Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People?

Dear Internet Diary,

Culled from I Am An Atheist Blog:
I'm having trouble with a cliché, I'm afraid, and I thought perhaps you would be able to help me out. I wish I were more interesting, but it's the old question of "why do bad things happen to good people?"

I've asked this question to several friends who believe in an all-powerful and all-good deity (three Christians of varying denominations, one Jew, one self-identified "miscellaneous believer") and all have given me essentially the same answer: free will. But that doesn't make any sense to me.

The problem is category error. There are no such things as "good people" and "bad things." I think there are good actions and bad actions, good and bad intentions, and unhealthy values, and people do both. Christianity says there are good and bad people, but never explains exactly how that works.

For example, how many good acts does it take to make a good person? How many intentions that are bad does it take to make a person "bad?" Exactly what act? We know that actions don't exist in a vacuum--choices come in context, like say, killing a person.

We also know that there are certain people that go into hell in the bible that are NOT "bad." Yet this seems to be the only rationale for eternal hell. Was every single person drowned in The Flood a "bad person?" How is this possible? How were those people able to develop a culture at all, if they were all, from embryo to Great Great Grandmother, "bad?"

The question is not "why do bad things happen to good people?" People do bad things to other people, people make mistakes, and "bad things," that are simply natural phenomena, happen around people. The hilarious thing is when your Christians explain Tsunamis and Flesh-Eating bacteria as a result of Eve and her sin. Their bible has two built-in excuses for the bad things that happen to good people: The first is Covenant Theology, used when the bible fails to live up to its promises. It means "you sinned, so our contract is null." The second is Free Will, to use when the contract was otherwise upheld. It means, "Eve sinned, so by default, you sinned, therefore you`ve broken our covenant. I'm god, so I can pull these kinds of shenanigans. See ya!"

Well, that seems "fair."

Christians. They say the darndest things.

Thanks for listening, diary.


Aaron Kinney said...

Christians, children, and drunks say the darndest things.

Hellbound Alleee said...

Same thing.

breakerslion said...

Indeed, a vast confusion of ideas right in front of my face, but I didn't see it until you pointed it out. How can an inanimate "thing" be bad? "Bad" implies willful intent. Even poison is not "bad" (except in a child-like world view), it is merely inimical. While a person can be predominantly "good", or "bad", this is a judgment of character, made by society, and has no bearing on circumstances other than those directly caused by a person's decisions. The disconnect comes from applying the concept of justice to random circumstance. An Actuarial can tell you the odds of a specific misfortune happening to you. There is no "why" beyond the law of averages. If it doesn't happen to you, it will happen to someone else. Centuries of data at Lloyds of London support the randomness of these events, but Christians and other religious groups persist in looking for and inventing reasons.

Francois Tremblay said...

Two minutes penalty to breakerslion for misuse of the term "random".

Hellbound Alleee said...

Right. Tsunamis aren't "random." Volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. It's just that it's not a result of a big guy that lives up in the air.

breakerslion said...

Hmmm. I see your point. "Random" is a word with murky definition and I will avoid it in the future. Exerpt from Dictionary.com:

ran·dom adj.

1. Having no specific pattern, purpose, or objective: random movements. See Synonyms at chance.

2. Mathematics & Statistics. Of or relating to a type of circumstance or event that is described by a probability distribution.

3. Of or relating to an event in which all outcomes are equally likely, as in the testing of a blood sample for the presence of a substance.

1. Unpredictable (closest to mathematical definition)

My background is in mathematics, and I was using it in the sense of meaning #2. While indeed a Tsunami has a direct and observable cause, One cannot predict where and when one will strike. When further complicated by the motivations and means that govern who will be in the path of said tsunami, the system approaches "random", if one expresses "random" as a mathematical limit.

Still, it is my goal to be clear, and since "random" has more than one meaning, and even my use of it is arguable on some levels, I accept your chastisement.

Francois Tremblay said...

Now saw "May I have another ?"

breakerslion said...

Hmm. That sounds rather cultish...

Francois Tremblay said...

It's old Catholic, actually. Haven't you ever seen those movies where novices get whipped, etc ?

kalanchoe542 said...

Ohhh, baby! May I have another?!? ;-)

breakerslion said...

Nope. I was in that other frat house with the beer kegs flying through the window. Just as a guest, mind you. Ok, party crasher...

Ben Goren said...

The problem with citing ``free will'' as the excuse for evil is that it's a meaningless cop-out. The implication is that evil is a necessary side-effect of free will.

But is that really the case? Because if we have free will, the God has to as well. And God is pure good (Isaiah notwithstanding), so we know that free will and a good moral nature incapable of evil aren't incompatible.

So why, then, when God created us, did he give us his own free will but not his own good moral nature incapable of evil?

This is the exact same question that Epicurus asked a couple centuries before the Christ myth was born:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?