April 9th, 2008

Bast

Power rocks, and absolute power rocks absolutely

Recently, I've been considering some problems with the idea of an omnipotent being. And I don't mean whether Jesus could microwave a burrito so hot he couldn't eat it, but just how the concept doesn't really fit too well with other parts of major monotheistic religions. I often see atheists asking why, if God is supposed to be all-powerful and all-loving, He doesn't do anything about all the bad stuff in the world. The response by believers often seems to be, "Because then people wouldn't learn anything," which sounds suspiciously similar to what Glinda says when she shows up in her pink bubble toward the end of The Wizard of Oz. She couldn't just tell Dorothy to click her heels together back in Munchkinland, because she wouldn't have believed it, and had to figure things out for herself. I guess bubble-riding ladies, singing midgets, and green-faced women obsessed with killing your dog are acceptable things to believe; but the idea that magic shoes can take you back home isn't. Of course, everyone who's read the book knows that a large part of the reason for this is that the filmmakers tried to streamline the plot by combining two good witches into one. In the book, the witch who greets Dorothy in the Munchkin Country DOESN'T know how the shoes (which, as you probably know, are silver instead of ruby in the original text) work. And I think there was a little bit of that same kind of editing at work when stories that originated in polytheistic religions were brought into monotheistic Judaism. While Sumerian versions of the flood story could have one god going against the others and deciding to save one person by talking to his reed hut, the Bible story has the same deity deciding to kill all mankind, to save one person, and eventually determining that flooding the Earth isn't something He needs to do again. God also worries that the inhabitants of Babel might succeed in building a tower to Heaven, and is unable to fight people with iron chariots (see Judges 1:19), which are perhaps also signs of the transition from a bunch of gods who can do some amazing things to one who can do anything at all.

In most of the old polytheistic religions that I know of, the gods are neither omnipotent nor omniscient, and have more or less human personalities. We can expect, say, the Greek gods to behave arbitrarily and make the occasional mistake, because, after all, they're only superhuman. A lot of the weird stories and rituals also make some sense in context. Odin had to hang himself on the World Tree in order to gain arcane knowledge, because that was presumably the only way that even a god could access it. On the other hand, the idea that Jesus had to die on the cross to pay for the sins of mankind makes less sense to me, because: 1) the mainstream Christian concept of the Triune God essentially means that the entity atoning for mankind was the same one who had condemned them in the first place, and 2) resurrection isn't really that much of a feat for someone with infinite power.

To play devil's advocate (or would that be God's advocate?) for a moment, I believe I've seen the intriguing notion proposed that, even though God is technically all-knowing, He's too separated from mankind to fully understand them. This would mean that His incarnation as Jesus would be as much for His own benefit as for that of humans. That would mean God isn't perfect, because a perfect being would presumably understand humans, well, perfectly. Then again, why would a totally perfect entity desire love anyway? We could also return to the old notion of a deity playing games with the Universe, or perhaps as somewhat of an author with us as His fictional creations. I think it's pretty typical for a writer of fictions to have a certain amount of love for his or her characters, but is still willing to torment them if he or she thinks it works for the sake of the story. In this case, God's love would be more akin to that than to the love of a parent for a child. I don't know. It just seems to me that the idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing being creates more problems than it solves.

And with that in mind, here's a quiz result:


What kind of atheist are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Scientific Atheist

These guys rule. I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.


Scientific Atheist


83%

Agnostic


58%

Apathetic Atheist


58%

Spiritual Atheist


33%

Angry Atheist


17%

Theist


8%

Militant Atheist


0%


wart

Fun with Daytime TV

I had a doctor's appointment today for a routine checkup, and I can say that that's a place that doesn't believe in the first come, first served policy. I guess they take people with more serious issues first, or something like that, but I ended up waiting for almost an hour when it wasn't even that busy. On the TV in the waiting room, Tyra Banks was talking about ways for girls to get guys back, and having clever exchanges like this (and this is a paraphrase, mind you):

Tyra: Did you give her any reason to be suspicious?
Shifty-Looking Guy: Well, I did cheat on her.

The same guy was talking about how he likes to play video games with his friends, and Tyra asked how old he was, apparently because there's an age at which guys should stop being interested in video games. I can't say I've ever really understood that mentality. Anyway, a lot of the show consisted of Tyra telling girls not to be so suspicious. In the meantime, commercials for her next show were saying something like, "Find out if your guy is showing the signs of having an affair." Oh, Tyra, you and your crazy mixed messages.

The actual doctor visit was pretty uneventful. When the nurse first took my blood pressure, she said it was 130/90. When the doctor took it again, it was 120/70. I'm not sure what the deal with that is, but I definitely like that second result better. {g} I know I need to get more exercise, but that's just such a pain to do.
wart

Fun with Weird Memes

Dear bec_87rb,

I don't really know how to tell you this, but I'll join the monastery. I think I realized it when your dog ran amok in your camping car when I saw you sit at my best friend. I'm sure you're cowardly enough to understand that Santa doesn't exist. I'm returning your ring to you, but I'll keep your suicide note as a memory. You should also know that I always wanted to break Oprah Winfrey imitations.

Good luck on your short-term leave from jail,
Nathan

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