Saturday, 14 June 2014

Bad things happen - therefore there is no God... The paradox of this argument


I often hear it said, and I believe it is true - although how common it is, I don't know - that modern people lose their Christian faith when bad things happen to them.

This is, however, very strange - because in the olden days when bad things happened to people, it apparently seemed to do the opposite: to increase their faith. Or even if it didn't do this, bad things did not seem to lead to widespread apostasy.

I have been reading the great Medieval English poets Geoffrey Chaucer and William Langland recently - who lived through the Black Death when half the population of England died in a few decades, a catastrophe of world historical severity.

More than two million people died, and the population took three hundred years to recover.

Yet Chaucer and Langland barely mention the fact. And certainly it led to no great loss of faith in England - if anything it increased the zeal among the proto-Protestant Lollards.

Why should this be - I wonder. That misfortune used to strengthen faith but now weakens or destroys it?



George Goerlich said...

Misfortune produces for me the traditional response (prayer, repentance) and serves as a reminder of the essential temporal nature of this world and the desire for seeking supernatural good. However, I'm also very introverted and get the reverse effect most others seek out in socialization. Instead of feeling energized or reinforcing my self-worth, I end up feeling drained and a need to think alone.

Enough about me, but my point being that *most* social interaction and publicly-acceptable-chatter is an echo chamber for whatever last nights mass media said. The most readily available social escapism tends to be hedonistic socialization enabled through drugs (i.e. alcohol, etc.).

I assume this situation can be contrasted against most of European history, where extroverts would have had a different environment to turn to - a local community and closer family ties backed by a worldview that was essentially Christian.

pyrrhus said...

Bruce, this simplistic argument is easily answered. If the world were a Petting Zoo (we have these in the US) where nothing "bad" ever happens, it would be devoid of challenge. Clearly God would not create such a pointless existence, so the world, with all its good and evil and physical challenges, is what humanity makes of it. That is why our existence has meaning.

jgress said...

My own hunch is that today, we feel entitled to comfort and ease because that is the norm, so we resent it when things go badly and look for someone to blame. It's easy to blame God since He is the one who was always reminding us of our sins while we were busy enjoying ourselves.

In the old days, difficulty and discomfort were the norm, so most people didn't expect any better. If something particularly disastrous took place, that simply reinforced their belief that life was hard by nature and that God was their only recourse. Under those circumstances, being reminded of one's sins and need for salvation might in fact help make sense of the world of suffering and offer a kind of relief.

Basically, it used to be possible to explain suffering by sin, since everyone is a sinner according to God and just about everyone was suffering. Now we are still sinners, and yet most of us don't suffer, so the connection no longer works.

JP said...

It is not merely that bad things happen to them. It is that bad things happen to anyone, anywhere, ever - that is what is held out as proof that God does not exist and that faith is pointless.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - "It is that bad things happen to anyone, anywhere, ever "

That is a very important point.

Expressed that way it beings to look like what it so often is - an excuse.

An excuse to jettison religious beliefs which stand in the way of doing (or striving to do) something otherwise forbidden - mostly extra-martial sex.