Monday, January 24, 2005

More on Theodicy

This columnist discusses the tsunami's effect on theodicy:
From the earliest days of the Church, believers have had to get used to the fact that terrible things happen in this world, for which theological explanations are very hard to find. The Earth's crust, the winds and the waves have carried on obeying the laws of physics, bringing indiscriminate suffering on the just and the unjust, newborn babies and blackguards alike.

Only a very fragile and dimwitted faith would be shaken by an event that was just the latest in a series of natural disasters - earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and tsunamis - stretching back to the dawn of time.

Who but an idiot would say: 'I could go on believing in God if the tsunami had killed only 10 people [or 2,000, or 20,000]. But, hey, it killed at least 150,000 - and probably a great many more. So there can't possibly be a God'?

Such idiots, if they exist, must be few and far between - and, as I say, I have yet to meet a single one of them. I reckon that all those priests, including Dr Rowan Williams, are just plain wrong when they say that the tsunami has shaken people's belief in God. If anything, it has had the opposite effect. Like so many natural disasters before it, it has made people more, rather than less receptive to the idea that a supreme being may exist.

When something as terrible as this happens, people look for an explanation of human life that transcends the basic biological facts of birth, reproduction and death. Most of us give barely a thought to God when the car is running nicely, the children are doing well at school and there is food on the table.

But then some huge wave wells up in the Indian Ocean and crashes on to the shore, snuffing out thousands upon thousands of lives in a matter of moments, and we all start thinking: is that it? Is there really no more to human life than this - one minute you are sunning yourself on the beach, the next you are dead, and it's all over, for no more profound reason than something to do with tectonic plates? At times such as these, most of us are much more inclined than usual to seek some deeper meaning to our existence, an answer to that age-old question: "What's it all about, then?"
Stuart Buck


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