For many years, Melbourne-based Nigel Sinnott has provided an invaluable service to the free-thought community by reading The Age on a daily basis and selecting articles of interest to email to a growing list of subscribers. On Xmas Day 2012, with no particular vested authority but to popular acclaim,we appointed Nigel a Wise Elder of the Free-thought Community.
This is an example of his sometimes witty but always wise commentary:
Here is yet another example of an attempt by a theist, presumably a Christian, to explain away the discordance between faith in a loving god and experience of suffering and disaster. Christianity has often wrestled with efforts to justify the existence of evil despite a good and all-powerful god (or vice versa), a process or exercise called theodicy; and has always, in the view of atheists, failed. A “loving God” may be “accessible” to ardent believers in times of devastation, but this is scant comfort to a cow or a koala dying slowly of burns or starvation. The massive suffering of non-human animals throughout the world makes the notion of an all-good, all-powerful deity almost an obscene absurdity. And while some Christians might believe “even though it is absurd” (Credo quia absurdum est), I am not prepared to believe in the supernatural when this clearly suggests ethical absurdity. — N.S.
by Elizabeth McKenzie
THE barometer needle is nudging “fair”, the mercury slowly rising. The sun is shining in a clear blue sky. Beach paraphernalia is quickly assembled. The designated destination does not disappoint: golden sands, sparkling water, playful waves, and lots of other kids. Under such circumstances, it is easy to thank a benign and munificent God for an Australian summer’s day.
Except, of course, it’s not like that for everyone. As Bruce Guthrie pointed out in a recent article in The Sunday Age, for many people summer has become a nightmarish parallel universe. He recites a grim litany: bushfires, northerlies, skin cancer, water and power bills, glitches in the public transport system on the hottest days, crowds of frazzled folk fighting for every inch of public space and, of course, The Heat.
His article reiterates the relentless images on our TV screens. Refreshed from our day at the beach, we become aware of a different Australia; a tangled pile of smoking brick and metal that was once a home; the grieving, distraught faces of victims; the fearful, anxious faces of those waiting for news of loved ones; huge tracts of blackened forest and grasslands and the implications for the fate of fauna. The unspoken question lingers. Is the benign Creator of our recent beach idyll also the God of this disastrous destruction?
From time immemorial, God was the assigned scapegoat for the ecological disasters that afflicted humankind. Religions explained such events as the manifestation of God’s wrath on a faithless people. In our sophisticated 21st-century society, we are not so naive. Few believe in an avenging God, if they believe in God at all! There are now other, rational explanations for the devastations that afflict our world. Global warming/climate change — which are themselves rapidly gaining the status of idols — have become substitute scapegoats. Now we can blame human error or human deviancy for the ravaging flames.
Yet it would be a mistake to leave God out of the equation.* It’s easy to give thanks and praise for beauty and a general sense of wellbeing. How much harder to experience the healing grace and compassion of a concerned, caring Father in the tangled mess we or nature might create in our everyday living. Our faith is that the presence of such a loving God is as accessible to us in devastation as it is in peace and joy.
■ Elizabeth McKenzie is a Melbourne writer and editor.
From the Sunday Age (Melbourne), 27 January 2013