The Culture We Deserve: January 2006 Archives

George Washington's God

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Michael Novak and his daughter have written a new book, George Washington’s God, that I am looking forward to reading. As is the case with new books, this one has been reviewed, an early one appearing in the Kirkus Review. In a comment on his website concerning this review, Mr. Novak refers to the anonymous reviewer as the “village atheist”. The village atheist, in his review, accuses the Novaks of not considering a question that goes something like this, “If two opposing armies are preparing to meet in battle, and both pray to the same God, how can Providence be faithful to both sides if the prayers of one side are answered and not the other?”

Of course, this question is supposed to be a challenge to the faith of believers. The problem is, it ignores a few very important points.

First, “no” is just as much an answer to a request as “yes”. I think that the question posed by the village atheist presumes that every request made of God is automatically granted. It puts God in the position of some giant slot machine; all we have to do to strike it rich is ask. I think every one of us can recall instances of a prayer request that was denied and, on reflection, agree that it was a very good thing, indeed, that it was. There’s meaning behind the old saying, “Be careful what you pray for, you might get it.” Every prayer request is answered, that just doesn’t mean that the answer is yes.

There is another point that Mr. Novak makes in his post on his web site. God, in his wisdom, has given us free will. That means, contrary to another assumption implicit in the question, that He is not like some grand puppeteer who pulls strings and directs the lives of every person on earth. He allows us to have a role in determining the course of events here on earth. While there seems to be times when there has been heavenly intervention in earthly affairs, we generally regard those events as miraculous, and infrequent.

Finally, it is important to remember that God is not the God of nonsense. If two armies are about to meet in battle, they know, despite their prayers, that one of them will lose. I think both armies would agree that, if that were not the case, there would be no point in going to battle in the first place. The sole reason for two armies to fight the battle is for one of them to be defeated, for the issue to be decided. It seems to me that it is impossible for two armies to enter into combat and both emerge victorious, even though both prayed for victory. God will not, likely cannot, do the impossible, at least not here on earth.

It’s maddening to see those who are hostile to religion use any opportunity, no matter how far fetched, to take a pot shot at faith, and be so lazy about it. Mr. Novak points out that the reviewer found no factual fault with his book, but still made the supposed omission of consideration of a rather stupid question, the main focus of the review. Especially when the Novaks included a somewhat lengthy discussion of the question. Maybe the village atheist just can’t read.

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This page is a archive of entries in the The Culture We Deserve category from January 2006.

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