Here’s another old favorite. This post was originally published on this blog in March 2010.
Believers often attribute personal good fortune to the deity or deities they worship, or otherwise proclaim the influence of their god/s on their lives and on the world. This leaves nonbelievers with a lot of pretty tough questions. Why does your god care so much about the results of that football game? Why are you thanking your (supposedly benevolent) god for saving those three people from the crash, while he apparently let the other 97 die? Why are you so eager to thank your (supposedly omnipotent) god for what you think of as good things, but don’t express anger at your god for all the evil and suffering in the world?
What I often hear, in response to this type of question, is something like, “God works in mysterious ways.” In other words, we can’t possibly be expected to understand the intentions and the plans of a superior being that operates on a higher plane of existence. God surely has his reasons, which are beyond our mere mortal comprehension.
Yet, the rest of the time, these same people seem pretty clear on exactly what God wants and why. Pray in this certain way, eat in this certain way, love in this certain way, hate in this certain way. Do good things and get eternal reward, or do bad things and get eternal punishment. For a mysterious, incomprehensible being, this God character sure seems to have a lot of explicit and well-known rules about what constitutes good or bad behavior! (You might even say, in some cases, that those rules are “set in stone.”)
So which is it? Are God’s ways too mysterious for humans to understand? Then stop making claims about how God wants us to behave. You couldn’t possibly know what God thinks, or wants, or values. In fact, if God is beyond our comprehension, theistic religions should be asserting nothing as dogma or doctrine, aside from maybe God’s existence — no attributes of God whatsoever. There’s no basis from which to draw any of it. Belief in any specifics about God just amounts to completely blind faith in a handful of completely arbitrary ideas.
Or are God’s ways understandable after all to us puny humans? Perhaps even laid out explicitly in some holy text or other? In that case, I’d really like to finally get some answers to these tough questions. I’m tired of hearing theists use the “mysterious ways” excuse to dodge fair and legitimate inquiries about the beliefs they hold to be true.