Lucky Lindy, Unfortunate Jews
- Lucky Lindy, Unfortunate Jews
In Philip Roth's alternative history, Charles Lindbergh beats FDR
By Ron Charles
Once again, Philip Roth has published a novel that you must read - now. It's
not that an appreciation of his book depends on the political climate; our
appreciation of the political climate depends on his book. During a bitterly
contested election in a time of war against an amorphous enemy, "The Plot
Against America" inspires exactly the kind of discussion we need.
With a seamless blend of autobiography, history, and speculation, Roth
imagines that Charles Lindbergh ran against Franklin Roosevelt in the
presidential election of 1940. Drawing on Lindbergh's writings and speeches
at the time, Roth creates a campaign for the aviation hero centered on his
determination to keep America out of Europe's war. While Roosevelt
enunciates complex policies in his famous upper-class cadence, Lindbergh
buzzes around the country in The Spirit of St. Louis declaring, "Your choice
is simple. It's between Lindbergh and war." To preserve the nation, we must
resist the propaganda of "the Jewish race," Lindbergh warns, "and their
large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio,
and our government."
After winning by a landslide, he immediately negotiates "understandings"
with the Axis, consigning Europe to Germany in exchange for a promise to
leave America alone. Political opponents rail against the president for
"yielding to his Nazi friends," but everybody knows those nay-sayers are
just warmongering Jews.
Lindbergh's first domestic initiative is the creation of the Office of
American Absorption to "encourage America's religious and national
minorities to become further incorporated into the larger society." In
practice, this involves sending urban Jewish children to spend the summer on
farms in the South - "a Jewish farm hand in the Gentile heartland."
Eventually, the program expands to remove whole Jewish families from their
city "ghettos" and send them to exciting, new lives in the Midwest. If their
culture is dissolved in the process, well, that's OK too.
Yes, Lindbergh comes off very bad in these pages. He spouts anti-Semitic
canards that sound far more shocking now than in 1938, when he accepted the
Nazis' Service Cross of the German Eagle "by order of the Fuhrer." But
clearly Roth's real target isn't an anti-Semitic aviation hero who died 30
years ago. It's an electorate he sees as dazzled by attractive faces, moved
by simple slogans, and cowed by ominous warnings about threats to our
The result is a cautionary story in the tradition of "The Handmaid's Tale,"
a stunning work of political extrapolation about a triumvirate of hate,
ignorance, and paranoia that shreds decency and overruns liberty. Roth
provides brilliant analysis of political rhetoric: the way demagogues
manipulate public opinion and the way responsible journalists inadvertently
prop up tyrants in their devotion to objectivity and balance.
But what really gives the novel life is its narrator: a little boy named
Phil Roth. He lives in Newark with his older brother, who's completely
enamored with Charles Lindbergh; his righteous father, who's convinced the
new president is an American Hitler; and his long- suffering mother, who
struggles to hold her family together as the nation is ripped apart.
In a voice that blends the tones of the author's nostalgia with the boy's
innocence, Phil describes the national crisis through its effect on his own
family. It's a narrative structure fraught with risks, particularly the
danger of making this 7-year-old boy look cloying or inappropriately
sophisticated, but Roth keeps his bifocal vision in perfect focus. The
result is a profound examination of the way children negotiate their
parents' ideals and their culture's prejudices along the way to developing
not just a political consciousness but a sense of safety in the world.
Soon after Lindbergh wins the election, for instance, the Roth family takes
a trip to Washington, D.C., to reassure themselves of the stability of
American democracy. Phil's father is full of enthusiasm, repeating the
guide's patter and pointing to the sights. He also can't resist broadcasting
his criticism of the new president. "That's just expressing my opinion," he
protests when his wife begs him to be more discreet, but they're jeered at
and thrown out of their hotel. Phil feels embarrassed and terrified, but
he's also proud to have a father "ruthlessly obedient to the idea of fair
That conflicted response continues as young Phil struggles to keep his
alliances straight in a world of baffling complexity. His brother can't say
enough about Lindbergh's wonders. Their father's suspicion seems downright
paranoid. When his aunt starts dating the token Jew in Lindbergh's
administration, Phil can see firsthand the rich rewards of assimilation and
collusion. What, after all, did his cousin gain by joining the Canadians in
their fight against the Nazis, except a prosthetic leg?
By the novel's climax, the conflict tearing the world apart is violently
loose in his own living room. "I was disillusioned," he writes, "by a sense
that my family was slipping away from me right along with my country."
