Listening to the radio to and from lab each morning, every news program has had at least one segment on Haiti. Certainly a grave tragedy that deserves the world’s attention and charity. What I don’t understand however, is the amount of coverage given to people finding God amidst the rubble and piles of bodies, and clergy men praising God for his mercy in sparing those who were not crushed. This raises one of the most fundamental arguments against God – the problem of evil. And what everyone from simple believers to intellectual theologians have turned to in these times is theodicy. These are the mental acrobats needed to justify or explain away a benevolent god in a world filled with evil.
Probably the most notable of commentary was from the maw of Pat Robertson, calmly stating that the people of Haiti brought this upon themselves by making a deal with the devil. And no sooner did he utter these repugnant words did the faithful back peddle away from them.
Thankfully, there are those willing to call out such hypocrisy. In recent op-eds, Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins and James Wood have all stepped up to denounce this type of thinking. All of these are worth reading in their entirety (especially the usually mild Dawkins who writes with viciousness and eloquence like no other), but here some quotes to give you an idea.
"The idea that God is a worthy recipient of our gratitude for the blessings of life but should not be held accountable for the disasters is a transparently disingenuous innovation of the theologians. And of course it doesn't work all that well. The Problem of Evil, capital letters and all, is the central enigma confronting theists. There is no solution. Isn't that obvious? All the holy texts and interpretations that contrive ways of getting around the problem read like the fine print in a fraudulent contract--and for the same reason: they are desperate attempts to conceal the implications of the double standard they have invented."
"Educated apologist, how dare you weep Christian tears, when your entire theology is one long celebration of suffering: suffering as payback for 'sin' or suffering as 'atonement' for it? You may weep for Haiti where Pat Robertson does not, but at least, in his hick, sub-Palinesque ignorance, he holds up an honest mirror to the ugliness of Christian theology. You are nothing but a whited sepulchre."
"Terrible catastrophes inevitably encourage appeals to God. We who are, at present, unfairly luckier, whether believers or not, might reflect on the almost invariably uncharitable history of theodicy, and on the reality that in this context no invocation of God beyond a desperate appeal for help makes much theological sense. For either God is punitive and interventionist (the Robertson view), or as capricious as nature and so absent as to be effectively nonexistent (the Obama view). Unfortunately, the Bible, which frequently uses God's power over earth and seas as the sign of his majesty and intervening power, supports the first view; and the history of humanity's lonely suffering decisively suggests the second."
There have also been responses printed to Wood that are also worth reading. They too show how the faithful claim that God is unknowable and mysterious and yet suspiciously, they claim all he does is with love and good in mind. Pure theodicy.