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Life Through Gray-Colored Glasses

John on October 31, 2005 at 10:47 am

This piece titled “Good God?” by Mary Zeiss Stange appeared in USA today. Having waded through her cryptic examination of the problem of evil twice, I believe I’ve found the core, the pearl of wisdom that prompted the author to expend herself on behalf of USA Today’s 2 million benighted readers.

The more absolute one’s notion of power is, the more polarized will be one’s view of the “battle” between good and evil in the world, with the correlative assumption that God is either with us or against us.

She then names a series of liberal boogeymen (an appropriate touch for an article that appeared on Halloween) and purports to show how their public statements display precisely this kind of shallow, either-or thinking. For instance…

President Bush proclaimed a new crusade, declaring that anyone who is not with the United States is in league with the terrorists (a.k.a. Satan, Dark Prince of the Axis of Evil).

Ms. Stange proclaims this “Shortsighted thinking.” She then assures us that even her freshmen students could identify it as such. If you feel the old “Ward Churchill headache” coming on, join the club. The idea that calling Iran, Iraq and North Korea an axis of evil is “sophmoric” has been beaten to death already, literally so in the last Star Wars movie. All the author really adds to this is the religious connection implicit in her addition of the word “crusade” and “Satan” to her paraphrase of the President’s statement.

There are all sorts of asides about abortion and gay marriage, issues about which she curiously fails to see any gray. But after you let this stew simmer for a while it boils down to this: [cue John Lennon's Imagine] The war in Iraq is the result of fundamentalism on both sides. If only we could see the world in muted tones of gray, we wouldn’t have anything to fight about.

The problem with this lovely sentiment is that we do not now, nor have we ever, lived in such a world. In the real world, Muslim terrorists are doing all they can to kill and maim indiscriminately. And, fortunately, some of us still have the fortitude to say “This is wrong and it must stop,” which is a better paraphrase of the President’s statement than the one Ms. Stange offers.

What people like Ms. Stange (and they definitely are a type) always seem to miss is that zealotry is not a descriptive that communicates anything in and of itself. There is no such thing as a “religious zealot.” There may be Islamic zealots, Bhuddist zealots and Christian zealots, but each of these is zealous for very particular things. The question that must always be asked is “Zealous for what?” If someone is zealous for power gained through terror and murder (as in Saddam’s Iraq, Iran and North Korea) this is not at all the same as being zealous for freedom.

That last kind of zealotry is, by the way, the answer to the theodicy puzzle she poses in her piece. That bad things happen to good people is often an unfortunate result of the fact that God values our freedom more than we value each other. This is also why the Judeo-Christian answer to the question “What does God want?” is not the absence of freedom but that, given absolute freedom, people should choose to love their neighbors.

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Category: Religion & Faith |

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