A Philosopher's Blog

God and Sandy Hook

Posted in Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on December 20, 2012
Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, speak...

. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The murders at Sandy Hook Elementary school brought the problem of evil once again into the media spotlight. While the specifics of the matter change with each horrible incident, the basic question remains the same: why does God allow evil to occur? I have considered this matter in various other essays, but here I will take a look at what two prominent members of America’s religious right have said about the matter.

Former governor and one time presidential contender Michael Huckabee said “We ask why there’s violence in our schools but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability.”

While Huckabee’s remark has been taken as claiming that God allowed the massacre because American public schools do not religious activities (such as prayer) and religious education (as opposed to teaching about religion), it can also be taken as expressing a slightly different view. Rather than claiming that God is being spiteful and allowing children to be slaughtered because He is experiencing a divine anger, Huckabee could be taken as asserting that the killings at schools occur because people do not have the proper religious education in public schools. Presumably Huckabee believes that if people received the correct religious education in public schools, then such killings would be less likely to occur.

The idea that the correct moral education will result in better behavior is an old one and was developed extensive in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics—although I am sure that Huckabee and Aristotle would disagree about the specifics of the education since Aristotle was not a Christian. As such, if Huckabee is simply claiming that the killings at schools are caused by a failure of moral education, then his claim has some degree of plausibility. Of course, whether or not bringing Christianity back into public schools would reduce the chances of violence in America is another matter. One interesting point worth considering is that as people like Huckabee claim that society has grown worse as it has allegedly “removed God”, Steven Pinker argued in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature that violence has been on the decline. While correlation is not proof of causation, this is a matter worth thinking about especially since Thomas Hobbes noted that one major cause of violence is disputes over religion.

Turning back to the problem of evil, Huckabee’s explanation does not really address this concern effectively. While it might explain why people do bad things in terms of a lack of proper education, this does not explain why God would allow the children and the faculty of Sandy Hook to be slaughtered. Bryan Fischer does, however, take this matter on directly.

Speaking about Sandy Hook, Bryan Fischer said “And I think God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentlemen.”

Fischer’s explanation is very straightforward: God is too polite to go where he is not invited and hence He allowed the slaughter of children. This seems problematic, to say the least.

On the face of it, Fischer seems to be claiming that God’s sense of etiquette trumps His morality. That is, He would permit slaughter to occur rather than act in a way that might be regarded is impolite. This certainly seems to be an implausible claim. After all, consider the following analogy. Suppose I was accustomed to stopping by a friend’s house to get a drink from his garden hose while on my long summer runs. But then he got divorced and his wife got the house. While she does not dislike me, she asks me to no longer stop by to use the hose. Now, imagine that I am running by one day and she and her daughter are being attacked in her backyard. While I could easily defeat the attacker and save the two, I just run on by because I am no longer invited there. Intuitively, that would be morally wrong of me—even if I elected not to engage the attacker, I should at least do something. Also, if my reason is that I am not invited, then there are two obvious responses. First, it seems intuitively plausible to hold that my moral duty to help people in danger outweighs my moral duty to not be impolite. Second, it seems reasonable to think that my friend’s ex-wife and daughter would be happy to invite me to help them in their time of need. Obviously, since I am a decent person I would rush to help the two people in danger. If God is at least as good as me, He would presumably do the same. Also, God has nothing to worry about—the attacker would pose no threat to Him.

Another point of interest is that Fischer certainly seems to indicate that God would be glad to protect children if he were invited back. If he were right about this, this would seem to indicate that God would protect children in such circumstances. However, he seems to be exceptionally wrong about this. After all, God has allowed people of faith to die. He even has allowed children to be murdered in His churches. As such, the idea that God would protect children if we only asked him seems to be absurd. People have obviously asked and God has done nothing.

Of course, it could be countered that people have failed to properly invite God—that is, God would have helped if they had asked in the right way. Going back to the analogy given above, this would be like me running past by friend’s ex-wife and daughter and refusing to stop because their cries for help were not worded properly or otherwise defective. However, I would obviously help them regardless of how they requested aid—that is what a decent person would do. As noted above, presumably God is at least as good as I am, so if I would help regardless of the wording of the invite, so would God.

