When I decided the other day that I would start writing some articles here and there, I had intended to shy away from the topic of religious discussion. There are a variety of columnists who tackle the matter already, like Grisham, who handles the matter much more skillfully than I could hope to.
But in a recent column by Grisham, "Will Homosexuals Go To Heaven And Are We Seeing A Shift In Christian Thinking", a commentator that tends to always cause me to stop and think about what I believe had something interesting to say:
Odd that said deity gives mosses (sic) and his supposed following out of Egypt magic manna but can't seem to feed little children in Sudan...
This poster was, of course, the infamous TheJackel. I have debated with Jackel in the past and each time, if I don't bring my A-game, he'll make me look like a total scrub. If you want to really test what you believe and push the boundaries of what you know from philosophy 101, strike up a conversation with him. I promise, you won't come out of the argument unscathed -- it's quite fun!
So, since he posted that, I've taken it upon myself to really analyze the matter. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not an atheist (anymore), I would call myself an educated person (I'm being vague because I'm protecting my privacy to a degree, which is why I don't respond to messages because you could see my email address, in case some of you were wondering), I'm Catholic on good days and agnostic on bad ones, etc etc. What I'm trying to get at is that I did ponder Jackel's quip with some rationality.
I think anyone who has come across an atheist argument against a personal, interactive divine being has heard the line, "Why would suffering exist if there is an omnipotent, loving god?" I don't think that line can be read by virgin eyes these days. So why did this sentence give me pause? I think it was because Jackel specifically pointed out an example in the Bible where God did intervene and pointed out a current example where God has not (not that this is too uncommon either, maybe I was just in the right frame of mind for it to have an impact).
To give context, if you're not familiar with what Jackel is referring to, it is about a section in the Hebrew scriptures of Exodus where the Hebrews having just escaped Egypt are led by Moses through the desert to the Promised Land (ie, Israel). During these adventures through the desert (it took them 40 years, refer to Joshua 5:6 if you want to know why they were punished like that), God provided manna for the Hebrews to eat so they would not starve.
Typically, to be honest, I'll cherry-pick which portions of scripture I take literally. Usually it is the most mundane stuff that doesn't sound too imaginative that I feel is probably real. Let's face it, reality is boring, so that's probably the real parts. Also sections that are so untypical of culture and customs, I think lend credence to literalness (ie, Jesus' "cannibalism" instructions during the Last Supper). The Exodus of the Hebrews is kind of a tough one because it is both mundane but has some imaginative miracle workings interlaced in the story. Is manna from the heavens one of them?
Either way you slice it, figuratively or literally, it has the same impact. If you take it literally, then you can understand Jackel's question quickly. Figuratively, we can assume that the manna passage is to imply that "God will provide", which is a common theme throughout the Abrahamic faiths' scriptures. Why isn't God providing now, though? Is He on vacation? Taking a smoke break? Remember, time is different to Him than us, if we are to listen to theologians.
I feel I came up with an answer to the question as I was getting some supplies ready for a free medical clinic I volunteer at: God has provided for the Sudanese as well as the rest of the world. It's just that His gift has a mind of their own. It's us. We are the manna.
Sadly, though, we are extremely derelict in our duties. I know this sounds like a cop out answer, but think about it... Is there doubt in anyone's mind that we could not seriously tend for all people on this planet? Even the poorest people in US/Canada/Europe could lend a hand to the destitute. And the super wealthy...well, do I need to say it?
Now before I get labeled a socialist/liberal/etc, I'm not advocating a redistribution of wealth. If we, as a species, really wanted to help the less fortunate, we could easily do it without redistributing our precious possessions. The only thing we need to redistribute is our hearts and minds.
Take, for example, the fact that the US federal government pays its farmers to not grow crops. Now I live in Oklahoma, don't hand me the bullcrap excuses I hear all the time about this. The idea has nothing to do with the environment, it has everything to do with making sure that US farmers don't go belly up if they can't sell all of the crops they produce (ie, their net financial return for the work they put in is negative after putting their crops on the market). Originally, the government bought these crops and put them in a silo to rot. I feel like I need to repeat this sentence again... To rot. Then we just figured it was easier to retire acreage.
Another example is our love of beef. Now it's blasphemy to say this in Oklahoma, but beef as an industry is wasteful and destructive. Now you can find "reports" that list myths vs. facts in support of the cattle industry, but let's look at it rationally? Are we really going to say that one acre of cattle will feed more people than one acre of wheat/soy/grain/etc?
On that note, our dietary needs are just out of whack in our comfy first world countries. Do you know the impact of wanting a salad during our winter months? That crop comes from third world countries in the southern hemisphere where farmers in those regions are much more inclined to put their produce on the global market where people can pay for it outright vs trying to get their broke neighbors fed.
And do I need to even bring up what fast food restaurants do to their food that is not consumed? I'll give you an insider tip from someone who worked at Quiznos in undergrad: we throw it away. Many pounds worth of cheeses, meats, bread, etc, all to the garbage.
Now, I'm not an agricultural scientist, farmer, rancher, or anything like that. I'm sure my beliefs about some things are a bit naive, but you can't tell me that we can't, as a species, reposition our dietary needs/desires to better accommodate our less fortunate. From my perspective, we could easily do this with such a minor impact on our daily lives. Are we really that selfish, lazy, what-have-you, that we are going to condemn hundreds of people to starvation because we want a steak and salad in November?
So for all of you who ask where is God, whether you're a theist or an atheist, need to remember: when you point your finger, there are three more pointed back at you. Don't ask Heaven to save us, ask Earth to. Stop waiting for a special handout from the divine -- He's already given us one: each other. It's time that we start being accountable.
If you made it through my diatribe, thanks for reading and remember, I'm always watching.