To turn to more edifying and important matters, Ross raises an interesting point about theodicy:
It’s my impression – and it’s only an impression, which is why I’d like to see someone do the necessary intellectual spadework to refute it or back it up – that this argument has gained increasing currency even as our material conditions have dramatically improved; which is to say, the less suffering a particular population experiences, the more likely the suffering it does experience will be cited as evidence against the existence of a benevolent deity.
Ross’ impression seems right to me, and you might call it the modern luxury of impiety. If you are relying heavily on agriculture that depends on favourable weather and freedom from blights, as people for most of history did, and you are exposed to the ravages of famine or plague without the protections of extensive food surpluses or medical treatment, the irrationality of blasphemy and doubting God’s benevolence becomes much clearer. At the same time, enjoying plenitude and wealth allows those with the most advantages the luxury of worrying not so much about the suffering that they experience, since they tend to experience relatively little, and worrying a lot more about suffering elsewhere. Questioning God’s benevolence in this context becomes akin to the “pornography of compassion,” as Dr. Fleming has called it, in which people feel obliged to make a great display of how much they care about suffering on the other side of the world–in this case, they care so much that they feel obliged to curse God. With the exception of natural disasters, which are the things that you might think would cause more doubt than human cruelty, complaints against God for things that we do to each other are really quite bizarre. First of all, if you believe that God did not create man with a sinful nature, but that man turned away from God, it is difficult to believe that God can be blamed for what we do to one another. “But why does God permit it?” someone always asks. The standard (and true) answer is that God permits it because He respects human freedom, up to and including the freedom to disobey, because neither obedience nor love would be of any value if it were not ultimately voluntary. This is why it surprises me some that great horrors in history undermine faith in God’s goodness. Actually, it doesn’t surprise me that much that it undermines faith in people who lived through those horrors, but it is a bit odd that those who were not there or not even alive when it was happening will cite such events as their “evidence” that either God does not exist or if He does then God is not good. For these people there is not even the memory of the horror to contend with, but a more removed knowledge about the events, yet as often as not it is the latter who find great horrors more theologically significant than those who survived them.
Yet what these people seem to be terrified of most is the possibility that God really has allowed man such an extensive freedom, and that God is nothing like the caricatured martinet dictator that the sad New Atheists portray Him to be. Indeed, one gets the impression from many complaints against God for permitting suffering that they would very much welcome a deity who regimented and ordered their lives in order to provide maximal security and prosperity. As modern life has become in many respects easier, more comfortable and more secure, perhaps many moderns find the freedom that God has permitted them to be overwhelming and bewildering and their complaints against God are framed in terms that might be used for complaints against their fellow men: “if God really loved us, He would intervene and fix everything.” If you really cared about other people, you would want to meddle in their affairs to an obnoxious degree.
Even though God does intervene in history in dramatic, powerful and world-changing ways (see the Incarnation), what troubles the doubters is that God does not intervene more often. It’s as if they want to say, “Stop respecting my free will and just do something for me!” That this sounds exactly like the statement of a spoiled child is appropriate, because that is what it is. Then, in those moments of chastening and real trial that God permits or wills, the spoiled children whine even more when they are confronted with some small modicum of loving discipline.