Smallpox and God

(67 Posts)
sashh Sun 10-Mar-13 05:36:21

One of my classes of ESOL students can't understand that I'm an atheist so they brought in a friend with good English to try co convert me or at least educate me.

One question I asked was that, if Allah made everything in the world for a reason, was it a good or a bad thing that smallpox has been eradicated.

From my point of view it is a triumph of science and undoubtedly a good thing.

I wondered what other people think. I don't think I'm going to change my mind, but I think it is an interesting point.

So, is the eradication of smallpox a good or a bad thing?

DioneTheDiabolist Sat 16-Mar-13 13:21:50

Snorbs, regarding the ethics surrounding a creator deity in allowing such viruses to exist: viruses and bacterium massively predate human evolution. Do you think it would be ethical of a creator deity to wipe out old organisms because newer organisms don't like them?

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Sat 16-Mar-13 09:54:58

"Snorbs, Pedro and HeadinHands, do you regard the scientists who contribute to the research and design of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons which kill, torture and maim human beings to be responsible for the death of those human beings? Do you regard them as morally reprehensible?"

I regard people who deliberately manufacture weapons with the intent to kill or sell to some who does to be responsible for any deaths that weapon causes.

Scientists who contribute to research which subsequently gets used for weapons, I don't consider to be responsible. Otherwise you'd have to jail the inventor of the candlestick for all those Cluedo moments.....

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Sat 16-Mar-13 09:51:01

"well, they reconcile far better than the materialism that dominates molecular biology and the field of quantum mechanics."

Not really, quantum physics is by far the most tested, most consistent and most accurately predictable branch of science we've ever had. By a huge margin.

sashh Sat 16-Mar-13 05:35:01

crescentmoon

No I meant what I wrote.

Some debated have a clear single answer. Some have several outcomes that are appropriate and positive.

This one doesn't.

What do I advise? It depends on the answers. Ideally no one should be put in that position. An interpreter should have been used earlier to assertion the patient's own wishes.

Other options include asking the chaplain for advice, many hospitals now have 'chaplains' of various faiths.

The answers I get have included:

Giving him a bible to learn 'the truth'

Phoning the son for more information.

Giving the drug and not telling anyone.

Page the Dr and ask for something else to be prescribed.

Finding an interpreter / medical professional who can speak the same language and asking the person himself.

Obviously the first answer is totally inappropriate, but the student found it difficult to accept it.

Giving the drug and saying nothing is also a definite 'no'.

The others depend on the response you get from phoning/paging etc.

niminypiminy Fri 15-Mar-13 18:47:32

^"there are beliefs we hold about God in Islam which are not in Christianity. and in Judaism that are not in Islam, and in Christianity that are not in Judaism."

You can't all be right, how do you reconcile that?^

God is beyond our human efforts to fully comprehend him, but all faiths have glimpses of him. For me, Christianity has more glimpses, and for Crescent and Peaceful Islam offers more glimpses. One image for it would be that God is like a courtyard garden surrounded on all sides by a portico, through the pillars of which we can see into parts of the garden. We can never be on all sides of the portico, and we can never see the whole garden. But we have glimpses into it, and we can hear about, and imagine, other people's glimpses, and learn to see the garden from their point of view.

peacefuloptimist Fri 15-Mar-13 17:59:45

Wa alaykum wa salam Crescent

'This association of being 'honoured' or 'loved' by having something - health/wealth - or being 'dishonoured/abased' by NOT having something - health/wealth - is a human assumption.'

'Muhammad (pbuh) tried to break that among his own followers by connecting hardship with trial not evil. In Islam it always comes back to what the purpose of life is - which is to be tested as to our resolve and commitment to do good in any diverse situation.'

