By James Haught
One of my in-laws, a lovely young mother in Australia, has two adorable, bright-eyed, intelligent sons. But the second one, age three, developed unstoppable brain cancer that has kept the family in agony for a year. Now he’s just weeks from death, and everyone is grieving.
This rouses questions about life’s horrible cruelty that hits a few innocent victims, leaving others untouched.
Cerebral palsy maims about three babies out of every thousand born in America.
Down syndrome hits one per 700.
Spina bifida about one per thousand.
Families did nothing to deserve this nightmare. All they can do is struggle to cope, while others grieve for them.
For years I attended a philosophy club led by a brilliant surgeon with vast knowledge. In high school, his teen-age son developed cancer in his nasal passage. The family went through years of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation — hopes rising when symptoms vanished, then falling again with each recurrence. The youth finally died while a university student, amid 20,000 healthy students. All we club members could do was grit our teeth and lament.
I’ll be 90 on my next birthday. I’ve never had a serious disease or injury. Why was I lucky, while others weren’t? It can’t be because I’ve lived in piety, because I’m a sour old skeptic.
Famously, Rabbi Harold Kushner had a beloved son who died of a grotesque wasting disease, while parents and congregation prayed fervently for God to save him. The rabbi wrote a best-selling book, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, asking why God didn’t help. He concluded that the deity isn’t all-powerful, and is helpless. This contradicted most visions of The Almighty.
In philosophy, it’s called the problem of evil: If God is all-loving and almighty, why does he let earthquakes kill thousands — and tsunamis, and hurricanes, and twisters, and floods, and wildfires, and mudslides?
Similarly, why did he design hawks to rip rabbits apart, and cobras to kill village children, and pythons to crush pigs?
Finally, why does he doom us all to death? For centuries, theologians have tried to answer these damning questions — but they cannot. Their futile struggle is the field of theodicy.
Obviously, the answer is that no all-loving, almighty god exists. Logic doesn’t rule out a vicious god, but it precludes a kind one.
So we have nobody to blame, except nature itself, for the tragedies that ravage a few, sparing others.
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
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Image Credit: James Haught.