Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Divine meddling

In Paul McCaw's musical comedy The Trumpets of Glory, angels back various causes on Earth as a kind of competitive contest.  Anything from a soccer game to a war is open for angelic intervention -- and there are no rules about what kind of messing about the angels are allowed to do.  Anything is fair, up to and including deceit, malice, and trickery.  The stakes are high; the angel whose side wins goes up in rank, and the other one goes down.

It's an idea of the divine you don't run into often.  The heavenly host as competitors in what amounts to a huge fantasy football game.

While McCaw's play is meant to be comedy, it's not so far off from what a lot of people believe -- that some divine agent, be it God or an angel or something else, takes such an interest in the minutiae of life down here on Earth that (s)he intercedes on our behalf.  The problem for me, aside from the more obvious one of not believing that any of these invisible beings exist, is why they would care more about whether you find your keys than, for example, about all of the ill and starving children in the world.

You'd think if interference in human affairs is allowable, up there in heaven, that helping innocent people who are dying in misery would be the first priority.

It's why I was so puzzled by the link a loyal reader sent me yesterday to an article in The Epoch Times called, "When Freak Storms Win Battles, Is It Divine Intervention or Just Coincidence?"  The article goes into several famous instances when weather affected the outcome of a war, to wit:
  • A tornado killing a bunch of British soldiers in Washington D. C. during the War of 1812
  • The storm that contributed to England's crushing defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588
  • A massive windstorm that smashed the Persian fleet as it sailed against Athens in 492 B.C.E.
  • A prolonged spell of warm, wet weather, which fostered the rise of the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth century, followed by a pair of typhoons that destroyed Kublai Khan's ships when they were attacking Japan in 1274
What immediately struck me about this list was that each time, the winners attributed the event to divine intervention, but no one stops to consider how the losers viewed it.  This isn't uncommon, of course; "History is written by the victors," and all that sort of thing.  But what's especially funny about the first two is that they're supposed to be events in which God meddled and made sure the right side won -- when, in fact, both sides were made up of staunch Christians.

And I'm sorry, I refuse to believe that a divine being would be pro-British in the sixteenth century, and suddenly become virulently anti-British two hundred years later.

Although that's kind of the sticking point with the last example as well, isn't it?  First God (or the angels or whatever) manipulate the weather to encourage the Mongols, then kicks the shit out of them when they try to attack Japan.  It's almost as if... what was causing all of this wasn't an intelligent agent at all, but the result of purely natural phenomena that don't give a flying rat's ass about our petty little squabbles.

Fancy that.

But for some reason, this idea repels a lot of people.  They are much more comfortable with a deity that fools around directly with our fates down here on Earth, whether it be to make sure that I win ten dollars on my lottery scratch-off ticket or to smite the hell out of the bad guys.

If I ever became a theist -- not a likely eventuality, I'll admit -- I can't imagine that I'd go for the God-as-micromanager model.  It just doesn't seem like anyone whose job was overseeing the entire universe would find it useful to control things on that level, notwithstanding the line from Matthew 10:29 about God's hand having a role in the fall of every sparrow.

I more find myself identifying with the character of Vertue in C. S. Lewis's The Pilgrim's Regress -- not the character we're supposed to like best, I realize -- when he recognized that nothing he did had any ultimate reason, or was the part of some grand plan:
Vertue sat down on a large stone, and stared off into the distance.  "I believe that I am mad," he said presently.  "The world cannot be as it seems to me.  If there is something to go to, it is a bribe, and I cannot go to it; if I can go, then there is nothing to go to." 
"Vertue," said John, "give in.  For once yield to desire.  Have done with your choosing.  Want something."

"I cannot," said Vertue.  "I must choose because I choose because I choose: and it goes on for ever, and in the whole world I cannot find a single reason for rising from this stone."
So those are my philosophical musings for this morning.  Seeing the divine hand in everything here on Earth, without any particular indication of why a deity would care, or (more specifically) why (s)he would come down on one side or the other.  Me, I'll stick with the scientific explanation.  The religious one is, honestly, far less satisfying, and opens up some troubling questions that don't admit to any answers I can see.


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