Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Michael Novak, What Were You Thinking?

Monday’s USA TODAY (July 21st, 2008) featured an essay by conservative columnist Michael Novak entitled Reconciling Evil with Faith. I found the essay so outrageous that I am writing a longer than usual blog as commentary. To be fair, you ought to read Mr. Novak's entire essay for yourself.

Michael Novak writes, “One of the oldest accusations against God in the Bible and in every generation since has been that there is too much evil in this world for there to be a good God… Of course ceasing to be a Jew or a Christian does not wipe these evils away… The rejection of God does not diminish evil in the world by a whit.”

Mr. Novak is absolutely correct. It doesn’t matter if you believe in God or disbelieve in God, evil continues. But what does this fact tell us? Only one thing: what you believe has no bearing on reality.

Mr. Novak continues: “In fact, the turn of Russia and Germany from more or less Christian regimes to boastfully atheist regimes did not lessen, but increased, the number of humans who have horribly suffered, by nearly 100 million.”

Again I am not certain what this fact tells us. Is it that atheists are more barbarian than theists? Or that theists are less technologically sophisticated than atheists when it comes to murdering human beings? And who said Hitler’s Germany was atheistic? In Mein Kamf Hitler wrote: "I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."

Mr. Novak even enlists atheist science to make a point (though again I am uncertain as to what his point is): “Even under atheistic interpretations of science, the vast suffering under ferocious competition for survival, for a vastly longer era than was known, far exceeds the evils earlier generations knew.”

What does this mean? Is he saying that it is better to believe the world is only 10,000 years old as the Young Earth Creationists argue because then suffering is so much briefer? Is he saying that only atheists believe the world is billions of years old? It seems to me that the only difference between the atheist and the theist on this point is one of semantics. Whether one is an atheist or a theist, one cannot deny the facts of suffering. Given these facts we can either say that nature is a bitch or God is a bastard, depending on our theological leanings. Neither interpretation reduces the suffering Novak admits.

Then he goes on to say, “[T]hose who suffer most from injustice and oppression seem to find more consolation and dignity in the Jewish/Christian faith than in any other worldview.” How does he know this? Buddhism, for example, is all about suffering and the ending of suffering? Can it be that Judaism consoles better than Buddhism?

And it gets worse:

“Judaism and Christianity seem very good religions for those who suffer because they bestow on them justice and dignity. The realistic point of Judaism and Christianity is that suffering is a normal part of every human life.” Is this true? Again Buddhism also says that suffering is natural to human experience, but what it doesn’t say, and what Judaism and Christianity to do, is that suffering is caused by God because of the sin of Adam and Eve. Buddhism makes suffering natural; Judaism and Christianity insist it is the act of a wrathful God.

And as far as Judaism and Christianity bestow justice and dignity on those who suffer, just ask the slaves in Christian Europe and America. Ask the colonized peoples of Africa and India. Ask the Palestinians in the West Bank. Ask those tortured by Americans in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. What Judaism and Christianity seem to do is comfort the afflicted by holding out justice in the next world, while giving this world over to the madness of men and women whose god is more sadistic then they are, and who excuses every evil that they do.

And it gets worse still:

“In fact, the poor also delight in the beauties of God’s creation. On balance, even with their acute suffering, the poor also feel blessed. They sense the rapture of sunlight flashing across lake or ocean, and soft breezes at sunset, and the great starry sky.”

This is obscene! The fact that acute poverty cannot rob human beings of their sense of awe, wonder and mystery is a testament to human soulfulness, but is this a defense of faith? Does the fact that Jews in Nazi death camps managed to find some beauty in a rainbow somehow make the evil of Nazism less evil?

And it gets even worse:

“For Christianity, the interpretive key to this world is the cross—the cross on which the Son of God died. For Judaism, it is the long, long exile and pain of the Jewish people. If God has so treated his only son, and also his own people, why should anyone else expect Easy Street?”

I love this! In other words, if God is a sadistic abusive murderous S.O.B., well, what can you expect? If this isn’t an argument for atheism, I don’t know what is!

And it never ends:

“Worse, the world seen by evolutionary biology alone is even more rife with suffering, yet rather more merciless. That world is characterized by raw chance, accident and the death of about 90% of all species that have ever lived. Perhaps earthquakes, tsunami, tornado, disease and famine derive from chance, and signify nothing.”

Yes, maybe they do, but what is the alternative? If earthquakes, tsunami, tornado, disease and famine do not derive from chance (and they don’t, they derive from the necessities of nature) then they are God’s work and thus signify something horrible, evil, and malign. If nature is blind and shit happens, I can live with that. But if, as Michael Novak seems to imply, God is doing this to people on purpose, we should be tearing down every house of worship to this monstrous deity we can find!

I just don’t see what Mr. Novak thought he was doing with essay. If this was a defense of belief, it failed miserably. If it was an atheistic attempt to recruit new members using reverse psychology, it may have succeeded mightily. I don’t see how anyone reading this piece could continue to believe in God at all. At least not the conventional God of mainstream Judaism and Christianity.

