by Andy Dibble
How much is the suffering of an insect worth, writhing on the ground, flapping one wing, the other plucked by a child? Is not the cruel pleasure of the child worth incomparably more? Kill a thousand insects. Ten thousand. Their assembled suffering is as nothing. And why do we say this? Because an insect has so little capacity to suffer, let alone experience joy.
As different as the insect and the child are, so is the child to Me. The gulf yawns wider in fact. Think of yourself as a snarky bacterium. Do you consider how many innocent streptococcoi you slaughter when you bleach your toilet seat? Should you? Of course not. They feel essentially nothing.
I know. I’m God.
I know the degree to which you–everyone one of you–suffers. But My suffering and joy is more, stupendously more. For all your imagination and amphetamines, you cannot begin to understand the barest perturbation in My well-being. For all My skill as Teacher, I cannot begin to teach you.
So whose welfare should I attend to, Mine or yours?
Mine, of course.
However sovereign I am, outside Me is this moral law: The greatest happiness to the greatest number. Utilitarianism. But My duty is not to better the condition of many. Recall the cruel child. She owes the insect nothing, or near enough. Utilitarianism really amounts to a simpler formula, Create all the happiness you are able to create. And that is served by serving Myself.
Even the seraphim are like fireflies next to My Sun. And what are you, clay of Adam, alongside them? Beneath Me are the myriad choirs of angels, the denizens of the pure abodes, unseen sheiks, the yellow emperors, the apsaras and asuras. And only then humanity.
Even I must prioritize. Remember your place, snarky bacterium!
Only My pity for lower existence gives Me pause. Pity loves fairness. But if fairness is the rule, the lowliest, the most numerous should prosper: abandon sanitation so that vermin and insect swarm. Should I really make higher existence worse off for their sake?
But I do not pity the cockroach like I pity the grieving mother, the orphan, or victim of calamity. So, on occasion, I intervene. Not for their sake but to squash pity.
Now pity is a greedy master. Give it a little and we whir down spirals of remorse: Why can’t I do more? I know why. Because I am yoked to utilitarianism. I must serve Me.
So normally, I distract Myself: dazzle the Hebrews as a pillar of fire, march them on righteous conquest, incarnate and wreak havoc in their holy city, bask in their worship.
You think it petty. But it works best.
Sometimes humanity creates something worthwhile: A certain seventeen syllables penned by Basho then translated into Russian. The curve of a Buddha statue’s lip carelessly destroyed by the Huns. Panini’s grammar misquoted by Patanjali. Beethoven’s tenth symphony. The Argentine that lived the twentieth century and never once experienced hate.
But what is Starry Night alongside the splendor of exploding universes too violent for life? My majesty contains these might-have-beens. They astound Me more than any triumph on a pale blue dot.
My first attempt was stodgy Michael. He was lofty enough that I could help him for his own sake, not just for Mine. But he only wanted to serve Me, be My silver sword, My strong right arm. Serving his interests was only a roundabout way of serving Mine.
So I tried again with Lucifer. He loved Me, but only because he saw himself in Me. His vanity was luminous, consuming, a million billion suns with a sucking hole inside. Like a super-massive galaxy, his self-love warped reality.
But he was still a prima donna. He thought himself entitled to more of My attention than the utilitarian calculus allowed. So I sighed and saw him off.
I created. I tried again.
Creation is an experiment. Maybe evolution, across all the teaming universe, will rear a people whose welfare means more than My own. If it could rear gods, a race near enough to Me, there would be others I could help for their own sake.
I watch evolution tinker. I nudge it along. The giraffe stands without passing out. The human eye sees a million colors. The rabbit eats its own poo to thrive.
None are almost gods. But all have My image. My genius and My wit.
I became human to broaden My horizons. For I had never experienced relief. How could I? From the stance of eternity, I always know when ill will turn out well. I do not know forgetfulness or gratitude or need. As I am, I know the warmth of a body only exteriorly.
Though I can imagine what it is like to be a man, I do not know what it is like for a man to be a man.
So I became man.
So now you understand how all worldly suffering is justified, how it is necessary. That tough nut, theodicy, admits of a solution. In Me nearly everything has its end and goal, and that goal is My greater glory and pleasure.
But of all possible worlds, every conceivable sequence of events, I chose this very one. To serve the utilitarian law, I chose this creation and you in it. In some way you–even your failed marriage, your stillborn child, your self-serving prayers and spotty church attendance–increase My happiness more than any of the panoply of merely possible people I could have thrown into existence.
Be gladdened by this.
Andy Dibble is a former academic and Sanskritist turned healthcare IT consultant. He has supported the electronic medical record of large healthcare systems in six countries. His fiction is forthcoming in Writers of the Future. (andydibble.com)
Per the piece above, we are like bacterium to God which explains His lack of care, but on the other hand we bear his image so much so that God has a desire to become a human? Maybe He should make up His divine mind.
