Character building as an answer to the problem of suffering/ evil


The traditional arguments for the existence of God have been fairly thoroughly criticised by philosophers. But the theologian can, if he wishes, accept this criticism. He can admit that no rational proof of God’s existence is possible. And he can still retain all that is essential to his position, by holding that God’s existence is known in some other, non-rational way. I think, however, that a more telling criticism can be made by way of the traditional problem of evil. Here it can be shown, not that religious beliefs lack rational support, but that they are positively irrational, that the several parts of the essential theological doctrine are inconsistent with one another, so that the theologian can maintain his position as a whole only by a much more extreme rejection of reason than in the former case. He must now be prepared to believe, not merely what cannot be proved, but what can be disproved from other beliefs that he also holds.

John Leslie Mackie

In this post, we have a Christ lover telling us that maybe, just maybe, there is a theodicy we haven’t considered. She starts by making the outlandish claim that maybe people are responsible for the suffering they undergo. Having volunteered at a children’s hospital for several months, I must at this point ask why would those babes have cancer? Was it, as we have characters in the bible ask, their sins or those of their parents?

I sympathize with her friend. I sympathize with her loss. Most of all I pity her. Why would she, in the face of negative evidence of a loving and powerful god, would she continue to pay homage to such a god.

I am at a loss to what words mean to the theist. She writes

The most reasonable inference from all the evidence we have is that God is perfectly good and loving and nothing is impossible for him.

and I wonder what do the theist mean when they say their god is perfectly good and perfectly loving? I am not perfectly good or all-powerful but I have always tried to ease the pain of my fellows. To conclude that suffering, gratuitous suffering, points to a perfectly good and loving god is positively irrational and a suspension of reason.

She tells us

Were there no one to feel “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of,” so the definition of compassion, we would all be lacking this superlative virtue.

and I must ask what stopped a powerful god from creating us with these qualities if it thought they were important? What stopped their god from creating a world where these qualities wouldn’t be necessary? A world devoid of suffering. And it is not true that all suffering has led to building of character. There are several instances of people being disillusioned by their own suffering or those of others. For every person who learns a thing from suffering tens of others learn nothing.

Inquiring minds would want to know, to what end is this learning? Who benefits? Is she willing to suffer endlessly for a reason she doesn’t know just because others may learn from her suffering? If she isn’t willing, what makes her think others should be used as test cases for a god? Does an omniscient god want to learn something it doesn’t already know? And what happens to those who don’t learn from their suffering; like the 10 year old girl repeatedly raped in Paraguay by her step dad? Whose fault was it she was raped? What lesson are we to learn from her suffering? That a perfectly loving and good god stood by and watched helplessly as she was violated?

I think anyone who believes and can voice

If God’s purpose in afflicting the undeserving is to move those around them to action and character development, then it seems to me the sooner we act and develop the sooner the affliction will be removed.

needs to spend time with a counselor. There is a part of their humanity that has gone to the dogs. I mean no disrespect for the dogs.

She writes in conclusion

I am firmly convinced that God has good reasons for allowing suffering in the world.

I say in retort that I am firmly convinced this world is not under divine governance. That suffering is part of life. Further, that the universe is indifferent to our suffering. If anything is to be done about suffering, it is up to us to find a solution to it. No amount of prayers have solved the malaria epidemic in Sub Saharan Africa. Sleeping under mosquito nets, clearing breeding grounds for mosquitoes, development and availability of antimalarial drugs have done all the work. I will not stop anyone from praying. No. I will only remind them it is a waste of time.

I will close by reminding the good christian that the character building argument is not new. It is wanting as a theodicy and it leaves the problem of evil where it found it, unchallenged, that is.

I will say with Ingersoll

“Injustice upon earth renders the justice of heaven impossible.

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

123 thoughts on “Character building as an answer to the problem of suffering/ evil

  1. exrelayman says:

    Nice that this post references both God and mosquitoes. The miniscule latter having real measurable effects on the real world, the supposedly almighty former? – no observable effect.

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  2. Excellent post. I agree with your argument and conclusion. I do have one thing to say about this: “why would those babes have cancer?” Babies have cancer because they smoked heavily while in the womb. God gave them the cigarettes himself in order to show adults how dangerous they are to smoke. Thus, god gave babies cigarettes and cancer to help us not smoke. Ain’t he an all-loving fella? $Amen$

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  3. Although she didn’t specifically state so, her point on “character building” is a common debate tactic employed by conservative ideologies designed to blame victims for their misfortune.

