It's not just Christians who rationalize God permitting the death of an innocent child. Buried in the description of the funeral of Leiby Kletzky, the Orthodox Jewish boy who was murdered this week, we find this gem:
At one point the rabbi of the synagogue that Leiby attended recalled the boy’s devotion to his studies.
“He was such a good learner,” the rabbi said, according to a translation. “He used to pray all day. It was a pleasure to have him in the class. We’re not the boss. Everything is as God wanted it.”
Why the hell would God want a schizophrenic pedophile to kidnap, kill, and dismember a young child? That's flipping insane! Yet Christians and Jews alike rationalize the irrational this way. It's supposed to give them some kind of comfort, but I don't see how. If I were that boy's mother I'd slap that rabbi!
I used to live pretty close to that neighborhood, and I knew a lot of Jews, from cultural Jews who were atheists, to nutty Lubavitch Hassidim. There's a kind of fatalistic thinking in my old neighborhood. Almost every day I might hear someone shrug and say "Whaddayagonna do?" Italians, Irish, and Jews say it in equal numbers in that corner of Brooklyn. I just assumed it was because life in the big city is such an uphill struggle every day. Life is exhausting, and you learn quickly not to sweat the small stuff.
Child murder isn't "small stuff" though. That boy did not deserve to be victimized and killed. The Old Testament God can't possibly have any grievance with the Borough Park neighborhood like he did with Sodom & Gomorrah. Borough Park people are the chosen of the chosen - observant and obedient in more than just their goofy clothes. They're not crazyass nutters like the Lubavitch nor atheists. There's just no reason for God to want that boy to die unless God is a crazyass nutter.
According to Rabbi Simmons, on about.com, that Brooklyn rabbi today was dead wrong. Bad things come about because of free will, blah blah blah about a dozen reasons, and then he goes on to name eight "ground rules." During the years that I attempted to be a believer, I took great comfort in some of the ideas he expresses there, but not for any supernatural reasons.
This comforting advice is part of the reason why believers think that atheists must be unhappy. They get common sense advice and some uncommon advice from religious leaders but the best stuff doesn't require any supernatural intervention. I think the worst stuff is the supernatural, like saying that God had planned for an eight-year-old boy to be kidnapped and killed. You could secularize the typical rationalizations of religious responses to bad stuff happening, such as Simmons' ground rules, and wind up with something much more helpful and comforting than the convoluted stuff religion throws at you. For example:
Ground Rule #1 "The Possibility of Evil," or Shit happens. Some people are sick and people around them will suffer. Others are just selfish. And then there's lightning, tornadoes, earthquakes. They happen because it's part of nature for these things to happen. It's nothing personal. The boy was in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was no more reason to this than there would be if he'd been struck dead by a lightning bolt.
Ground Rule #2 Intervention. Chance doesn't have a brain capable of forming intent, so stuff happens equally to good and bad people. Lottery winners are no more deserving than any other players of the lottery, and murder victims are not deserving of their fate either. Randomness is random. Nothing personal.
Ground Rule #3 Our time on Earth is limited. There will be both bad and good. Shockingly bad things are only shocking because good/beneficial things are so common. The boy suffered for one or two days but had a great life for the rest of his eight years. Likewise the people around him. This is not an everyday experience for them. They can choose to focus on the good in the world in order to put the horrors of child murder into perspective.
Ground Rule #4 The Big Picture: there are unintended consequences to "good" things (i.e. "No good deed goes unpunished," another slogan I learned in Brooklyn!) and "bad" things alike. Some things are random, some are the direct result of some previous random event.n Keeping a nuanced perspective can help us go on. Resilience is in our DNA, or else we wouldn't have been able to spread out around the world.
Ground Rule #5 Opportunity for Growth. The more experiences we have the more we can relate to other people. Difficulties "build character," they say (whoever they are). All of our experiences contribute to who we are, and we can choose to bring something "good" from something "bad." It's hard to think of a way that something good could come of something so horrible, but there probably will be, like the man who took precautions during a tornado warning for the first time because of the recent example of Joplin and wound up surviving.
Ground Rule #6 We're all human. We're all mortal. Nobody is immune to the types of things that happen to humans (unless you've been vaccinated against contagious disease!) Again, nothing personal. No reason. No plan. Children sometimes die. There are horrible people and horrible diseases and horrible people who get horrible mental illnesses. Even when DNA or some choice points to a specific instance, it's still impersonal. Some other little boy could have been that man's victim that day.
Ground Rule #7 We're all part of the human race and the "Community of Man." This is because we evolved as a social species and we have organized larger and larger units. Live like your life depends on the kindness of strangers because it does.
Ground Rule #8 "What goes around comes around" was coined as a supernatural principle but there's an element of truth to it. Kind people attract kind people, and bitchy people attract uhhh nobody. Another expression I learned in Brooklyn is "Water seeks its own level." I associate with a lot of believers not because they're believers but because they're nice people. I've known some believers who are horrible horrible people. I've met some atheists I don't care for, too. This won't protect me from tornados or serial murderers, but people recognize their own "kind" and nice likes nice. Perhaps the secular Ground Rule #8 should be "Don't be an Asshole."
All they need to do is throw out the book and use their minds. If they're too stupid, that's okay... just find someone smarter to help them. Someone who exists in the real world!