Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thy Will Be Done - The Next Cultural Battlefield

The furor over various evangelical Republican candidates making short-sighted comments about rape, violence, pregnancies, and women's bodies, hides a backstory conflict that is simmering during the current campaign season, but could well explode regardless of who wins in November.  The statements of Neanderthals like Akin and Mourdock regarding the events that constitute the "will of God" indicate the difficult conundrum faced by some of the devout: If all secular events are due to divine intervention, then that would make God responsible for things like the Aurora shootings, the summer wildfires, and the brutal murders of Jessica Ridgeway and Autumn Pasquale.  And that would mean God is a sadist.  The easiest alternative to this kind of demented thinking is to be an atheist.  But even those of us who stake some claim in divine forces can make things a lot easier by adopting the familiar "God as divine watchmaker" theory.  The universe is created in one or many Big Bangs, then the secular world is left to its own devices.  In short, shit happens.

     Now, I may be in a minority by positing the "Militant Enlightenmentist" theory, which insists that science and rational logic always trumps faith-based and authority-based ways of knowing for events taking place within this physical plane.  But I think that a majority of Americans are moving farther and farther away from the notion that secular events reflect the divine will.  No, God did not punish New Orleans during Katrina.  No, the people who attended the Batman movie in Aurora did not have it coming to them.  Most events on the planet are either random or the result of the errors of mortals.  To believe otherwise causes more theological problems than it alleviates.

     As the Akins and Mourdocks of the world get taken to task for their foolish anti-women screeds, people will show less and less tolerance for claims that something tragic reflects God's will.  And the devout will find themselves painted into corners, ready to lash out at science itself as the work of Satan.  What happens then?  Do we publicly mock those who believe in divine will?  Do we invade the altar during a Catholic service, saying, "Transubstantiation?  I'll prove to you that the wine and wafer remain the wine and wafer!"  There are many atheists of the Dawkins persuasion that might do just that, but I prefer to think of such direct challenges as akin to the provocateur who would kick the crutches away from wounded people merely to watch them fall.

     I'm still trying to figure out a kind and respectful way to deal with this emerging problem, but I'm willing to bet that this will be a primary theological debate space in 2013.  In a world that operates according to physical laws, the savvy are ready to say that divine will is a figment of a primitive imagination.  As a desperate reaction, this will lead to the creation of anti-science coalitions, and may lead the Republican Party to adopt a platform that is more explicitly anti-science.  The follow-on question to be asked, of course, is what kind of legitimacy we accord to the power of prayer.  At some point, I'll be ready to duck, either from invective hurled from devout mortals, or from lightning bolts hurled by divinities who don't like to be relegated to a clock-making operation.

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