    The intended implications are:

    The 10 year old girl was raped because she failed to avoid it.
    Poverty is the natural consequence of laziness.
    People are subjugated because of their inherent lack of strength.
    Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

    “God is teaching them a lesson,” conservatives often say. It’s an inversion of “the meek… shall inherit the Earth” biblical passage championed by more liberal Christians. It also conveniently justifies the aggressive behavior favored by religious fundamentalists (e.g. “Onward Christian soldiers…”).

    Like

  4. john zande says:

    This is someone who must hear of the Omnimalevolent Creator!

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  5. […] Source: Character building as an answer to the problem of suffering/ evil […]

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  6. Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

    There is so much inhumanity in this teaching of suffering=character building. When my son was born with autism, christians told me his suffering would bring glory to god, as people see god easier through the sick and disabled (…for my power is made perfect in weakness. 2Cor 12:9). They also said it would build MY character into a more holy one, as I would be purified through the fires of suffering and would be a candidate for sainthood (all the more bringing glory to god).

    So endless suffering is supposed to build the character of us lowly, sinful humans, while god sits up there in his cush heaven enjoying the glory our suffering brings him. As far as I’m concerned, that makes god a SADIST.

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    • Charity Burke says:

      Uh! Like people who tell parents their child is dead because “He needed them more”. Ugh! Is this God some bratty toddler? He has heaven, the saints who have passed and a mess of angels and he STILL wants to take away someone’s young child? I knew better than to say garbage like that even while I was still a Christian.

      Liked by 1 person

      • makagutu says:

        It’s like he takes pride in gross suffering

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        • I wish Christians realized that kind of reasoning implies that Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection was in vain. That’s something that I often go to “well, didn’t he suffer so we won’t?” or “Didn’t he conquer death, hell and the grave, what’s up with all the present day evil and death then?”

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          • makagutu says:

            Even Christ, if he lived, at the point of his death, must have known it was all in vain. That explains why one of the evangelists has him say why have you forsaken me and another, take this cup from me. It was a useless venture

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    • makagutu says:

      I agree, that is definition of a sadist. We should ask this theist if she is willing to accept the description of her god as being a sadist.
      I agree, there is so much inhumanity in the argument

      Liked by 1 person

    • Peter says:

      Violet, had you ever seen the movie, The Song of Bernadette? It very pushes that view of suffering. I expect it would have been a popular film in Catholic circles.

      Sometimes when we see people suffering it might be better to say nothing. I think people feel they have to say something, like filling an awkward silence in a conversation.

      People answer the sadist argument by saying God shares in our suffering.

      Mother Teresa once told a suffering woman that suffering was the kiss of Jesus. The suffering woman responded she wished Jesus would love her less in that case.

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      • makagutu says:

        And for her comment, I like her more.
        In the movie god on trial, one of the guys asks who wants a suffering god? Why call him god if he suffers with them. They needed a conquering god.
        And if Caroline believes god is teaching people through the suffering of others, why work against god by seeking medical care?

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        • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

          That’s a good point I hadn’t thought of. Of course we don’t need to give christian crazies any more excuses not to see a doctor!

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        • Peter says:

          It reminds me of the comedy ‘The Man who sued God’. He tried to make an insurance claim which was declined as ‘an act of God’ so sued the churches as God’s local representatives.

          I think it best that I try another Dave Allen joke at this juncture:
          One Sunday, a priest decides he doesn’t want to do the Suday service and decides to go golfing instead.
          So he calls his deacon to tell him he is sick. The deacon agrees to preach on his behalf.

          So the priest grabs his golf clubs. He drives for a while, finding a course where he wouldn’t be recognized, and starts playing his game.
          He tees up on the first whole, squares off, and hits the ball. To his great surprise, it flies perfectly off the tee, heads downrange, and onto the green. To his further surprise, when he gets to the green, he finds that the ball had landed in the hole.

          The priest it jubilant. Never, in 20 years of golfing has he been able to hit a hole in one. He grabs his ball and moves onto the next hole.
          There he tees up, takes a few practice swings, and hits the ball. Again, it flies perfectly down the course, and this time before he even heads down the course he is sure the ball is in the hole.

          Hole after hole this continues. The priest is jubilant. It’s the best golf game he has ever had!

          Up in heaven, Jesus is sitting beside God watching the priest. He looks over and says, “Are you really going to let him get away with this?”
          God smiles. “Who is he going to tell?” He replies.

          Like

      • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

        I’ve not seen that movie Peter, and I’ll check it out.

        I’ve heard many people say jebbus shares in our suffering, and that he draws close to us and loves us in our time of need (even carries us, if you look at that stupid Footprints poem). God says he collects our every tear in the bible. Catholics have a deep belief in redemptive suffering, which is that suffering actually brings us closer to god and makes us more like him.

