Smallpox and God

(67 Posts)
sashh Sun 10-Mar-13 05:36:21

One of my classes of ESOL students can't understand that I'm an atheist so they brought in a friend with good English to try co convert me or at least educate me.

One question I asked was that, if Allah made everything in the world for a reason, was it a good or a bad thing that smallpox has been eradicated.

From my point of view it is a triumph of science and undoubtedly a good thing.

I wondered what other people think. I don't think I'm going to change my mind, but I think it is an interesting point.

So, is the eradication of smallpox a good or a bad thing?

Snorbs Fri 15-Mar-13 09:09:35

Crescentmoon, you're right in that I am taking an anthropomorphic view of morality and seeing how the various descriptions of the Abrahamic god match up. But you're wrong in suggesting that this is because I view disease as an affront to ones honour. I don't have that kind of "eye for an eye" view of the world.

Disease happens. Sometimes it's preventable, sometimes it isn't. If it is preventable then we (as a society) should seek to prevent it and if it isn't then we should do what we can to ease the suffering. It's not about status.

Back to the morality thing. Yes, I am taking an anthropomorphic view of it. I have repeatedly tried, and abjectly failed, to assemble a coherent view of the Abrahamic God's morality based on how He is described and the things He is supposed to do. I have yet to come up with something that is internally consistent and holds together.

The whole "suffering is a trial to prove your worth" thing smacks too much to me of "I'm hitting you for your own good". I do not consider it in any way moral to either deliberately cripple people directly or to create diseases that I know will cripple people. That is regardless of whether I'm doing as a test of their character or not. You seem to be suggesting that it's ok provided it's Allah/God doing it.

If a deity's morality is so far removed from our own that He can ethically do things that would be immoral for us to do, is that a deity that either deserves worship or is even safe to worship? It could all be some vast, incomprehensible cosmic joke. How can we take moral guidance from this creature? How can we trust that something so alien to us has our best interests at heart?

“On the Day of Resurrection, when people who have suffered affliction are given their reward, those who are healthy will wish their skins had been cut to pieces with scissors when they were in the world.”
That is grotesque.

DioneTheDiabolist Fri 15-Mar-13 10:10:08

Africa has loads of resources. War, corruption and exploitation are responsible for starvation in Africa, not lack of resources.hmm

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Fri 15-Mar-13 10:21:52

Certainly it has resources, but when you have to travel 60 miles to your nearest clean water, that's a problem. I'm not suggesting there are no natural resources in Africa, that would be ridiculous, but the poorest, most hard up communities are the ones who don't have local access to clean water, trees, arable land. They live in areas of the world where, in all honesty, they shouldn't really be able to survive.

DioneTheDiabolist Fri 15-Mar-13 10:57:39

No peoples settle 60miles away from clean drinking water, it's kinda the first thing our species look for when camping for the night, never mind building a community. People are driven off their land by war and corruption. Rivers are dammed and waterways re-routed for gain. Pollution of drinking water by business is accepted by governments and shareholders alike without a thought for those who depend on it. Land is seized, forests are felled, deserts are created. Where real drought occurs it should be a case of keeping people fed until it passes or they settle somewhere else.

As I said, starvation in Africa and elsewhere is caused by the greedy and the powerful, not lack of resources.

crescentmoon Fri 15-Mar-13 15:12:16

"Back to the morality thing. Yes, I am taking an anthropomorphic view of it. "

and when i reflect on God, i reflect on the abstract. i consider the words of God, the infinity of God, the unity of God. God the Creator of the universe and the Creator of man. that wherever i turn, there is God. my relationship is not one as with a child and parent, and so i do not have expectations in that way. God is not my Father. our relationship is more as King and disobedient subject. this is a criticism levelled at the Quranic view of God that it is more impersonal and distant than the way God is portrayed in the Torah and the Bible. we are not the children of God, we were not created in God's image. we are not God's racial chosen people but are followers of the patriarch Abraham.

