Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Mark Twain - God is not just

Christopher Hitchens introduces Mark Twain in the Portable Atheist by saying that he had trouble being taken seriously when talking about grave topics. I think the use of wit to make a point sometimes drives it home more, but that might be my 21st century thinking. The two essay in the Portable Atheist were published after Mark's death due to the "climate of bigotry" (page 116). Unlike the first century Christians and some modern day Chinese Christians who proclaim their faith publicly, it seems Twain was a bit worried about what the culture thought of his ideas.

Mark starts off his Thoughts of God by explaining how annoying the fly is. Mark sees that flys has no other purpose except for annoying things so therefore there is no need for the fly. I wonder why he picked the fly as other creatures in nature annoy another as the lion annoys is prey, and so are humans do towards cows and chickens. One animal is the annoyance of another. It think its called the food chain.

Mark argues that if a person made the fly he must be "a man destitute of feeling; a man willing to wantonly torture and harass and persecute myriads of creatures who had never done him any harm and could not if they wanted to, and - the majority of them - poor dumb things not even aware of his existence." (page 117) that person would also think "that it is fair and right to send afflictions upon the just - upon the unoffending as well as upon the offending, without discrimination." (page 117)

The last two paragraphs of this essay has the main thrust of his argument against God.
"We hear much about His patience and forbearance and long-suffering; we hear nothing about our own, which much exceeds it." (page 117).
I'm not so sure about this statement. I mean we can put up with a fly for a few minutes before we try and kill the sucker, but what if your own creation turns against you and wants nothing to do with you. How many thousands of years would you put up with them? The person who swats the fly has run out of patients with it. Fortunately God hasn't yet with us.

Mark raises his main objection here:

The pulpit assures us that wherever we see suffering and sorrow which we can relieve and do not do it, we sin, heavily. There was never yet a case of suffering or sorrow which God could not relieve. Does He sin, then? (page 118)

If we see something that can help someone else and do not do it then we sin, but surely God can see all sorts of injustice he could stop and doesn't, therefor God is the greater sinner.

It seems that Mark wants a world that doesn't conform to standard expectations. When something bad is about to happen Mark would like God to intervene. If you slip over does God make the ground softer or the speed at which you fall slower or does he stop people from walking in the first place? What if you fall out of a plane? What if you wanted to go sky diving? Would airplanes be stopped by God in the first place? Is seems that for us to be free agents, we need a consistent predictable world that we can deal with.

You help someone by giving them something they need. When someone is hungry you give them food, when cold you give them clothes and blankets. God gives us people to help other people. The church is to be God's representatives on earth. Yes it sometimes has failed, but the idea is still alive. Since the we are free agents, that means there is a chance that the church can (and does in many cases) still live up to its role.

Another thing God has given humanity is Jesus who found out what its like to suffer on this earth. He knows what flys are and how annoying they can be. He has suffered to the point of death. God has given us a Redeemer and Saviour for we are all under death and we have all done wrong, but now, because of God's grace we can be helped and freed from sin and death.

You can read Twain's Thoughts of God here.


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