Happy to see we are singing from the same hymn sheet grin. Really agreed with the points you made about material status in this life and spiritual standing with God not being connected. There are two chapters in the Quran which I love to recite in my prayers when I am facing difficulties (though I dont recite them as beautifully as these two:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rKAmFI72qQ
www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZvNtzJ0QXQ)

The verse that I particularly love in the first chapter is the one where God says to the Prophet Muhammed PBUH that He has not forsaken him nor does He hate him. This was to comfort the Prophet Muhammed PBUH who was suffering hardships. The chapter goes on to highlight that trials and difficulties are temporary afflictions. The Prophet was an orphan without parents and God gave him refuge. He was poor and God enriched him. He was lost and God guided him. Its message is comforting to me too.

The second chapter again reiterates the message that spiritual standing with God is seperate from worldly status. Both states (having material wealth or being impoverished) are a test that should cause us to increase in our empathy, compassion and kindness towards those who are suffering rather then to arrogantly gloat over them that we are somehow better or more deserving.

* And as for man, when his Lord tries him and [thus] is generous to him and favors him, he says, "My Lord has honored me." But when He tries him and restricts his provision, he says, "My Lord has humiliated me." No! But you treat not the orphans with kindness and generosity. And you do not encourage one another to feed the poor...And you love wealth with immense love* Holy Quran, Chapter 89, verse 15-19

peacefuloptimist Fri 15-Mar-13 17:38:41

For example a scientist like Fritz Haber, who developed the Haber process which is important in the production of fertilizers (leading to increase in food production) but also developed chemical weapons for the German government in World war 1 which was used to kill millions of soldiers in trench warfare. Do you agree with his statement that death is death, by whatever means it is inflicted? Is he morally reprehensible? He recieved a Nobel Prize.

crescentmoon Fri 15-Mar-13 17:30:52

salams peaceful wink

crescentmoon Fri 15-Mar-13 17:29:50

dear sashh

"Yes the debate doesn't have an answer, it doesn't have several answers."

did you mean it has several answers? out of curiosity what kind of answers do you get? what would you yourself advise?

peacefuloptimist Fri 15-Mar-13 17:28:18

Snorbs, Pedro and HeadinHands, do you regard the scientists who contribute to the research and design of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons which kill, torture and maim human beings to be responsible for the death of those human beings? Do you regard them as morally reprehensible?

crescentmoon Fri 15-Mar-13 17:01:20

well, they reconcile far better than the materialism that dominates molecular biology and the field of quantum mechanics.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Fri 15-Mar-13 15:31:51

"there are beliefs we hold about God in Islam which are not in Christianity. and in Judaism that are not in Islam, and in Christianity that are not in Judaism."

You can't all be right, how do you reconcile that?

crescentmoon Fri 15-Mar-13 15:12:16

"Back to the morality thing. Yes, I am taking an anthropomorphic view of it. "

and when i reflect on God, i reflect on the abstract. i consider the words of God, the infinity of God, the unity of God. God the Creator of the universe and the Creator of man. that wherever i turn, there is God. my relationship is not one as with a child and parent, and so i do not have expectations in that way. God is not my Father. our relationship is more as King and disobedient subject. this is a criticism levelled at the Quranic view of God that it is more impersonal and distant than the way God is portrayed in the Torah and the Bible. we are not the children of God, we were not created in God's image. we are not God's racial chosen people but are followers of the patriarch Abraham.

"I have repeatedly tried, and abjectly failed, to assemble a coherent view of the Abrahamic God's morality based on how He is described and the things He is supposed to do. I have yet to come up with something that is internally consistent and holds together. "

if you are trying to reconcile all three different Abrahamic religion's opinions of God it will be hard, we all recognise many parts of each other's beliefs but as niminy said, there are beliefs we hold about God in Islam which are not in Christianity. and in Judaism that are not in Islam, and in Christianity that are not in Judaism.

what did the effect of both sets of narrations i mentioned have on the Muslims, the followers of Muhammad (pbuh). i would argue, firstly, that it released them from the association that sickness = punishment and health = reward. this dominated the european thinking on sickness and disease for many centuries EVEN THOUGH this was not from the teachings of Jesus.

secondly, the narrations on disease and cure meant practises like variolation/ preventative public health measures were not seen as spitting in the eye of God's right to determine who was to die and how and when death would occur. nor did it mean showing distrust in depending on God. Muhammad (pbuh) instead raised it to a noble pursuit by itself.