He ends his essay with this, “Whether our lives are meaningless, or not, is not a trivial question.” I agree. This is a question worth asking and exploring. But to assume, as Michael Novak does, that science and atheism (which are not the same: science is a methodology, atheism is an ideology) are somehow on the side of meaninglessness, while God and religion are on the side of meaning is just too much to bear.

Evolution does not make life meaningless! Evolution is the way life develops a level of consciousness capable of discovering meaning; it is the way life becomes self aware and moral; it is the way life comes to think about its Source and Substance. Evolution is the way God manifests in time and space. Evolution is the way God gets to discover Herself and say, “Wow!”

To anyone who wishes to think far more profoundly than USA TODAY gives you credit for, I recommend three books:

Thank God for Evolution by Michael Dowd,

The View From the Center of the Universe by Joel Primack and Nancy Abrams, and

God and the Big Bang by Daniel Matt.

If I could afford it I’d send copies of each to Michael Novak and invite him to think this through again.


Brian Westley said...

Michael Novak. Not Medved.

Rabbi Rami said...

Yes, Michael Novak not Michael Medved. Thanks.

Patti said...

So, I read Novak’s article. It is just so much of the same Christian clap-trap that the right has been espousing my whole life. If you had not brought it to my attention it would have flowed over my psyche like dew over a corpse.

The paragraph that clued me into his certain brand of rationalism was;

“These shocking brutalities rock the shallow faith of those whose beliefs are rooted in sentiment and inheritance, rather than in reasoned argument. Many Christians are poorly educated in their religion; their formal schooling teaches them nothing about it. Some seem to think that the point of prayer is to be given everything one asks — or at least the important things. Such an expectation would turn God into a servant of their will.”

Until we as faith-seekers turn from thinking more knowledge is the answer to all the world’s issues, we will never get off our asses long enough to repair even our small part of the world. AND if we could somehow see the sanctimonious name calling as a wound to ourselves and stop passing the blame to those whose faith looks different than ours we could ease the suffering of our neighbors and maybe even of those we don’t yet know.

OK...now I am fired up!

AaronHerschel said...

"When very sorely tried, many Jews and Christians … have also wanted to throw off God, but a counter-question kept nagging them: Would a conviction that our sufferings are meaningless, and due to blind chance, ease the pain of the poor and the unjustly tortured?"

I think this is the paragraph in Novack’s article that bothers me most. While it is true, as Novack asserts, that faithlessness cannot comfort the suffering, it is also true that religious faith offers little more than a paliative. To “ease the pain of the poor and unjustly tortured,” one would do better to ignore the problematics of a Good God and an Evil World, and volunteer with Habitat for Humanity or Amnesty International. The counter-question Novack proposes here is thus rather useful (if applied to faith and faithlessness alike)in that it demands a pragmatics of compassion that would supersede the entire debate.

Unfortunately, Novack doesn’t follow through. He concludes that “raging against the night is an evasion of reality,” which is not only a non-sequitur and a misappropriation of Dylan Thomas, but also a disturbing reification of religion as “the opiate of the masses.” Cleaned up a bit, Novack’s argument runs like this: neither faith nor non-faith can change the material condition of suffering, but faith offers at least the promise of an eventual happy ending; therefore, faith is preferable to non-faith because it offers psychological comfort. However,as Marx points out, it is precisely the comfort offered by the myth of infinitely deferred salvation which keeps the poor and suffering from working to change their lot by revolting against the powers that oppress and abuse them.

In Marx’ equation, faith is the “evasion of reality,” justifying the continuation of suffering by granting it of transcendental dignity. The demystification of suffering, on the other hand, precipitates change precisely because it creates an intolerable emotional burden. So while Novack may be right to assert that faithlessness increases suffering, he has entirely missed the point. That point, as Thomas put it: “Do not go gentle into that good night; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Jeff said...

your post reminded me of my response to the idea that the world is only six thousand years old, created by God to look older.

I agree that it is theoretically possible for an almighty God to create such a world, but why would I worship a god who would do such a thing to us?

elderchild said...

“Love Not The World”

”For the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one”(I John 5:19)

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world will pass away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of The Only True GOD will abide for ever.” (I John 2:15-17)

“If you were of the world, the world would love it’s own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his Master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:19-20)

“Where do wars and fighting among you come from? Do they not come of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts. You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is to be at enmity with The Only True GOD? Therefore whoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of The Only True GOD.” (James 4:1-4)

“The world cannot hate you; but the world hates Me, because I testify that the works of this world are evil.” (John 7:7)” and “The Messiah gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of The Only True God, Our Father.”(Gal 1:4)

The Messiah testified: “If the world hates you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”(John 5:18) Truly, Truly, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life in this world shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall have it unto life eternal.” (John 12:24-25)

John testified: “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hates you.” (I John 3:13) “ James testified, “Whoever would be a friend of this world is the enemy of GOD”(James 4:4)

