Sam Harris has considered the comments frequently heard about God and the Japan Earthquake and is quoted as follows:
“Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil, or imaginary. Take your pick, and choose wisely.
The only sense to make of tragedies like this is that terrible things can happen to perfectly innocent people. This understanding inspires compassion.
Religious faith, on the other hand, erodes compassion. Thoughts like, “this might be all part of God’s plan,” or “there are no accidents in life,” or “everyone on some level gets what he or she deserves” – these ideas are not only stupid, they are extraordinarily callous. They are nothing more than a childish refusal to connect with the suffering of other human beings. It is time to grow up and let our hearts break at moments like this”
The Sam Harris quote is a good one, but when he talks of an impotent, evil or imaginary God maybe he refers to an imaginary God of the sort some think “Him” to be. In other words Sam Harris has in mind a God of a popularist yet implausible nature. Wasn’t there also a Mark Twain quote that says “Man cannot make a worm yet will make gods by the dozen” ? If we are talking about the set of mysterious creative processes which make the entire universe why would we be so egocentric to assume that such a set of forces were alterable on a whim and should be altered for human convenience? If even Einstein couldn’t figure the forces out, what makes us believe we understand enough not only to be certain we understand the creation forces, but to then go further and see them as a product of what we therefore know God to be. To then go to the extent of thinking that therefore nature can be altered to stop us having a bad day seems a tad arrogant. This is the equivalent of assuming it must not rain tomorrow because a couple of ants have planned to marry and the ant guests might get wet.
But surely if this is indeed what Sam Harris thinks of as religious faith inhibiting compassion, it is not the only form of faith inspired conceivable compassion. I was at a Church meeting the other day where the decision to send more than $25 000 to assist the victims of the Christchurch earthquake was approved on behalf of a relatively small Methodist Parish.
Surely this doesnt mean that these folk of faith have lost their sense of compassion? To the extent God is a limited human concept, why not settle for God being a metaphor for Compassion or Love, in which case God is found in an earthquake as the victims are offered compassion by those able to do so.
Although I find much to provoke thought in Sam Harris’s statement, his criticisms are misdirected if the faith of some I know is his intended target.