My pastor brought up an interesting double standard on Sunday regarding the arrest last week of a man who admitted to planning an Aurora-style mass shooting.
Back in July, a gunman dressed in tactical gear set off a tear gas bomb during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, then opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding another 58. The suspect, James Holmes, was arrested outside the theater.
The shooting immediately brought about the same old argument that nearly every tragedy creates: the question of “Where was God when this was going on?”
Some seem to believe that unless God appears like a magician and thumps a gunman right off the planet moments before the first gunshot can be fired, there must not be a God.
Shortly after the Aurora mass shooting, a post titled, “Where was God in Aurora?” appeared on CNN’s religion blog. One of the comments from an atheist, written in the form of a letter coming from a non-existent God, started this way:
“God here. I thought I would take the time to personally explain my absence in the Aurora shootings. While I was at it, I thought I would also explain my absence during every murder, massacre and crime that has ever taken place in world history, and in every war, in every famine, drought and flood.
“You see, I do not exist. I never have.”
Though others asked where the shooters family and friends were, where security at the theater was, and even why no one in the theater violated a concealed weapons prohibition inside the theater, non-believers decided that the shooting was the evidence of a lack of God.
Last week, however, a Missouri man was arrested after his mother alerted police that something might be wrong her son. He reportedly admitted to police that he was planning a mass shooting at a midnight showing of the new Twilight movie and then a follow-up shooting at the nearby Walmart. With an arsenal that included 400 rounds of ammunition, his goal was to take as many lives as he could before he ran out of bullets.
I wonder how many of these same non-believers are now saying, “Wow, God did prevent a massacre. So He must exist after all.
Actually, I don’t wonder. I’m sure that I know how many of them are making that conclusion: zero.
But here’s where the double standard comes into play: if a tragedy is going to be regarded as evidence of a lack of God, the saving of up to 400 lives through the arrest of man who allegedly planned a similar tragedy ought to go in the other column of evidence supporting (at the very least) the possibility of God. It doesn’t ever seem to work that way.
Non-believers are more likely, in fact, to argue that the Missouri shooting was stopped not by God, but by a concerned family member and police. But again, this is a double standard: if you’re going to place all of the praise on family and law enforcement in the latter case, then you have to be courageous enough to be consistent in your argument and place equal amounts of blame on family and law enforcement in the former.
That’s not easy to do in the wake of such a tragedy, particularly for people who believe there’s no one besides humans on whom blame can be placed. But logically, you can’t place blame on someone you believe doesn’t exist to begin with.
The biggest problem with this kind of argument is that it presumes that the world must exist within only one of two possible models: one in which God is meticulously controlling every event that occurs like a giant puppeteer, or that because He apparently isn’t, He doesn’t exist at all.
A third option, that God allows some bad things to happen — even to good people — but does intervene at certain points in time, without us being able to immediately understand why some things happen and why others are seen to be prevented, is too much for some to be able to handle. If God exists, and yes, I believe He does, we have to be able to imagine that He must be so advanced beyond our understanding that we can’t fully know everything there is to know about how He operates and why He chooses to do (or not do) in any given situation.
It is human arrogance to assume that we can know all there is to know, particularly if we’re trying to “nail down” the thought processes of a Supreme Being that must, by definition, be more advanced that we are.
Some, unfortunately, view this as a cop-out on the part of a believer, a convenient excuse not to have an answer for everything. But there are plenty of things in this world for which even the greatest scientists who’ve ever lived cannot provide a complete answer or explanation. What, then, is their excuse?
If one does not believe in a supernatural force such as a god, he or she won't believe that one had anything to do with anything that happens, An atheist might point out that no god or supernatural being appeared to interfere in the Aurora shootings but they will also say with the same conviction that no god or supernatural being was involved in the mother seeking help for her son, as well. There is no inconsistency here at all.
“I can no more understand the totality of God than the pancake I made for breakfast understands the complexity of me”― Donald Miller
@Cathryn (aka Strange) You phrased it very well: when something bad happens, they point out that nothing supernatural "appeared to interfere." But that argument should logically cut both ways: when something particularly good happens, in this case, potentially hundreds of lives being saved, they're unwilling to even CONSIDER that anything supernatural MIGHT have "appeared to interfere."
If you're going to paint negative outcomes as "proof" of no God, you should be willing to consider the possibility that a positive outcome could, in turn, suggest the remotest of possibilities that God might exist.
Otherwise, they are devaluing their own "proof," because the nature of the outcome really doesn't matter. That's why it's a double standard.
Instead, I believe they may be attempting to counter the religious individuals who want to claim that God had something to do with good things that happen but then are silent on the actions of God when bad things happen. See, atheists tend to see that as a hypocrisy themselves.
