Saturday, October 8, 2011

F is for Faith

Some medieval theologians maintained that faith is a “gift” from God. Taking them at their word, the faithless should not be blamed for their faithlessness since it’s not their fault God passed them by when He was handing out gifts. You might argue that God passed them by deliberately so as to exclude them from the Community of Believers, but why would a merciful God do that? Why be needlessly cruel by denying a passport to heaven when hell beckons?

Why does a merciful God do nothing when terrible things happen to good people? The Mongols conquered Russia in the 13th century. After they conquered the entire country the Orthodox Church offered up prayers to God on behalf of the Great Khan. When the Great Khan learned of this he was puzzled since he knew his conquest of Russia was intended solely to benefit the Mongols at the expense of the conquered people. “Why do they pray for me? I am their enemy!” he must have wondered.

The logic of the Orthodox Church required these prayers. God had sent the Mongols to Russia to punish the nation for its many sins. Had the Russian people been entirely innocent, the Mongols would have passed by harmlessly. But there had been much sin. Only when the suffering of the Russian people expiated all of these sins would the Mongols would go away. God sent them, and, when our sins have been paid for, He  will take them away. Since they are here now by the Grace of God we must pray for them for otherwise we would be in opposition to the Divine Will.

Now that’s faith. It took 240 years of suffering under the Yoke of the Mongols for Russia to expiate its sins. In 1917, when the Bolsheviks took over the story was repeated. The Church prayed for Stalin too. This time it took only 72 years for Russia’s sins to be expiated.

When one examines the history of other Christian countries none of them seems  any more or less sinful than Russia. Yet God let Russia alone be conquered and ruled for 240 years by the Mongols. During that time the Mongols did terrible things to Russia; mass murder, forced military service, rape, forced labor, rapacious tax collection, extortion, vandalism and so on. In 1380 there was a rebellion in Russia against the Mongols. But they came to Russia in force in 1382 and reestablished their hegemony, and the prayers on behalf of the Great Khan continued for another 98 years.

Does history of any other country know faith such as this?

The Russians must have thought that they had done something very, very bad to be punished this way. When calamities occur, faith in a just and omnipotent God leaves no other interpretation. The Russian Church believed the Russian people deserved to suffer, otherwise their misery would make no sense. Of course, the Russian people had done bad things. Everybody—and every people—does bad things once in a while. Therefore, whatever punishment God decides to inflict, be it the Mongols, the Holocaust, the plague, or AIDS, there will always be believers who will say: “It is God’s Will.”

Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God of the Original Testament, makes this clear over and over again. QUOTE>

Religious thinking is hopelessly clouded by guilt. A God who intervenes in human affairs cannot be neutral. He either intervenes on behalf of the innocent who suffer unjustly, or, by his failure to intervene, He condones their suffering. Which can only mean it is deserved.

When something terrible happens, never ask What did I do to deserve this? or What did they do to deserve this? The answer is always the same: Nothing!

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