during his lifetime in the early 7th century he himself initiated alot of measures among the muslims for cleanliness and personal hygeine as part of the Sunnah. things we recognise today as early public health measures: washing hands/mouth/face etc 5 times a day before prayers was to get ordinary simple people to relate cleanliness to holiness. his recommendations that muslims bathe every Friday - since the 7th century when people in Europe were still bathing once a year up until the 18th/19th century - was dressed up in religious language but it also had a public health benefit. wearing clean non soiled clothes. the obligation of washing after you go to the toilet for cleanliness, and the obligation of having a full ritual bath each time after sex, all were early measures to prevent disease or the spread of disease. the right hand strictly for eating, the left hand for unclean and toilet purposes to prevent possible cross contamination. he even strongly recommended cleaning the teeth once every day and stressed he would have made it obligatory for each of the daily prayers except he thought it would be too hard on people.

then he also encouraged later muslims to study the body and disease in order to fight it, and assured them this was 'the will of God' also. i think, it covered most bases and permutations of human thought. but you dont think so and thats your own thinking.

"Say, O you who disbelieve,
I do not worship what you worship,
and you do not worship what i worship,
and i will not worship what you worship,
nor will you worship what i worship,
To you be your way, and to me be mine"

the Quran Chapter 109, Surah Al Kafiroon

DioneTheDiabolist Fri 15-Mar-13 10:57:39

No peoples settle 60miles away from clean drinking water, it's kinda the first thing our species look for when camping for the night, never mind building a community. People are driven off their land by war and corruption. Rivers are dammed and waterways re-routed for gain. Pollution of drinking water by business is accepted by governments and shareholders alike without a thought for those who depend on it. Land is seized, forests are felled, deserts are created. Where real drought occurs it should be a case of keeping people fed until it passes or they settle somewhere else.

As I said, starvation in Africa and elsewhere is caused by the greedy and the powerful, not lack of resources.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Fri 15-Mar-13 10:21:52

Certainly it has resources, but when you have to travel 60 miles to your nearest clean water, that's a problem. I'm not suggesting there are no natural resources in Africa, that would be ridiculous, but the poorest, most hard up communities are the ones who don't have local access to clean water, trees, arable land. They live in areas of the world where, in all honesty, they shouldn't really be able to survive.

DioneTheDiabolist Fri 15-Mar-13 10:10:08

Africa has loads of resources. War, corruption and exploitation are responsible for starvation in Africa, not lack of resources.hmm

Snorbs Fri 15-Mar-13 09:09:35

Crescentmoon, you're right in that I am taking an anthropomorphic view of morality and seeing how the various descriptions of the Abrahamic god match up. But you're wrong in suggesting that this is because I view disease as an affront to ones honour. I don't have that kind of "eye for an eye" view of the world.

Disease happens. Sometimes it's preventable, sometimes it isn't. If it is preventable then we (as a society) should seek to prevent it and if it isn't then we should do what we can to ease the suffering. It's not about status.

Back to the morality thing. Yes, I am taking an anthropomorphic view of it. I have repeatedly tried, and abjectly failed, to assemble a coherent view of the Abrahamic God's morality based on how He is described and the things He is supposed to do. I have yet to come up with something that is internally consistent and holds together.

The whole "suffering is a trial to prove your worth" thing smacks too much to me of "I'm hitting you for your own good". I do not consider it in any way moral to either deliberately cripple people directly or to create diseases that I know will cripple people. That is regardless of whether I'm doing as a test of their character or not. You seem to be suggesting that it's ok provided it's Allah/God doing it.

If a deity's morality is so far removed from our own that He can ethically do things that would be immoral for us to do, is that a deity that either deserves worship or is even safe to worship? It could all be some vast, incomprehensible cosmic joke. How can we take moral guidance from this creature? How can we trust that something so alien to us has our best interests at heart?

