Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Distraught parents

I'm going to comment on a letter from an allegedly distraught parent to William Lane Craig:

i) To begin with, I don't know that this is for real. It may just as well be an exercise in atheistic sockpuppetry to put a prominent Christian apologist on the spot.

ii) There can be a danger in being too deferential to grieving parents. By that I mean, there's a tendency in the current culture to treat the loss of a child as the worst thing that can possibly happen to someone. Uniquely worse than losing a parent, sibling, spouse, or best friend.

But is that true? I think the major reason is that other kinds of deaths are expected. Therefore, the cultural message is that we shouldn't be as distraught by the death of a parent, sibling, or spouse. 

But how is that germane to the sense of loss and depth of loss? Surely that's based on the quality or intensity of the emotional bond, and not whether their death is expected. 

I don't think that the death of a child is uniquely painful. It's rather callous to assume that. 

iii) Why would the correspondent be reading Sam Harris? Assuming the letter is for real, that's the kind of thing someone does who has lost his faith, and is seeking to justify his loss of faith. 

iv) Assuming the letter is for real, this illustrates the danger of false expectations. Child mortality has plummeted in contemporary Western nations thanks to modern medical science. As a result, the death of a child is shocking to parents.

But in the past (as well as Third World countries), parents never expected most of their children to reach maturity. Siblings were used to losing brothers and sisters in childhood. 

Although that's emotional shocking, that wasn't intellectually shocking. 

By the same token, child mortality was high in Bible times. Take references to stillbirth in Scripture. 

Child mortality is not inconsistent with Biblical theism. God didn't promise to protect Christian children from fatal illness. This doesn't call God's existence into question. In terms of Biblical theism, there's no presumption that you children will be exempt from fatal illness. 

We may still ask, "Why does God allow it?", but this doesn't contradict Christian theology. There's no logical tension between what Christian theology says can happen and what (allegedly) happened to this parent.  

v) Apropos (iv), for too many people, something isn't real until it happens to them. Unless they personally experience some tragedy, that's just an abstraction which they don't incorporate into their outlook. 

vi) Rejecting God if you lose a loved one trivializes the life and death of your loved one. In a godless universe, life is cheap. You cheapen the value of your loved one by rejecting God in anger over the death of your loved one. 

Because your loved one meant so much to you, you reject God for taking your loved one from you. But in so doing, you make your loved one worthless. You reduce your loved-one to driftwood in the sea of cosmic indifference. They were just a little flicker of consciousness between the dark and silent stretches of infinite time and space. 

vii) If your loved one is born or diagnosed with a terminal illness, that's tragic, but it's an opportunity as well. It gives you the lead-time to make the most of the remaining time. You know the time is short. So you don't take them for granted.

That intensifies the bond. You learn to get more out of less. The time is very concentrated. The less time remaining, the more precious the remaining time.

So there's a tradeoff. If you think someone will always be a part of your life–you have time to burn, you can call them or see them whenever you want–there can be long stretches when you treat them as if they don't exist. There's no urgency. 

viii) Let's play devil's advocate. Suppose someone says, "Why should I be grateful to God that something even worse didn't befall my loved one? If a mugger knocks out my front teeth, should I thank him because he didn't set me on fire?" 

a) If you're loved one was spared a worse fate even though they deserved a worse fate, then that's reason for gratitude.

b) There's more to it than God protecting your loved one from an even worse fate. There's the compensations of heaven. 

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