In November of last year, ex-Governor of Texas, and current Energy Secretary, Rick Perry said that Trump was chosen by God to be President and do great things during an interview with FOX News.
My initial reaction (and the reaction of several people I know) was similar to George W. Bush’s reaction to Trump’s inauguration speech: “Well, that was some weirdsh*t.” Perry went on to say that Obama, too, did not get to be President without being ordained by God (presumably in that case, not to do “great things”?) and that “God’s used imperfect people all through history. King David wasn't perfect. Saul wasn't perfect. Solomon wasn't perfect." But crazy or not, Perry’s philosophy about this is not so out of the mainstream.
This idea of God making “use” of imperfect people is hard to get one’s mind wrapped around. What does this mean? In “choosing” Trump to be President to “do great things” for America I assume that Perry does NOT believe that God is making Trump do stuff (that Trump is merely an autonomous robot that God commands to do His wishes). I also don’t think that Perry thought that God manipulated the actions of voters to allow Trump to win the election.
So what DID he mean? I suspect that Perry is speaking the language of a large number of believers (including friends of mine) who believe that God is “in charge” of everything and that nothing occurs without being a part of His plan.
I often hear this said in the context of something sad or difficult having happened to someone. Perhaps the person gets laid off from their employment and they say something like: “well, it is all just part of God’s plan. I’m sure He has a better job for me around the corner! I have faith that it is all in His hands!”
It is clearly being used to comfort the person and I can’t say it doesn’t work. And if it makes someone feel better about the future that is fine. But it doesn’t work for all of us. I can’t say this works for me. Why not? Because I can’t help thinking that if God is in charge of everything and all is part of His plan, then the Holocaust and the great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 have to be part of that plan as well. And if that is so, of what comfort can it be that it is part of God’s plan? If I lose my job and I say, well it is all in God’s hands, but everything that happens is part of God’s plan, then the next thing he might do is strike me down with a fatal flesh eating bacteria, send a car with a drunk driver my way to kill me, or give me colon cancer. It might be all God’s plan, but hardly comforting!
The adage that God doesn’t send you anything more than you can handle is clearly incorrect. Lots of people get sent situations that leave them dead or helpless. So how is this comforting?
The next step could be to say that God has a good plan for his believers or virtuous people in general. But that is problematic too, given the examples above. Human evil resulted in millions of deaths during the Holocaust (man innocent and virtuous people, obviously), and nature killed thousands in the Galveston Hurricane disaster of 1900 many of whom were children and normal virtuous adults.
I used the Holocaust and the Hurricane of 1900 specifically because one was so clearly a result of human choices (evil ones by the Nazis) and the other was equally clearly an act of “nature” (and still the most murderous natural disaster in United States history).
So between natural disasters and evil human beings causing so much suffering in the world, the God that is in control of everything and whose plan is being unfolded in human history just doesn’t work for me. That doesn’t mean, however, that atheism is the only option left. I tend not to believe in supernatural intervention into human history, but that, too, does not mean that atheism is all that is left.
My way of getting past the Rick Perry problem is Unitarian Universalist Gnosticism. But before I talk about how that operates for me, I will discuss (in the next blog post) how it all relates for me to the philosophical “Problem of Evil” and why UU Gnosticism (for me anyway) solves that too!