It might seem like a deliberately offensive question to ask, one intended solely to provoke a specific reaction, but I want you to know that I am entirely sincere when I ask it because I really would like an answer – it is said, after all, that everything has a price, and I am particularly curious as to what yours might be. Actually, “price” is probably the wrong word and the question, to be fair, is a pointedly obtuse one, so let me rephrase it. What, to you, would be adequate compensation for the rape of your child? What do you consider to be suitable recompense? What would you be comfortable accepting in return for your child being subjected to the worst kind of trauma (short of also being tortured and murdered) that they could possibly endure? Save your reply because, ultimately, whether you believe in a god or not your answer should be exactly the same: there is nothing that anyone could ever accept – nothing. The trouble is that, if you’re a theist, this isn’t actually true – it’s merely what you’ve tricked yourself into believing. If you’re honest you would admit that you do have a price – and it’s absolutely nothing.
If you believe in a god – actually, let’s back up a moment … before we go any further we should perhaps attempt to define what we mean when we say “god”. I know, I know, that’s like trying to nail a dolphin’s thoughts to a cloud using a hammer made of tears – every religion and every individual believer has a completely different idea about what a god actually is so how can anyone possibly reconcile the discrepancies? Well, for the sake of argument, let’s go with “god” as pretty much every major theistic religion and adherent understands it; a sentient, intelligent, supernatural entity that is, if not actually responsible for the creation of the universe in which we live (although they usually are) then they are at least able to command both matter and the laws of nature to its will, rendering it effectively omnipotent. This, I think, is fair since we’re always told by theists that nothing is beyond the ability of their favourite sky-man.
Additionally, since the major faiths place a huge amount of emphasis on a revealed, objective morality, coupled with an afterlife that employs a reward/punishment system based on how this god judges us to have behaved during our brief period as walking, talking flesh-bags, this god will also need to be effectively omniscient – it can’t, you must admit, judge us if it doesn’t know what we got up to (in my case, that’s probably a good thing). We can, again for the sake of argument, safely disregard the problem of how the concepts of omnipotence and omniscience are logically incompatible since theists pay it no consideration when exercising their beliefs anyway; besides, since the point here is to argue that the god-driven reality they believe in is ethically rotten to the core when it comes to explaining away the problem of evil, we should argue by their terms, using their rules, and with their definitions. In essence, then, god is a being for whom nothing is beyond his power, and nothing escapes his attention.
Given this definition of god we can state with absolute confidence that anything that happens in our universe, whether it be good, evil, or the celebrity career of Snooki, does so with the full knowledge and approval of whatever god claims to be running the place. I mean, it’s not as if he can claim ignorance, and if there was ever something that he didn’t want to happen he absolutely has the power to stop it. God, by definition, is aware of, and fully endorses, everything that happens … including the rape of a child. This is the problem of evil in a nutshell, and it is one of the soundest logical arguments against the existence of a god (or, at the very least, a benevolent or benign one because, even if you consider the existence of a god with the qualities of omnipotence and omniscience as described, the fact that it’s possible to commit such atrocities in the world demonstrates that that god is, at best, indifferent to suffering, and at worst positively malevolent).
Let’s role-play for a minute. No, not like that, put the prison warder costume and the handcuffs away … alright, then, just put them aside for later – right now I want you to imagine for a moment that you’re god; it shouldn’t be difficult, but if you’re wary of over-taxing your imagination then you should start by pretending that you’re Jennnifer Lopez, Megan Fox, or any of the other self-important boob-mules given vaccinations against talent as a child, and just go around acting like everyone you meet is completely beneath you. So, you’re god, and you’ve just created a universe with your omnipotence … now what? Well, with your omniscience you know everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen; you know who is going to do what and to whom, when they’re going to do it, and whether or not they’re going to get away with it. You know, for instance, that in about 14 billion years time a human child on your favourite planet will be abducted, forcibly sodomised, and murdered … now what?
The problem of evil is something for which no theist or religious apologist has ever provided a satisfactory explanation, although that’s not to say they haven’t tried – they’re just extraordinarily bad at it – and the logical, moral, or metaphysical hoops they’ll jump through in order to hang on to their beliefs while hand-waving away the horrors that every day befall people on this planet often induces in me a sense of both nausea and utter despair at the disgusting rationalisations some human beings will make just to preserve their faith. “Ah, but, if god came to the rescue it would violate our free will”. Really? You’re going to make that argument? So, what about the victim? Isn’t their free will being violated by god’s non-interventionist approach to preserving the free will of the rapist? Is the free will of the rapist somehow more important than that of his victim? What kind of diseased mind could be capable of holding such a sickeningly inhuman attitude?
