Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why God Hides

Many an atheist has asked why God is so very subtle. "Proof" of God is never looking out the window to see that the stars in the sky moved to spell out "Hi, PF, it's God. Worship me now or burn forever." Believe me, if I ever saw that, once I got done making sure I wasn't delusional or hallucinating, I would worship as no one has ever worshipped before.

It's never that. It's a book written thousands of years ago, translated and retranslated hundreds of times, that contains obvious errors and contradictions. It's someone's personal story, filled with emotion and lacking evidence. It's appeals to popularity and appeals to authority and the words of people whose income and status depend upon popular acceptance of God.

Why is that? (Other than the obvious, that is.) Free will, you see.

Dr. Michael Murray, a brilliant professor of philosophy at Franklin & Marshall College, has found a reason for God to remain hidden.

His paper on divine hiddenness is here: “Coercion and the Hiddenness of God“, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol 30, 1993.

He argues that if God reveals himself too much to people, he takes away our freedom to make morally-significant decisions, including responding to his self-revelation to us. Murray argues that God stays somewhat hidden, so that he gives people space to either 1) respond to God, or 2) avoid God so we can keep our autonomy from him. God places a higher value on people having the free will to respond to him, and if he shows too much of himself he takes away their free choice to respond to him, because once he is too overt about his existence, people will just feel obligated to belief in him in order to avoid being punished.

But believing in God just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants for us. If it is too obvious to us that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and behave morally out of self-preservation. But God wants us to respond to him out of interest in him, just like we might try to get to know someone we admire. God has to dial down the immediacy of the threat of judgment, and the probability that the threat is actual. That leaves it up to us to respond to God’s veiled revelation of himself to us, in nature and in Scripture.

Here's the problem with that. Murray is right about one thing. If I tell you to follow my blog or I will kill your children, and then show you a picture of your children, in their bedrooms, at 2am, you'll probably follow my blog. (And contact the FBI, but that's beside the point.) I can't really then brag that thousands of people follow my blog, I must be such a great writer, because that's not why you're following my blog. So, because I like to stand or fall on my own talent (and not spend five lifetimes in prison), following me is an entirely voluntary action. I can't say that I have thousands of followers, but the 101 I do have aren't showing up terrified.

The problem is, that's where the analogy breaks down. God may have stepped back from walking around the Garden of Eden fully physical, appearing as a burning bush or sending angels down to deliver his demands, but he never removed the threat of hell, unless I missed something. Believe in me or burn still stands. If I am promising eternal torture, does it really matter if I'm right up in your face or sending you a tweet? Um, no.

In fact, it's significantly less moral to back off when making such threats because it makes it more likely that I won't take them seriously and then will end up in hell. "I'm giving you free will" is a bullshit excuse when the end result of that is an eternity of torture. Especially when you're omniscient and you know damn well how everything everywhere is going to end.

Or there is no god. Yeah, that's a bit simpler of an explanation, isn't it?

1 comment:




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