Victims of anti-Semitism will react in a special way (as will the
descendants of Japanese-Americans interned by Roosevelt), but "The Plot
Against America" is really a story about the loss of innocence, about that
moment when it's no longer possible for "mother and father to set things
right and explain away enough of the unknown to make existence appear to be
This isn't the wrathful Roth of "The Human Stain" or "I Married a
Communist." This narrator is too deeply unsettled to be angry, and frankly
that makes him far more unsettling to us. In a surprising final chapter,
after he's neatly woven his fictional history back into the historical
record we all know, Roth concludes with a small, tragic story of a neighbor
whose family is crushed, almost accidentally, by the fury of racial hatred.
It's a stunning, deeply disturbing episode for young Phil, and one that
leaves us shaken with the narrator's "perpetual fear."
- Record shows Bush shifting on Iraq war
President's rationale for the invasion continues to evolve
- Marc Sandalow
Washington -- President Bush portrays his position on Iraq as steady and
unwavering as he represents Sen. John Kerry's stance as ambiguous and
"Mixed signals are the wrong signals,'' Bush said last week during a
campaign stop in Bangor, Maine. "I will continue to lead with clarity, and
when I say something, I'll mean what I say.''
Yet, heading into the first presidential debate Thursday, which will focus
on foreign affairs, there is much in the public record to suggest that
Bush's words on Iraq have evolved -- or, in the parlance his campaign often
uses to describe Kerry, flip-flopped.
An examination of more than 150 of Bush's speeches, radio addresses and
responses to reporters' questions reveal a steady progression of language,
mostly to reflect changing circumstances such as the failure to discover
weapons of mass destruction, the lack of ties between Iraq and the al Qaeda
terrorist network and the growing violence of Iraqi insurgents.
A war that was waged principally to overthrow a dictator who possessed "some
of the most lethal weapons ever devised'' has evolved into a mission to rid
Iraq of its "weapons-making capabilities'' and to offer democracy and
freedom to its 25 million residents.
The president no longer expounds upon deposed Iraqi strongman Saddam
Hussein's connections with al Qaeda, rarely mentions the rape and torture
rooms or the illicit weapons factories that he once warned posed a direct
threat to the United States.
In the fall of 2002, as Bush sought congressional support for the use of
force, he described the vote as a sign of solidarity that would strengthen
his ability to keep the peace. Today, his aides describe it unambiguously as
a vote to go to war.
Whether such shifts constitute a reasonable evolution of language to reflect
the progression of war, or an about-face to justify unmet expectations, is a
subjective judgment tinged by partisan prejudice.
Yet a close look at the record makes it difficult to support Bush campaign
chairman Ken Mehlman's description of the upcoming debate as a "square-off
between resolve and optimism versus vacillation and defeatism.''
A careful reading of Bush's statements on Iraq reveals many instances of
consistency, just as The Chronicle's examination of Kerry's words found
consistency in the Democratic challenger's statements. Over and over, Bush
stated that the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the way Americans --
including the commander in chief -- viewed the threat of terrorism and
lowered the threshold of risk Americans were willing to accept.
"Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger. To suggest
otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good
faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a
reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take,'' Bush said in a
well-received speech before the U.N. General Assembly on Sept 12, 2002.
Bush echoed those words earlier this month as he accepted his party's
nomination for president a few miles away, at Madison Square Garden in New
"Do I forget the lessons of September the 11th and take the word of a
madman, or do I take action to defend our country? Faced with that choice, I
will defend America every time.''
Yet the more specific explanation of a mission that has cost more than 1,
000 American lives, thousands of Iraqi lives and well over $100 billion has
undergone a transformation.
Prior to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bush focused on weapons of mass
destruction and stated the U.S. goal in straightforward terms.
"Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament. And in
order to disarm, it would mean regime change,'' Bush said at a news
conference two weeks before he took the nation to war.
"And our mission won't change,'' Bush continued. "Our mission is precisely
what I just stated.''
Six weeks later, speaking to workers at an Army tank plant in Ohio, the goal
seemed to expand.
"Our mission -- besides removing the regime that threatened us, besides
ending a place where the terrorists could find a friend, besides getting rid
of weapons of mass destruction -- our mission has been to bring humanitarian
aid and restore basic services and put this country, Iraq, on the road to
Last month, speaking to supporters at a campaign event in Wisconsin, Bush
put it more plainly: "The goal in Iraq and Afghanistan is for there to be
democratic and free countries who are allies in the war on terror. That's
In the course of the campaign, such shifts have been characterized by Bush's
opponents as lies.
"He failed to tell the truth about the rationale for going to war,'' Kerry
said during a speech at New York University last week in which he said Bush
has offered 23 different rationales for going to war. "If his purpose was to
confuse and mislead the American people, he succeeded.''
