Such A God As This Is No Comfort by Morton Nadler (October 1995)

God did it?

That Monday morning, in the National Public Radio report on the Oklahoma City Memorial Service with Bill Clinton and Billy Graham, I heard much talk of God, talk intended to comfort, talk uttered with the best of intentions. What did I hear?

I heard a woman say that “God let this happen to bring us together.” Must I conclude that if this was God’s will, God’s design for us, then the perpetrators are simply God’s instruments; they are innocent?

There are people who can’t stand the color of your skin or the very idea that your parents came from a particular part of the globe. Is it a comfort to believe that your God can kill your child, your husband, your wife, your parent, in order to make them stop hating or fearing you?

Would it not be more comforting to believe, on the contrary, that a “God” had nothing to do with this, that this was the doing of evil men who hate everybody, and must be punished, that men like them must be stopped before they commit such crimes again? Would it not be more comforting to realize that there is no omnipotent, “jealous God,” ready to commit arbitrary, random acts of violence against individuals (“his only begotten son”) or all humanity save one family (the “deluge”)?

I heard Billy Graham reassure the thousands who came to the Oklahoma Fair Grounds and the millions who heard him on radio and television to trust in God, who loves them and will “protect them.” The time for protection should have been before the crime.

On the same day that the memorial service was held, we learned that thousands of African refugees, refugees from revenge for genocide, were murdered. And why did “God” arrange this? Instead of weeping in indignation, we debated over whether it was 3,000 or 2,000, or only the few hundred admitted by the Rwandan government.

We have almost stopped shaking our heads over children with guns killing children. Yet every year more children die this way than in the two daycare centers in Oklahoma City on that horrible Wednesday morning!

I believe that the universe evolved through the workings of material forces acting in accordance with natural laws on matter and energy, that there is no directing force above or, even more incomprehensibly, outside this material universe. I believe that this evolution is essentially random, and that my existence here, fortunate though that fact is for me, was not “designed.”

Indeed, the last random event in my personal creation was the fusion of one out of millions of my father’s sperm with an egg that my mother’s ovary just happened to release at “the right time.” I would not be, had any one of the other sperm reached the goal first.

Am I part of a grand design? Did God will this? If anybody could believe this, then that person would have to believe that each and every one of the billions alive today or in the past was thus willed, not Jesus alone. Indeed, don’t I often hear: “We are all God’s children?” If so, then God is guilty of infanticide. Worse than abortion, God is responsible for the murder of untold children of all ages.

Rest assured, believers, I don’t believe this. I don’t believe this because I don’t believe in any God.

My belief in a random–but not arbitrary–universe is to me a much greater comfort than would be a belief in an arbitrary–but not random–God. It is not something over which we have, by definition, ultimately no control that causes these atrocities. On the contrary, we can–and must–find a way to reverse the mounting tide of violence.

God talk may comfort the grieving believers. God talk may be their way of making sense out of senseless violence. It will not stop those others who hate, hate, hate. It will not stop those who kill in the name of their god. Rather, we must pause and take counsel together. We must find a rational solution.

Morton Nadler, a Foundation member living in Virginia, is a retired teacher of computer engineering at Virginia Tech. His column originally appeared in the Roanoke Times & World-News on May 7, 1995.

Nadler notes: “This was originally submitted under the title: ‘I can handle it: I’m an atheist.’ Maybe the title the editor gave it expresses my message for the people here in the bible belt better. In any case, I have heard only praise.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation