Harry Finkelstein: Centenarian — Why I no longer believe in God
By Harry Finkelstein
I am a centenarian who has evolved from someone who was a devout believer in the existence of a supreme being to someone who became a dubious believer and who is now a denier. I mention my age only to highlight that these changes have evolved over a number of years.
My current belief — or rather nonbelief — is based on a number of axioms that to many people are as incontrovertible as the mathematical axiom that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. If I could be convinced that these axioms are true, I would agree that there is a God. But they are not true.
Axiom 1: “Good people are rewarded, and evil people are punished.”
If there were a God, why would this not be true? But one does not have to have lived 100 years to know otherwise. There are good people who have had miserable lives, and evil people who have flourished. It is true that many good people are blessed, and some evil people punished, but “some” does not mean “all” or even a significant number.
Axiom 2: “The apple does not fall far from the tree.”
Good people should be blessed with happy, healthy, accomplished children. The fact is that sometimes they are and sometimes they are not. It is equally true that evil people may or may not have happy, healthy, accomplished children. While I have no statistics that either support or disprove this, it should be obvious that not every good person is rewarded with model children, and not every evil person is cursed with children who dishonor them. These blessings, or lack thereof, appear to occur randomly.
Axiom 3: “The bounties of nature should be distributed fairly evenly throughout the world.”
Again, this axiom is insupportable. The United States is blessed with acres and acres of golden grain from sea to shining sea, while many Africans are dying from drought and starvation. Why is obesity a significant health problem in the United States, while hunger is the norm in other nations? And why do so many children enjoy all the nourishment they require while other children go to bed with empty stomachs and empty dreams? In other words, why would God favor some nations with a superfluity of the Earth’s blessings while depriving others of enough food or even enough clean water for survival? Why is there such a disparity in the life expectancy of populations in various parts of the world? Why would God favor some people over others?
Axiom 4: In any conflict, “God is on our side.”
We may have prevailed during two world wars because “God is on our side,” but the United Sates armed forces alone suffered about 400,000 deaths during World War II. If God were instrumental in our victory, couldn’t he have accomplished it without so much death and destruction? If God were on our side, why did we have to incinerate so many innocent Japanese noncombatants with nuclear bombs? And if God were on our side, couldn’t he have eliminated Hitler and his cohorts without the need for war?
Axiom 5: “You reap what you sow.”
Never-ending life is an oxymoron. No one lives forever, and if we did, the world eventually would run out of the resources needed to sustain life. I’m not sure about taxes, but death is inevitable.
But why do some people live to a ripe old age, generally free of debilitating disease or injury, while others die a painful death at comparatively early ages? More specifically, why would an omnipotent God not have eliminated cancer?
Axiom 6: “God moves in mysterious way, his wonders to perform.”
The Holocaust. Why?
It must be comforting to believe that there is a supreme power ruling the universe, that the fate of nations and their inhabitants does not depend on the whims of nature and imperfect people. Even when I see the casualties of war, famine, pestilence and all the ills that mortals are heir to, I would like to believe in God.
But I can’t.
Harry Finkelstein is a retired federal employee living in Maryland.