Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Theodicy Part 1: Individualistic Variations On An Athiestic Theme

It's been a while.

Today I'd like to kick off a four-part series on my reflections on Theodicy. I'd like to start with a short story I thought of earlier this morning in the shower. The finale will be an explanation of why I think God is first and foremost, before everything else he is, a story-teller.


Once upon a time there was a man named Sarkar. Sarkar's life sucked. His wife died. His kids hate him. His dog accidentally got into some chocolate and died. He lost his job and his house fell over right after he made his last payment. But that's okay because his whole family's dead anyway. One day he was trying to cross the street when a truck hit him. Due to internal injuries, they had to remove his left leg and 2/3rds of his liver, which doubly sucked because by this time he had turned to alcoholism as a solution to his problems.

(Did I mention he was a Mets fan?)

Finally, Sarkar got fed up with his life and decided to do what all people do when they hit rock-bottom. Find someone to blame. He had heard of a far-away guru who lived in a cave somewhere on the top of a mountain. He sold his SUV (which was remarkably unharmed by his owner's bad fortune) scrounged up every last bit of money that he had, and got on a plane to the country to which the mountain on which the guru sat belonged. Let's say Nepal. He hired two sherpas and a llama. Llamas climb mountains, right? Well at any rate, he makes his way up to the top of the mountain, found the guru there, and asked him this question: "Why does my life suck?" The following conversation ensued:

Guru: You are being punished.
Sarkar: But why am I being punished? What did I do wrong?"
Guru: Well... it's not so much what YOU did, perse...
Sarkar: What do you mean it's not what I did? Then who did it? And why am I being punished for their wrongs?
Guru: It was your father's grandfather. He pissed off God by worshiping other idols, and so now you're reaping the consequences of his sin.
Sarkar: Whoa, hang on a second. You're saying God is doing this to me? God is the one responsible for my f----- up life?? So it's not what I've done, but he's the one doing this to me?
Guru: In a way, yes. But not for no good reason. I mean, he's totally gotta defend his honor. Now your great grandfather was a heinous-
Sarkar: Wait, what do you mean "defend his honor?" He's gotta defend his honor by punishing ME for what my GREAT GRANDFATHER DID?
Guru: Yeah, basically. So you're familiar with all that "God is perfectly just" stuff, right? Well if someone sins, God justice is so great that it demands-
Sarkar: Alright, alright, alright. Hold on a minute!
Guru: Okay, here goes...
Sarkar: Let me just see if I got this whole story straight. So once time there was this guy, whom I've NEVER EVEN MET. He just so happens to be my dad's dad's dad. And he worships some other god. And since he worshiped some other god, my life is in the pits. My life ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER. Never mind the fact that I've never worshiped ANY god in my life. I've never intentionally pissed anyone off, human or deity. Forget that I've always tried to live my life fairly, or as you would say, justly. None of that matters, because well I have to pay for the sins of my forefathers. And so my wife died. My dog died. My liver died. My kids never want to talk to me again. All that suffering, that's not unfair at all. It was fair payment for the idolatry of a man who lived a century ago, whom I've never met. Do I have the gist of it?
Guru: Well, yes...if you want to put it that way....
Sarkar: What. The. Fu-
Guru: But hold on! If it makes you feel any better, you're the fourth and last generation, so your kids get a fresh start!

Quite ironically, Sarkar found that though he finally found someone to blame for his problems, the relief of that burden didn't alleviate his suffering one bit. At that point, Sarkar got so fed up with the ludicrousness of the guru's wisdom and, silently fuming, made his descent of the mountain. The sherpas tried to rob him, but he spent his last cent on that plane ticket to Nepal, so they had to settle for ditching him halfway down. He hung on as long as he could, but with one leg and 1/3 of a liver, didn't last very long against the cold. He died.

The end.

Next week: "Our Enlightenment Inheritance"