My parents divorced in the late 1970’s. That was back in the day before our tax code made inter-spousal transfers free of estate or gift taxes, so it was a mess. (Yeah, there was such time…) After it was done, she dated an English insurance agent. The relationship never got very far, although he found out how good my mother was at stringing him along…years later she told me that she didn’t “seal the deal” with him because he was an atheist. Serving in World War II, he had lost his faith in a God that didn’t prevent such an event. My mother had many faults, but not even her own brother being killed in the war changed her mind on that.
I suspect that what happened to my mother’s boyfriend happened to William Hamilton, the Baptist theologian who was at the forefront of the “God is dead” movement of the 1960’s. His son wrote the piece When my dad killed God where he tells us the following:
For my dad, the death camps of the Nazi regime posed the most difficult question about the nature and existence of God. We have only two options, Dad said. First, if God is not behind such radical evil, he cannot be what we have traditionally meant by an omnipotent God. Second, if God really is the architect of all things, then God is a killer.
I well remember the furor over that. I don’t remember much about what my church had to say about it; it tended to be vacuous and liked to ride the fence. But I was between my own direct encounter with God, baptism and being confirmed an Episcopalian; I knew he was there and I knew he cared, even among the “miserable offenders.”
Hamilton wasn’t the last person to be challenged by the theodicy issue. So was Bart Campolo. For some of us, however, Campolo’s attitude towards life and God wasn’t a possibility, as I noted:
For me personally, it’s an entirely different ball game. If I had ever asked the question at home (and I can’t recall I ever did) “Why do bad things happen to good people,” the answer I probably would have gotten was, “So what? You just have to tough it out, and if you can’t, it’s too bad.” And, as I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog, the home I grew up in was anything but an “ideal” Christian home. The difference between the two is significant. While Campolo’s concept on the existence of evil focused on God, the one I was presented with focused on me.
But this much is obviously true: evil and suffering have outlived the loss of faith. Once we had God to blame. But now that God has gone (… other explanations are available …) we have no one left to blame but ourselves. Not for earthquakes, but certainly for the horror of war. Humanists now own the problem of evil. So why don’t humanists more often experience some sort of loss of faith in humanity? Where is their existential crisis? I may be wrong, but it seems to me like it’s a dog that doesn’t often bark.
It’s one of those perennial questions, but for me the answer was clear when God was proclaimed dead by others and that answer still is now.