The count comes from a study conducted by an honors thesis written by a
University of Illinois student, which actually attributed 19 rationales --
none mutually exclusive -- to Bush and four others to members of his
Most of the rationales were on the table from the beginning. What changed
was the emphasis.
Bush voiced no doubt from the beginning that Hussein possessed chemical,
biological and potentially nuclear weapons.
"Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent
enormous sums, taken great risks, to build and keep weapons of mass
destruction,'' Bush said in his State of the Union address in January 2003.
By the following year, after no such weapons had been discovered and
evidence suggested that much of the intelligence was wrong, Bush had toned
down such talk and begun to speak of the "threat'' of Hussein developing
In his State of the Union address last January, Bush spoke of Hussein's
"mass destruction-related program activities."
"Look, there is no doubt that Saddam Husein was a dangerous person,'' the
president told ABC's Diane Sawyer in an interview several weeks before that
speech. "And there's no doubt we had a body of evidence providing that. And
there is no doubt that the president must act, after 9/11, to make America a
more secure country.''
Sawyer asked the president about the distinction between the "hard fact that
there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he
could move to acquire those weapons.''
"So what's the difference?'' Bush responded. "The possibility that he could
acquire weapons, if he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger.''
"What would it take to convince you he didn't have weapons of mass
destruction,'' Sawyer persisted.
"Saddam Hussein was a threat,'' Bush responded. "And the fact that he is
gone means America is a safer country.''
In the months since, Bush has changed his standard speech to reflect that
failure to discover the weapons.
"Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we
were right to go into Iraq,'' Bush said in July in Tennessee. "We removed a
declared enemy of America who had the capability of producing weapons of
mass murder and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on
acquiring them. In the world after September the 11th, that was a risk we
could not afford to take.''
There are a few instances where the president's words contradict
developments or his previous statements.
On March 6, 2003, for example, Bush insisted during a prime-time news
conference that he would offer a resolution before the United Nations
calling for the use of force against Iraq even if other nations threatened
to veto it.
"No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote,'' Bush said.
A few days later, after it became apparent that the measure would not only
be vetoed but might fail to win a majority of the Security Council, the Bush
administration dropped its demand for a vote.
The president also said last month on NBC's "Today Show'' that "I don't
think you can win'' the war on terrorism, explaining instead that the nation
could greatly minimize the likelihood of terrorist attacks. The comment came
after months of asserting the United States was winning, and would
ultimately triumph, in its war on terror. The statement appeared to be
little more than an inelegant way of adding nuance to his explanation, and
the president quickly retreated from the words the following day.
Some statements now look off-base after developments in Iraq, such as Bush's
response in the first days of the war after learning that Iraqis may have
captured some Americans.
"I do know that we expect them to be treated humanely, just like we'll treat
any prisoners of theirs that we capture humanely,'' Bush said, many months
before American soldiers committed the atrocities at the Abu Ghraib prison.
President Bush on Iraq
Sept. 12, 2002
Speech before the U.N. General Assembly
"Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger. To suggest
otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good
faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a
reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take.''
Sept. 19, 2002
Response to a reporter's question
"If you want to keep the peace, you've got to have the authorization to use
force. ... This is a chance for Congress to indicate support. It's a chance
for Congress to say, we support the administration's ability to keep the
peace. That's what this is all about.''
Oct. 7, 2002
Speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Cincinnati
"Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror, the
instruments of mass death and destruction. ... Knowing these realities,
American must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear
evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun --
that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.''
March 6, 2003
"Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament. And in
order to disarm, it would mean regime change.''
March 17, 2003
Address to nation (two days before invasion)
"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that
the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal
weapons ever devised. The danger is clear: Using chemical, biological or,
one day, nuclear weapons obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists
could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of
thousands of innocent people in our country or any other.''
May 1, 2003
Aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln
"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the
United States and our allies have prevailed. ... The battle of Iraq is one
victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001 -- and still
Nov. 11, 2003
Veterans Day address
"Our mission in Iraq and Afghanistan is clear to our service members -- and
clear to our enemies. Our men and women are fighting to secure the freedom
of more than 50 million people who recently lived under two of the cruelest
dictatorships on earth. Our men and women are fighting to help democracy and
peace and justice rise in a troubled and violent region. Our men and women
are fighting terrorist enemies thousands of miles away in the heart and
center of their power, so that we do not face those enemies in the heart of
Aug. 16, 2004
Speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Cincinnati
"Even though we did not find the stockpiles that we thought we would find,
Saddam Hussein had the capability to make weapons of mass destruction, and
he could have passed that capability on to our enemy, to the terrorists. It
is not a risk after September the 11th that we could afford to take. Knowing
what I know today, I would have taken the same action."
