The Halo Halo! column from the November 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
Does a God who is all-knowing and all-wise ever need to change his mind?
Believers who pray for God to bring peace to the Middle East, for example, obviously assume he can be persuaded to take some course of action they fear he may not otherwise be planning. Or if they pray to him to cure Mrs Jones of her lumbago, how likely is he to say ‘OK, I’ve seen fit to let her to suffer for ten years, but as you asked nicely, I’ll cure her?’
Don’t they ever suspect that God isn’t there, or isn’t listening, or that maybe he just doesn’t give a sod about what’s going on down here?
Following the double disaster at the Islamic hajj this year, when 109 people were killed by a collapsing crane and then over 700 more in a stampede which, apparently, he could have prevented – if he’d wanted to – there was the usual hand-wringing and prayers for him to halt the carnage and have mercy on the victims. And let’s face it – even without being all-knowing he should have seen this coming. Stampedes at the Hajj have caused many hundreds of deaths in recent years, often at the stoning of the devil ritual (and obviously, the devil is going to be a bit hacked off about that).
In Christianity, too, the logic is no better. Their all-knowing, all-merciful god is quite happy to allow the odd flood, earthquake or some other disaster to occur without lifting a finger to prevent it, but they then fall to their knees in prayer expecting him to suddenly feel remorse at what he, in his infinite wisdom and mercy has allowed to happen. And in spite of this indifference to human suffering there’s nothing like a mass shooting or some other disaster to get the believers on their knees.
‘My prayers are with everyone in Oregon. May the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts’ bleated one politician following the October mass shooting in America. And the Presidential candidates lined up, offering their thoughts and advice to God, and anyone else who was listening, as if they had some influence over the invisible man in the sky.
Part of Barack Obama’s statement was, though, perhaps unintentionally, more to the point: ‘Each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and our prayers are not enough. It does nothing to prevent this carnage being inflicted’.
Exactly. So what is the point? If we assume for a moment that a god who ‘transcends all understanding’ does exist and knows, more or less, what he is doing, isn’t it a bit optimistic to ask him to change his mind halfway through some divine act of carnage in his plans for the world which, of course, he is carrying out for our benefit anyway?
Religion must be the biggest fraud ever to have been carried out to keep the masses docile and in their place. As the French revolutionary Camille Desmoulins put it – ‘The Great only appear to us to be great because we are on our knees. Let us rise’.