As god, pleading ignorance won’t do you any good; you’ve known this was going to happen since the beginning of everything and have therefore had plenty of time to get off your celestial arse and do something about it (and claiming that your universe-birthing omnipotence is “a little bit less omni this morning” won’t absolve you either, you wanker). So, you’re standing by, watching impassively as a child endures the most horrendous torture imaginable, and throughout the ordeal they’re crying out to you for it all to end, and yet you still do nothing? Why? Well, as the festering minds in Team God’s Apologist Division would have it, it’s because you’re going to punish the perpetrator when he dies. Sorry, what was that? When he dies? Oh, okay, so the child suffers a lifetime of emotional and psychological trauma while the rapist gets to live his life free from impediments and, quite possibly, free to abuse countless others until either he’s caught or drops dead, but it’s okay because he’ll burn in hell while the kids get to go to heaven?
You know, I’m sure that Elisabeth Fritzl would be comforted by the knowledge that her 24 years of brutal torment were god’s way of proving a point about free will and how one’s moral choices could lead to eternal damnation. I have no doubt that she can sleep easily at night knowing that, as long as he doesn’t repent of his sins before his death, her father will finally be getting his head around the argument that god was trying to make about a coming day of judgement for one’s behaviour by letting him rape his kid in a DIY dungeon for two and half decades. I imagine that she can look back on those years now and realise that god had not abandoned her … he was there the whole time, watching over her as she was being raped by her father for the fourth time that week and planning exactly what punishment he would mete out in another thirty years or so when he finally dies. “Don’t worry”, god reassures her, “it’s okay – I’ll get him later”.
It’s an entirely understandable urge for people to want to persuade themselves of the notion that an all-seeing judge will see to it that, eventually, every villain gets their comeuppance, if only because it offers the comforting delusion that we live in a fair and just world; the problem is that this belief ends up, somewhat perversely, actually contriving an unfair and unjust world by virtue of it absolving the believer of any responsibility to help people in need – why, after all, should one bother to intervene in the troubles of others when you can “shoot ’em all and let god sort them out”? Not only that, but maintaining the belief that a god guarantees justice means that everything that happens, for good or ill, is meant to happen; if you hold that your god’s presence and judgement ensures that the universe is fair, then every theft, every rape, every murder, every genocide is intended, necessary … deserved.
Since the theist’s god is omnipotent it follows that everything is its will (since nothing can actually oppose its will), and many theists are absolutely fine with this – so much so, in fact, that they ascribe to their fluffy, sociopathic pixie of choice a divine “plan”. Long ago, back before the universe was infinitesimally smaller than George Osborne’s charisma, god drew up his plan for each and every one of us, demonstrating an obsession with micro-managing our lives to the kind of extent that even the most hovery of helicopter parents would be mortally embarrassed to engage in. Everything that happens to you, me, and everyone else, has been mapped out in advance by the loud, beardy, vengeful one in accordance with his grand plan; whatever happens to you is in there, and there’s a reason for it. Theists often tell us that we cannot know what that reason is, but there is one, and we shouldn’t question it … well, fuck that, and fuck you – what kind of sick fucking plan involves raped children?
If you believe in a god, then you have accepted that there is a suitable cost for the rape of your child. To believe in an omnipotent, omniscient god who is not only capable of knowing when and where it will take place, and yet refuses to intervene, but who has actively constructed a plan that includes the rape of your child is to sell your child to torture, or even death, for whatever the potential end goal of that plan might be. In your mind it’s perfectly okay that your all-powerful god has decided your child should suffer this because, at the end of the day (or, more precisely, at the end of time) it’s part of a bigger picture, one that will eventually become clear, making it all worthwhile. Ask yourself this: what kind of plan could ever justify the rape of a child? Eternal life for all? World peace? Are either of those really worth one person having to carry the psychological damage such an event can leave them with forever? Is that fair? Now ask yourself what sort of parent would be comfortable, let alone content, with allowing that to happen …
“It’s okay, though”, you insist, “because the rapist will get punished in hell for his crime”. We’ve already pondered the question as to how only a truly fucked-up supernatural deity could possibly defer acting to prevent a rape in favour of punishing the guilty party after their death, so we’ll instead move on to the fact that you’re forgetting (probably deliberately) the most chasmic of cosmic loopholes in the theological justice system: repentance. If Josef Fritzl decides, before he finally carks it, to offer his most sincere apologies to god (not to his daughter, of course – no, in this particular model of morality god doesn’t give a flying fuck whether the victim forgives or not) he will be pardoned of his sins by the almighty, the pearly gates will swing open, and he’ll be allowed to enter heaven where, presumably, he will get to spend eternity with his friends and family … a family that includes the daughter he raped for 24 years. So, how is that heaven for her, exactly? Does she get a say in this?
