4. And God Against Them All
“Scrape the veil of faith from your eyes/Your prayers ascend like black smoke to the empty skies.” — Catharsis, “… And God Against Them All”
In this section, I’ll examine the characteristics, actions and responsibilities of the Christian God. Is he all-powerful? Does he answer prayers? Does he save lives? And is he punk rock?
To begin, let’s examine a hypothetical situation. A school bus full of infants and children is teetering on the edge of a high cliff. Ten million people are aware of the situation and are praying for the innocent tots. Yet the rescuers are unable to save the bus and it slides off the edge, plummeting to the sharp rocks and deep ocean below. Incredibly, one infant survives with only minor bruises, but all of the other children die, either during the impact when their tender flesh and brittle bones are smashed to bloody mush, or afterwards, when the cold, salty water fills their lungs and they slowly drown in great pain. (Sounds like a grindcore song, doesn’t it?)
The questions begin: What is God’s role in the deaths of these children? Why did God let them die such painful deaths? Is God responsible for saving the sole survivor? Was it really a “miracle” that one child lived? Is it appropriate to thank or praise God because someone survived a horrible event in which many others were killed? If you had the power and knowledge, wouldn’t you have saved all those kids? Why didn’t God do it?
An excerpt from a story in USA Today about Christian exploitation of the Columbine school shootings (June 1, 1999, page 3A) illustrates this point:
- “The very moment it started, we turned to Jesus and we prayed,” says Katie Teitsworth, 16, who spent more than three hours holed up in Columbine’s choir office as fellow students died. “He did an awesome job of keeping as many people alive as he did. So many lives were saved.”
The first question that leaps to any intelligent person’s mind should be: “What about the lives that weren’t saved?” Was Jesus not powerful enough to save their lives? Or were their horrible, violent deaths merely part of some Heavenly Plan which we can never comprehend? If the latter is true, then we should not be grateful for any alleged lifesaving divine intervention, because the people who died were meant to die and the people who lived were supposed to liveÊ- there is no “rescuing” or “saving” involved. If an evil genius sent an army of serial killers out into the world to murder all red-haired people, it could not be argued that the evil genius “saved the lives” of the non-redheads. In the same manner, if you believe that God has a divine scheme for the world which involves the violent deaths of innocent people, then you cannot thank him for “saving” lives because the fate of all survivors (and victims) has already been determined. There is nothing to save anyone from because the outcome is always preordained — if you believe in the Heavenly Plan theory.
The bottom line is that if God is powerful enough to save a single life, then he is presumably powerful enough to save all lives. Because God does not save everybody’s life when a tragedy occurs, we must assume one of two things:
- God was not powerful enough to save everybody.
- God was powerful enough to save everybody, but he chose not to do so. (the Heavenly Plan theory)
Most Christians would probably agree that assumption number two is the one they would make. But each assumption has a conclusion which follows it:
- God was not powerful enough to save everybody — therefore God is not all-powerful.
- God was powerful enough to save everybody, but he chose not to do so — therefore God is not all-loving.
What kind of loving God allows a busload of children to fall off a cliff — or a school full of teenagers to be assaulted by gun-wielding maniacs — or a church full of worshippers to collapse — or a town full of Christians to be flooded — or a city full of people to be bombed flat?
Some Christians counter this argument by saying that God is indeed all-loving, and the people who died did so for a greater good or as part of “God’s plan.” But what kind of greater good is served by the needless, painful death of thousands of innocents? If you’re an anti-abortion Christian who believes that God is all-loving and all-powerful, what Almighty purpose is being served by the millions of abortions since Roe v. Wade? If you’re a vegan Christian, why do you think that God allows billions of animals to be tortured and murdered for humanity’s pleasure? How powerful or intelligent can God be if his sacred plan involves the mass murder of countless people and animals?
And if God does have a plan which includes torture, rape and murder as part of a “greater good,” then shouldn’t we be overjoyed when such things occur? When people you love are in a car wreck which smashes their bones and causes them to bleed to death over the course of three hours, shouldn’t you be really happy — because after all, their suffering is part of God’s plan which will ultimately result in something really wonderful at some point in the future, right? To be upset or distraught because your friends or family are assaulted or murdered is, according to this Greater Good theory, utterly blasphemous. You may as well just spit in God’s face whenever you shed a tear for some grim tragedy.
Another attempt at explaining cruelty and sadism among humans is the Free Will argument. This basically says that humans do bad things because God allows us to have free will. In other words, when your dad abuses your mom, it’s because God is purposely letting him do it in order to express free will. But what about things that aren’t the result of human free will, such as the aforementioned bus accident? What about earthquakes and hurricanes? Why do innocent people have to suffer just so that evil people may express their free will?
Christians rarely say that people deserve to die in untimely, miserable ways, but such arguments are not unheard of. We’ll call this the You Deserve It theory, which is different from the Heavenly Plan/Greater Good theories in that it assumes victims of untimely deaths were actually deliberately killed by God because they deserved death. Among members of the Religious Right, for example, you might find those who will claim that AIDS is a divine punishment for homosexuals, and you might hear someone claim that God caused an evil person to die in a fire or car accident — but you will have a harder time digging up anyone who will says that babies who die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome were killed by God because they were especially wicked.
The final question is, why does an allegedly all-loving, all-powerful God permit innocent people to die in so many horrible ways? When punk singer Mia Zapata was raped and murdered, which of these options was more comforting to her Christian friends?
- her excruciatingly painful ordeal was part of “God’s plan” for a “greater good” and therefore a wonderful, beautiful thing;
- that God either ignored her agony or was unable to prevent it; or
- that God deliberately arranged for her to suffer in such unspeakable ways because she was a bad person
Such a brutal, cold and impersonal God is not compatible with the values of hc/punk. No matter what you think hc/punk is about (if anything at all — see section 10), it is clearly not about standing by idly while your children or other people you care about are injured or killed. Nor is it about overlooking such icy cruelty in hopes that it will lead to some “greater good.” And it certainly shouldn’t be about accepting a belief system in which adherents worship a powerful entity who commits precisely these crimes.