"I have repeatedly tried, and abjectly failed, to assemble a coherent view of the Abrahamic God's morality based on how He is described and the things He is supposed to do. I have yet to come up with something that is internally consistent and holds together. "

if you are trying to reconcile all three different Abrahamic religion's opinions of God it will be hard, we all recognise many parts of each other's beliefs but as niminy said, there are beliefs we hold about God in Islam which are not in Christianity. and in Judaism that are not in Islam, and in Christianity that are not in Judaism.

what did the effect of both sets of narrations i mentioned have on the Muslims, the followers of Muhammad (pbuh). i would argue, firstly, that it released them from the association that sickness = punishment and health = reward. this dominated the european thinking on sickness and disease for many centuries EVEN THOUGH this was not from the teachings of Jesus.

secondly, the narrations on disease and cure meant practises like variolation/ preventative public health measures were not seen as spitting in the eye of God's right to determine who was to die and how and when death would occur. nor did it mean showing distrust in depending on God. Muhammad (pbuh) instead raised it to a noble pursuit by itself.

during his lifetime in the early 7th century he himself initiated alot of measures among the muslims for cleanliness and personal hygeine as part of the Sunnah. things we recognise today as early public health measures: washing hands/mouth/face etc 5 times a day before prayers was to get ordinary simple people to relate cleanliness to holiness. his recommendations that muslims bathe every Friday - since the 7th century when people in Europe were still bathing once a year up until the 18th/19th century - was dressed up in religious language but it also had a public health benefit. wearing clean non soiled clothes. the obligation of washing after you go to the toilet for cleanliness, and the obligation of having a full ritual bath each time after sex, all were early measures to prevent disease or the spread of disease. the right hand strictly for eating, the left hand for unclean and toilet purposes to prevent possible cross contamination. he even strongly recommended cleaning the teeth once every day and stressed he would have made it obligatory for each of the daily prayers except he thought it would be too hard on people.

then he also encouraged later muslims to study the body and disease in order to fight it, and assured them this was 'the will of God' also. i think, it covered most bases and permutations of human thought. but you dont think so and thats your own thinking.

"Say, O you who disbelieve,
I do not worship what you worship,
and you do not worship what i worship,
and i will not worship what you worship,
nor will you worship what i worship,
To you be your way, and to me be mine"

the Quran Chapter 109, Surah Al Kafiroon

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Fri 15-Mar-13 15:31:51

"there are beliefs we hold about God in Islam which are not in Christianity. and in Judaism that are not in Islam, and in Christianity that are not in Judaism."

You can't all be right, how do you reconcile that?

crescentmoon Fri 15-Mar-13 17:01:20

well, they reconcile far better than the materialism that dominates molecular biology and the field of quantum mechanics.

peacefuloptimist Fri 15-Mar-13 17:28:18

Snorbs, Pedro and HeadinHands, do you regard the scientists who contribute to the research and design of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons which kill, torture and maim human beings to be responsible for the death of those human beings? Do you regard them as morally reprehensible?

crescentmoon Fri 15-Mar-13 17:29:50

dear sashh

"Yes the debate doesn't have an answer, it doesn't have several answers."

did you mean it has several answers? out of curiosity what kind of answers do you get? what would you yourself advise?

crescentmoon Fri 15-Mar-13 17:30:52

salams peaceful wink

peacefuloptimist Fri 15-Mar-13 17:38:41

For example a scientist like Fritz Haber, who developed the Haber process which is important in the production of fertilizers (leading to increase in food production) but also developed chemical weapons for the German government in World war 1 which was used to kill millions of soldiers in trench warfare. Do you agree with his statement that death is death, by whatever means it is inflicted? Is he morally reprehensible? He recieved a Nobel Prize.

peacefuloptimist Fri 15-Mar-13 17:59:45

Wa alaykum wa salam Crescent

'This association of being 'honoured' or 'loved' by having something - health/wealth - or being 'dishonoured/abased' by NOT having something - health/wealth - is a human assumption.'

'Muhammad (pbuh) tried to break that among his own followers by connecting hardship with trial not evil. In Islam it always comes back to what the purpose of life is - which is to be tested as to our resolve and commitment to do good in any diverse situation.'

