I have been taking part in an online discussion concerning the Connecticut shootings. A Christian in the group suggested that God deserved no more blame for the shootings than an author deserves for the suffering he causes to the fictional characters in his novel. God apparently has a “creative prerogative”, which is a polite way of saying that God has the right to create or destroy human beings as he sees fit. We apparently cannot hold him in any way accountable for the suffering this may cause.
What struck me about this idea is how closely it models way we treat objects. If I treat my car badly (let’s say I neglect to have it serviced), I am not considered to be behaving immorally: a car is just an object, so my treatment of it is not something that carries moral value. On the other hand, if I am responsible for a sentient being, be it a child or an animal (a pet, say), then I am generally considered to be morally accountable for its well being.
In short, cruelty to animals is frowned upon in a way that cruelty to motor vehicles is not.
And fair enough. Animals have the capacity to experience suffering, while machines do not. The question is, should this view change if one takes into account whether the animal is “created” by the person looking after it? For instance, if I breed my own litter of Beagle puppies (aren’t they ridiculously cute?), do I have the sort of “creative prerogative” over these puppies that the Christian in my discussion group claims God has over us? After all, if it wasn’t for me, those puppies would never have been born. So am I entitled to destroy them as I see fit?
Can I say the same for human babies? Surely if my wife and I decide to have a baby, we are creating that baby ourselves? Doesn’t this give us a “creative prerogative” over that baby – the right to destroy it as we see fit, just as we originally saw fit to create it?
I think most people would agree that the obvious answer to the above questions is “no”. Once a sentient being is brought into the world, it gains moral status: it has its own interests. And, importantly, there is no reason to suppose that these interests are inferior to those of other sentient beings, including its parents (or its creator).
The only way one can justify the idea of God’s “creative prerogative”, then, is if we see ourselves as objects in God’s sight – as things whose only value is whatever God regards us as having at any particular moment. Once again, I’m reminded of C. S. Lewis’s degrading idea from Mere Christianity: “The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object”. This seems very close to the idea of valuing ourselves only as much as God deigns to value us. It is our duty, Lewis appears to be saying, to be objects at God’s disposal.
No wonder, then, that few Christians think of rising up in anger against a God who allows 20 innocent children to be slaughtered by a deranged gunman. We are objects at God’s disposal, and it is audacious even to ask him to help us cope with the abuse he allows us to suffer.