was my anger. I'd like to explain why I got so angry over the words written by a friend who is so dear to me: a tragedy hit the town in which he lives. His words (featured below) looked very much to me like he was using the suffering of others to further his own belief system. To me, he asked "Where is God?" flippantly without ever actually answering the question, choosing instead to offer vapid and meaningless words to soothe the hearts of many people who may have been asking seriously, "Where is God?" After reviewing it with fresh eyes, I don't disagree with any particular point I made. But I am now of the opinion that I was excessively vitriolic.

The problem was, my anger became personal. I don't talk to my minister friend much anymore, and all I see of him is what he posts on his Facebook: most of which looks very little like the guy I used to have very long and meaningful philosophical discussions with. All I see now is how his descent into his metaphysical paradigm has consumed him like Artax in the Swamps of Sadness***. And because he and I don't talk much anymore, he's become even more 2-dimensional to me. I no longer know the depth of his thought processes or the nuances of his worldview. Now that his entire life is saturated with his faith, he appears now to be rather cookie-cutter and predictable. I know my perception here is at least partly due to my lack of contact with him.

My point is, I took it personally. I became emotional, and my blog entry reflected the fire that burned inside of me after I read my friend's words. As I said before, my emotions got the best of me. Partly because I felt a sense of outrage at what my friend wrote. Partly because he's a close friend of mine. And partly because the context involves a community-wide tragedy, and my heart aches for those people. I thought I would edit my entry, but I decided to leave it as-is. I told you where I think I went wrong. Judge for yourself where I may have erred, either emotionally or intellectually.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

- Bud

[***Yes, a NeverEnding Story reference, because I'm awesome.]

Where is God? How About, "Where is Compassion?"
[written 18 November 2013]

A tornado ravaged an Illinois town not too far from Springfield. Several homes were destroyed. A minister friend of mine - in an attempt to bolster the faith of his flock in this time of tragedy - wrote the following poem-ish thing on his Facebook:

Where Is God?

Yesterday we saw a tornado.
They’re calling it an act of God.
They say it is power itself.
You can’t stop it.
You can only get out of its way.
It doesn’t play favorites.
It doesn’t show mercy.
It wrecks everything it touches.
Homes destroyed, possessions lost,
Lives have been forever changed.
Is this an act of God?

Yesterday I saw love in action.
I’m calling it an act of God.
Because it is power itself.
You can’t stop it.
But you can participate in it.
It doesn’t play favorites.
It gives strength and shows mercy.
It brings safety and healing to everything it touches.
People saved, shelter shared.
Families have been brought together.
This, this is an act of God.

It was amazing to see, yesterday, the selflessness of heroes in time of need.
Men and women whose accomplishments are hidden from the world.
Men who cut through a floor to save an elderly couple,
Hiding in a crawlspace with their home on top of them,
Just minutes after the storm had passed.
Families who go hours before finding out their home is gone,
Because they think of others first, meeting needs and giving hope.
A homeless policeman, stealing a moment to hold his wife,
Taking an opportunity to hug his children, before returning to duty.
People praying, crying, hurting, helping, serving, holding, sharing.
The body of Christ; love in action.
Love is not self-seeking. It always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

In the midst of tragedy, where is God?
He is in every man, woman, boy and girl,
Who belong to Him and used by Him,
To be light in dark places,
To give help to the homeless,
To be His hands and feet.
There, in His people, There is God.

I wrote the following response:

"God gets a pass on creating a tornado. Then God gets credit when other people do good things. Sounds like a successful politician. Beyond that, I take issue with the suffering of other people being used as an opportunity to plug one's theological predilections. Also sounds like a successful politician."

My minister friend attempted to chide me:

"Yeah, a lot of us are trying to process a tragedy, not promote an agenda. Bud, I love and respect you. But not being part of that tragedy, this may not be the time for comments like this one."

At this point I felt like punching him in his self-righteous mouth for trying to correct me from his lofty position upon his moral high horse, but that feeling passed as quickly as it came. I know this guy, and I know he's not one to be intentionally holier-than-thou. So I responded with the following:

"Ray (not my minister friend's real name), that was kinda my same thought. People are suffering. It dishonors them to use it to promote an agenda."

Ray lives in that town, but the tornado decided to spare him and his wife and their house. He isn't one of the many people who are suffering from loss right now. So it seemed a bit hypocritical for him to rebuke me because I'm not "part of that tragedy." But, again, I know this guy. I've known him for a long time. I don't think he's intentionally trying to be obtuse. So I posted a follow-up comment:

"But I'm sure you're not thinking explicitly in terms of promoting an agenda. In fact, I'm sure you're not. You are, as you said, trying to process a tragedy. I'm just letting you know how it looks to a lot of people out there who aren't part of the choir to whom you're preaching."

People ask "where is God?" when things like this happen. It's a legitimate question, which deserves a much better answer than this poem-ish thing my friend wrote. It's easy to defend God when you always just define anything good as "God" and ignore anything bad that could make God culpable. People do acts of mercy and charity, and Ray points at them and says, "there is God!" These people deserve a much better answer. They are the ones hurting.

And this is where my frustration arose: Ray's "Where is God?" post was taking the pain and loss of other people and using it to hammer home his party's talking points. When one of Ray's Christian friends asked me why it matters to me that Ray is taking comfort in his God (as though I had no business saying anything), I wrote:

"It matters to me enough to speak my mind because I'm speaking out of concern for the people affected by the tornado. I'm not the one using other people's suffering as a pulpit upon which to stand and preach - even if unintentionally. I have more respect for those people than that."

My concern is for the people of that town who are hurting. I would be equally upset at an atheist who used the tornado for his own ideological purposes. It's not about taking sides: it's about showing genuine compassion.

What makes Ray's "Where is God?" pseudo-poem even more egregious is that it attributes to God every good action done by people. Not only does it take credit away from where credit is due, it also implies that God is inseparable from right actions - or right actions are possible only through God. But people can not believe in gods and still do good works. There can be joy, meaning, morality, compassion, love, charity, hope, cooperation and peace apart from a belief in any gods. Ray (and this isn't his first offense here) bolsters the still strong prejudice that exists against non-believers. He is contributing to the mistrust people have for non-believers. I doubt he sees that.

If he - or anyone else - wants to look down on me for trying to uphold a sense of rightness and compassion, so be it. My integrity isn't up for trade.


Mike D:
First, I absolutely love your response to his response. His hypocrisy is maddening, but you handled it tactfully.

Second, I think that for a humanist, such acts of compassion call for a celebration of human nature, not for any deities. God gets out of the blame for everything bad, whether it's creating tornadoes or humans behaving badly. Yet somehow, God still manages to get the credit when humans do what humans do best.


Classic case of blind faith leading to stupidity.

Let's see... um... I'll write this religious poem... um see... to promote my chosen faith... um yeah... but if you do the same, or even dare to contend my shameless promotion, I'm gonna caterwaul so loud... yeah... that you'll feel bad for ever having mentioned is. Savvy?

Classic insular minded faith.

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