Try to imagine this scenario if you would. Imagine that you live in a neighborhood overrun

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Try to imagine this scenario if you would. Imagine that you live in a neighborhood overrun by a gang of extortionists. The leader of this gang demands a number of things from the residents of the neighborhood. First, he demands your total devotion and obedience. You must give him his ``due,'' whatever he considers that to be. Second, you must never, never pay homage to any other extortionist or group of extortionists. Third, you are expected to abide by a list of rituals and behave in accordance with his rules, whether or not he and his henchmen do the same. Fourth, you are expected to respect and obey the authority of any and all of his henchmen. In return for obeying these demands, you are promised ``protection'' from harm at the hands of the gang leader's henchmen. The idea, common to most extortion rackets, is that if you ``pay up,'' the thugs who work for the extortionist will not break your legs or destroy your property or hurt your loved ones. Now, try to imagine that in this case, even if you ``pay up,'' this is no guarantee that his thugs will not harm you. I think most of us would consider this low and vile EVEN for an extortion racket. Now, imagine approaching the ring leader of the gang of thugs and asking him his reasons for acting this way. Assume, perhaps naively, for the moment, that he does not have you viciously pummeled by his thugs just for asking this, but that instead he answers your questions ``seriously.'' When you meet him, he appears not as a thug or hood, but as a respectable businessman. ``Why is it that even when we obey you and pay homage to you, you still abuse us and torture us or have your henchmen do this for you?'' ``No, you misunderstand, my proscriptions to you are not threats against you. No, they are warnings, admonishments of what might happen to you if you don't heed these warnings. I warn you out of concern for you.'' ``But even if this is the natural way of the world and you are simply warning us about things that WILL come to pass through forces of nature, you are the focus of power in this community, your will defines what happens here. You wield the power to cause these things to happen or prevent them from happening. You can choose to unleash your thugs on innocent people or restrain them from hurting us.'' ``That wouldn't be fair now, would it? Who am I to exercise prior restraint on them? I cannot control what they do. Should I stop them from hurting you while they continue to hurt others? That would be unjust and unfair of me, and it's very selfish of you to demand this.'' ``But you have another choice you can make. You can just stop letting loose your henchmen on ANYONE at all! You have the power to make a world in which your henchmen do not hurt other people. Why do you let them do this, why do you WILL them to do this? Aren't you responsible for putting them here in the first place?'' ``You're just putting undue emphasis on all these negative things. Why are you forgetting the time that the Hendersons' house was blown up, and my people rescued the Jenkins' boy who just happened to be there at the time?'' ``But you and your henchmen are the ones who blew up the Hendersons' house in the first place! How can you take credit for being a deliverer from evil when you yourself are the very source of the evil?'' ``You know, you are meddling in things you just don't understand. You are not privy to knowledge of this situation that I have. How dare you try to speak for me about what I should and shouldn't do! You should be more like Joe B. over there. His house was burnt to the ground, his family was all killed, all his property was taken from him. Yet here he is, willingly and cheerfully doing my bidding, whatever I tell him to do. Why can't you do the same?'' If the point I am trying to make hasn't yet become obvious, allow me this opportunity to clarify. Many people are claiming a definition of God that equates God to ``love,'' implying that perhaps God's will and God's list of rules and regulations were simply a codification of the way things are in the world, that God is ``warning'' us about what we should and shouldn't do lest horrible things befall us. (This is an effort to rectify inconsistencies in the answers to the famous question of why, if God is good, there is still evil in the world. The easy way to rectify this is to realize that the original premise, ``if God is good,'' is flawed, but some people think that doing things like redefining ``good'' to mean ``God's will'' can ``make'' that original premise true.) But what these people forget is that according to their own beliefs, God designed all of this. He could just as easily have designed a different world in which disaster did not randomly and capriciously strike at people's lives. He deliberately chose to design the world so that these things would happen. The irony comes when God takes credit for ``saving'' these people from the adversity HE caused, as if to say this is a reason for whorshiping Him. The belief that God is actually benevolent is nothing but a myth. -- Be well, Paul Zimmerman

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