More on theodicy, and the power of prayer

This old atheist would never deny those who prayed for my soul the satisfaction of believing that their prayers helped.

Natural disasters cause problems for the devout. Either they try to explain why these events occur under the aegis of an allegedly omnipotent and loving god or, if they find resistance to that explanation, they talk about the inscrutability of their god or suggest that everything will be set straight in the afterlife. This affords atheists the opportunity to repeat, yet again, that natural disasters don’t really measure up to most religious people’s idea of a loving god.

The Power of Prayer

There are people in Nakusp who have prayed, and continue to pray for my “soul.” Without going into boring details about my health the religious in Nakusp will say that it was  the result of their prayers that this old atheist didn’t croak and spend eternity in the sulphurous flames of hell. This old atheist would never deny those who prayed for my soul the satisfaction of believing that their prayers helped.

I know that there are those who pray that this old atheist will see the light, but no matter how often I tell them that it’s not dark where I am, their intercessions continue; this is the reason why being a non-believer is known as en-light-enment.

I am reminded of the last words of the atheist Voltaire, the pen-name of François-Marie Arouet who, when the attending priest asked him to renounce the devil replied, ”this is not the right time to upset anybody.”

A recent article on a website to which I subscribe, The Guardian, an English daily newspaper, describes atheism as far too optimistic. The man who came up with this description was waiting to cross Park Lane at Marble Arch in London as one of London Transport’s buses passed.

It bore along its entire length one of our atheist slogans,”There is probably no god so stop worrying and enjoy your life!”  The man who saw this bus was immediately struck with feelings of guilt – his first thought was that he might be a closet atheist, but no, he is a devout Christian.

When he arrived home, he immediately opened his well-worn copy of William James’ “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” When he came to the section in which James makes a distinction between two very different psychological types, ”the healthy-minded” and “the sick soul” he saw clearly what separates him from atheists – his pessimism.

His conclusion: if he were more optimistic, he would probably be an atheist. This, of course, comes as no surprise to atheists. We have our ups and downs like most humans, but overall we are optimistic.

Our optimism stems from the certain knowledge that this life on Earth is the only life we have. There is neither Heaven, Paradise, The Elysian Fields to make us look forward to death nor Hell, Hades, Dante’s Inferno to scare the living daylights out of us. We are resigned, when our time on Earth is over, that we shall die as peacefully as possible given the circumstances of our health. The afterlife is a religious construct designed to keep its adherents in line with eternity as its essence. Without eternity, particularly in the case of Hell, the entire process would lack meaning – there might even be a type of parole. Yahweh would never countenance such a radical idea.


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