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January 06, 2005

Too Busy for Theology at the Moment

Fenster Moop writes:

Dear Blowhards,

Ron Rosenbaum is tired of the debate among the religious over how to reconcile an all-knowing God with tragedies like the Asian tsunami.

Gerard Baker is tired of non-believers trying to score points by saying that an all-knowing God is just not able to be reconciled with the tragedy.

The best thing I heard on the subject, though, was from Pat Robertson. On last night's Joe Scarborough talking-headfest, Scarborough started out by pushing Robertson to address the theology of the matter. Robertson's response: we've been too busy helping out to think much about it, but when you get right down to it, the tsunami happened because of a large movement of earth under the sea. That was a nice formulation, and an appropriate response.

As Rosenbaum concludes:

I would propose a truce between believers and unbelievers so they can stop fighting over the credit for the goodness of the rescue workers, whether it should be assigned to God or to man, so that we can remove God—and the critique of God—from the equation entirely for a while and save our energy to support the recovery unencumbered by this perennial debate, however important and profound.

Amen to that.



posted by Fenster at January 6, 2005


I agree that the argument at this point is beside the point---like former Prez Bush said when asked if US aid to Muslim countries might improve our image among them---"Yes, it might, but that's not why we're doing it." But...I do think Robertson's answer is a cop out. This guy believes in a literal translation of the Bible, the Old Testament, the all-knowingness of the Creator and the yawning jaws of hell. He BETTER have a better answer than the one he gave, or his actual conviction seems wobbly.

Posted by: annette on January 6, 2005 11:50 AM

Robertson's response isn't a 'nice formulation', it's a dodge.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on January 6, 2005 12:25 PM


You're right that Robertson was dodging, but I still like the comment, despite the hypocrisy.

I didn't take his comment as particularly sincere. In a way you could see he wanted to get out of the whole explanation of "how-could-God-let-this-happen?", given the enormity of the tragedy. And in fact, within a few minutes on-air he was edging back into the territory of God 'sending messages' in various ways. The man can't help it.

So I do take him to have been somewhat hypocritical, but I agreed with the formulation nonetheless. It's nice he felt compelled under the weight of events to have to dodge in an appropriate direction--toward generalized compassion and action and away from bloviating theological commentary that does nothing to make things any better in Asia.

Posted by: fenster on January 6, 2005 2:21 PM

Yeah, Falwell dodged it. Too bad.

The real question is death itself, not any particular death or even large group of deaths all at the same time. Why does God allow this? Everyone who suffers or loses a loved one asks this. It is really the most basic question of all. Job asked it. And each of us suffers and each of us will eventually lose each of our loved ones, or die first ourselves. This is a mandatory and non-negotiable aspect of the Human Condition, and it really is hard cheese on all of us, no matter how you slice it.

Christianity has always had the same answer to the existence of death, suffering, evil: Original Sin. We were not meant to suffer and die. We suffer and die because or first ancestors by their disobedience squandered the gifts God initially endowed them with, including bodily immortality and integrity so that they did not suffer or die due to heat, cold, hunger, tsunamis, etc. but were able to live in harmony with nature. We know and feel at some level that we are not meant to suffer and die, that these occurrences are violations of our true nature, and this is itself a source of suffering.

Hence the significance of Jesus Christ, who has liberated us from this condition, by allowing us to identify ourselves with him and so obtain eternal life, i.e. to bear the cross with him and by enduring suffering in union with him to escape the consequences of original sin, to make that suffering redemptive for ourselves and others.

Another under-discussed Christian doctrine is the resurrection of the body. We will not be bodiless spirits. We are meant to be both matter and spirit, and each of us will be again.

All this will of course strike modern rationalists as hard to swallow, dubious, preposterous, what have you. But there it is. It is black letter, Christianity 101.

Why Falwell cannot say these simple things is beyond me. Maybe he needs a Roman Catholic to beat some religion into him.

Posted by: Lexington Green on January 6, 2005 11:05 PM

I'd just like to add that all Christians don't think alike, especially when it comes to theology. I know this seems obvious, but it just hasn't sunk in on a broad level. We all seem to be painted rather one-dimensionally. Most of the current icons of Christianity are conservative. But there are so many lesser quoted, more rational thinking Christians, that could have popped out a much better answer to the God/tsunami question. Heck, I'm sure even some thinking conservatives get squeamish over Pat Robertson's simplicity. In order to get a richer understanding of any religion, it's helpful to see it's diversity.

I appreciate and learn from the conservative Christian point of view. It balances out my liberal theological wanderings ... where I am most at home. (even though politically I'm rather conservative)

I wish there were some way to crack open the hold that conservatives have on Christian theology. A good book on this: "Stealing Jesus, How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity" by Bruce Bawer. It was written in '97. I haven't looked lately for more updated books on this topic.

I agree with Lex Green that the God/tsunami issue is really about death. And how "it really is hard cheese on all of us, no matter how you slice it." Maybe to go one step further, I'd say it's about the separation between man and God. Because heck, death would be okay if God were there holding our hands telling us exactly what would happen next. (God comes to me minutes before my death and says, "Now see Laurel, I'm holding your new body. You'll fall asleep for a few seconds, and then wake up inside this buff thing. Yeah BAY-BEE!)

The ONLY analogy that helps me is to think of the earth as a big fat womb. God carries us in His belly and loves us deeply. Unfortunately, for Him to literally touch us, would be to destroy us. I don't expect that to help anyone else ... but there is something there I think.

I would give my answer to the God/tsunami question ... cause after all, God could have left the earthquakes out of His womb. But well, the post began by saying how tiresome that issue has become. And, I must agree.

Posted by: laurel on January 7, 2005 5:59 AM

Lexington Green, you're right on target. I honestly cannot understand why these basic doctrines are not being put forth. If Christians don't integrate Christianity 101 into their everyday lives, how can they be expected to after a calamity?

Posted by: beloml on January 7, 2005 10:00 AM

Seems Mr. Baker is convinced it all happens so he has something to write an article about now and again.

Posted by: Rob Asumendi on January 7, 2005 12:11 PM

Interesting comments all around. I just can't get myuself worked up about explaining physcial events, even terrible catastrophes, in religous terms--or at least in terms of a relation to a personal God. I just may have to accept the fact that I find the idea of a personal God to be not that compelling--never have, even in Sunday School.

On the other hand, I have to recognize that my own desire to "explain" events from a non-personal God point of view reflects a need for solace in the same fashion as does an explanation proferred by a believer. Same wellspring.

Posted by: fenster on January 11, 2005 12:01 PM

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