C. S. Lewis once admitted his greatest feared to John Beversluis, July 3, 1963 (the year of C. S. Lewisʼ death): “The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘so thereʼs no God after all,’ but, ‘So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”
Only four months before his death, Lewis wrote in a letter to Beversluis, an American philosopher, that there were dangers in judging God by moral standards. However, he maintained that “believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshipping Him, is still greater danger.”
Lewis was responding specifically to the question of Joshuaʼs slaughter of the Canaanites by divine decree and Peterʼs striking Ananias and Sapphira dead.
Knowing that the evangelical doctrine of the Bibleʼs infallibility required him to approve of “the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua,” Lewis made this surprising concession: “The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible.”
“To this some will reply ‘ah, but we are fallen and donʼt recognize good when we see it.’ But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen at all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: ‘Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?’ — ‘What fault hath my people found in me?’ And so on. Socratesʼ answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockhamʼs, Paleyʼs) leads to an absurdity. If ‘good’ means ‘what God wills’ then to say ‘God is good’ can mean only ‘God wills what he wills.’ Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.”
C. S. Lewis to Dom Bede Griffiths, Dec. 20, 1961: “Even more disturbing as you say, is the ghastly record of Christian persecution. It had begun in Our Lordʼs time – ‘Ye know not what spirit ye are of’ (John of all people!) I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse…Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil.”
Also, in the above piece, God says the angels are higher, but He doesn’t want to try and see what’s like to be an angel also? No. Just a human.
The piece sounds like a mishmash of ideas.
As for God’s “genius or wit” there is a fruit whose external skin contains a poison that causes so much pain that touching the fruit can drive an animal or man to suicide. Not to mention all of the non-fruit induced madness and suicide as well. The cosmos is indeed a mishmash, a mixed bag.
See this witty piece, “Why We Believe in a Designer” http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/ce/4/part2.html
Or this one, “Look at the Cosmos, and Compare that with what Christian Apologists Claim to Know for Sure” https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2016/01/look-at-cosmos-and-compare-that-with.html
God is put on trial in the second book of the Godhead trilogy by religious satirist James Morrow. The same fellow who won a Hugo for one of his Bible Stories for Adults.
Hi Edward, thanks for engaging so thoroughly with my writing. It’s good that you bring up the Euthyphro dilemma. The God postulated in this piece acknowledges a good (utilitarianism) and acts accordingly. He doesn’t will the good into being (volunteerism). I wouldn’t go so far to say that volunteerism is absurd. It’s more a matter of emphasizing God’s sovereignty and power over His wisdom and goodness. It’s very common in Islam and certain strands of Hinduism. A good podcast on this: https://historyofphilosophy.net/asharism
I don’t pretend that my writing is maximally coherent, but I had hoped to convey that the ideas support one another: a utilitarian God requires different reasons to become incarnate, to create, to do good, etc. than a more “standard issue” Christian God. Without these separate accounts, various objections to the theology go unanswered.
I hadn’t thought of the objection: Why doesn’t a utilitarian God become an angel? Thanks for bringing that up. The responses that occur to me are: For all we know, He could have. He isn’t obligated to disclose all His (mis)adventures to us 🙂 Also, I know that Aquinas believed that humans enjoy a fuller range of experience than either animals or angels because we possess both sensation (like animals) and an intellect (like angels). So even though we are lower on the great chain of being than angels, human life could be more intriguing to a utilitiarian God than an angelic life.
Nice, tightly written thought piece! Interesting idea to put a cosmic being such as God into the utilitarian equation. It could be taken as an answer to the problem of evil, if indeed the central premise were accepted as true–that our present universe satisfies the greatest possible world condition by pleasing a higher intelligence whose capacity for happiness dwarfs our own.
Of course there are some conceptual issues here (which I wouldn’t expect a piece like this to resolve.) First of all, the argument presumes that the difference in degree of consciousness is effectively infinite as between lower lifeforms and higher ones. There’s some conceptual work that might need to be done here when comparing different lifeforms. I think it is an extremely sticky and unresolved problem in philosophy as to how we might measure gradations of consciousness, and even stickier as to how we might assign a metric for “moral weight” to these experiences. I guess for this story, though, we can assume the gulf is infinite as between humans and God, because God’s conscious experience is infinite and therefore presumably infinitely more important. (So the insect to human comparison is there just for illustrative purposes.)
Another problem is with the comparison between insects:humans::humans:god. The issue here is that although some humans might get a kind of enjoyment from harming an insect, that presumably derives from some aspect of their psychology that would constitute a defect in the the mind of God. That is to say, a perfect being wouldn’t harm humans (or anything) for fun or enjoyment. So I don’t know if you can resolve the problem of evil this way. You might say “who is to say what a perfect being would do for fun or enjoyment?” which amounts to “God works in mysterious ways,” which is really a non-answer.
Of course the story doesn’t need to answer these questions. It is enough to raise them an interesting way.