In my interview “God and the Problem of Suffering: An Interview with Paul Buller” Paul provides a brief summary of his theodicy according to which God allows at least some evil as a means by which moral agents can acquire moral virtue.
The article prompted a long comment from The Atheist Missionary (TAM) which concluded as follows:
“Without a hint of sarcasm or condescension, I would like to thank both Randal and Mr. Buller for this interview. It reminds me of why I despise the theology underpinning Christianity. I realize that my reaction in no way affects whether that theology is true. However, if it is true, your deity can … [insert whatever blasphemous insult you please].”
TAM states not merely that he disagrees with “the theology underpinning Christianity”, but that he despises it. And he concludes by expressing his unmitigated disgust with a choose-your-own blasphemy for the deity in question.
At first blush, this response is incoherent. If God exists and this theodicy is true, then God has morally sufficient reasons to allow the evils that occur. And there is no act more irrational than cursing the most perfect being for acting in accord with morally sufficient reasons so as to maximize the good. This leads me to conclude that the most charitable interpretation of TAM’s insult is that it is directed not ultimately at God but rather at the theodicist him/herself. In other words, TAM concludes his comment of utter disdain by cursing the theologian who endorses such a position.
After I challenged him on the vitriol of this comment TAM replied as follows:
“I admittedly get fired up when Christian apologists try to justify what I consider to be incomprehensible and unjustifiable suffering as part of some greater plan. It’s my pet peeve and I’m sorry for my over the top tone.”
This is less an apology as admission of wrong doing and more an apology in the classic Greek sense (apologia = defense). And that is what intrigues me about this whole exchange and makes it worth discussing here. You see, time and again I’ve encountered atheists/skeptics who believed that their personal disagreement with specific Christian theodicies provided them with some kind of moral license to be aggressive, vulgar, and uncivil.
To drive the point home, I pointed out to TAM that Christians have deep personal distaste for many particular secular philosophies which are every bit the equivalent of TAM’s personal distaste for theodicy. I noted as an example Peter Singer’s utilitarian ethics with its concomitant implications for practices like infanticide and bestiality.
But as much as Christians might disagree with Peter Singer’s utilitarian ethics, this offers no excuse to react to those who defend it with inflammatory language and insults. If we begin to give ourselves license to curse and insult those with whom we disagree, we might as well give up on the very idea of a marketplace of ideas altogether.
If Christians are not justified in cursing and insulting atheists because they have a personal disagreement with and distaste for a particular secular philosophy, then neither are atheists justified in engaging in like manner because of a personal disagreement with and distaste for their personal Christian apologetic “pet peeve”.