Does God Give no Great Gifts?

That title is a bit of a challenge, of course, and I am sorry if you got here due to its inflammatory nature–but it is always something I have wondered. Why is everything powerful in the world considered by many pious Christians to be of the Devil?

The Devil put Obama at the head of the United States. The Devil gave the witches of Salem their power. The Devil makes the rich man rich. Why is it that the Devil seems to put so much more effort in our plane of existence to win people to his side than God does? Perhaps you don’t believe me, and that’s OK, too. It is just something that has always bothered me.

If God wants us all to go to Heaven, if God loves all of us, why are the gifts from the Heavenly Father so seemingly insignificant to those offered by Satan? If witchcraft and magic are of the Devil, why are we to fight it with piety from God? If Satan gives the wicked power, why are we supposed to fight them via being humble? If Satan makes an evil man rich, why are we supposed to fight it by giving all that we own to charity?

The battle seems so lopsided to me. Do we suffer in this world for glory and paradise in the next? Do the wicked prosper in this world to balance the suffering of the next? Let me put it another way.

If God is our Father, a parent then, let’s use metaphor. There are bullies at the school, and they are constantly beating us. Every day, they are beating us. The teachers don’t like us, so Satan gives them baseball bats so they can beat us more fully. God, our father who loves us, tells us when we arrive home, pious and humble, that “Their beating you is making you stronger, testing you. When you get out of school, those bullies will all be in jail and you can have any job you want!”

That’s great, Dad, but that does me no good now.

Tell me the parent who loves their kid that would let this happen. Show me the parent who wouldn’t step up to the school board, take it to the media, fight the bullies themselves, try to get the parents fired? Show me the parent, who failing all of the above, would not move their child.

And yet God asks us (and please forgive the colloquialism here) to bend over and take it, and don’t worry, it’ll all be over soon.

Satan, however, has a kid that is bullied at the same school. He sends the kid to school with a baseball bat, then shows up at the school to make a stink about it. Satan protects his children. If things continue to escalate, it seems, Satan continues to escalate with them, protecting his kids.

And yet God loves us? And Satan doesn’t? This isn’t a battle of souls, it is God testing us at best, and leaving us to the wolves at worst–it is an uneven playing field, a soul destroying wasteland where only the strong survive. If God was infinitely loving, and if God is infinitely powerful, and if God wants every soul to go to Heaven, why does he leave us with no tools save a book and our own fortitude to defend ourselves with while Satan gives weapons and wealth and power?

I have to clarify at this point that I don’t really believe in either God or Satan, and all of the above was written from the standpoint I held during my crisis of faith. The above were questions, only a small number of them, that swirled through my head at the time. They were things that made no sense to me. They are things that still make no sense to me; how can the faithful sit there and take it like that? How can they suffer so badly at the hands of so many, and yet believe that their God loves and protects and shelters them? He shelters them from nothing; he doesn’t even give them canvas to make a net out of. He just says “Hey, you are doing a great job!” if you are doing well, or “To the pit of hell with you for eternity,” if you stumble.

I have stumbled. I have fallen. I have railed against God in my rage. The world is actually easier for me to accept when I think of it as a human construct with flaws than when I think of it as a construct created by someone who loves us, but leaves us to suffer. Leaves many to suffer for eternity, if the strict rules for getting into heaven are to be believed.

If the Word of God is a defense, walk up to someone in a war-ravaged country, and use your words against them. I’ll wait.

The Terrible Knowledge of Not Knowing

I am pompous in the things that I know, there is no way for me to deny it. I spend a lot of time reading, learning, trying to understand the world and my place in it. Astronomy fascinates me, as it shows me that the universe is not a lonely place. Even if there is no other life, there is so much to see, to understand, to learn about… We don’t know a tenth of the physics that make our universe go. There are nebula that contain so much information, that look so beautiful, I could never be bored looking into them. I stare at the Hubble UDF–I’ve probably spent 50 hours of my life looking at that picture, just looking at it, and it is one of the only pictures I keep on the bookmarks bar of every Internet browser I use, at home or at work. Actually, without context, the UDF might just be another picture of space to you, so I implore you to read up about what you are looking at, if you clicked that picture. You can find the information here.

I am comfortable saying I know, to the extent that a human can know, a lot. I am no Ken Jennings, who has made it his profession to know things. I am no Neil DeGrasse Tyson, whose business it is to bring The Cosmos to the masses. I am just a man who tries as hard as I am able to try, to know everything I can know.

Thanks to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, though, I know that there is so much I don’t know that I can barely be said to know anything at all. I will die before we understand what makes the universe tick, I will die before we make contact with extraterrestrial life (though our current understanding of physics makes it, at the least, incredibly unlikely we ever will), I will die before we escape the prison of our own Solar System. It doesn’t matter how long I live, either; if I die tomorrow, or if I die in 70 years, the above statements will still be true.

We are, admittedly, making more scientific progress daily than we have in the vast majority of the last 6000 years (that number was carefully chosen, as readers of my blog may note), so perhaps I am just a pessimist. But this lends itself to two things; my complete lack of fear in death, and my terrible sadness at how much I will never know. When I die does not matter, of course, especially in the grand scheme of things; even in the history of Earth (let alone the universe), my life is so short that the planet will never know i was here, like a human aware of the presence of one particular ant. The Earth, as much as it can be said to be conscious (that is a metaphor) knows there are humans, but the details of any particular one of us are likely lost in the wash of billions of us.

I find it odd that no matter how far I cast my net, and no matter how hard I try to learn all that I can, I will always “know” less than someone who is confident in their religious beliefs. To that end, it can be said that I am jealous of people confident in their religious beliefs, despite the fact that I feel the Dunning-Kruger Effect is in FULL force on both sides. I know, through knowing as much as I can, that I know nothing. They know, through ignoring any information that would damage their religion, that they know far more than I do.

Who is right? Does it matter? Will it matter?

As I said, I am comfortable in the prospect of my own death. Mark Twain, a man whose “old man syndrome” I aspire to one live up to (the man was codgier than Scrooge, and seemed to take the happiness of others as a challenge), famously quipped “I do not fear death. I was dead for billions and billions of years before I was born and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

That being said, to the outside observer, it looks like I am afraid–I scramble to know, to understand. I fight to find out the answers to the questions that drive the universe, and it has to look like I am scraping frantically towards something I will never reach.

The reason I want Heaven to exist is not to see my relatives, not to live forever. To me Heaven would be, in the last seconds of my life, knowledge. It would be knowing how the universe works, it would be knowing if there is other intelligent life out there. I mean, I have faith that there is other intelligent life out there, given the vastness of the universe, and the recent explosion of understanding regarding extrasolar planets, I find it mathematically unlikely that we are all there is… But I do not know.

Heaven to me, more than any other vision of it, more than the most romantic notion of the most imaginative religious adherent, would just be knowledge.

Hell is where I am right now, a permanent state not just of not knowing, but knowing that I will never know.

That, maybe, is why death is so easy for me to contemplate. Even if I never get to go to a Heaven (and, unfortunately, I believe I won’t), death is an escape from Hell.

This post is mostly just me organizing some thoughts in my own head. I won’t lie, the previous paragraph is a clearer understanding, for me, on my thoughts of death than I have ever had before. I get to leave hell when I die.

Isn’t that nice?