        Really, what proof do we have that god shares in our suffering? It’s all invisible, like everything else about him! Someone (I think it was Arch) left a quote on my blog today that said the invisible pretty is much like the non-existent.

        I agree with you, sometimes silence and a sympathetic look or hug can go a lot further than these empty platitudes. I feel I can’t judge too harshly, because as a christian I used to dole them out myself in good measure. They’re just terribly inhumane words.

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      • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

        OMGoodness, I was reading about that movie and found this catholic link to St Bernadette. It perfectly captures the catholic perspective on suffering. It’s apparent I’m now an apostate because I could barely hold back the vomit while reading it.

        https://www.catholiccompany.com/blog/st-bernadette-lessons-suffering

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        • makagutu says:

          Just read that article. What insanity?

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          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            That article shows indoctrination in one of its worst forms. Bernadette didn’t try to help her own illness, she just suffered so god would love her more, and was made a saint for it. Fucking GAG ME. I’m tempted to leave a scathing string of swear words here regarding that perspective, but I don’t want to lower your blog’s tone, Mak, so I’ll drop just one more. God is an evil DICK if he wants his beloved children to do that for him.

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            You need not worry about lowering the tone of this blog.
            She was sick in the head. She needed medical attention

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          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            I just thought of something else…maybe Bernadette didn’t go into the healing waters because she knew they wouldn’t heal her. *She’s* the one who said the waters were healing because she saw the virgin mary there. If she went in them and her tumor didn’t go away, she would have proven herself bogus. That’s a lot of risk.

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          • makagutu says:

            That makes a lot of sense. Why didn’t she go to her healing waters?

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          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            She said it was because it was “her business to be sick” (meaning she wanted to suffer for the glory of god). Veeeeery convenient…and suspicious.

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          • makagutu says:

            The church maintains its business through subtle con businesses.

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          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            I absolutely believe that to be true, both back in the day, and now. For christ’s sake, you have to pay $10 at our church to light a candle and $25 to get your name mentioned at the end of the mass so people will pray for you. The do have a book at the entrance of the church where you can write your need for prayer down for free…of course it never gets mentioned by the clergy or anyone else. Fuckers!

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          • makagutu says:

            Those are fuckers.
            How much does it cost to mumble words on behalf of someone

            Liked by 1 person

          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            About 5-10 people got mentioned at the end of each mass (sometimes more)…that’s a couple hundred dollars raked in right there from the sheep. On Sundays our church had four masses, and the other six days of the week there were at least two masses. $25 bucks a name-drop adds up nicely.

            Like

          • Especially when it’s income they never have to pay taxes on. What a scam.

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          • makagutu says:

            Churches are scams. The bigger the church the wider the extent of their scams

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          • They were too cold for her. She didn’t want to get healed of one illness only to catch her death of cold from the cure. 🙂

            Like

          • “I’m tempted to leave a scathing string of swear words here regarding that perspective, but I don’t want to lower your blog’s tone, Mak..” Can’t get any lower in tone around here than me! I’m only a foot and a half feet tall (pretty low) and Mak lets me pontificate, and often swear a lot, here on his fine blog. He’s a great guy. I, too, am a former Katlick and identify with just about all you say, A.N.S.V. I used to work at a catholic church as a janitor. There was a group of 5 or 6 little, very old ladies who insisted on praying the stations of the cross while crawling on their hands and knees around the church every day. Katlicks LOVE to glorify pain and suffering. Glad I got outta that.

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          • makagutu says:

            Mother Teresa made pain/ suffering her business.

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          • Have you ever read Christopher Hitchens article on her? It’s very damning of ole gal. When she got sick herself, she’d come back to the states for medical care. Her business was other people’s suffering. She wasn’t too much into the self inflicted kind, so many katlicks are, however.

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          • makagutu says:

            The missionary position, it is called I guess? I will read it someday. My reading is still in the 19th century, mainly

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          • Got me beat. Mine’s still in the 6th grade! (Drum roll, please!) 🙂

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          • makagutu says:

            Fucking katlicks, indeed. And she was made a saint for that

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          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            Ah, another one who has left the glorious “Katlick” One True Church. I do believe I met your little lightening bolt briefly, several months ago here on Mak’s lovely blog.

            I’ve never, in all my 41 years as a cazy catholic, seen anyone attempt to do the stations of the cross on their knees. That must have been quite a sight. There is nothing more cherished by the church than redemptive suffering. Fuckers. (You can probably tell this is an issue that makes me hot under the collar.)

