Sunday, September 11, 2011


Itiagwigawam is a conceptual framework of discussion developed amongst some of those with whom I regularly converse about the ultimate issues of existence. It derives from a phrase we have found ourselves using so often as to need an abbreviation for it, and stands for:

'if there is a God who is good and wise and merciful,'

and proceeds from these premises (though it might be claimed that the third premise is itself but a natural extension of the first two, and possibly that the second follows from the first, and so all we need propose is a God who is wise; but even so). The fundamental consequence which we have agreed upon ('we' being people of varying faiths, including Christians, Pandeists, and Atheists, able to discuss such consequences without needing to determine whether any such deity exists at all) is that if there is a God who is wise and good and merciful, then:

those who try to do good will not be punished for their beliefs alone -- no matter what they do or do not believe.

This, naturally, is a disconcerting conclusion to members of religious faiths who remain stern in their belief that their god punishes people based on belief, with those believers rather incredibly divided even further amongst themselves, between those who believe their god punishes incorrect belief but requires good deeds as well for rewards to be bestowed, and those who believe their god punishes belief alone, deeds be damned (although it must be amended to the latter point that such believers tend to believe as well that proper beliefs will compel good deeds even if those deeds are no measure of salvation).

One such colleague, herself nominally a Christian, rejects the existence of Hell (or a Hell having anyone in it) on this basis. Against those who insist that disbelief in Hell equates to disbelief in her god, she formulates her reponse thusly:

If you were a parent, and your child whom you dearly loved failed to believe what you wished them to believe, how long would you allow that beloved child to be set afire and burned for that crime? And if your child tried to do good but fell short, how long would you allow your beloved child to be set afire and burned as punishment for falling short? And however long you believe you would, are you more loving, or less loving than a perfectly loving God? Are you more merciful, or less merciful than a perfectly merciful God?

One conceptual premise of this proposition is that a God who is wise in the sense of God-level wisdom would be wise enough to know what were the personal limitations which each and every person strove to overcome in life, what were their reasons for adopting and adhering to whatever belief system, and were those reasons defensible given their specific circumstances. Such an enquiry would be beyond mere human evaluators, and would require the fallback to deontological shortcuts, propositions of unbending systems of rules the violation of which reflexively resulted in an assigned punishment. The premise that justice requires bureaucratic slavishness to a small and certain set of rules, with a small and certain set of exceptions, is a product of limitedness. For an unlimited being -- or even one whose limitations still allow it sufficient capacity to consider every facet which might reasonably influence a determination of a 'just' outcome, the enquiry as to what is just becomes one with the enquiry as to what is merciful. Every possible basis for bestowal of mercy becomes known and apparent.

Now, there remain some still, who in contravening this argument point to their local interpretations of scriptures which, although deeming their God to indeed be merciful (and not simply merciful, but absolute in mercy) still would have their God be merciless to 'nonbelievers' in the name of 'justice.' But it can not be contended that God, by being 'just,' is thereby dimished in wisdom, or somehow thereby moves along the line from being good towards being evil. And, as well, for every scripture yet written, there are thousands of potential interpretations. And so the question then simply shifts to whether the human interpreter, insisting upon the more merciless of interpretations, has interpreted those words more mercifully than a perfectly and absolutely merciful God would be able to. And since there are entire movements within each religion proposing that in an infinitude of mercy, the worst that a non-believer would suffer would be complete nonexistence -- and with these movements themselves having millions of solemn and sober adherents, we may be well assured that the initial proposition bears logical weight, and may be well-taken as an article of faith. That is, that if there is a God who is wise and good and merciful, then those who try to do good will not be punished for their beliefs alone -- no matter what they do or do not believe.

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