While I’ve recently been pointing out that being religious doesn’t necessarily make people bad, it doesn’t necessarily make them good either. Nor does being religious necessarily make people stupid, though the two often appear to go hand in hand. I submit as evidence the average apologist’s defense for the presence of evil in the world: It’s a part of God’s plan.
The presence of evil in the world while there is an allegedly powerful and benevolent god watching over us all is formally known as the Problem of Evil. Monotheistic apologists, who aren’t much for thinking, often recite any number of defenses as a reflex to the Problem of Evil. [While there are many complicated and convoluted answers to the Problem of Evil by some of the more clever theologians, that’s exactly the irony; faith should be simple and not require mental gymnastics to justify its finer points.] However, all answers are sorely insufficient and ultimately lead to the same place. For example, a theist may defend the presence of evil in the world as a punishment for the transgressions of Adam and Eve, with the rebuttal being, “Remind me again why I am responsible for the actions of others, especially when I wasn’t there to stop Adam and Eve from disobeying God? Oh, and if I am responsible for their transgressions, why? If I simply am responsible, God appears to have an arbitrary reason. It’s not like He said we’re responsible for each other from the get go; that’s nowhere in the Bible. You can’t hold us accountable after the fact. I mean, come on!” It’s right about now that the theist will invoke faith in ‘God’s plan,’ invoking faith since they do not know what God’s plan is. (Assuming God’s plan was in fact known, the next question that arises is why doesn’t an omnipotent god simply make things the way God wants it to be without all the suffering?)
I find that this particular answer to the Problem of Evil – having faith in some unknown plan – incredibly distressing. Imagine a god who – for some strange reason despite being omnipotent and omnibenevolent – thinks it’s okay for human beings to torture each other so that said God’s plan can be achieved. Think, really pause and think, of all the wars and manners of fighting, genocide, murders, rapes, general pain and suffering inflicted by human beings upon one another. [I think it is reasonable to leave out so-called natural evils such as hurricanes and earthquakes from the Problem of Evil since atmospheric and geologic activities have no intent.] For the amount of suffering that takes place to be necessary to some unknown plan of God is kind of like needing at least two overly ripe bananas to make banana bread; the plan can’t be achieved without it, can it? But that’s just it, no one really knows what the plan is or just as importantly, why this plan and not another, say, one that requires less suffering? After all, we don’t need banana bread and if we do, well, I’m sure there is banana bread out there made without bananas. (Granted, it may not be as nutritious.)
Sure, some theists indeed pretend to know the mind of God. They may say that God’s plan is for as many people to go to Heaven as possible or for people to accept God precisely because of all the suffering. As I’ve said, though, an omnipotent God could simply make these things happen; God could start off with everyone in Heaven with no need for an earthly life or provide more evidence for His existence so that suffering (read: coercion) would not be necessary to believe in God. That latter answer, that God includes suffering in our existence as a means of coercing us into needing an afterlife bespeaks of a despicable god. We certainly would frown upon a fellow human being who was so manipulative, yet God gets a free pass because He’s God? If that’s not arbitrary-meets-circular reasoning I don’t know what is.
Unable to answer the Problem of Evil, the theist will speak of how virtuous faith is, of how believing in a plan without evidence is somehow noble. Of course, theists never apply this vision of faith to any beliefs they don’t personally hold; Christians never say that Jews or Muslims are virtuous for having faith in their gods. No one says that the North Koreans are virtuous for believing their leader is a demi-god. Faith is not a virtue. Neither is stupidity. Both take little strength of emotion and no strength of intellect.
I don’t like God’s plan, probably because God’s plan looks a lot like things people simply want to believe without thinking too much. Even if we were to suppose God does exist, God’s plan looks terribly sadistic, which again, is a human trait. Any god deserving of my respect is above such human frailties.