Sunday, April 26, 2009

Omnipotence- The Pros and Cons

god, omnipotence, omnipotent, religion, christian, covenant, unbeliever, pagan, atheism, atheist,
One of the things that has always bothered me about the christian god is the supposed quality of omnipotence: almighty or infinite in power, as God.

What bothers me about Yhwh's supposed omnipotence is that every time you turn around you see an example of something that really needs to be fixed. People dying in floods or fires, children being raped, people being tortured, people starving to death, people dying slowly of terrible illnesses. Any reasonable person looking at that is going to experience some serious cognitive dissonance trying to reconcile an omnipotent, loving god with what actually happens here on earth. Some people resolve their cognitive dissonance by retreating into "god is ineffable", some people become atheists. However you do it, eventually you have to reconcile yourself to the inevitable conclusion that either Yhwh doesn't care or Yhwh isn't omnipotent, but he certainly isn't loving and omnipotent.

In my opinion, pagans have the best solution to this problem (without resorting to the "oh, fuck it, I can't believe this shit anymore" of the atheist): specialization rather than omnipotence. Pagan gods and goddesses are like modern day medical professionals. If I have a brain tumor, I want a neurosurgeon, but if I need my hip replaced, that's not the doctor I want in the room. Pagans have different gods and goddesses for every occasion, and they are clearly not omnipotent. Thus, if I ask a pagan why didn't Thor or Zeus or whoever save those people from drowning, I'm not going to create any cognitive dissonance. The answer is simple: it wasn't in their power.

Writers tend to deal with this problem in the same way: they remove the element of omnipotence. Either god is space aliens/humans from the future, vastly more powerful than our bronze age forebears, but not omnipotent, or god is limited in some way. For instance, Stephen R. Donaldson creates a god limited by his own creation in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. This of course brings up the issue of how does god create a rock so big he can't lift it, but at least we know why we're counting on an antihero to fix things.

Feel free to chime in with your favorite explanation of why god is the way god is. Book recommendations always welcome.


  1. Most Christian theists will say their god is only limited in two areas and that is he cannot commit a logical contradiction or violate free will. So they would agree that Yahweh cannot create a rock bigger than he could lift. They would also argue that the pain and suffering is not his responsibility because it is caused by human free will which he will not violate even to save someone from harm.

    So pretty much their god is limited to, surprise, unverifiable "acts" that don't directly intervene in everyday life but are nonetheless supposed to be considered divine intervention and miracles. Nice. We can't verify if something is indeed the work of a deity but we're supposed to believe that it is. The thing is, in no other area of our lives do we act like that. As one person said, "Faith is the excuse religious people give each other to keep on believing unverifiable things." And that quote might be off but you get the idea.

  2. You are right. The pagans have a neatly packaged set of explanations.

    (1) You made your own life plan in heaven with God, so everything that happens to you, good or evil, is the work of your own design. So don't blame God.

    (2) Bad stuff happens to help us reach enlightenment. For instance, if a woman gets raped, it must be that she was a male rapist on a previous life, and now he/she is getting a spoon of own medicine, in order to learn.

    (3) Your foe's in this life are either people you hurt on a previous life or your DEAR RELATIVES coming back to haunt you.

    (4)ad infinitum.

  3. I think one of the solutions used by Christians in particular is "In the long run, killing millions of people in a tsunami, or raping of little children by catholic priests is a good thing. God allows it, and we are too small and stupid to figure out his grand plans".

    The Hindu solution (I guess very similar to the pagan one you mention) is really cool. You have Gods, and Demons, and they are in a constant battle. No one is omnipotent. Omnipotence is granted only to a "feminine power", deliberately vague, which, however, is not ascribed any human values/emotions, like being loving... Its machine-like...

  4. I so rarely hear anyone mention Thomas Covenant. They are some of my favorite books. I have read the first trilogy until it fell apart.

  5. I love hearing fundies try to defend the position that their god is all-powerful and simultaneously all-loving. I have not once had someone try it without sounding like someone in a very abusive relationship. "Parents spank their kids because they love them!" is somehow equivalent to "an eternity of torment because you happened to die without believing my particular take on JEEZUS."


  6. I always loved the Greek and Roman explanations. Well I helped this God, but it pissed off this other God so now I have to deal with him. In doing so I will piss off yet another God, etc...

  7. Here's another "God is all-powerful, God is all-loving" disproof: So, Mexico City is completely shut down because of swine flu. Authorities are insisting that people stay indoors to halt the spread. What happens today? An earthquake. In Mexico City. So everyone runs outside.

    "I love 'em so much, they're so cute when they scream and panic and die!"

  8. Paul: I was thinking the same thing. How much does that suck? Let's face it, if there is a omnipotent god, he really doesn't give a crap about the Mexicans, that has become painfully apparent.

  9. well, as a good pagan, i understand that every person in MC ...
    no, no, no.

    sigh. the thing is, if we say every natural event was a god, then we have to hate God or gods or whatever. we know why earthquakes happen, and its not because Gaia was bored. why does everything always end up being blamed on deity, when we KNOW that they are natural events?
    unless a mad scientist has a tectonic ray...
    but really, safer to believe mad scientist has a DNA splicer...

    i'm babbling


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