Haec credam a deo pio? A deo iusto? A deo scito?

I’ve been listening to more of those CICCU talks.

Tues 13th Loving God, Broken World: Has God Lost Control?

Bloody theodicy, as some on my friends list might say. Simon Scott approaches the issue of suffering sensitively, as one who has experienced it himself (an illness 7 years ago, he says: I think I remember praying for him at church. I don’t know what was wrong with him, but his description of makes it sound awful).

His points are familiar to anyone who’s looked into Christian responses to the Problem of Evil. God created a good world, but human disobedience made it go wrong. God is absolved of blame for this, even natural disasters are somehow our fault (perhaps, like Mr Deity, God was worried it’d be too easy to believe in him otherwise). Perhaps intentionally, given Scott’s audience, it’s not clear whether he’s advocating creationism. It’s possible to read the Genesis story as applying to Everyman and Everywoman, but hard to see how that interpretation has the cosmological implications that Scott outlines: once the entire world was good, now it is fallen, even in the impersonal, non-human parts. I was a theistic evolutionist once, and it involved a lot of hand-waving.

So, the world has gone bad. But, says Scott, God will fix this (unfortunately, not for everyone, as some people will go to Hell). We might call that pie in the sky when you die and wish for a better world now, but we shouldn’t. After all, if God were to judge sin now, where would he stop? The implication is, as usual, that everyone is guilty, and we’d better be careful when we wish for divine intervention, as we may get it.

This argument fails because it assumes that God’s way of making the world better would be to obliterate everything that displeases him. I can think of more subtle ways of doing it than that. It’s odd that God apparently can’t.

Scott acknowledges that his explanation is incomplete, but implies it’s best not worry why that is, just ensure that you aren’t excluded from the perfect world which will be re-created at the end of time. He tells a parable of a cyclist hit by a bus (this is Cambridge, after all), and a passerby who gives a precise explanation of his body’s pain response rather than helping him to a hospital. There’s certainly a pragmatism to this, which echoes the Buddhist story of Malunkyaputta and the man shot by an arrow: it’s pointless to tell someone who is suffering about eternal verities rather than how to end their suffering. That said, there’s no suggestion in Malunkyaputta’s story that the world is watched by someone who could intervene, but chooses not to. In the meantime, Christians had better not pass by on the other side, but God is at liberty to do so.

Wed 14th Jesus Asked, “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8v29)
The Profit Motive in Religion

After a good start in which he advises Christians to read The God Delusion and atheists to read Alister McGrath, Phillip Jensen plays religion’s trump card. You’re all going to die, he says, and what are you going to do then?

We’ve all woken at 4 am and realised we shall one day die (unless that’s just me and Larkin). Religion deals in the certainties we want when uncertainty is too terrible. Speaking of creationism, I often see Christians who pounce on any scientific uncertainty, eager to pull God out of the gap. This is a different degree of seriousness. We needn’t face where we came from, but we must all face where we’re going.

I’d call it a trick, except I don’t doubt the sincerity of Jensen’s pleas not to let worldly distractions keep us from eternal life. Still, again, how can they? Who would turn down such a thing, if they woke after their own death to find it on offer? The trick belongs to religions themselves, not consciously to their adherents. It is that we’re told we must act before death, and each religion claims that their way is the way to get there, other ways being uncertain at worst and a broad road to hell at worst. Even if we wanted to take up Pascal’s wager, where shall we place our stake? Again, it’s odd that Jensen’s God hasn’t thought of universalism, but rather, insists on the eternal torture or final obliteration of everyone who bet wrong.

4 Comments on "Haec credam a deo pio? A deo iusto? A deo scito?"

  1. This argument fails because it assumes that God’s way of making the world better would be to obliterate everything that displeases him. I can think of more subtle ways of doing it than that. It’s odd that God apparently can’t.
    How would you do it?

    You know given that your writing attracts some CICCUites, and that it is actually worth reading, perhaps you should set up a site specifically for people to debate and critically assess what they are told at CICCU? http://www.ciccu-considered.com or something? Some posts like this every now and then + a comments system and a forum.

    Think of it as a service to help those in CICCU but unsure about what they’re hearing.


    1. How would you do it?

      I’d make it more like the Culture 🙂 Though both those books and The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect make the point that a perfect world (or even one a lot nicer than ours) might be boring. There’s a Christian on uk.r.c who argues that the world is hard because facing difficulties is the only way to acquire some sort of moral virtue. Still, like gjm11, I’d argue that things could be better than they are and still allow room for human freedom and growth.

      I don’t really want to set up an anti-CICCU site, mostly because I couldn’t be arsed to maintain it. It also seems a bit petty. In any case, people who want to find out about CICCU already get plenty of information from a simple Google search 😉


      1. What I had in mind isn’t an anti-CICCU site. Of course most of the content would take the position that Evangelical belief does not have the sound footing CICCU would say it does, but it wouldn’t be hostile, just a place to discuss and look at the other viewpoint.

        I don’t know what it was like in CICCU, but I know I would have benefitted from a site of that kind when I stopped being a Christian. It would also have been helpful to be able to discuss it all with like minded people who were going through or had gone through the same experience.

        There are sites out there and mailing lists, but I found that they were full of much older much angrier people than I, and often people with experience of American evangelicalism.

        It has been a plan of mine for some time to set up such a site (not about CICCU, about Evangelical belief for people at university in general).


        1. I think at the point when I was at university, I would probably have regarded such a site as being totally wrong: I used to argue with the liberals on uk.r.c.

          A site for ex-Christians in the UK might be a good thing though. As you say, UK experiences are a bit different from American ones usually.


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