The “earth” is The Creation of The Only True GOD, Father of ALL! The “worldly” systems are the creation of, and under the dominion of “the god of this world”, he who is “the father of lies”, he who “has blinded the minds of those who believe not The Messiah”! All the nations of this world are under the dominion of, and serve, the evil one for he provides the fuel that feeds mankind’s “imag”ination, and mankind’s “imagination is destroying and perverting Creation(land, air, water, creatures, Truth, Love, Peace, Faith, Simplicity, .etc.) ;-(

And the “strongest thing” in the evil one’s worldly systems? “Woman”…… yet The Truth, that which is of The Only True GOD, is stronger even than woman. (read I Esdras 3&4 of the Apocrypha) And Truth, Love, Peace, Faith, Mercy, Hope,,,etc,,, all that is “good”, is of The Only True GOD and is of HIS Spirit, not of this world. Those born of The Spirit, those born of The Only True GOD, are the brethren of The Messiah, for they received "a love of The Truth that they might be saved”. Reborn!

And those who have received "a love of The Truth” have separated themselves from this world and those of this world, for they have taken heed unto The Call of The Only True GOD to “Come out of her MY people.” They are “in, but not of this wicked, evil world”, and The Only True GOD has received them, and is "A Father unto them, and they are HIS sons and daughters”. And they follow, and desire to be like their Master and Brother, The Messiah, He Who was “the firstborn of many brethren”. And as “The Messiah was a servant of The Only True GOD”, so also His Brethren are “servants of The Only True GOD.”

The called out ones are not “adulterers and adulteresses”, they are not “friends of this wicked, evil world”, they do not “fornicate with the god of this world” for they know that “to be a friend of this world is to be the enemy of The Only True GOD.” They are at war against the evil spirits that possess those who are of this world.

And they do not “allow that woman Jezebel, which calls herself a prophetess, to teach. For she teaches others to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. The Only True GOD gave her a chance to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.” (Rev 2:20-21)

“fornication” and “adultery..” in that which is recorded above signifies spiritual fornication with “the god of this world”, which is to love that which is of his world.

Once again, the “earth” is The Creation of The Only True GOD, Father of ALL! The “worldly” systems are the creation of, and under the dominion of “the god of this world”. Those who “love this world” all serve “the god of this world”, and play their part in the processes that seek to destroy The Creation of The Only True GOD. “And The Only True GOD will destroy them who destroy the earth.” (Rev 11:18) Global warming, polluted air, land and waters, toxic wastes, sexual perversion, evil inventions of destruction, greed, hate, carnal warfare, dis-ease ,,,etc,,, are all destructive processes that have their root in “the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life”. And as stated, “woman is the strongest thing of this world”. Yet stronger than woman is The Truth, which is in those who have “received a love of The Truth”. The Truth Is Alive in those who have been born of The Spirit for “they no longer love this wicked, evil world and it’s things, nor do they love their own lives in this world”. They but seek and desire The Will of GOD, as they await their final transformation. “Corruptible to Incorruptible" ndeed and Truth!

Now “the ground was cursed for Adam’s sake” because he “hearkened unto the woman”. Adam listened to a woman rather than obeying The Only True GOD. Yet because of Faithful Noah, The Only True GOD “no longer would curse the ground for man’s sake” because Noah obeyed The Only True GOD! (Genesis 8:21-22) And the Faithful today are exhorted to “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” And Faithful women are exhorted to “be in silence.” “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. For I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” “For Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (I Timothy 2:11,12,14) A man and woman joined together in obedience and submission unto The Only True GOD are blessed indeed. All who are not obedient, all who will not submit themselves unto The Only True GOD will have to answer to HIM..period.. Be not of those who deny and defy “The One GOD, Father of All”. Be not of those who are destroying and perverting HIS Creation(land, air, water, creatures, Truth, Love, Peace, .etc.)!

“The Only True GOD is The HEAD of The Messiah, The Messiah is The Head of the man, and the man is the head of the woman”. Multitudes pervert GOD’s Order because they have been seduced by ” the commandments and doctrines of men and devils”. Multitudes are seduced by the religious systems that are in and of this evil world. Seduced because they love this evil world and their own life in it! “Set your affections on things above”. Desire heavenly, eternal things. Quit serving ‘time’ in the prison that is this world and take heed unto the call to ”Come out from among them and be separate!”

Once again, “Come out” of the worldly systems, which are the product of mankind’s “imag”ination, especially the religious systems. “Come out” from among those who are destroying and perverting Creation and be of those who follow The Messiah on “The Way to The Truth of The Life”.

Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world……. francisco

Patrick said...


As a substitute for your post, you could consider just using the following link:


You could even use it as a template for all future posts. It will save you time and all the energy required to speak from a place of actual experience and discernment. High five!

Phil said...

I only read USA Today when out of town, and hoteliers drop it at my door - which is why I happened upon Novak's pathetic piece in Atlanta the other day. Is USA Today's editorial judgment always so lax?

Thanks, Rami.