I don't normally get theological in this blog, but I'm feeling motivated today. I ran across an atheist whose argument for their stance was, in part, "No deity worth its salt would allow its believers to suffer. If they don't intervene during situations involving abuse, they're not worthy of respect and probably don't exist." To say I disagree would be the polite way of phrasing my attitude toward that concept.
Yes, the gods have power. There's a certain amount of responsibility that goes with it. But claiming that the gods have to make sure their followers aren't attacked or abused or they don't exist is like arguing your parents have to make sure you don't get harassed in school or they don't love you. On some levels, it starts to sound like, "Your parents didn't buy you a pony? Well, they couldn't possibly be real parents. You must have made them up."
It also carries, from my perspective, a very odd mental relationship to free will. If we are able to choose as we will, there are times when the choices will cause another pain. And this world, for good and ill, is constructed to permit people to do just that. Is it tragic that people are hurt due to this? Yes. Is it proof the gods don't exist? Not to me. The same system that permits someone to choose to cause pain also allows us to choose to heal. To be kind. To love. If pain is eliminated, I can't see how we as people will grow. The system of the three cauldrons described in the Cauldron of Poesy discusses how sorrow and suffering help turn the inner cauldrons so they may be filled, granting understanding and wisdom to the person who applies themselves to do so. If life is all kittens and cotton candy, the cauldrons cannot turn but partway. Joy turns them as well as pain. And before anyone asks, I am a survivor of multiple kinds of abuse, so I am not speaking as someone whose biggest complaint about her parents would be the aforementioned pony. I have material to move my cauldrons and to spare.
Of course, I'm arguing as a polytheist, but I really don't see where in any statements about the three-omni god of the Judeo-Christian matrix where he's in on any sort of contract to keep his people's lives free of pain, either. It only seems to exist in the minds of some atheists and lightly committed theists who are stunned to realize belief isn't a golden ticket to Wonkaville.
Does this mean I never question when I don't get what I ask for? Surely you jest. I threatened the gods with ritual deprivation if they didn't pony up the job I'm currently in, and they came through on deadline down a vector I wasn't actively pursuing. And I was well and truly angry when I did that. I wasn't just yanking their chains in hopes they'd respond like good little puppets. I know the gods don't play that way. I have too much evidence to expect them to. Oddly, it doesn't cause me to disbelieve. Maybe it's because I know I'm working with entities whose final goals are unknown to me. Moreover, they have preferences, distastes, and a far different perspective than I do.
I am not arguing that I am but a child to their parental brilliance, as many monotheists would. I argue that the power structure is more complex. They need me, as they need all believers and even some unknowing non-believers, to help them do what they want to do. In return, they help all of us who ask properly to do what we want to do provided the two sets of goals don't stand in active conflict. It's closer to negotiating with aliens than attempting to be a child to a set of inscrutable parents. But I never forget the aliens have bigger guns. I sometimes remind them that I'm the one who has to help pull the trigger, though. Neither side can get too cocky.