The God debate continues

PUBLISHED: 11:20 25 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:56 06 May 2010

SIR - I had read Diane Munday s letter in your columns (Herts Advertiser, February 4) but unfortunately had missed the report by the Bishop of St Albans regarding the matter of natural disasters and as to whether there could be a God. However, the two let

SIR - I had read Diane Munday's letter in your columns (Herts Advertiser, February 4) but unfortunately had missed the report by the Bishop of St Albans regarding the matter of natural disasters and as to whether there could be a God.

However, the two letters sent to you in response to Diane's observations (Herts Advertiser, February 11) had the effect of leaving me completely confused with their academic theories or maybe I'm just thick.

In layman terms, as I understand, after watching a TV documentary on world disasters - the tsunami and other catastrophic world happenings - these tragedies are necessary for the purpose of regenerating the earth which would otherwise become static. I can't even remotely offer a reason why this should have to be; causing so much suffering.

Several times while Jesus lived on the earth he was overcome in his own life by grief and he wept, so we're told. Not exactly a deity immune to people's torment and misery in these present times but I feel there are things which we will never know the answers to, in this life anyway.

Diane tells us that she is a humanist. I have two very good friends who are also humanists.

I don't question them why, anymore than they would question me as to what I am.

I know they have no belief in the Bible but I can point them to a quote in this book which they could not refute in any way with its clear message that: "in the midst of life, we are in death."

How very true, a prophecy that we should all surely take note of.

ELIZABETH DUMPLETON

Wilstone Drive, St Albans

SIR - I have been reading with interest the Diane Munday debate on your pages.

Let me pose a conundrum. The argument is that God should intervene to stop natural disasters - tsunamis, Haiti. Fine. Which one? OK - all of them. What about man made disasters? Air accidents/car accidents. Which one? OK - all of them.

What about ill health? How would God decide which cancer sufferer, which HIV patient to save? What would be fair? And then what about alleviating all the burdens of suffering, mental stress, strain that mankind is subject to.

Where would it be fair for God to intervene? And especially in the suffering of old age and ill health - who in their eighties/nineties would God cure? Indeed perhaps it would be nice if God simply prevented death and associated suffering!

Let alone it being God's problem to decide where to intervene, where would Mankind decide to intervene in a public vote? How would we value God saving victims of terrorist atrocities, life-long crippling illnesses, childhood deaths from illness?

But if all suffering were avoided and ultimately death avoided, where would joy be in the world, the satisfaction of human achievement, the happiness through giving, caring, charity to those who do suffer?

Indeed God's intervention in the manner some suggest would simply make meaningless all aspects of our make-up: our character, motivations, emotions - the essence of our very being on Earth which is fundamentally driven by an awareness of our mortality.

GRAHAM DUXBURY

Long Buftlers, Harpenden

SIR - Well! What a deluge of gobbledygook from "believers" followed my simple question - namely how could the all powerful, loving god who is believed in and prayed to by Christians allow/cause earthquakes, tsunamis and floods resulting in so much suffering for "his" children. Not surprisingly nobody answered the question.

Because it would take a whole page to answer the various points made I will answer just a few of the ones I understand.

James Gray wrote "just because suffering may appear pointless to me it doesn't mean that it is pointless" - tell that to the Haiti earthquake victims! Mr Gray's twisted reasoning suggests that as long as his god has a point in causing misery and suffering that makes it alright.

A bit like saying mass murderers and suicide bombers are OK if they happen to see a point in what they are doing.

David Edgington wrote as a "'historian'" who accepts the historical facts about the life of Jesus" and suggested I should read St John's Gospel.

Actually I have read all the gospels, none of which were written at the time of the life of Jesus and a number of them nearly a century after the uncertain date of his death.

I found that they drew heavily on each other and, even then, contained many contradictions which, quite apart from anything else that might or might not convince me to "believe", makes them a very unreliable historical record.

An anonymous contributor who says he is a Christian concedes that his God may not be all powerful and exhorts us to commit ourselves to relieving suffering - something that is highly commendable and applies to believers and non-believers alike.

But it does not throw any light on the question as to why he bothers to pray if the entity he prays to is unable to respond.

However, more importantly, one of your contributors asked "where do humanist ideas of right and wrong come from?"

As a Humanist I will answer for myself as I would not presume to answer for others.

The philosopher A.J. Ayer put my beliefs better than I can. He wrote "The only possible basis for a sound morality is mutual tolerance and respect: tolerance of one another's customs and opinions; respect for one another's rights and feelings; awareness of one another's needs".

This, in practice, involves trying to make sense of the world we live in by using reason, experience and shared human values because moral values can only be founded on what we actually know about human nature and behaviour in the here and now: the aims of that morality should be human welfare, happiness and fulfillment.

In other words we should all try to make this life here on Earth - which is the only life we actually know about - as good as possible for as many people as possible by treating others as you would wish to be treated grounded in our common humanity and interdependence rather than belief in promises of reward or punishment in some mythical future.

However, the reason I think this question is important is because it has a greater and deeper significance beyond what Humanists actually do or do not believe in or how they live their lives.

The context in which it was asked implies that the writer thinks that why you do something is more important than what you actually do and that a morality not founded in a religious belief is not truly moral.

This is an argument I have heard many times and refute absolutely.

A rational examination of history shows it is those who rely on so called holy books and holy men that have been responsible for mankind's worst atrocities and indeed have - and still do - use these writings and dictates to justify their actions.

It has not been sceptics, atheists, humanists or secularists who have been involved in Crusades killing their fellow human beings in order to teach them the folly of their religious beliefs; neither was it non-believers who instituted the Inquisition of those who believed differently and burnt at the stake those who disagreed with them.

Nearer our own times it was the atheists and other non-believers that, along with those who professed the Jewish faith that were killed in their millions in concentration camps whilst the Roman Catholic Church looked on. And today it is the leader of that same Catholic Church that condemns thousands in Africa to painful disease and death by lying about the efficacy of condoms in preventing AIDs.

Neither have non-believers laid down laws that deny the equal humanity and rights of women and homosexuals.

So, wherever it comes from, I prefer a Humanist basis for my morality rather than a faith in gods or gurus that throughout history - and continues today - has demonstrably lead to and excused inequality, suffering, wars, hatred and strife between those with competing gods.

DIANE MUNDAY

Brewhouse Hill, Wheathampstead

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