Rabbi David Wolpe was named the most influential Rabbi in the country by Newsweek Magazine in 2012. He is also no stranger to high profile debates with atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Recently he posted an interesting meme on his Facebook page which inspired me to make a comment. Wolpe responded and I want to share our brief exchange and my thoughts about it in more detail. Here is the meme:
Drawing wisdom from Captain James T. Kirk and Epicurus, I asked the Rabbi these questions:
Why does God need us to do anything? Isn’t he God? Can’t God fix all the problems of this world with a thought? Come to think of it, why are there any problems in this world at all if a perfect God created it? Think about it.
In essence, I want to know why God needs a starship and why a just God would cause or allow evil to exist. In my opinion, these are the two issues religious believers struggle with the most. My questions were so damaging to Wolpe’s meme that one of his Facebook follower who had previously praised the meme demanded that Wolpe answer my questions… and answer he did:
Rabbi, will YOU answer Staks Rosch please.
it is not about what God needs, but what we do — how do we grow? The world is an arena for moral growth and we are the ones tested, loved, encouraged.
First, I want to say that it really is an honor that someone of Wolpe’s stature would address my questions directly. While I certainly have many disagreements with the good Rabbi, he is arguably the most influential Rabbi in the country and for the most part I do believe he has his heart in the right place. Believe it or not, I admire the man greatly even though we obviously have many disagreements.
With that said however, his answer here was dreadful. Well skilled rhetoric, but still dreadful. I can only assume he had Job on his mind. I am not sure my response was as well-crafted as it could have been, but I think I got my point across nonetheless. Here is my response:
Thank you for addressing my questions, but with all due respect the insinuation that the suffering and death of billions of people is to test our moral courage is itself an injustice. If there is a God and he designed such a test, then it would be a moral duty to oppose him. Such a test would be highly immoral. People’s lives are not mere pawns in a celestial chess game. My questions above still stand without satisfactory answers.
Quite simply, the problem of Theodicy cannot be solved by treating human beings as pawns needing to learn some grand moral lesson. What about children starving on the streets or infants who die before they have any opportunity to experience “moral growth?” Maybe those unfortunate infants and children are just props for the moral growth of others. Somehow, that doesn’t seem to make the situation any more ethically tolerable.
If God is playing the “long game” then he is leaving a lot of suffering and death along the way. Is that really necessary for an all-powerful deity? In a perfect world, there really wouldn’t be a need for such suffering. It detracts from the perfectness.