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          • I hear you, my friend. Yeah. These ladies were like, 70 to 80 years old, too. Used to take em two hours to crawl around the damn church. must have taken the skin off their knees. But Jeebus loved em for it, or so they thought. Really sick, crazy shit when you look at it from a distance.

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          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            Oh. My. Gawd. Two hours crawling around the stations until their knees were probably bloody? They must have really believed in self-flagellation. Religion in general, and catholicism in particular, is sick. As far as I’m concerned redemptive suffering is one of their most damaging teachings (because it encourages a victim stance)…right next to demon possession. Fuckers!

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            That is crazy shit right there

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          • makagutu says:

            I hated the stations of the cross

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          • Not as much as Jeebus did, if he was real. 🙂 Hope you’re having a great weekend, my friend.

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          • makagutu says:

            I am having a good time. Hope you too are

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          • I am. Watching some documentaries on Shakespeare.

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          • makagutu says:

            Playing a game of scrabble

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          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            Hey Inspired, I watched some of those videos by Hitchens on Mother Teresa, and they were quite interesting. I don’t know if Hitchens knew Mother Teresa lost her faith in God at the end….in fact her loss of faith was one of the reasons the vatican didn’t want to give her sainthood.

            Like

          • I wasn’t aware of that. Did her loss of faith allow her to change her idiotic stance on birth control, I wonder? I know Hitch played Devil’s advocate for the Vatican during Mother Teresa’s “Sainthood trial”. He argued against her case. He was pretty meticulous when it came to researching his arguments, so I’d be surprised if he wasn’t aware of lack of faith.

            Like

          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            I don’t think she changed her mind on any of her stances. Here’s an article giving you the lovely Catlick perspective on her loss of faith. Google will give you other perspectives.

            http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Dec2007/Editorial.asp

            Like

          • Thanks for the link. I will definitely check that out. $A-fuckin’-men$

            Like

          • From what I’m making of that article, it sounds like katlicks see this “dark hour of the soul” where one questions their faith, as a good thing because, well, because it implies suffering of the mind and soul. If yer sufferin’, you’re OK in their book, as long as you don’t become a cussin’ mother fuckin’ atheist that is! Mother Teresa, I’m guessing, was seen as being more saintly, in the long run, by the church because she suffered and struggled with her “dark soul hour” for 40 years. Wonderful how these idjits reason.

            Like

          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            That is what the vatican decided when they made her a saint…that she was even more saintly for being “tested” in her faith. It is *magnificently* twisted logic.

            What saved her in the end was that she never, ever criticised the catholic church…otherwise she would have been just another asshole apostate, like we are.

            Like

          • Yep. Us, they don’t like. Good for us. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • makagutu says:

            How could she criticise the Catholic Church? It is like a bird destroying the branch it is nested. That would be madness

            Like

          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            An apt analogy, Mak.

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            Yes, that is what I got from the link too

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            Her doubt wasn’t a loss of faith. It was, as for the believer, a time of questioning whether they love god enough. Doubt as used by the believer is different from what you and I mean when we refer to it

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            I find these catholics to be strange people. No abortion no contraceptive. You either abstain or abstain and if you must have sex, it should be to make babies. And guys would applause when she said such things.
            How do you listen to an old virgin on sex and parenting?

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            I didn’t know she lost her faith. Not that I have been interested in her that much

            Like

        • Peter says:

          But Violet, when I looked at movie, Bernadette was so sweet, innocent and loving. I was quite infatuated with her. Are you going to spoil it for me?

          I think I am a naive idealist at heart.

          Like

          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            Sorry Peter, you know I’d hate to spoil anything more for your poor, battered-by-religion heart. You’ve been through enough already.

            Such as it is, redemptive suffering makes me want to puke and punch someone at the same time. I can’t help it…I find it horribly offensive and it drives me to swear and say the word, “Fucker!”, which I NEVER say.

            Like

          • Peter says:

            Mythbusters did a study on swearing and found it helped with pain relief.

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          • makagutu says:

            Swearing is good

            Like

          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            I used to never swear, but I’ve started since my deconversion. I find it very helpful. Maybe you should try it, Peter?

            Like

          • I almost never fuckin’ swear. It fuckin’ makes you sound like a rough, crude, mother fucker when you do, and who’d wanna sound like a rough, crude mother fucker when they’re angry about fuckin’ religion? 🙂

            Like

          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            Well goddammit, you’re absolutely fucking right! Swearing does not make me sound like a fucking lady, which is regrettable. Fortunately I’m so fucking pissed off at the shit-sucking church I don’t care how I crude I appear these days.

            Swearing definitely helps. 😀

            Like

          • Fuck right it does!

