Saturday, April 4, 2009

Fear Tactics

Check out what just showed up in the mail.

Death. It is one thing we all have in common. It is something that we can't escape. For some people, this is a frightening thought. For many, what you see is all that is, which means that death wins - it has the final word. The story of Easter claims that death does not win. The story of Easter and the story of Jesus declares that in some strange, yet profound reversal, life wins.

And it goes from there in the same William Wallace-esque "Few of us ever ask if we've ever truly lived" kind of stuff we're used to hearing from that crowd.

But just wow. Not even trying to hide it. Thing is, death isn't an entity. It's a fact. That's like saying that, because we all can't fly around like Superman, gravity wins.

Fact is, I don't stress about death. When it comes, it comes. If I die tonight, I hope it's as painless as possible. If I die in seventy years, I hope it's as painless as possible. That's really all I ask. I'm in no rush to die, but being afraid of it just because it really is the end is just silly. Hell, if it wasn't the end, there'd be more to fear. The thing about death is that when it's over, it's over. The afterlife can keep on screwing with you, though.

Also, who says "what you see is all that is"? Talk about your straw men. Even the most rudimentary understanding of science or art can show you that this is plainly untrue, even for the most hardcore materialist.

I hope they keep sending these things to me. I'm betting the next one starts off with, "YOU HAVE CANCER."

Supervillains and Religion

It is, without doubt, because I am a nerd that I often find comic book parallels for theistic and apologetic arguments. I'm going to address one of them today.

The problem of evil was first (as far as we know) articulated by Epicurus around three hundred years before the Common Era. It's a rather simple argument and, while it doesn't disprove the existence of any gods, it rather handily disproves the existence of a benevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient god. That's what Epicurus wanted to do, after all; he simply thought the gods (plural) were removed and uninterested in humanity.

It goes like this:

There is evil in the world.

Does God not want to prevent that evil? Then he is not benevolent.

Is God unable to prevent that evil? Then he is not omnipotent.

If he is both benevolent and omnipotent, then why is there evil?

That's sort of the David Hume version. There exist numerous responses to this, all of which fail to understand the meaning of the words "omnipotent" or "benevolent." I'm going to address one that fails on the latter.

Saint Irenaeus and others have said that evil is a necessary part of spiritual growth. After all, if we had no hardship to endure, we would have nothing to build our characters. There is no courage without fear, for instance. On some level, this misunderstands the nature of omnipotence; simply because we cannot conceive of something does not mean that it could not be so. Indeed, if God is omnipotent, exactly the opposite. He must be able to accomplish the logically impossible, or there are limits to his power.

However, setting that aside, let's grant the premise that evil must exist for spiritual growth. Is it worth it? Is that moral?

Zoom is an enemy of the Flash in DC Comics, who, like many well-constructed villains, follows a different moral code. He thinks he does what he does for the greater good, while the rest of us view his actions as obviously and horribly evil. He attempted to murder the Flash's pregnant wife, and succeeded in causing a miscarriage of their twin children. He has been responsible for numerous tragedies in the lives of many heroes, all with the goal of making better heroes. The element of personal tragedy that marks so many heroes, Zoom reasons, is what makes them sympathetic to the suffering of others. This is why they risk so much to help people. Thus, inflicting evil on an individual builds his or her character.

Sound familiar? Strange, isn't it, how a defense of God's motivations so easily translates into the motivations of a supervillain. That's not a benevolent god, that's a sociopath.