Happy to see we are singing from the same hymn sheet grin. Really agreed with the points you made about material status in this life and spiritual standing with God not being connected. There are two chapters in the Quran which I love to recite in my prayers when I am facing difficulties (though I dont recite them as beautifully as these two:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rKAmFI72qQ
www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZvNtzJ0QXQ)

The verse that I particularly love in the first chapter is the one where God says to the Prophet Muhammed PBUH that He has not forsaken him nor does He hate him. This was to comfort the Prophet Muhammed PBUH who was suffering hardships. The chapter goes on to highlight that trials and difficulties are temporary afflictions. The Prophet was an orphan without parents and God gave him refuge. He was poor and God enriched him. He was lost and God guided him. Its message is comforting to me too.

The second chapter again reiterates the message that spiritual standing with God is seperate from worldly status. Both states (having material wealth or being impoverished) are a test that should cause us to increase in our empathy, compassion and kindness towards those who are suffering rather then to arrogantly gloat over them that we are somehow better or more deserving.

* And as for man, when his Lord tries him and [thus] is generous to him and favors him, he says, "My Lord has honored me." But when He tries him and restricts his provision, he says, "My Lord has humiliated me." No! But you treat not the orphans with kindness and generosity. And you do not encourage one another to feed the poor...And you love wealth with immense love* Holy Quran, Chapter 89, verse 15-19

niminypiminy Fri 15-Mar-13 18:47:32

^"there are beliefs we hold about God in Islam which are not in Christianity. and in Judaism that are not in Islam, and in Christianity that are not in Judaism."

You can't all be right, how do you reconcile that?^

God is beyond our human efforts to fully comprehend him, but all faiths have glimpses of him. For me, Christianity has more glimpses, and for Crescent and Peaceful Islam offers more glimpses. One image for it would be that God is like a courtyard garden surrounded on all sides by a portico, through the pillars of which we can see into parts of the garden. We can never be on all sides of the portico, and we can never see the whole garden. But we have glimpses into it, and we can hear about, and imagine, other people's glimpses, and learn to see the garden from their point of view.

sashh Sat 16-Mar-13 05:35:01

crescentmoon

No I meant what I wrote.

Some debated have a clear single answer. Some have several outcomes that are appropriate and positive.

This one doesn't.

What do I advise? It depends on the answers. Ideally no one should be put in that position. An interpreter should have been used earlier to assertion the patient's own wishes.

Other options include asking the chaplain for advice, many hospitals now have 'chaplains' of various faiths.

The answers I get have included:

Giving him a bible to learn 'the truth'

Phoning the son for more information.

Giving the drug and not telling anyone.

Page the Dr and ask for something else to be prescribed.

Finding an interpreter / medical professional who can speak the same language and asking the person himself.

Obviously the first answer is totally inappropriate, but the student found it difficult to accept it.

Giving the drug and saying nothing is also a definite 'no'.

The others depend on the response you get from phoning/paging etc.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Sat 16-Mar-13 09:51:01

"well, they reconcile far better than the materialism that dominates molecular biology and the field of quantum mechanics."

Not really, quantum physics is by far the most tested, most consistent and most accurately predictable branch of science we've ever had. By a huge margin.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Sat 16-Mar-13 09:54:58

"Snorbs, Pedro and HeadinHands, do you regard the scientists who contribute to the research and design of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons which kill, torture and maim human beings to be responsible for the death of those human beings? Do you regard them as morally reprehensible?"

I regard people who deliberately manufacture weapons with the intent to kill or sell to some who does to be responsible for any deaths that weapon causes.

Scientists who contribute to research which subsequently gets used for weapons, I don't consider to be responsible. Otherwise you'd have to jail the inventor of the candlestick for all those Cluedo moments.....

DioneTheDiabolist Sat 16-Mar-13 13:21:50

Snorbs, regarding the ethics surrounding a creator deity in allowing such viruses to exist: viruses and bacterium massively predate human evolution. Do you think it would be ethical of a creator deity to wipe out old organisms because newer organisms don't like them?

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