The Good Lord

30 November 2009

Written by: Christopher Scanlon

You know it’s time for bed when those religious programmes come on TV. You know the ones — they start about 3am and invariably feature the effervescent preachings of middle-aged American men. I thought I’d watch a couple such programs after work this morning, you know, for a bit of a laugh.

As I watched I found myself consistently amazed by the strength of conviction possessed by these men. Unfortunately for our overnight-evangelists though, confidence in one’s beliefs does not make such beliefs any less wrong.

One of the delightful programmes that I sampled was Life Today, a faith-based lifestyle program that, this morning at least, featured a plea to help Africa’s starving multitudes. You can picture the scene — middle-aged American gentleman and his good lady wife, talking into the camera about how viewers must find it in themselves to donate to Life Outreach International, their associated charity. Throw in some footage of hideously malnourished African children and some tears from the hosts and you have compelling viewing.

I mean, they have a point right? Who doesn’t feel like they should do something to help out the millions of kids that are far less fortunate than ourselves? I’m pretty sure human compassion will lead us to that feeling everytime without being guilted into it by teary-eyed believers.

Speaking of human compassion, how about this tasteful effort by Life Today’s South African missionary who gave up his professional rugby career to spread the word of God. After a teary introduction by the show’s hosts, James and Betty Robison, the programme cuts to footage of a child so badly malnourished that he can’t muster up the strength to blow the flies off his lips. Perched over the child and dressed in a snappy outfit is the decidedly healthy looking missionary who delivers the following compassionate analysis;

“This child could die any second — I’m literally watching children die before me. Who will be next?”

At this point, the missionary turns to where a throng of not-quite-as-badly-malnourished children are sitting, clearly bemused by the spectacle. He places his hand on the head of one of the smallest children and hypothesises “Will it be this child?”

There is a very serious challenge that must be put to the Robison’s and all of those that believe God has compelled them to aid starving children. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, benevolent and perfectly good, as the majority of Christians seem to think, why would he let children starve in the first place?

To me that’s almost an “I win” button for atheism but, of course, there are those that offer potential explanations. Are we to believe that God rates freedom of choice and freedom of action so highly that he is prepared to sit back and let millions of innocent children suffer every day? Are we to believe that God has given us all the necessary tools to fight poverty and starvation but that any failure to do so is a failure on mankind’s behalf?

Well, that last idea isn’t so bad, but to paraphrase Pierre-Simon Laplace via Dawkins and Hitchens, it works fine without the idea of God.

Finally, I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for the gracious hosts of Life Today as they recounted, tearfully, the story of a child they met some years back.

“When we were in Africa we visited little Matthew in hospital. As we left his bed the nurses told us that he wouldn’t make it through the night. But we went back the next day and Matthew hadn’t died during the night. We went back a year later and we were kicking a soccer ball with him. Matthew didn’t die, he was a miracle of love”.

This sort of reasoning is laughable at best, and at worst, deliberately misleading. Why is it that one child’s survival against the odds is put down to divine intervention and yet, when thousands upon thousands of other children are dying through starvation, dehydration and AIDS, God is nowhere to be seen? What did that one child do to deserve life that countless others didn’t?

Those who find it within themselves to aid those in need are truly worthy of praise. God, however, is not among them.

Matt de Neef is enrolled in a Graduate Diploma of Journalism at La Trobe University. This article is re-published from his blog called A Cursory Glance.