I started reading The Potluck Club Troubles Brewing and stopped pretty quickly. It contains overheated prose and disgusting recipes. Instead I am going to reread Money to Burn by Katy Munger. Since I have the day off today, I should get some of that book read, even though it will be an extra book for the week under the terms of the Summer Reading Challenge.

Mostly I intend to clean house and sew, once I have actually quit reading blogs, gotten dressed, gone to the gym, and all that.

I found myself in a philosophical discussion last night. I have leftover thoughts on the subject because a) the discussion quickly veered off toward other topics, which was probably wise because there were elements of denominational division arising, and b) it is a difficult topic.

Denominational division is when someone says. “Well, I think that sounds kind of Baptist” and I find myself debating whether to bring up the Doctrine of Election or not. This can lead to strife.

Anyway, the question was about whether things happen for a reason or not.

One popular position is that things do not happen for a reason, or at least not for any cosmic reason. They happen by random chance, unless they are a result of human choices. Hurricane Katrina was a random event, or the result of bad ecological choices over the years, or a combination of the two.

Another popular position is that things happen because they are part of God’s plan. Hurricane Katrina, in this view, happened because God wanted to tell us something. Some people who espouse this view think that God was making a point about those bad ecological choices. Others think He wanted to draw attention to other kinds of sins that they associate with New Orleans.  Still others hold that every single thing that happens is part of God’s ultimate plan, but we cannot know what that is, so we shouldn’t be trying to interpret God’s intentions for others.

Now, there is a third position. There are people who want to hold the second position, but without the inconvenience of believing in God. They think that things are Destiny or Meant to Be or astrologically ordained or something like that. Do I sound scornful? I am, a little bit. It is like people who do not believe in God but do believe in angels. They want the appealing trappings of religion, including a sense of meaning for hardships, without the hard work of faith. Wimps.

Anyway, I am going to think of the third position as a variant of the second, and lump all of it into Random Chance or God’s Will.

If you don’t believe in God, you have position #1, and you have no logical inconsistencies or difficulties to deal with. You are free to go.

But if you do believe in God — and all of us in last night’s discussion do — then you have some problems.

If you take option #1, then you have the classic Problem of Evil: why does a just and omnipotent God allow evil in the world? The orthodox answer to this is Free Will. God gave us free will, and we screw things up. Our choices have consequences so far-reaching that we cannot predict them, which is why we ought to take God’s advice more often than we do.

This view conflicts with some things in the Bible, and it also conflicts with the personal experience of many people (including some who were present at last night’s discussion) who find that they have benefited from their hardships in ways they could not have predicted, enough so that they are personally convinced that God planned their hardships for them. Your response to these factors will depend not only on your religious convictions, but also on your views on data.

If you do not believe in God and are still here, your orthodox position on this conflict will be that Religion is the Opiate of the Masses.

If you take the second position, then you still have the Problem of Evil, and you have to consider a God who would decimate medieval Europe with the bubonic plague (for example) in order to make some points about hygiene. Or mess with New Orleans to make some points about stewardship of the earth. As one of the participants said last night, that’s not a god most of us want to be associated with.

The orthodox position on this is that God’s view is so much larger than ours that we can’t really understand it. Ozarque wrote a poem on this subject, comparing her use of mouthwash and the resultant dead microbes with God’s use of wars and pestilence. I would add that God would presumably not think of human death as a bad thing, any more than we think of birth as a bad thing — though unborn babies probably do.

There is also the Doctrine of Total Depravity, but I think that is an advanced position, to be discussed in the graduate section only.

Now, all the orthodox views seem to me to be defensible and possibly true. However, it strikes me that we tend to look at this issue from a very human point of view. We are hampered, for example, by time. God does not operate in our time dimension, so He would not have the same view of cause and effect that we do. A being who can see all points in time at once does not think “I will do this, and then maybe they will do that” or even “Since they did that, I will do this.”

Another participant in last night’s discussion suggested that our response to events may be the thing that is meant. That is, God does not plan for someone to lose their job and thus draw closer to God, but He may plan that, once they lose that job, they do draw closer to Him.

The other related question, for me, is which option is more beneficial for us. Should we live as though our every choice has far-reaching consequences, and thus be more careful of all our choices? Or should we live as though everything in our lives is part of God’s Plan, and thus be able to see purpose in our hardships?

I will be contemplating these questions as I scrub the bathrooms today.