Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Z is for Zoroaster

Zoroaster founded the religion named for him roughly 2500 years ago. His is the only monotheistic religion that deals successfully with what is called “The Problem of Evil.” The problem of evil is most easily stated in question form: Why does an omnipotent and loving God tolerate the existence of the Devil, the supposed source of Evil in the World? Surely an all-powerful God could destroy Satan simply by snapping his Omnipotent Fingers, and, if He Did So, much of the evil in the world would disappear. But since God allows Satan to remain in existence doing his mischief, He must think Satan is okay or, at the very least, a tolerable nuisance.

Old Zoroaster solves the problem of evil. He believed that there are two equally powerful forces in the universe: The God of Light and the God of Darkness. When the God of Light gets his way, things go well and people are healthy and happy. When the God of Darkness prevails, there are epidemics, wars, massacres, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes. Humans can implore the God of Light for help, and, if he finds them deserving, they might even get some. But the God of Darkness is just as powerful and things go his way almost as often.

Ask another monotheist—any believing Jew, Christian or Muslim will do—why God doesn’t put Satan out of business, thereby greatly reducing the level of evil in the world, and you’ll get a lot of hemming and hawing. They can’t answer this question in 25 words or less. And the answers they do give strain credulity far beyond the breaking point.

So, let’s get straight to the point: Why didn’t God do something about the Holocaust? Was He too busy? Was He on vacation? Did He think the Jews had it coming? Were the Nazis doing His Will? Or, perhaps, if the Holocaust hadn’t happened, something worse would have! This last argument, (which Voltaire had such fun mocking in Candide) is simply too preposterous to be taken seriously.

If you read the Torah, there’s ample evidence all over the place that Jews believe that what happens to them, individually and collectively, is based on God’s willingness or unwillingness to help and/or protect them. Way back when, He saved them from the Pharaoh of Egypt. Then He helped drive the Bad Guys out of the Holy Land and gave it to the Jews. But later he stood by and did nothing when other Bad Guys drove the Jews out of the Holy Land. For a very, very long time Muslims owned it. Why did God allow this to happen? Did the Jews deserve to get kicked out? And, having suffered the Holocaust, do they now deserve to have it back? Or, might they have gotten it back sooner or later without the Holocaust?

Maybe the whole notion of “deserving” is beside the point. Maybe the Jews got kicked out way back when because the Babylonians and Romans were simply stronger. Maybe the strength of the Muslims kept them away for a very long time. Maybe they got it back in 1948 because they and their allies were stronger. Maybe they’ll be able to keep it now because they’re stronger than their neighbors. Maybe they’ll be able to keep it forever. Maybe not. Which is more important—being deserving or having power?

Looking at the foreign policy of Israel, one can only conclude that “might makes right“ has become the state religion. If not, what are all those (secretly stockpiled) nuclear weapons for? For no one can make the claim that nukes are nice. They kill the weak and the strong, the innocent and the guilty, without discrimination.

The evidence that bad things can and do happen to good people is overwhelming. Everyone knows many such instances among their immediate circle of family and friends. Watch the evening news on any day in any big city: Something bad will surely happen to some undeserving people. To go on believing that goodness and justice prevail in the face of this overwhelming daily evidence is touching, but it’s alos irrational. Such a belief has nothing to do with faith and a great deal to do with denial.

Theists come back with arguments like this: Sure lots of Bad Stuff happened today but if God had not intervened the amount of Bad Stuff would have been much worse. Sure that little kid was brutally raped and murdered by that deranged killer, but it could have been much worse. Sure those terrorists demolished the World Trade Center, but thousands of people got out alive. If the people who got out alive were a better bunch of people than the ones who died, this argument might have some perverse merit, but many of the people who died seemed to have been very nice people and some of them were surely heroic. God could have made those airplanes miss their targets but He didn’t. At the time, some well-known theologians (I use this term very loosely) offered the opinion that God wanted the World Trade Center demolished as a warning against homosexuality, blasphemy, pornography and all the other depravities they associate with that modern Sodom and Gomorrah we call the City of New York. New York may be a depraved place, but the people who died on 9/11 were not any worse on average than those who survived. Nor were they any worse than those of us who were not in Lower Manhattan that day.

Old Zoroaster would have explained it more simply: The Forces of Darkness won a victory on 9/11. The Forces of Light are simply not strong enough to win every time.

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