Friday, December 16, 2011

When Tinkerbell Met Nyarlathotep

I'm coming to the conclusion that God might not deserve all the vitriol I've spat at It recently.

The cat we tried to save, Tinkerbell, had to be euthanized.  It was kinder to end her intractable suffering than to prolong her suffering, so her short, gentle, troubled life is done.  I hoped that, between the painkillers and our affection, she would have a pleasant death, but her dying moan was horrible; it seemed to contain all the suffering her little body had experienced.  I tell myself that it was merely the result of drug-relaxed muscles wheezing air past vocal chords in an unusual fashion, but I'll never know, will I?

So I got very angry at God for a while.  It's utterly incoherent that an all-good, all-loving, all-powerful Deity would permit and/or cause such suffering.  I don't buy the usual rationalizations that try to balance that equation.  You know the ones:


  • God has a plan that we can't know, everything happens for a reason.  This hand-waving doesn't deal with the conundrum; it just refuses to engage the conundrum.
  • Closely related: Who are you to question God?  It's the same as the first one, really, but adapted for the kind of people who lick the hands of tyrants.  My response to this is not polite.  
  • The old character-building argument.  "Caring for a suffering animal made you more empathetic," that sort of thing.  While this argument has merit, it doesn't really get God off the hook, does it?  If I tortured your pets to death, or through inaction allowed them to be tortured to death, I doubt you'd thank me for the wonderful character-building exercise.  No double standards, please.
  • Then there's my favorite, the Original Sin argument, A.K.A. blaming the victim.  We have suffering because we did something wrong.   Eve deserved it; she was dressed like a slut, so she had it coming.  I suspect the whole Original Sin narrative was cobbled together by some pious soul who wanted to get God off the hook.  Why do people always want to let God off the hook?
It occurs to me, though, that I may not be angry because of suffering and death per se (grieving is another matter), but because Mr. All-Loving All-Powerful fails to live up to the inflated reputation.  If I were of a different faith I might not be so angry.  If I were a Hindu I might just say "Well, that's how Shiva rolls.  I don't like it, but there's no disconnect between this earthy horror and Shiva's reputation."

A short story that I used to read for high school forensics competitions springs to mind: Nyarlathotep by H. P. Lovecraft.  I have fond memories of reading this in a manner so hammy it would make Vincent Price wince.  I never won the competition, but once a judge said "I have just been through hell on earth," after I concluded, and that made it all worth it.  I remember being uneasy about my reasons for selecting the story, though.  It was such a blasphemous parody of Millennialist Christian theology, and I  was so attracted to it despite my piety.  Nowadays the religious vision in the story seems far more plausible to me than the cuddly God on offer at Churches everywhere.  Sure, Lovecraft's cosmic worldview was shaped by racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and plain old misanthropy, but does that make him so different from the early church fathers?

Anyway, I conclude that I need to reexamine the Bible.  It's possible that the all-loving and all-powerful nature attributed to God is more a product of Christianity's marketing department than the Scriptures.  I don't doubt a more complex portrait of the Almighty comes through in the primary texts; texts which may not overburden God with more goodness and omnipotence than is compatible with the facts on the ground.