Saturday, July 21, 2012

Did God Allow James Holmes to Kill or Not.

Religious fanatics have a curious talent for talking out of both sides of their mouths (and other orifices too ;-) ) especially when it comes to things like a senseless act of violence, such as the one perpetrated in Aurora.  For example, many religious people will say that God allowed James Holmes to carry out mass murder, even though he doesn't approve of it and doesn't want people to behave this way, because God gives all people "free will".  Of course, what is free will to a lunatic like Holmes anyway, who probably doesn't even know what he is doing half the time?  For all we know, Holmes was already on psychoactive medication, or was self-medicating, which would necessarily deprive him of complete free will in the first place.  For convenience we will label this line of argument as Exhibit A, and as emanating from the left side of their mouths.

At the same time, often the same people, will alternately propose that this was actually a necessary part of God's plan and that He allowed it on purpose to accomplish some inscrutable "Greater Good".   Label this as Exhibit B, and emanating from the right side of their mouths.  So which is it?

You see it can't be both.  If God didn't want it to happen, but let it happen due to free will this is different from God wanting it to happen and making sure it happened in order to accomplish some "higher purpose".  As to the first argument, on free-will, it is notable that, in the process of God protecting the free will of lunatic James Holmes, he necessarily deprived a dozen others of their free wills.  In other words, He could have intervened and given Holmes a fatal heart attack before he even drive over to the movie theater.  Interestingly, this would not have even technically interfered with Mr. Holmes's "will" because he was free to "will" these murders to take place, even though he was not actually able to carry it out.  As we know, no such intervention took place.  But, in choosing to not intervene, God has still made a choice (to paraphrase the Rush lyrics). He has spared Mr. Holmes when he could have spared the victims.  So if God's priority is preserving free-will, it seems that he has allowed more free-wills to be snuffed out than preserved.

Alternately, if this was part of God's plan then Mr. Holmes was actually acting as the approved and authorized agent of God.  That's not a comforting thought.  Perhaps there is a reason beyond human understanding that a dozen people need to be murdered in a movie theater, but it sounds like an "ends justify means" type of scenario.  Are we to truly believe that no other technique would have accomplished God's alleged higher purpose than brutal mass-murdering?

Furthermore, on Exhibit B, people often claim that God engaged in a variety of "minor miracles", which would seem to violate "free will".  For example, some will insist that He steered one of the bullets a half-inch to the right, so that it missed a critical organ.  But that would mean that He is picking and choosing who lives and dies, and is very much monkeying around with their capacity for free will.  These "minor miracles" still have a major impact on free-will if makes the difference between life and death.

Let's see if religious people can answer the question.  Does God interfere with people's free wills or not?  If he manipulates the events then this would appear to alter free will.  It would also mean that he cannot hide behind the free will excuse when it comes to the bad guys.  Why should only the bad people be unfettered to exercise their free wills, after all?

If God does not manipulate anyone's free will then this would imply that he really can't act in the world whatsoever, because almost anything He did could affect our free will.  But this would be in massive contradiction to most of the Bible, which says that he and his agents act all the time through a variety of miraculous mechanisms.  It would also be in contradiction to the whole purpose of prayer, as most people understand it, which is supplication that a particular event occur.

Oh, I know that apologists says that prayers and faith doesn't make things happen, but just helps us to accept the things He has already made.  But that is in contradiction to teaching like Mt 21:21, where Jesus himself says that, if you have even a tiny bit of faith "You can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done".  Isn't this getting God to act on your behalf, which is certainly intervening in the world, and might very well violate someone else's free will.  Too bad nobody in the theater thought to pray that James Holmes be thrown in the sea instead of shooting people.  

BTW, if you say that God did it to "get our attention" or "bring us closer together", I would seem that there is more than enough tragedy in the world without God having to gin up some extra violence, just to send us a collective text message, or remind us of the fragility of life.  So you all will have to do better than that.

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