The Austin American-Statesman yesterday ran a New York Times editorial by Nicholas D. Kristof. It began:
"Karachi, Pakistan--Afterward, they comforted each other with the blasphemy: 'It was God's will.'"
So, how could I not be intrigued, especially because most Christians I know have a vague notion of god as all-powerful, all-knowing, and the creator of all things, that would make the phrase "it was god's will" a logically inescapable conclusion and necessary description of any event occurring in this universe. I had the feeling that whatever Kristof would describe would be absolutely within the realm of this "god's will"--according to the model of god most believers seem to put forward. But I wanted to see for myself, so I read on.
Not surprisingly, I was correct. The story is about the family politics of a pregnant woman's husband--and the politics of many women's families in this region. The $3.75 ride to a hospital was considered far too extravagant when the time came for the baby to arrive. Lest your sympathies get the better of you, one aunt said that if the family had known the child was going to be a boy (which it was), they'd have paid far more for the cab fare. It was less a question of poverty than one of concern. No the family is not well off, but their logic was that it was silly to waste money on a hospital.
While the article was more about a misogynistic society (which I feel sure a fundamentalist religion based on the great "He" doesn't help), I kept looking for the "blasphemy" in the statement about god's will. After the child dies (the mother lives), the mother is devastated, and the father says, "It is God's will. There is nothing we can do."
I agree with Kristof's call of "bullshit" on this one. But where is the blasphemy if I were to call myself a believer? As a nonbeliever, I want to call this one blasphemy against humanity, if there can be such a thing. Certainly it was our will for this child to die--humanity's will. It could have been avoided by human intervention. It was not necessary in a purely human world without gods. But the child died. And humans are responsible. To say that what humans do and allow--whether good or bad--has anything to do with gods is a blasphemy against our own species. But it's no blasphemy against god. If god is what people claim god is in many cases, it's a reality--a truth--to call any event "god's will."
Did god create everything--a universe where we cannot escape cause and effect? If so, this child's death was written into the "stars" (if you will) the moment the singularity popped, or the moment he spoke it all here 6,000 years ago. If he didn't create it, he's off the hook. If he did, he killed this child as surely as the child's own family.
Does god know everything? Did he know what he was doing? Does he understand the universe or not? If he built it and had so little understanding of what he was doing, he's off the hook in much the same way a mentally challenged person might be off the hook for a double-homocide. He still caused the harm; he's just too irresponsible to be held accountable for what he caused. If god built it and understood it--this god has no excuse. He actually produced the universe in such a way that this child would die, and either did not care, or meant it to be so.
Does god have the power to alter anything in this universe or impact human events? If god was aware of this child's plight, and was able to intervene, but did not, then he's just as guilty as the family members (ironically it was the men in the family) who felt the hospital was the best place for this mother, but did nothing to enforce their preference. If there is a god who is aware, cares at all, and can help, who does not, then this child's death was as much that god's choice as the family's.
Is it blasphemy to say god is not the creator? God is retarded--as gods go? Or that god lacks the power (is too castrated) to intervene in our lives?
Does our society truly embrace a god that keeps players safe at sporting events, but can't be expected to help a woman in difficult labor to be healthy and well and have a live baby in the end? It sure looks that way.
When I say "god did not create the universe," or "there is no god that is all powerful and gives a care," or "there is no god that knows everything"--or "there is no god," I'm sure to be lambasted by Christians everywhere for my arrogance and, well, blasphemy. They may not call it "blasphemy" much in these times, but that's what it is and why it offends so many believers to say such things.
Who gets to say what is blasphemy in the world of believers? To many, It's blasphemy to claim god doesn't have his finger on the pulse of the whole universe, as Kristof implies. But to Kristof, when one injustice occurs, it's blasphemy to say god had any knowledge or power to alter events. What sort of ineffectual god does Kristof imagine, I wonder? I have to think he imagines something, because he brought up the "god's will" phrase twice in a small article, and called it a blasphemy both times; and the story itself had precious little to do with gods, and everything to do with humans and human society.
I wish he would have clarified it was only a blasphemy to humanity, and could not possible be a blasphemy for any god model that would matter in this universe. I wish Kristof would have explained what he means by "god." But he did neither, unfortunately. But I think, disappointed as it makes me, he meant it in the same ludicrous apologetic way we hear it used all the time: With god all things are possible, but, somehow, helping an infant, unable to help itself, was way too much to ask--way beyond god's scope.
It's called having your cake and eating it, too. And it's logically impossible. But try telling that to someone who's been sufficiently indoctrinated. If that is really what Kristof meant, he's as guilty as holding to irrational, unhelpful beliefs as the culture he's writing to criticize. Like many Christians, he would be promoting that it's OK to devote some part of one's worldview to a logically inconsistent, impossible god who helps us not at all--and credit that god with all things good while blaming humans for all things evil. And that sort of hosed up religious belief is a part of the foundation that ultimately killed this child of a Muslim world, isn't it?
Perhaps instead of writing about gods and blasphemies, he should have "kept it real" and just said, "People could have helped this child. People did not. Dragging god into this as a 'will' or a victim of 'blasphemy,' helps us not at all. It adds nothing to this equation that can only possibly examine what people can do, what they did/did not do, and what other people could have/might have done to impact the reasons for these poor choices and tragic outcomes." And if I can add, reasons like holding to irrational beliefs about women and gods that led to this child's death.
I'm not sure how much impact a writer like Kristof can have in cutting the rope of irrationality that holds these people to unhealthy decisions, while he's involved in actually braiding more of that same rope. It's not reasonable to condemn real-world injustices that are the result of a god model I personally support.
I can't know that Kristof doesn't have some minority deistic ideology. But I can know that many people reading what he wrote--and he would know this as well--are interpreting it as, "That's right, my loving creator-of-all-things, all knowing, all powerful god would never allow something like this; how dare anyone blame this evil on god." It would escape them that the fact that this event actually occurred should be evidence that, if their god model exists, it would and did allow such an event--and therefore becomes logically inconsistent and, tah-dah, nonexistent. But I will almost guarantee you that hundreds of thousands read his column, held this model of god, and condemned this "blasphemy" in like manner. They want their cake, but they want to eat it, too. And that's impossible. And the scariest part is that no matter how much you try to explain that eating the cake will result in the cake being gone, they will insist that you are the one who simply does not get it.
To some, unfortunately not so small degree, it truly is a mad world.