Overall, Huckabee and Fischer do not give an adequate response to the question of why God allowed the slaughter to occur. To be fair to them, no one ever has and probably no one ever will.

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Huckabee, God and the Constitution

Posted in Epistemology, Ethics, Law, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Politics, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on February 2, 2008

While most politicians tend to be a bit vague when it comes to religion, Huckabee, to his credit, is quite clear on this matter. Recently, when speaking on same sex marriage, he had the following to say: “[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it’s a lot easier to change the constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that’s what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards.”

While I believe, like Aquinas and Aristotle, that the laws of humans should reflect the true moral order of the universe, I disagree with Huckabee on this matter.

My first objection to his proposal is that such an amendment cannot be justified in terms of the two primary purposes of the American state. The America state, like other states, exists to protect the citizens from harm. The American state, like some other states, also exists to protect the liberties of the citizens. An amendment against same sex marriage serves neither purpose. While same sex marriage may offend some, it does not appear to do any actual harm to society. In any case, it certainly does not seem to something so devastating as to require a constitutional ban. Such a ban also does nothing to further liberty.

My second objection is a practical one. If we start adding religious based restrictions to the Constitution, this opens the door to allowing additional religious based restrictions. While some people might applaud this general idea, their applause would soon turn to cries of dismay should religious views they disagree with be made into law. History, both recent and distant, provides a multitude of examples in regards to what happens when laws are made and justified on the basis of specific religious views. The results are not generally conducive to justice or liberty.

My third objection is an epistemic one. How, exactly, do we know that the law of God forbids such marriage? While we have certain passages in religious texts, knowing what God truly wants is somewhat problematic. If someone could conclusive show that God exists and wants X, then it would make sense to make X the law. After all, God is supposed to be perfect and hence what He wants would be in accord with His perfection. Sadly, while most people think God wants what they want, they do not know what God truly wants.

One final point, which is not really objection, is that if Huckabee is truly sincere and means to apply God’s law to America, then he must be kept from being President. Given what he said, his operating principle is that he will make what he sees as God’s rules the law of the land. This would be catastrophic, assuming that he plans to follow the Bible as he guide. A quick examination of the Bible reveals that under Huckabee, horrific things would be made legal: rape, slavery, the murder of disobedient children, and so on. Also, as many humorists have pointed out, shellfish would be outlawed (goodbye Red Lobster) since they are abominations. Yes, there is much that is good in the Bible, but there is much that is clearly not good.

Thanks for speaking your mind and making it clear, Mike.

Who will win?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on January 14, 2008

It is interesting to see how the candidates behave. So far, McCain and Huckabee have been very civil with each other. However, they have been somewhat less so with Romney. Edwards has been mostly nice, but Obama and Hillary are starting to take more shots at each other.

People have asked me how I think it will play out. My usual answer is that it is too early to call: like asking who is going to win the marathon at mile 1.

 On the Democrat side, I suspect that Hillary and Obama will not be willing to be VP. This seems to be a common view, so I’m not going out on any limbs here. That more or less leaves Edwards as the shoe in for that much sought after office. Hey, it worked great for Al. He is now a rich, famous man with a Nobel prize. Plus his own jet. It throws out a lot of pollution, but a Nobel prize winner cannot be expected to walk or bike, can he?

The Republican side is tougher. I think Rudy is out, but he could make a return. If we get hit by terrorists, I suspect his numbers would shoot upwards. Romney flip flops in a foolish manner-he says things that can easily be disproven (like the bit about hunting). But, people elected Bush, so who knows. McCain is very consistent and a principled man. He also showed that he has a fundamental trait that is essential to being a good leader (in the moral sense): he is willing to sacrifice his own well being for the good of others. His time in Vietnam and his behavior as a POW makes it clear what sort of man he is. I respect him a great deal and America could do far worse. And has. Huckabee has Chuck Norris. But his tax proposal seems problematic, at best. I think that it would actually result in less spending and harm the economy. But, I’m not an economist and will need to examine his plan and see how past attempts with similar plans have fared.

Who will win? At this point the finish line is far away, so only a fool would make a call. I’m thinking Cthulhu will clinch it. He’d be the biggest change candidate ever. 🙂