Monday, December 24, 2007

Bird Droppings and Religious Faith

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       Do all things happen for a reason? If I said that someone survived a car crash with barely a scratch but four others in the car were killed outright, most people, religious or not, would likely observe, “stuff happens for a reason.” Behind that observation is the popular religious belief that God micromanages the world. But if I were to ask, was there some divine reason for a bird dropping poop on my forehead rather than my shoulder this morning, many would think my question silly. Nevertheless, a serious issue lies behind both situations: Is anyone completely in charge of the universe? One answer is that God micromanages the universe. If so, everything happens for a reason. A micro-managing God would scarcely leave anything to chance! This line of reasoning leads inevitably to the conclusion that even bad things (New Orleans comes to mind) are due to God’s deliberate management. Hence, since by popular definition God can do no wrong, everything apparently bad must really be good—and that includes even the bird poop on my forehead. A micromanaging God would have had good reason for the bird poop—for under the theory of divine micromanagement, God makes everything happen for a reason.

       Perhaps God only generally manages the universe and is not responsible for everything that happens. Under “general” management some things are divinely manipulated but other things are just allowed to happen as they will. Under this theory the universe has been set up to work in a well regulated way, and God only intrudes now and then for whatever reason that strikes the divine fancy. For the most part, things do seem to work fairly well in our world. The world turns with general regularity and only the occasional glitch (New Orleans and cancer come to mind). This theory raises the question: how can we ever really be sure what is deliberately caused by God, what is part of the regular pulse of the universe, and what is a glitch in the system? The bird poop is well accommodated by this explanation, however: it is just one of those billions of little things that never register on the divine radar scope, or simply are part of the regular pulse of the universe where things happen for no particular reason—like a leaf falling off a tree, or bird droppings. I just happened to look up at the opportune moment this morning. Such occurrences are part of the regular design of things: leaves fall off trees, and birds poop all over the place. But under this theory one can never be sure of anything God does or does not do.

        It is also possible that God has chosen to be an observer of events in a universe designed to run itself, more or less—or worse, God has gone missing. “How could that be possible? God created the world, so why abandon it?” Good question! But since we cannot even prove that God exists, how could we possibly know whether God is missing? However, a missing God does make a sort of perverted sense of our human situation, and could account for natural disasters and unconscionable human sufferings (New Orleans, tsunamis, and cancer come to mind)—in short, for whatever reason no one is minding the store! Bird poop on the forehead makes excellent sense in such a world, however; a God absent for the big things could scarcely be expected to be around for the little things.

        Perhaps we have simply misunderstood God’s character. If God were a bit devious, it could explain the general regularity of the cosmos and its blessings when things work without the glitches—such as natural disasters, the tragedies of disease, and fatal “accidents.” In short, God may be prone to be a bit “impish,” so to speak. Certain passages in the Bible seem to support such a theory—at least the early Hebrews and Christians must have thought so by some of the ways they portrayed God. The book of Job is a case directly on point. Bird poop on the forehead is precisely the kind of thing one might expect from a mischievous God.

        Of course, it is always possible there is no God. The only difference between this possibility and the last is that human tragedy and natural disaster could not be caused by a nonexistent God, but must be the result of randomness in a universe that never had a manager of any sort. We would be alone in a sort of well regulated universe—except for the occasional unethical glitch. Such a situation accommodates regularity, natural disasters, and bird poop on the forehead.

       The five possibilities for explaining bird poop and divine management of the universe boil down to this: do you choose to believe in an uptight micromanager, a lax general manager, a God gone missing, a mischievous deity, or in no God at all? One could choose to ignore human experience (which the Bible is), and fashion a God of one’s own choosing. I suspect that is what most of us do!

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Posted by Charles Hedrick at 12:02pm


Thanks, Charlie, I enjoyed this. I read the whole thing! Merry Xmas and Happy New Year to you and Peggy and the entire family. Love from both of us, Stephen & Barbara Emmel
Posted by Stephen Emmel on 12/25/2007 at 3:51am

Thank you for this heartening Christmas message!
Posted by Jim Robinson on 12/25/20007 at 8:28am

Thanks, Charles, for reflections to ponder. Apart from the meanings to explore, I wonder if perhaps you might consider wearing a hat. Cheers. Alan
Posted by Irving Alan Sparks on 12/25/20007 at 7:02pm