The Iliad and Theodicy

Let’s talk about God. Sure it's not what Salt 'n' Pepa want to talk about, but let's talk about God, bay-bee. There’s a big holiday coming up Tuesday and I think that He may be feeling a bit glum, what with all the attention that the Beast will be getting. There's no need to put your Slayer Listening Party on hold, but please take a moment to think about those deities who may be hurt and lonely on that day.

For my part, I’ve decided to try and turn the frown of His Crown upside-down and write a little bit about His Divinitude, specifically what I might do if I were in His shoes. Now, don't let these blatherings confuse you into thinking that I am in any rush to believe in a Higher Power. Pshaw. Blasphemy supplies too much humor fodder to resist. Actually, I hope to show that such humor is itself Supremely Divine. Well, maybe not quite Divine, but certainly a cherished pastime on High.

In any event, even when I’m on my holiest behavior, I’m an agnostic at best. Perhaps if pressed, let’s say by a sudden natural disaster or a professional basketball career, I think I could justify the existence of God based on a few simple behaviors and events that we all see in the world on a regular basis. And further, these are precisely the kinds of things I’d put out there if I were running the show. Quite a coincidence. But first, a big ol’ conundrum.

Theodicy: WTF?

For those not blessed with blind, uncritical faith, there are a series of phases which one might pass through before coming to a final decision about the existence, or lack thereof, and nature of a Higher Power.

First is Infantile Narcissism, a natural phase of psychological development which basically boils down to "I am the Center of the Universe. Give me toys and candy." As everyone likes toys and candy, it's a wonder that anyone ever emerged from this stage. Maybe if there were cake too...

The next stage is formally know in theological circles as the Sunday School Wiseass Exploitation of the Omnipotence Paradox. Basically, this amounts to the "Can God make a rock so heavy that he can't lift it?" school of questioning. It's a phase that usually lasts long enough for some physics nerd to point out that yes, God could in fact create just such a rock, but He could also make a fulcrum of infinite length rendering the super-rock quite movable and thus making the paradox moot. All this talk of fulcra usually bores the wiseass who thus resumes mindless doodling in lieu of deeper debate.

Finally comes a true philosophical dilemma: the theodicy problem, aka "If God is Good, why do puppies die?" A more eloquent way of putting this problem, and one with less puppy blood on all of our hands, is "If God is Good, why is there so much suffering in the world?" Regardless, I love puppies. Ergo, if God is Love, but puppies still die, then something has to give.

Does God really hate these faces?

There are number of classic schools of thought on theodicy.

There's the free will angle: God gave us the choice to be good or suck. If we choose to suck, then it's our problem and we go straight to Hell without getting dessert.

Or maybe you prefer the Divine Plan take on it: God's Plan is Good, even if it's flecked with evil. Overall, it's a pretty solid way to govern a universe. So don't ask questions and clean up that dead puppy!

These being too simple, Seneca the Younger got in on the action: Before he lent his name to the world of agribusiness and made a killing on pickled beets, he said that evil and death and whatnot are not purely bad. They may sound a tad ominous, but they really prepare us to evolve spiritually. What doesn't (or in this case does) kill your puppy will make you stronger.

My personal answer to the theodicy problem is a bit of free will, a bit of millennial ambivalence, and just a pinch of God wants a hug. Basically, God has other things to do (as evidenced by the infinite complexity of the universe that has made Kansas so hip) and He gave us free will so that we could make our own decisions while he was off doing the Unknowable. It eerily parallels the events that led me to learning to do my own laundry.

When I was in elementary school I ardently refused to put my clothes in the hamper out of utter laziness. At the time parents could still discipline their children and DCFS did not yet defend my right to be such a brat. So my mother said, "Put them in the hamper or wash them yourself." Being a stubborn prick, I said fine and she imparted to me the Knowledge of Light and Dark. Same way with free will. Humans want to wear dirty clothes, then fine. Mom has better things to do.

But those other things that need doing in the Firmament or Wherever are hard work and there needs to be some Godly entertainment and appreciation. And so, like the career-obsessed father who takes no interest in his children's lives, but still wants to be loved and revered, God sometimes stops by to wield his awesome power for his own satisfaction.

My Own Private Iliad*

I think the Greeks were on the right track. Their Gods didn't dwell on the finer parts of earthly good and evil. They just kind of liked to fuck with humans. Sometimes literally. Zeus or somebody would take the form of a mortal's husband or a snake or a really alluring woodland creature with cute glasses and a pixie face to seduce the hapless and the horny.

