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Theodicise that! War & Faith

February 14, 2011

I am an atheist.  I fully “deconverted” in early 2009 after years of effective agnosticism.  Later that same year I deployed to Afghanistan.  Without going into detail, my time in that country threw up some difficulties.  I saw death and the consequences of death.  I saw fit young men and women, the best the country can offer maimed and disfigured.  I faced the possibility of my own death.

In this process I have found out a few things about myself and my non-belief in the supernatural, life after death and God (or gods).  It is an oft-repeated claim of religious types that ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’.  Speaking for myself, my thoughts never turned to death or God when under fire.  I was fully occupied with doing my job and not letting the people around me down.  I cannot speak for anyone else I was with, as the British service person is not known for talking about his or her deep thoughts or feelings.

A large part of my job in Afghanistan was to deal with the people who witnessed the deaths of their friends and colleagues, to ask them searching questions about the circumstances in order to find out what happened in each case.  Along the way I attended religious memorial services large and small, public and private, for those service members killed in action.  I never met a single person who mentioned praying for themselves or others in situations involving death.  They were presumably all too busy doing something.

There is no question that many people found comfort in these religious gatherings.  I’m sure that the pain and anger of losing someone is eased by the belief that they are not gone and may be seen again.  That is not to say that it is true.  I personally believe that when someone dies they are not completely lost, but only because what they were to my mind in life remains essentially the same in death.  The grief comes from knowing that they will not add further riches to my life or the lives of others close to them.

Violent death is an ugly thing. It can strip a person of dignity as well as their life.  The death of a soldier is a tragedy and hard to take when you wear the same uniform; even more so when you’ve worked and lived with that person.  What is even worse is the death of a child or other non-combatant.  Final proof, if it were required, that there really is no God, certainly as understood by Christianity.  There is simply no way that the God of the New Testament can be reconciled with a small boy shot in the head at close range, or a young mother and baby blown to pieces by a bomb (incidentally, both acts committed by people who identify themselves as religious).  In light of all this, let’s look at the claims made for God.

Omnibenevolent, infinitely good?  Clearly not, I don’t think we need to spend much time on this.  Morally perfect or perfectly good?  How can a perfectly good or morally perfect being allow a baby to be killed by a victim-operated bomb (booby trap)?  Any moral system in which this fits into the definition of perfect is not one I can recognise or identify with.

So if God is to be infinitely or perfectly good then he must lack either foreknowledge of these events or the ability to affect them.  So much for omniscient and omnipotent.  The ‘trinity’ of qualities ascribed to God, which are said to make him worthy of worship, cannot co-exist in one being in the world which we observe.

There is simply no evidence that stands up to logical thought or rational enquiry that can support the existence of a God as described by the Abrahamic religions.  The Gods of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, effectively the same God from different perspectives, are so morally abhorrent that even if they were proved to exist I would prefer to go to Hell than spend one second in their company.

So, if God cannot be my moral authority, what is?  In a nutshell, it is this phrase:

Any act I do is morally correct if it treats others as ends in themselves and not simply as a means to my ends.

Or to put it another way:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Students of philosophy (which I am not) will recognise both statements, but the first is the better expression of the code.  It is supported by rational arguments, while the second is based on the supposed pronouncements of a morally bankrupt being.  Which just goes to show that correlation is not the same as causation.  But that’s another story.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Aunty Mary permalink
    February 19, 2011 15:48

    What you have said here is not necessarily negative. If this world was created by an omnipresent being then that being abandoned us a very long time ago. We’re on our own Chuck! Your Grandmother would have us continue her good morals. Keep up the good work! What the world needs is good discipline and love for and faith in one another, not faith in false Gods.

    • February 19, 2011 15:52

      I agree that if we’re going to have faith in something, it may as well be other people. We’ll just have to keep calm and carry on I suppose 🙂

  2. February 27, 2011 17:29

    Very well put. It’s nice to see atheists in foxholes speak out against the old cliché that many take for granted.

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