A Very Millennial Theodicy Problem
A few weeks ago, at ca. 10 pm at night, I received an email from a former student of about a decade ago. He was writing to let me know that, whatever good I thought I might have done in this life, I needed to understand that he had become an atheist because of me. He told me in no uncertain terms that it was me who had turned him decisively away from the faith. He did not cite specifics but referred to my ‘abhorrent lifestyle.' As I do not recall ever seeing him outside of the campus context, I am guessing he must have been referring to that rather unfortunate baby eating incident behind Machen Hall in 2007 -- but, in my defense, it was only a small baby and, after the police interviewed me and explained the problem, I never did it again.
Of course, it is always sad to hear of someone losing their faith but this particular email provoked two thoughts in me as I read it.
The first was that in its absolute self-absorption this was a quintessentially millennial theodicy problem. Now, there are serious atheists out there and there are difficult questions for Christians to answer. If someone says to me that the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust means that God cannot exist, I do not agree but I am going to take the matter with the seriousness it demands. Likewise, if a grieving parent tells me that the death of their three-year-old child from cancer has raised serious questions about God’s loving sovereignty, I can see that that is a substantial problem which deserves a substantial response. But, come on -- ‘You were a nasty church history professor. You were horrid to me. You really were. Therefore God does not exist.' Really? That is not only a piece of logical and metaphysical nonsense. It is also a piece of contemptible trivia, of decisive weight only to one who is completely self-absorbed. Unworthy of note except as a reminder that not all atheism merits a serious response, not all atheists are intellectual heavy weights, and not all suffering is equal.
And the second thought? I guess it’s this: Don’t email hated former professors late at night when you’ve had a few too many and your self-pity levels are even higher than normal. It not only interrupts my watching Swedish crime noir over a decent Italian red, it’s also undignified. It makes you sound ridiculously self-pitying. And it’s a risible trivialization of the serious theodicy questions of those who have really suffered pain and contradiction in this life.