“On the Day of Resurrection, when people who have suffered affliction are given their reward, those who are healthy will wish their skins had been cut to pieces with scissors when they were in the world.”
That is grotesque.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Fri 15-Mar-13 08:37:04

Crescent, you've missed the point entirely. Clearly it is obvious that there's enough food in the world to feed everyone, but it's not in the places it's needed. Why do you think a large proportion of the USA is overweight? Because they have a ton of useful, natural resources. Why are so many Africans malnourished? Because they don't have the resources.

But aside from that, there's so much more that has to go on to sustain the world as it is. Picking on a single problem and saying we easily have the resource in the world to fix it is all well and good, but sadly it's not that simple. Even the basic example of getting food from an abundant area to a sparse one, you need to transport the food, so you need someone to build a vehicle, let's say a plane, you need a lot of people to build a plane, designers, engineers, etc. You have to pay them, so you need an economy which sustains large scale engineering projects either government funded or private venture.

You need to fuel your plane, so you need people to extract oil, you need a lot of people to extract oil, build oil rigs, transport that oil to somewhere useful (you need a lot of people to build a boat.... And fuel it..... You see where this is going...)

So you have your plane and you have your fuel and for argument's sake let's say the plane happens to be exactly where the food is. You need people to load the plane, you need people to fly the plane. And this is all the very, very basics.

We could dig in to issues of education, you need educated people to understand how to build a plane, how to fly one, how to extract oil. So you need an economy which supports a strong education. This economy must get money from somewhere to fund a strong education system. Money comes from taxation, but you have to balance the taxation against income to ensure that the people can still support themselves and spend money which generates the tax.

In California, they have a 'fat tax' on unhealthy food. This raises government funds to support education, manufacturing, alternative fuel research, etc, etc. And thus is an almost direct source of funding for people to fly food in planes to poor people in Africa. So yes, to suggest that there's no will in the world is naive and arrogant. There's simply so much more to consider than simply "there's enough food so we should be ok"

sashh Fri 15-Mar-13 07:47:10

crescent that's very generous of you. Thank you.

Yes the debate doesn't have an answer, it doesn't have several answers.

The HSC students mainly go into nursing, some to other health related professions so I try to get them to think about things like that before they get there.

It gets more interesting if I have students from a wide variety of backgrounds/cultures/faiths.

crescentmoon Fri 15-Mar-13 00:53:38

Muhammad (pbuh) tried to break that among his own followers by connecting hardship with trial not evil. In Islam it always comes back to what the purpose of life is - which is to be tested as to our resolve and commitment to do good in any diverse situation.

what would i say to a muslim crippled by disease? id first ask them to pray for me, because Muhammad (pbuh) said ""When you visit an invalid tell him to make supplication for you, for his supplication is like that of the angels."

id narrate the words of the prophet (pbuh)... "Whenever God wants good for someone, He tries him with some hardship".

It sounds opposite but in Islam the more faith someone has, the more they are tested..."The most in their suffering among the people are the prophets, then the best, then the (next) best. One is afflicted in accordance with his faith. If his faith is firm his affliction is hard, and if his faith is weak, his affliction is light." [Ahmad, Tirmithee]

another hadith...."For every misfortune, illness, anxiety, grief, or hurt that afflicts a Muslim -even the hurt caused by the pricking of a thorn - God removes some of his sins." Anything - no matter how little - that is a discomfort or a trial I am being raised in rank with God, not lowered.

as muslims we take alot of lessons that Muhammad (pbuh) himself suffered many hardships and trials in his life. he was an orphan at a young age, his father died before he was born, mother died with he was 4, grandfather died when he was 9 before he was raised with his uncle. he suffered alot of loss as a child - so that we would reflect and realise that the outward state is not indicative of the inward.

of Muhammad's (pbuh) 7 children, 3 boys died in infancy, 2 daughters died as adults before him (pbuh). so we take from that he suffered pain also, and that we would not think if those things happened to us it was because we have something to be punished for. he was of humble means, had to work for a living, endured the same daily problems as everyone else.

and he used to get sick with fever or illness the same as any other people. in between being a leader and guide for his people he used to have to see medicine men same as others for different ailments. Lady Aisha was renowned for her expertise in medicine and when she was asked how she came to learn she said it was because Muhammad (pbuh) was often unwell and had healers visit him so she asked them to teach her their work. we took from that high status or low status with God is not by how we would judge a person with their beloved. we remind ourselves with this so that we remember hardship is not with the intention of ill will by God.

