“You’re just confused.”
“I recommend my book.”
“Counselors make a living” because people don’t know what’s good for them.
Meet Dr. Eleonore Stump.
A few weeks ago, this charming professor of philosophy presented her explanation of why a loving God could allow suffering. Her talk was actually titled “The Problem of Evil,” but she never satisfactorily equated evil with suffering, so I’ll call it like I see it.
Her lecture was a lesson for me in two ways: I learned the futility of trying to force an apologetic to answer a question they don’t want to answer, and I observed a fantastic example of what a speaker should not do. The former was useful as an overall life experience, but the latter gave me a lot to think about in terms of organizing a convention.
The basic concept Dr. Stump attempted to get across was that the best thing that can happen for a person is to become closer to God, and suffering is a means to that end. We’ll ignore her unfounded premise that closeness to God is, like, OMG, the best thing EVERRRR and focus on some other problems instead.
Is all suffering because of evil? If I go through a rough breakup, is my ex evil? There’s a lot of suffering out there that has nothing to do with malicious actions of other people. I think this talk should be called “The Problem of Suffering” or “Dr. Stump Needs a Dictionary.” A few members repeatedly asked her to explain where this definition came from, or at least admit that her talk was about suffering, but she brushed off those questions.
This God doesn’t seem all that powerful. Seriously, if hurting His children (or allowing them to be hurt) is the best way he has to persuade them to come into his bear hug, he’s rather weak. Zeus could get closer to his followers by becoming a cloud! And if any real parent did that- “Officer, I only starved little Jimmy so he would shower affection on me as a desperate last resource for happiness”- it would not be called love. It would be called abuse. Dr. Stump kindly reminded us that we can’t possibly understand God’s thought process (but she can).
He doesn’t seem smart either. How many people turn away from religion because they simply can’t fathom that a Father who loves them would allow them to be date-raped or mugged or lose a child? This strategy isn’t very effective, sky-bro. Dr. Stump cleverly explained this by pointing out that we can’t possibly know what happens in a dying person’s mind in their last milliseconds of life, so obviously they all have a chance to turn to God. Obviously.
Dr. Stump also tried to use science to prove her point, and that just made me ragegiggle. She talked about adversarial growth, the psychological phenomenon of becoming tougher after a trauma. Commonly known as “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” According to her, this is a God-given gift, so that sufferers can go on this roundabout hellish journey to heaven. What she fails to mention (or perhaps even understand) is that this is easily an evolutionary adaptation. Our ancestors who moped around probably didn’t get laid as much as the ones who bounced right back and kept hunting or building or whatever they did to get some booty.
She also suggested that people feeling closer to God means they actually are closer to God. Just like every time I feel like I’m going to win the lottery means I’m definitely ending up richer tomorrow. Irrefutable proof, right there. Go look at my imaginary million dollars right next to my debt and sadness.
Okay, she makes faulty arguments and won’t answer direct questions… so she’s a bad speaker. But Katie, what did you learn for your shamelessly plugged conference coming up in March?
Dear reader, I learned how a speaker shouldn’t treat their audience. More importantly, I discovered that what I thought are basic concepts of respect and academic discourse seem to baffle some professionals. I aim to do my best to prevent anything like this happening at SASHAcon.
“You’re just confused.” She literally said this to one of SASHA’s members instead of answering his question. He was pointing out, like many of us did, that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God really ought to be able to come up with a better way to lead his flock than to let them die of cholera. Dr. Stump jumped on her circular logic train again, after insulting and belittling an audience member. This is not okay. Statements like this cannot be tolerated in a professional forum. “I think you may be confusing x and y and here’s why” would be fine, or even admitting “I don’t think I can explain this in a different way, so let’s move on” would be an acceptable alternative. Someone who has chosen to give your presentation the time of day should not be personally attacked in any way.
“I recommend my book.” Oh, do you now? How coincidentally profitable for you to refuse to fully answer a question and send people to purchase your book to get the whole flawed explanation. Very ethical. Although, if you truly cared that we understand your side, and if you really wanted to give us a chance to see the light and go to God, you’d offer your priceless guide for free, right? Didn’t think so.
“Counselors make a living” because people don’t know what’s good for them. Yes, let’s insult an entire profession by insinuating that their only worth is in telling people to stop being stupid. Dr. Stump’s point here was to demonstrate that humans suffer because we choose things we think we want, but turn out to be wrong, and then God is there to give a hug when we inevitably get hurt. Apparently, counselors are like a mini-God or something, steering people away from bad life choices. As someone whose career goals include counseling the severely mentally ill, I find the implication that my job will consist of nothing more helpful than telling people not to cheat on their significant other rude and enormously incorrect. (And shouldn’t it also mean that therapists are evil because they steer people away from the suffering they need to go through in order to find God…?)
These are behaviors that I want to make sure our speakers avoid. Dr. Stump can get away with it because she’s part of the religious majority in this country and therefore already has a lot of people on her side. We, on the other hand, can’t afford to alienate anybody who comes to our conference to learn and meet people who represent the atheist community.
Dr. Stump, I find you incompetent and I really dislike you, but I must thank you for demonstrating how not to act as a professional and an academic.