On other occasions, the fucking was figurative. The Gods would mess with their minds, usually through temptation. They gave Pandora the Box to End All Boxes and then told her not to open it. Yeah right. That box had her name all encrusted in jewels on it and adorable little bunnies carved into the side. Then to Odysseus they gave a bag of winds, which he and his crew were to keep shut tight. Of course, the bag was reputed to look like one of those bank robber sacks with a “$” on it. Other legends say that it simply said “Treasure Bag!!!” in block letters.** Our mythico-religious traditions catalog millions of these fishing for human suckers stories. Let us call this mortal frailty the Perpetual Human Fascination with the Forbidden Closet of Mystery (PHUFCOM).

The Cruel Treasure Bags of Human Nature

The Judeo-Christian tradition has plenty of its own tales of the PHUFCOM. Eve and the Apple was all "Look, but don't touch." That worked great. And now, instead of living in the Garden of Paradise, I live in an apartment devoid of houseplants. Splendid.

In time though, this became monotonous. You don't have to be God to figure out that people can't stand not knowing what's in the box or the bag or what's behind the curtain or who slept with whom at the Christmas party. We like to stick our hands in the cookie jar, even if that jar is inside of a bear trap that's on fire. God needed something a little bit more nuanced and unpredictable. If I were God, I would have done the same thing. And our independently arrived at solutions were brilliant!

If the previous dangle-a-carrot form of Godly entertainment was Pac-Man, then this Golden Age of Godly Fun is The Sims. It's a delightful, self-contained universe where changes instituted by an omnipotent force yield a host of entertaining consequences among those persons being manipulated.

Please recall that God, both the "real" one, as well as the One I would be if given Keys to the Kingdom, wants the behaviors of mortals to provide captivating theater as well as exude love for Him/Me-as-Him. How to achieve this effect? Well, one could just visit upon the Earth a Lordly wrath and then kick back and bask in the resultant chaos. Seems a bit vindictive though. Plus, it's a bit gauche for any self-respecting God to do something so predictable. And the bad PR would probably revive that nasty theodicy problem and be a nightmare. To borrow a phrase that a friend seems keen on borrowing, nobody want dutty powder.

A more elegant solution is to tweak human nature to yield benign, but mind-boggling consequences. We have established that human curiosity, while the wellspring of great innovation and discovery, can foster behavior that is not only dumb, but quite at odds with the natural instinct for self-preservation. When Gods tell us the stove is hot, why must we touch it again and again and again? In fact, when they can't get their fix directly from the Heavens, humans often feed this curiosity by inventing elaborate conspiracies to explain the most commonplace things just to make things more fun. And really what greater conspiracy could there be than the existence of God, The Dude who exists everywhere, but who you can't actually see or hear or drink a beer with? The more elaborate the more disjointed the evidence, the more fiercely the curious human will defend it. The more fiercely they defend it, the more devout the love for God.

For me, the best evidence for the existence of God is the fact that people keep seeing Him in clouds or trees or the bumper of an AMC Hornet or in toast. It's a brilliant strategy really. Finding God or Jesus or some other member of his crew on your breakfast plate or brightening the grey wall of an underpass on the way to work, it really helps generate buzz on the street, plus they carry a subtle whiff of conspiracy. Didn't know God invented guerilla marketing, did you? And if you get the right Holy Enthusiasts to see these Miracles of the Banal, look out. That buzz will be infectious, like an underground dance hit. "Here's the new one from the Holy Ghizzost. He's following up the Fullerton Water Stain Mary smash by dropping this little Meatloaf Miracle at the Diversey Golden Nugget." And all of a sudden there is Fear and Reverence and Awe just like there was back in the O.T.

Is this enough to make me a believer? No, not really. But while I fret over the fact that many people choose to ignore empirical evidence of how the world works, I gladly take solace in the fact there is ample proof that this "God" everyone speaks of may have a keen understanding of human nature and thus has parlayed it into a robust career as an inveterate wiseass. That's an Image I can get behind being created in.

*Sure, the Homeric example that I give is actually from The Odyssey, but I was not going to let such triflings get in the way of a good title. If misattribution in the name of poetic license is evil, then go complain to God. He doesn't care and nor do I.

**Even though I have elected to use the patriarchal "He" to refer to God, I will not stoop to instituting "Treasure Bags" as a new euphemism for women's breasts, thank you very much.


At 9:13 PM, Blogger Butternugget said...

Could it be that your writing is just a ruse, a thinly veiled PR stunt to tell us what Evandebacle would do if he were in fact God?


And who can blame a girl for opening a box with such wonder, temptation and bunnies? I mean really, that is way too much to ask.

At 7:09 AM, Blogger evandebacle said...

OK. I guess Pandora is off the hook, but I have a feeling that movie is going to make 2007 a rather unpleasant year for yours truly.

At 7:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great site loved it alot, will come back and visit again.


Post a Comment

<< Home