This is a wonderful book that I highly recommend to anyone that wants to give more than lip service towards thinking about their beliefs. Essentially what Ehrman does is give an overview to Christian approaches to dealing with the theological problem of "if there is an all powerful loving god, then why do we suffer?" What are the biblical responses to this obvious question that occurs in all cultures. Further, and I think most importantly, Ehrman hammers the concept that biblical writers were writing for their society and people not a bunch of yahoo's in the 21st century. Ehrman lays out some of the issues these biblical texts were addressing.
Basically there are four biblical viewpoints presented to deal with the problem of suffering.
1. We suffer because we pissed off god.
2. We suffer because people can choose to do evil upon us.
3. We suffer because....I dunno and neither does anyone else.
4. We suffer because of the devil, but he's going to get his any millennium now.
Each of these is presented briefly and the relevant biblical verses presented. Now I realize that the bible says anything you bloody well want it to, if you simply look at it one verse at a time. However, Ehrman is dealing with more than specific verse but entire psalms, chapters, and books. For example the book of Job basically hits on suffering rationales #3 and #4.
Now as a good American, and I expect most other Western countries are similar, I fully embrace example #1. We suffer because we suck. If I hadn't done X, then Y wouldn't have happened. Now I am a fan of looking at how my actions lead to the consequences that happen to me. I think its important and I am a fan of personal responsibility. If I smoke a pack of cigarettes a day for the next 10 years, then I realize I am at much greater risk for lung cancer, emphysemia, or other respiratory-pulmonary ailment. However, people have lung cancer, emphsema, and other respiratory-pulmonary ailments and have never smoked a cigarette in their life. So what's going on? Are these people deserving of these ailments? Proponents of "why do we suffer reason #1" say yes. And of course its possible to justify this position. Someone with lung cancer worked in a mine or asbestos plant, they should have known better. (Note: I realize this is completely hypothetical, but it won't take you long to find someone who blames the victim for their suffering. Take the gang-related shooting of some innocent victim, the victim should have moved from their housing to someplace safer....how this is supposed to happen is not clear, but that doesn't stop the believer.) UPDATE: Look at Pat Robertson and Haiti.....douchebag
So you don't smoke or work in a field that puts you at greater risk, but you have lung cancer. WTF?!?!
Is it the red meat you ate?
Is it your political party affiliation?
Is it your choice in life-style that doesn't agree with mine?
Regardless, its your own fucking fault!
Unless it isnt, and that brings us to reason #2. "Its free will baby"
Remember free will? If not, its the reason why fundamentalists are ok with entire civilizations to be cast into hell because the people in said civilization didnt agree with the whole Jesus thing. Think Native Americans, or more recently Muslims. These people heard about Jesus from missionaries or other sources and chose to maintain the beliefs they grew up with. Thus, its ok for them to suffer eternally. Why your fat white ass that was brought up in a christian household basically gets a free ride but not theirs is not a question we like to deal with.
Anyway, back to free will. See some people, like Hitler, do some really fucked up shit. Maybe they are in league with the devil, who knows. Regardless, they cause misery upon you through no fault of your own. They cut you off in traffic, make you feel uncomfortable by loving someone of the same sex (male only, actually we're ok with female-female love because that's hot), or throw men, women, and children into ovens. Evil is out there, no doubt. Since god gave us free will, and thus a one way eternal ticket to hell, people can choose to do evil. UPDATE: See Pat Robertson is happy to blame the 2010 earthquake in Haiti on the actions of 1790s slave revolters, however, ask him why 2 year old children were crushed to death, or dehyrated and starved slowly and alone maybe next to the dead bodies of their parents and he will backpedal and say the children didn't deserve it, it was the great great great great great great great great great great grandparents fault for choosing to make a pact with the devil. If these ancestors hadn't chosen to do evil and embraced their life of slavery (a biblical concept), this wouldn't have happened. Regardless, shit happens because other people are evil.
Ok, so what if it isn't your own fault and you can't blame someone else?
Easy! Answer #3. Shit happens. Actually the biblical way this is framed isn't quite so vulgar, but it did predate this catch phrase by 3-4000 years. See, no one really understands why some shit happens, and some of these people are really smart. So you are left with the big old catch all of, well it happens we dont know why but remember to send in your check to your representative of your all loving all powerful all knowing god. Do we really need a better reason to leave the god concept by the wayside than the "shit happens" excuse? I mean, if a theologian is pulling this out of his/her ass and then telling me I should worship a god that allows shit to happen in order to make it seem like they don't exist and shit happens. Well, Im just going to complete the circuit and assume said god doesnt exist.
#4 is actually kind of cool. Although the current fundamentalists have screwed it all up. See in practice for normal people everywhere reasons #1 and #2 do not hold up. Sure you can find specific examples (Hitler) where you can say "Look that's #2!" But only the most dense, cannot easily come up with exceptions to #1 and #2. As noted above #3 is a big cop-out that really just allows someone with a better rationalized god to come in and fill the gap. Christians generally dont seem to like to think much beyond that of a stone age goat herder, so what can they do?
I got it! #4. Sure a lot of shit happens and that sucks, but don't you worry about it. God has got it all figured out. See shit happens and that sucks for you, but don't worry god is comin' and gonna make those fuckers pay. It'll be awesome, trust me. If not tomorrow, probably next week, definitely by next month, I mean we dont have to put up with this shit more than a year or so. Look god is busy, but I promise you before you die, god will avenge you, or your children, or grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, or your great great great great great great great great great great grandchildren. Unless you grew up in a different culture under threat from your own gods and didnt dare listen to the morons in the brown robes who didn't know not to eat the poison fruit, if you didn't listen to them and were enslaved, beaten, forced to toil under near starvation conditions for life, well that's your fault and if you tried to rectify the situation, then you'll have to be crushed to death under a pile of rubble. But don't worry white poor people, Im comin' real soon. So why is this cool? Well its not, until you realize the history. These concepts arose at a time of great suffering for the Jewish people (remember the bible was originally for them). Reasons #1 and #2 were not holding water, so that left #3. One can only tolerate #3 for the short term. So in order to keep the sheep in line, let's start discussing the possibility of #4. Hmm, this seems to be working. YEAH! #4!!!11!eleventy!!!11! Now just keep those donations coming, because we have a lot of work to do before god comes back for payback. This is one of the best marketing campaigns ever, rivaled only by the don't worry about cigarettes, you'll be cool campaign.
Ehrman is not as rancid as I am, but the argument is about the same. See for yourself and think about it. This is a real issue and a real problem religious folks have. You want us to believe in an all powerful, all loving god. Please explain evil.
H/T einekleinenachtblog for the video