Someone we know suffers a serious setback and we remark: “He deserved better.” We are diagnosed with a serious disease and we ask ourselves, “What did I do to deserve this?” When a husband leaves his wife of many years and marries a much younger woman, people mutter: “She didn’t deserve that.”
As if deserving had anything to do with it. Our belief that person X did not deserve outcome Y is based on the mistaken belief that world is a moral order. Wouldn’t it be truly wonderful if everyone got what he or she deserved in life? And, if there were a wise and powerful God who kept close track of all of our lives, She might be able to arrange things so that everyone would get exactly what they deserve. First prize would always go to the best cake. Husbands would be faithful to their devoted wives. Nice people would not come down with awful diseases. And, since we can all agree that newborn babies are utterly innocent and completely deserving, there would be no such thing as birth defects.
But, sadly there are birth defects and nice guys sometimes do finish last and wonderful women frequently end up married to louts.
So when we say X deserved better or Z deserved worse, what we are really doing is deploring the fact that either (a) God failed to act or (b) there is no God. This being the case, atheists should immediately strike the word “deserve” from their vocabulary.
Theists can use the word but their use of it logically implies a criticism of God. After all if She were doing her job better, people would get what they deserve. Nice people would win the lottery and egomanics would never win an Academy Award. Average kids who work very hard in school would get A’s, while their brilliant but lazy classmates would get lousy grades. Gorgeous but arrogant women would get dumped regularly while all the plain Janes would end up with wonderful husbands. And so on.
Wouldn’t it be great! Every day the local news would be filled with stories of rapists resisted and thieves caught red-handed. Crooked politicians would be jailed before they could steal much money and panderers and deceivers would never get elected.
The world would be a moral order and there wouldn’t be any atheists.