Ordinarily I ignore religion, just as I ignore astrology or palmistry. Sure, religion may have great social, even political impact, as a recent issue of The Economist illustrates (November 3-9, 2007). But I have much to do, so I leave religion as a very low “priority” on my daily agenda.
Recently, however, I was part of a large group—3000 +/- residents—evacuated from Silverado Canyon, in Southern California’s Orange County, because of very serious threats of major fires and the difficulty of leaving the canyon once fires broke out. Over the decades Silverado Canyon has not been hit hard by fires despite its vulnerability. And here is where a bit of religion enters the picture.
Quite a few residents of the canyon community say that they believe that they are being protected by supernatural forces, probably God. And at the conclusion of this most recent very close call, many flocked to the local church to thank the Lord that the canyon didn’t burn.
At the same time all around Southern California—in San Diego, Malibu, and San Bernardino—hundreds of homes were destroyed by fires, some suspected as arson and some as natural phenomena. There were even deaths, although surprisingly few.
What raises my ire here is rather simple and obvious: Why would a good Lord dump on all those victims of the fires but not on us here in Silverado? I am pretty sure that the distribution of good and bad and mediocre persons throughout the affected communities is rather similar—no reason at all to think that we in Silverado Canyon are especially virtuous, especially by religious criteria. (Indeed, I know quite a few out-and-out heathens living here, folks who would certainly be very low on God’s preferred list.) Yet, the canyon keeps escaping the nearby fires.
Does it make any sense at all that this is some deliberate act of God? To believe so seems to me the height of self-delusion, even from a religious standpoint. Thanking the Lord for one’s good luck while hosts of others have been hit with misfortune implies, if nothing else, that God is a very capricious, unjust sort, not at all the supremely good being most religions make Him out to be.
Now if one points this out to the faithful, what one usually gets is a benign, condescending smile and perhaps the reminder that God works in mysterious ways. At such moments I think to myself, is there any rhyme or reason in theology? Does anything go? Neither logic nor science appears to be of significance, so why even bother talking and writing if such nonsense prevails? Instead the stance of Cratylus, one of Plato’s famous characters, would appear to be the only alternative. Cratylus reportedly found communication to be impossible because he thought words had no meaning. So he gave up speaking altogether and confined himself to moving one finger, although even that minimal gesture seems to me to have been without warrant—what on earth would his signs have managed to mean?
If this much could be obtained from the faithful, total silence, in light of how their ideas seem to lead to utter nonsense, perhaps they would produce far less mischief in the world. After all, from silence nothing much follows, whereas from nonsense comes practical confusion and often outright malice aplenty.