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Categorized | Religion

Why God Allows Pain: The Barbershop Theodicy

Whenever believers try to defend their faith in an intervening God using reason (or more precisely, pseudo-reason), the critical thinker cannot help but point out the fallacies. There is this email being circulated that tries to explain the problem of evil and why God allows pain and suffering:

A man went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. As the barber began to work, they began to have a good conversation. They talked about so many things and various subjects. When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said: “I don’t believe that God exists.”

“Why do you say that?” asked the customer. “Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn’t exist. Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can’t imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things.”

The customer thought for a moment, but didn’t respond because he didn’t want to start an argument. The barber finished his job and the customer left the shop.

Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkempt. The customer turned back and entered the barber shop again and he said to the barber: “You know what? Barbers do not exist.” “How can you say that?” asked the surprised barber. “I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!” “No!” the customer exclaimed. “Barbers don’t exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside.”

“Ah, but barbers DO exist! That’s what happens when people do not come to me.” “Exactly!” affirmed the customer. “That’s the point! God, too, DOES exist! That’s what happens when people do not go to Him and don’t look to Him for help. That’s why there’s so much pain and suffering in the world.” * * *

Let us try to dissect the logic here:

Barber does not believe a loving and all-powerful God exists because of the presence of suffering and pain as manifested by sick people and abandoned children

Customer – does not believe barbers exist because of the presence of people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards

Barber – explains that these people are unkempt because they do not come to him for a haircut and shave

Customer explains that people experience so much pain and suffering because they do not come to God for help

I cannot even begin to pinpoint the logical fallacies in there because they seem to jump out all at once.  It is faulty to compare barbers to God because whenever you go to the former,  you’ll surely get your hair cut (if that’s what you want); when you seek help from the latter, your prayers are not always answered. Now if the faithful even dare to say that the barber is not there all the time to give you a haircut anytime you want – maybe he’s sick or attending some important event – it must be noted that unlike God, barbers are not omnipotent or omnipresent. And what exactly does it mean to “come to God for help”? If God is omniscient, he knows what we need (and deserve) long before we pray for it – even before we can think of praying for it. And if he is a loving God, he will grant these needs without waiting for our prayers, not to mention there are children dying a slow and painful death due to starvation and disease who are too young to understand the concept of God, much less to pray. But I guess the most significant difference between a haircut and an “answered prayer” is that you can be sure that your hair had not just gotten shorter because of pure coincidence and no external deliberate force.

I must say that while I often criticize religion, I deeply respect the faithful, as many of the people in my innermost circle are themselves believers.  As I often tell them, I respect your right to your beliefs. If you say that you believe in God because of personal faith, I respect that. Even if you say that you believe in God because the Bible (or any other holy book) tells you so, I would still respect that. But once you try to assert the validity of the Bible’s claims by spewing fallacy passed as reason, your beliefs become fair game.

The problem of evil had been an eternal bug up the theistic ass, and countless theodicies (attempts at reconciling belief in God with the perceived existence of evil) have been written, their answers ranging from almost-but-not-quite satisfactory to totally absurd. Among those I’ve read, I think the only one that gives the slightest hope to the faithful and prevents those in No. 6 in Dawkins’ spectrum from ‘falling’ into No. 7 is that God has a purpose too grand to be comprehended by our finite minds. Perhaps I can respect that, but only because I cannot scientifically disprove it. Just make sure you don’t get too cocky as to proclaim that you can actually prove it.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.