As for expecting an atheist to consider that there might be something supernatural causing something good to happen, what new information is being offered that they haven't seen before that would cause them to change their mind? In the example you give in your post, a mother notices some significant changes in her son that she is concerned about so she contacts the authorities. Yes, I suppose it is possible that God told her to do so but there is no way to know for sure - or prove - this. Is it not just as likely that she made the decision to do something based on the evidence she saw - that is, the changes in her child's behavior?
See, unless an atheist was born into a family with no religious background, they most likely were taught a religious belief growing up. For whatever reason - and this varies greatly - they realized that they could no longer believe what they were taught. Most atheists don't reach that decision lightly nor quickly. It tends to be a gradual progression of things, over time, that build up until he or she realizes that they must re-examine their belief.
Please don't make the mistake of thinking that atheists haven't carefully thought through a lot before they arrived at their conclusion. Most of us have spent a great of time examining and researching their beliefs (and sometimes the beliefs of others) searching for truth. Many have simply decided that there is not enough evidence of a god to believe in one.
Sorry for the length of my response, but I wanted to be clear.
@Cathryn (aka Strange) Agreed on both counts, and I'm glad you feel I treat you fairly; that is certainly always my intent.
I'm not sure of a great term to replace "true atheist," either, but perhaps "committed atheist" gets a little closer to it. It may be that there are some who just want to argue whether they've taken much time to embrace either side completely.
Of course, it's important that I note that I believe that for every "troublemaker" on the non-believer side, there are at least two or three who'd place themselves on the believer side. I don't think those who just like to argue for sport do much good to either side, or themselves, for that matter, and I try to do my best to point out such instances from either side.
@patricksplace And I just realized that I neglected to mention that I appreciate your respectful approach toward me as a non-believer. There is no reason that theists and atheists can't get along with each other. We are all human beings, after all, and not so very different from each other.
@patricksplace @Cathryn (aka Strange) I understand what you are saying and I agree. There are a variety of different people who identify as atheists and they behave in different ways for different reasons. After all, the only thing that all atheists have in common is that they have no belief in a deity or deities. I would avoid calling anyone a "true" atheist as opposed to anyone else, however. I appreciate that there isn't a good term for the type of person you described that way but if they don't believe in a god, then they are an atheist by definition. I consider myself a skeptic as well as an atheist so perhaps that distinction would help.
I don't pretend to know the motivations of people who behave the way you describe but I do know people who feel it is their job to point out any possible hypocrisy that they see. I also know some very angry people who happen to be atheists and I suspect that it is difficult to have a respectful conversation with them about religion. Remind me to tell you about the most angry atheist I've ever encountered sometime. It's an interesting story that I'll not go into here but fascinating once you know some details of his past and how he came to behave in that way. (and no, I'm not excusing his bad behavior but I think that the reasons why he lashes out are surprisingly understandable)
I'm glad that you understand that I try to respect other people regardless of their beliefs. I truly have no issue with people believing what seems true and right to them - as long as they aren't trying to push their beliefs onto others or use them to discriminate or hurt others.
And yes. I do understand that many believers have also done a lot of "soul-searching" and remained believers and that's fine with me. You have to work things out for yourself and your conclusions are your own. I'm not going to tell you that you are wrong for coming to the decision you have. I can only stay true to what I believe is the truth and you must do the same.
@Cathryn (aka Strange) I agree with the majority of what you said. I think there's only a fine line of disagreement here.
I think the big difference is that you and I seem to be talking about two different kinds of people. I agree with you that a true atheist believes that neither outcome could possibly mean God exists.
I've dealt with people, however, who are either not true atheists or are just people who like to argue for one reason or another. Those people attempt to use only negative outcomes to suggest this as proof that God doesn't exist. If they were truly atheistic, one would expect them to argue simply that God doesn't exist no matter how well or badly something turns out; that's not what the people I'm talking about seem willing to do.
The people I'm speaking of seem determined to use only one side of an argument as "definitive proof" of something. They never address the other side of the argument, despite the fact that they base their argument not on the notion that God doesn't exist but that a tragedy means that God doesn't exist.
The difference may seem small, but it's there.
I appreciate you taking the time to explain your position, and for the record, I don't assume that true atheists haven't carefully thought through their beliefs (or lack thereof). However, there are those of us who do believe in God who've likewise taken a great deal of time examining and re-examining our positions; it's not, as some atheists have suggested to me, that believers are just interested in accepting "fairy tales."
I don't see you as someone who disrespects people because of their beliefs, whatever those beliefs are.