Sunday, July 18, 2010

Freedom, Responsibility, and Omnipotence

Would God (or your god) be worth worshiping, in your view, if he was not all powerful?

Is it more important to you that God be just and good (by any definition you care to name) than that he be powerful, or do you feel that the two are uncontradicted in your god? If so, why?

Another great question posed by Otter at the Riparian Church , to which I replied thusly:

I think it is quite clearly obvious to anyone with eyes to look at the human condition that God does not interfere with us individually to save us from our individual or collective stupidity or maliciousness. Whether that is because he cannot or will not is a bit irrelevant to me since either way the responsibility then lies with me and with mankind collectively to repair, mediate, and prevent the effects of my individual and our collective maliciousness and idiocy.
If I have to choose, I guess I believe that God is not omnipotent but it is kinda like asking a tree that grows underneath a sidewalk to sprout up on the other side why it did not grow up through the sidewalk that I poured. Is that because it could not break through the concrete (there are reasonable albeit superficial arguments both ways) or because it was never its purpose to break down artificial barriers; its purpose is to grow and it grew in the most efficient and superlative manner possible in the situation I created.
Humans pride ourselves on our ability to choose our destiny or at least to have it chosen for us by parents or social constraints (and I recognize that we are rapidly trying to abdicate this free will in the increasingly narrow, proscribed lives possible in any kind of religious fundamentalism). We like to know that we can choose our job, our home, our spouse. Especially Americans, i think, like to think we are independent of a destiny thrust upon us. No one is going to tell ME what to do! Least of all some old-fashioned deity.
Yet we get all whiny and cast blame anywhere and everywhere including that old-fashioned deity when the consequences of those free-will actions (individual or collective) affect us personally. Or if we are a bit more altruistic, when they affect the innocent bystander who had no part in the causative action. We want the free-will to choose our own actions but we want not to accept the responsibility we then bear in foreseeing or at least mediating the consequences of our individual actions. Even less do we want to think and act with collective responsibility--only if it is in our "national self-interest".
Perhaps that is the impetus behind the increasingly rabid fundamentalism developing in every religion, denomination, and global region. At some, perhaps unconscious, level we recognize that we've kinda f****d it all up in our post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment, increasingly post-industrial world and now we run crying back to some all-powerful parental figure to clean up our mess, even if it means accepting restriction on our ability to continue independent creative development.

Please feel free to comment either here or over at Otter's. 


  1. Very insightful.

    Since I've embraced the Open View of the Future (Open Theism to its critics) I have felt both panic and relief. Relief that God is NOT responsible for all the sh** in our lives, not to teach us anything. Sh** just happens: maybe by my choice, someone else's choice, the laws of physics. It just happens.

    Panic because I am then responsible for my choices; there are no guaranteed outcomes anymore. There is only One Guarantee- nothing will ever separate me from the love of God!

    So freeing- NOTHING, no bad luck, no selfish choice, NOTHING- can separate me from the love of God! He will always love because it is his nature to love.

    On the other hand, no magic cure-alls are guaranteed either. I am also subject to all the whims of choice that everyone else is subject to, the same laws of physics, etc.

    I can seek to make all my decisions out of love (my ever elusive goal) but that does not mean life will be easy for me. I could still wind up in a bad way.

    But Love will always be with me, and bring sweet into any bitter, and that is very uplifting and inspiring!

  2. In fundagelical Christianity, when it was all about "finding God's will" or "beseeching God" to intervene, I always felt so powerless, like nothing I did or was or could be or do would really make a difference. Yet I felt so deeply that I was supposed to be making a difference--like that was the entire POINT of living, certainly of living as a Christian.

    Accepting that God doesn't intervene--certainly not in anyway that I could believe was the God of Love rather than some malicious tribal sort of deity--gives me at first a sense of incredible existential alienation, and then the most wonder sense of empowerment. That yes, I CAN make a difference; I DO make a difference in every decision I make. But that, because I also believe that God IS unconditional love, I don't HAVE to make the Right Choices all the time to be loved.

    Now I can make consequential decisions out of my own love for my family, my community, my great-great-grandchildren rather than out of fear of not meeting some standard.