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            And you don’t want to be a lady. You should have a conversation with roughseas on it. If I were you, I would cuss till the cows cone home and the chicken roost

            Like

          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            Oh how it warms my heart to hear someone else using the term, “until the cows come home and the chickens roost.” Honestly I thought that was just a midwest american thing.

            I’ve seen RS have conversations about sexism…even the WP editor tells me “lady” is a sexist word. I think “woman” is the proper term? Or according to a certain christian whose name starts with a T, I’m a woMan.

            Atheists are helping me work through my anger…lots of swearing is helping. Getting it out is good. Though it seems Peter and Sirius are new deconverts who are terminally cool and pulled together, which makes me feel a bit nuts for ranting as I do. I’d like to be more like them, and the rest of you, who have some thick skin and tough armor.

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            You are full of confidence, you need nothing more than that.
            Peter is so full of humour.
            SB is doing quite well himself.
            Rs is the go to resource on sexism

            Like

          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            Thanks, Mak. ❤

            Like

          • “to a certain christian whose name starts with a T, I’m a woMan.” Would this be Tribulus the Fibulus? That dude is bat-shit crazy.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            Indeed it is…I think Violetwisp calls him Tiribulus the Terrible! He likes to say ladies are woMan and feMale.

            Like

          • Well, one thing he’s got going for him is his dashingly handsome looks. Dude reminds me of those big trolls from Lord of the Rings. Scary. Combine that with his lovely attitude toward women, and we’ve got ourselves a living, breathing horror movie. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • makagutu says:

            I think he can play a part in a horror movie without a mask

            Like

          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            Apologies, I was just reading the conversation with Tiribulus again, and he calls *himself* Greg the Terrible when he linked us to another forum. So Violetwisp was not calling him names (she’s very classy and diplomatic in that way). I’m not quite as classy, though I do aspire to her level of sharp wit and commentary.

            Like

          • I gave up on classy and diplomatic eons ago. I find reverting to school yard shenanigans and childish name calling to be quite cathartic. I guess ever since giving up catholicism I’ve been following catharticism. It’s better for the soul in the here and now. $Amen$ 🙂

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            In the here and now. Touche’

            Like

          • Indeed. Fine group of blog followers you have here, my friend. Some truly wonderful people. I likes em. 🙂

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            A fine group of people, that I admit. And you, my fellow prophet, are one among that great group

            Like

          • Thank you, my fellow last prophet.

            Like

          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            I love it! While I secretly desire to be classy, right now I think I need catharsis more than anything else.

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            Don’t worry about classy Vi. Go out there cuss like a sailor and slay nonsense with a hammer like Thor’s. That is all you need.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I think you’re quite classy. I find those in need of healthy catharsis, who know it and know why they need it, are very classy indeed.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

            Awww, thanks Inspired. ❤

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            I think the fellow needs to see a shrink

            Like

    • basenjibrian says:

      I imagine a particularly malicious and unsocialized* 13 year old boy playing one of those nasty violent video games.

      * How could God be “socialized” as He is supposed to be so above us all, so alone, so everlasting. That seems like a recipe for utter sociopathic insanity?

      I recommend Benjamin Cain here, who writes about how God must be insane and how the physical universe (metaphorically speaking) is nothing but His decay.

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2015/04/clash-of-worldviews-god-and-devil.html

      Like

  7. emmylgant says:

    I’ll borrow a Scottish expression to describe her argument:
    Pure shite, pal!

    Like

  8. shelldigger says:

    I guess I must be one character ridden son-of-a-bitch then. Most of us would be, life has a way of finding your weaknesses.

    But for believers to attribute suffering to some sort of charatcer building excercise, mandated by the dog, makes the believer just as morally deficient as their invisible friends. Worse actually, I can show you the believer exists.

    Like

  9. I would want no one to suffer for me so I could “learn” something. What a horrible selfish thing to assume, that all of the pain in the world is just for your benefit.

    Like

  10. Aquileana says:

    “Injustice upon earth renders the justice of heaven impossible”.

    Well that is certainly a perfectly well stated thought!…
    I’d say that the problem of suffering and evil is probably Christianity’s strategy to generate devotion and worship…
    What I find odd to explain is how people who have been under drastic circumstances as those ones you mentioned above still keep their faith.
    It is a sort of apology of suffering…
    Christ died in the Cross and he was tortured… So now you got to suffer instead, same way as he did

    Best wishes, dearest Makagutu. Aquileana ⭐

    Like

  11. basenjibrian says:

    What a great post, Maka!

    It summarizes the inherent injustice and malice behind Christianity!

    Like

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