Sunday, May 31, 2009

6-1-2008: 9th Ordinary Time (A)

Deuteronomy 11:18,26-28,32/Psalm 31/Romans 3:21-25,28/Matthew 7:21-27
Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that it’s the wise man who builds his house on rock and not sand. He’s referring to living your life according to God’s word, but the analogy works because it makes good construction sense as well, as a protection against natural disasters like earthquakes and floods. The survivors of the Chengdu earthquake last month – especially parents who lost only-children (which would be virtually all parents of deceased children in a one-child-per-family China) – doubt whether such advice was heeded in the construction of most of the buildings in their city. In the wake of such horrendous pain like that, we all need to blame someone.

The most convincing argument for atheism gets its best press in the wake of such horrific natural disasters like the Chengdu earthquake (80,000 possible dead) or the Burma Cyclone (perhaps 100,000 dead) – not to mention the 2004 Christmas Tsunami (250,000 washed away). After all, how can a good God permit so many innocent people to suffer in such horrendous ways? This is the ancient theological problem called theodicy (“God’s justice”) and no one has yet offered a satisfactory explanation. Of course that doesn’t stop evangelicals from offering their black-and-white solution. Obviously, they would say, because God is just, the victims could not have been innocent. People like Jerry Falwell and Jeremiah Wright used the same argument referring to the killing of the three thousand on 9/11, albeit denigrating their innocence for different reasons. Falwell hinged this act of God on the abominations of abortion and homosexuality; while Wright had them murdered for the sins of America past and present. Such explanations make the argument for atheism that much more attractive if only to separate yourself from any god who might be as capricious as that.

What’s common to both arguments is their reliance on interpreting the Old Testament in a literal or uncritical fashion where God, not unlike other gods of pagan antiquity, assumes less than admirable personality traits like vengeance, jealousy and intolerance. It’s what happens when you take your bible, or your qur’an, too seriously; or, perhaps, not seriously enough, building your faith on sand and not a more solid foundation – like that critical faculty of reason and judgment God gave you.

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