Aisha (RA) narrated that once some pain afflicted Muhammad (pbuh) causing him to suffer and turn about in his bed. she said: "^Had one of us done this, you would have blamed him.^" He (pbuh) replied: " An ailment is intensified for the righteous. whenever a believer is afflicted by a hardship, whether it is a thorn or more, a sin is taken off from him because of it, and he is elevated by one rank (in Jannah)." Muhammad (pbuh) told his followers it was a purification and a chance for being raised in, not this life, but the next life.

Jabir ibn Abdullah narrated that Muhammad (pbuh) said “On the Day of Resurrection, when people who have suffered affliction are given their reward, those who are healthy will wish their skins had been cut to pieces with scissors when they were in the world.” (Al-Tirmidhi, 1570).

so why bother trying to preserve health or get well if there is something spiritually meaningful and good in hardship? because the teachings are about being resilient and maintaining hope and tranquility in all situations. that to be a Muslim Muhammad (pbuh) said, “How amazing is the case of the believer; there is good for him in everything, and this is only so for the believer. If he experiences something pleasant, he is thankful, and that is good for him; and if he comes across adversity, he is patient, and that is good for him.” [Muslim].

most people of faith believe some variation of this.

of course it wouldnt be much comfort to a person with no faith at all though.

crescentmoon Fri 15-Mar-13 00:35:58

You ask about the morality of God snorbs because you assume the intentions to be similar to humans.

as humans we tend to wish ill upon those who hurt us and for them to struggle and we wish ease for our loved ones.

When we want to reward others we give gifts and money and when we want to punish/ abase we take away. This association of being 'honoured' or 'loved' by having something - health/wealth - or being 'dishonoured/abased' by NOT having something - health/wealth - is a human assumption.

And so we ascribe these intentions to God. How can it be anything but an an abasement to be poor? how can it be anything but an abasement to be sick? Because we associate the state with status. Humans either want to think it is a punishment and was earned- through some bad action that individual had done - or that it is an injustice committed against oneself...

'why would God punish me' in hardship and

in ease we assume 'ahh God has exalted me'.

this is because as humans we look to the outward, the physical, the material, and we use that to denote status. and we anthropomorphise God and thinking 'this is why humans do that so this must be why God is doing that'. Either God is being just or God is being cruel because the assumption is disease is being disfavoured and health is being favoured. its a strong human association.

I would say it was a good thing it was eradicated.

As a Christian I would say that when God made the world it was good, all good, so if there were viruses they would be good too! But that the world is a fallen place, no longer perfect. So when someone dies of a virus, it is not that God wills them to die, and it is not good, it is just because the world is no longer perfect. God has chosen to allow these things in the world. I think heaven is perfect so if there were to be viruses in heaven they would be kindly ones! But I don't think they will be there! I know it is not a satisfying answer for many, possibly not even for other Christians! I guess the premise of the question at the start sashh is that if God created small pox was it good that it was eradicated? So I would say it was a good thing it was eradicated.

crescentmoon Thu 14-Mar-13 18:39:26

Il be on in abit to answer you snorbs but just to say i quoted the narrations of Muhammad (pbuh) on seeking cures and treatments for disease, i didnt quote the quran. (I gave the references so other people could look them up.)

headinhands Thu 14-Mar-13 17:20:52

Why would god create diseases and immune systems to fight them off? The posters who defend the idea of god creating diseases to kill us off out of kindness, do you ever take antibiotics or have vaccinations? Why?

DioneTheDiabolist Thu 14-Mar-13 17:18:35

I have no idea Snorbs. My understanding of Ethics for Creator Gods is non-existent. But maybe it's totally ethical. Maybe to mess with the virus or bacteria will land a creator deity in hot water with the Divine Ethics Commitee.grin

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