Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Adventures With Jesus Coda

It's been a few weeks since "Free" ended, so I've had some time to sit and think about what was said, and where I stand on it all.

I think one of my major problems with the presentation of Christianity offered during main event week was that it seemed to conflate two entirely separate ideas. The first is that there is a God who both created and controls the universe. The second, which assumes the first is true, is that since God is pulling the strings of our reality, then we should be grateful for everything we receive, since God purposefully gave it to us.

Sometimes it seems that people spend too much time debating the first point (which is probably to remain forever unprovable, arguments about Occam's Razor and increased complexity notwithstanding) rather than dealing with the second.

Certainly the jump between the two seemed something the various speakers were happy to make without comment. If God created me, went the argument, and He made the coffee I drink, and the friends I mock, and the doggies I occasionally try to explain mathematics too, then surely that's something worthy of thanks. Well, that wasn't quite what was said, so much as failing to give thanks is an infinitely odious sin which is worthy of eternal punishment, but that's just semantics.

This in itself isn't necessarily a problem. My issue arrives only when it's combined with the argument, which I discussed before, that we should accept that our suffering (beyond that caused by our fellow man, obviously) is all part of a greater plan that we can't understand.

On our own level, we know that we can be grateful for what we receive without being able to blame people for what we don't have. We thank your parents for what they buy us, but we can't blame them for what they're unable to get for us. "Daddy won't buy me a pony" isn't a valid excuse for complaint. And yes, the difference, of course, is that God could by you a pony, if He wanted, and make it talk, and be able to fly, and fight crime. But then since it's possible (and indeed highly probable) that much of what we think we want we're wrong about, and much more of what we think we want we do genuinely want but would lead to problems, God's refusal to spoil us rotten isn't necessarily a huge surprise.

Every now and again, though, something comes across as so unbelievably vicious that the argument above doesn't hold. I can believe that some good will come of being an athsmatic, for example. Terminal cancer? Not so much. Losing your legs to a shark attack. Having your family crushed by debris during a hurricaine. Drowning in the dark after being trapped in a cave. These are gifts from God, too. Why can't I dislike them? Because they are a part of a plan.

But that means my Wii is part of the plan, too. So is my car. So is being smart enough to write maths papers. Why, then, should I be grateful? If God needs me to have those things in order to assemble his perfect universe Mechano set, then I should feel lucky, because that's what I am, but grateful?

I've mentioned before that I don't believe in free will, or at least that someone will have to conclusively prove that true randomness occurs before I will entertain the suggestion. I tend to imagine the universe running entirely along deterministic lines, with you and I just reacting in accordance with atomic physics as we intersect with gravity and chemicals and magnets. We have the illusion of choice (which is a pretty damn important one, obviously), but the truth is we're just following the railway tracks of causality. What we have in this life is nothing but the complement of what we don't have. There's no deserving anything, and no receiving (or not) what you've earned. Not really. We pretend there is, because you need to in order to function, but that's all. All there is is luck, which is our word for not knowing what's coming around the next bend in a track that was laid down before we were born.

This particular view of Christianity comes to exactly the same thing. We don't and can't control our actions, because all this is just a puppet show being played out for God's amusement. Everything we have is just due to blind luck, from our frame of reference. The deterministic universe theory tells me I met a pretty girl because of the knock-on effects of atoms that happened to run into other atoms, so on back to the beginning of time. This particular idea of Christianity tells me I met her because it was the next move in an incomprehensibly complicated game of Solitaire. I just happened to be the playing piece who got pushed forwards that time. Somewhere else, someone is burning to death in a fire. I'm supposed to be grateful, and he's supposed to recognise his death is part of a larger plan.

People have a tendency to claim what they have (or want to have) is deserved, and what they lack (or have lost) is just down to bad luck. Fate is what you cite when you're getting your own way. Again, if you don't make use of this illusion on some level, you're going to have a miserable fucking life. But it is an illusion nonetheless. It's therefore no surprise that religion has taken this idea to the next level. "Everything you deserve is coming, and everything crap that happens is in order to make everything perfect, and once you die you'll get to join in."

Which is fair enough as a theory, I'm just objecting to the idea that a pawn should thank a player for turning it into a queen, so as not to seem ungrateful. Certainly I have problems with combining that with that queen immediately being sacrificed in order to set up check-mate, and the player telling her she should just shut up and get over it.

God can have gratitude, or He can complete control. He can't have both.

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