Given all of this one might reasonably conclude that this utter cluster-fuck of a plan, and the malevolent bastard who thought it in any way constituted a good one, have attained such a stunning level of failure that the only rational explanation is the complete absence of both the plan and its patently insane progenitor. Since no theist can possibly countenance this without fear of suddenly gaining an “a” (think about it), they are forced, rather desperately, to find every excuse they can for their god’s behaviour – usually this involves blaming it all on Satan (without, of course, realising that, since god created the devil and either can’t, or won’t, do anything to prevent him from being an insufferable git, god is responsible for all of satan’s misdeeds). Sometimes they’ll go so far in their attempt to apologise for their lord’s failings that they will almost redefine him completely out of existence. The philosopher Epicurus summed up the problem rather succinctly:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
I actually first start writing this post the best part of 2 years ago, but for one reason or another never got around to finishing it. I’d always intended for it to look, to some extent, at the child rape scandal within the catholic church, and in particular the role played by Pope Benedict XVI. With the quite stunning news of his resignation (the first Pope to do so in six centuries), and all the bullshit that inevitably came with it, one feels as if we’ve reached a tipping point in the world’s relationship with the catholic church and that, perhaps, this is more about the scandal than anyone is letting on. It is a demonstrable fact that, prior to becoming pope in 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger was responsible for setting policy on accusations against priests, a policy which could be summed up as: “move the priest, silence the victim, insist that everything be handled in secrecy within the church, and keep claiming canon law trumps civil law when anyone gets arsey”.
As the Vatican moves to close in around Ratzinger and afford him whatever protection from prosecution they’re able to muster before he vacates his Prada shoes for the last time, the belligerent attitude amongst both the church and the faithful still persists … and it’s frustratingly sick-making. A priest, a holy man, a man, allegedly, of god, paedos a kid, and you fuckers say nothing? I can understand how an ancient, irrelevant institution with a desperate need to cling on to the power that the advance of reason is slowly eroding could place its own self-interest above the welfare of a child, but what excuse have the followers got? “Oh, it’s okay”, they explain, “the church will see to it the priest in question is punished”. What the fuck is wrong with you people? Why aren’t you calling the fuzz? A child has been raped and you think the best people to deal with it are those whose very survival as an organisation rests on their self-proclaimed moral authority and infallibility?
Regardless of whether or not you believe Ratzinger should, for his part in covering up the abuse of children by catholic priests, be hastily shuffled from his Vatican apartment to the nearest court the instant his tenure ends to be tried for crimes against humanity (no question about it – he should), you cannot get around the fact that, if you believe in a god, you have put a price on your child, and that price is nothing. Free. Gratis. If there is a god, he created evil … and he does nothing to prevent it; he is either thoroughly unsympathetic to the suffering of human beings or outright cruel and vindictive. He concocted a plan that involves rape, murder, torture, and genocide, and for what? You don’t know! You accept all the shitty things that happen to you and others as being his will, as part of his plan, and you don’t even know what you’re going to get out of it because you have no idea if he even exists, let alone whether he promised you anything for your acquiescence. The price you have placed on your child is nothing.
As a parent it is your unending duty to protect your child … if you believe in god you have chosen to place your trust in someone who, were they to actually exist, clearly wouldn’t give a fuck about your kid. If you knew someone, a human person (someone who, unlike your deity, you can actually get a phone number for) who knew when and where a child was going to be raped and was able to prevent it but chose not to … you’d call the fucking cops, and rightly so because they deserve to be in jail. Why do you not hold your invisible magic man to the same standard? If god were real then his negligence, and the staggering abundance of shits he doesn’t give to suffering, would have landed him in the nearest steel-bar hotel for the rest of time (although, I don’t know about you, but I actually find it rather pleasing to imagine Joseph Ratzinger sharing a cell with his boss). With such an obviously psychotic bastard at the cosmic controls it must surely be better for everyone if we were to live in a universe without this contemptible fuck-nugget?
To believe in a god is to sell both yourself and your child the lie that the bad things that are happen are somehow necessary, or even deserved, and that the being who stood idly by and let them happen, or even willed that it should happen as part of some greater scheme, is the defining essence of love. What a disgusting and inhuman thing to believe … what a disgusting thing to teach a child! It is far better to concede that, sometimes, bad shit happens to good people – no plan, no fault, no divine being calling the shots, it just happens. The alternative, let’s face it, is far worse; that there is a god, and he just doesn’t give a fuck about you, or your child. Don’t sell them out to that – they are worth so much more. There should be no price you’re willing to pay, no matter what some deadbeat absent deity promises you.