Firing range theodicy

Imagine the manager of a firing range who wants everyone to try out his facility. He wants them to see how much better his range is than the competition. He puts ads in the paper inviting people to visit the range and test their aim. However, he also encourages everyone to buy their own guns, and to carry these guns around with them, loaded, at all times, just so they’re always ready to stop by the firing range if the mood takes them.

Many of those who read the ad take its advice. They start walking around town with loaded guns. Even when they’re home, they keep the guns within easy reach, in case they feel like taking a quick trip to the firing range.

A few weeks later, it becomes apparent that the rate of gun-related violence has dramatically increased. Not only are people venting their anger by firing their easily accessible weapons, but innocent people mistaken as intruders are being shot, and children are finding their parents’ weapons and accidentally shooting themselves and their friends.

The mayor of the town investigates, and determines that the trouble began with the newspaper ad from the firing range. She calls the firing range manager and asks him why he encouraged everyone to carry a weapon at all times. The firing range manager responds that in order for every citizen to choose his favorite firing range, he should have the right to carry a weapon wherever he goes.

The mayor points out that the freedom to choose a firing range should not require people to carry weapons at all times. In fact, they don’t need their own weapons at all – couldn’t the firing range simply keep a supply of weapons on site, and make sure they never leave the property?

This story, as the reader has probably guessed, is a rebuttal to the free will theodicy, which states that our freedom to behave badly is so important that it warrants the ongoing daily suffering experienced by the victims of criminal acts all over the world. Supposedly, free will is important because it allows us to decide whether to follow God or not. It just so happens, apologists argue, that people abuse their free will by choosing to do evil things.

Like the firing range manager, though, God seems to have overreached. There is nothing incoherent about having the freedom to make important decisions about gods, while simultaneously never even considering sinning.

In fact, Jesus himself was the perfect example of this model. I doubt if any Christian would deny that Jesus had free will. Yet he never sinned.

Why can’t we all be like that?

Free will, as a theodicy, is also strongly pro-criminal. This may sound far fetched at first, but consider that every crime involves both the exercise and subjugation of free will. The criminal exercises his free will; the victim has her free will suppressed. And God clearly sides with the criminal, because criminals continue to have the freedom to choose crime, and people continue to be victimized as a result. God prefers, for instance, to give priests the freedom to choose to rape children, rather than protect those children. This is a clear pro-criminal stance.

4 Responses to Firing range theodicy

  1. At first I thought you were heading in an anit-weapon direction. :)

    I get what you are saying – why did God create us with the option of doing bad and evil? Why not create us with free will, but the choices are all good ones? Maybe it’s more complex than that, but that’s the jest of it. I have often thought about the same idea – if God is real why did he choose this way? It seems rather, well, less than perfect…

  2. Keith says:

    Atticus: Yes, I can see why you thought I was anti-weapon. As it turns out, I don’t particularly like weapons, but I also don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with people owning them.

    I do, however think that, like cars, people ought to pass some sort of basic competency test before being allowed to use a firearm. The reason people are required to take a driver’s test is because the car is itself a potential weapon that can easily kill if put in incompetent hands. The same applies to actual weapons.

  3. Roman Dawes says:

    One of the most frustrating things I come across in reading theodicy and arguments for and against it is the tendency of people on both sides to make ethics seem simple. Discerning moral rights from wrongs has occupied some of history’s greatest minds and has come to no satisfactory resolution.

    I think our existence is too dense with complexity to get hold of with phrases like “creation of evil,” and “creation of good,” and “creating humans with free will who can only choose good.”

    What did Adolph Hitler, Osama bin Laden and Pol Pot all have in common? They thought what they were doing was right, justified, necessary, etc. In a less extreme example (which nevertheless led to great destruction of life), what of American leaders choosing to invade Iraq to chase terrorists and weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist? They thought they were doing the right thing.

    To make humans morally perfect, we’d have to be omniscient. I don’t think it’s logically possible to bestow omniscience to finite beings, though.

    • Keith says:

      Roman: I agree. It’s a lot more complicated than we often think. I also agree that it would be virtually impossible to make ourselves morally perfect. My rebuttals to believers’ views of morality usually aim at the low level of complexity they are used to. For instance Christians, in my experience, never get much more complex than the glib statement that “evil exists because of free will”. This argument can easily be put to rest without going into much of the complexity that a real consideration of ethics involves.

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