- Nonbelief as Support for Atheism
Theodore M. Drange
West Virginia University
ABSTRACT: The Canadian philosopher J.L. Schellenberg has recently put
forward an argument for atheism based on the idea that God is supposed to be
perfectly loving and so would not permit people to be deprived of awareness
of his existence. If such a deity were to exist, then, he would do something
to reveal his existence clearly to people, thereby causing them to become
theists. Thus, the fact that there are so many non-theists in the world
becomes good reason to deny the existence of God conceived of in the given
way. I first raise objections to Schellenberg�s formulation of the argument
and then suggest some improvements. My main improvement is to include among
the divine attributes the property of strongly desiring humanity�s love.
Since to love God requires at least believing that he exists, if God were to
exist, he must want widespread theistic belief. The fact that so many people
lack such belief becomes a good argument for atheism with respect to God
conceived of in the given way. Some objections to this line of reasoning are
considered, in particular the claim that God refrains from revealing himself
to people in order to avoid interfering with their free will or to avoid
eliciting inappropriate responses from them or some other (unknown) purpose.
An attempt is made to refute each of these objections.
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Atheism of a certain sort can be supported by appeal to the existence of
widespread nonbelief in God. This is shown by a Canadian philosopher, J. L.
Schellenberg, in his book Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason. His argument
is as follows:
(1) If there is a God, he is perfectly loving.
(2) If a perfectly loving God exists, reasonable nonbelief does not
(3) [But] reasonable nonbelief occurs.
(4) [Thus, from (2) & (3)] no perfectly loving God exists.
(5) [Hence, from (1) & (4)] there is no God. (1)
In this paper I shall first raise some objections to the argument and then
try to show how it might be improved.
(A) Irrelevance of the term "reasonable"
Schellenberg regards "reasonable" nonbelief to be that which is inculpable
(i.e., for which the nonbeliever is not to blame). The distinction between
culpable and inculpable nonbelief is somewhat unclear, but even if it could
be sufficiently understood I am inclined to say that all nonbelief in God is
inculpable. For that reason, I would accept premise (3) of the argument.
Schellenberg devotes a chapter of his book to a defense of it. Although I
agree with what he says there, it seems to me that even if people's
nonbelief in God were always somehow their own fault, that would be
irrelevant. A perfectly loving deity would set vindictiveness aside and
still want to help nonbelievers (by supplying them with evidence of his
existence), despite their culpability. All it would take, for most, would be
some spectacular miracle, or perhaps, as Schellenberg prefers, a religious
experience. So, even if some clear sense could be attached to the
distinction between culpable and inculpable nonbelief, the real force of
Schellenberg's argument would lie in the fact of nonbelief itself. The issue
of whether or not the nonbelief is culpable would be irrelevant. It would
therefore improve the argument if the word "reasonable" were simply omitted
(B) Premise (1)
Premise (1) should be rejected because there are theists who do not view God
as perfectly loving. Even some Christians think of him as an angry deity
bent on punishing people for their sins. Consider for example the biblical
god who ordered the total annihilation of the Amalekites (including all
their children and animals), or one who would predestine some of his
creatures to eternal torment in hell (as commonly believed). Such a deity is
not perfectly loving. The property of being perfectly loving is too
specific, which is why lexicographers usually omit it in their definitions
of "God." To get around this, Schellenberg should put his argument forward
only in relation to theists who already think of God as perfectly loving and
so would accept his first premise.
(C) Premise (2)
My main objection is to premise (2). Even assuming that God is perfectly
loving, why must he want people to believe in him? There are circumstances
in which a man could love his children and yet not want them to be aware of
his existence. Perhaps he is a moody person with periods of violent
behavior. Or maybe he is hiding from bomb-throwing assassins, so anyone
close to him is at risk. There is nothing in the concept of love itself that
would warrant the inference drawn in premise (2). There is no contradiction
in the statement "X loves Y, but X does not want Y to be aware of X's
existence." The idea of "loving from afar" is a familiar theme in
Schellenberg might object that these considerations are irrelevant because
God has additional properties which forestall them. Since God is by
definition all-good, it has to be in people's best interests to be aware of
such a being if indeed he exists. But what does "all-good" mean? And why
must it be in people's best interests to be aware of such a being? There are
many non-theists who lack such an awareness and yet seem to be happy anyway.
What is the great benefit that such people are missing? This needs
clarification. Another consideration is that God may be so far beyond us
that we are incapable of comprehending him. Maybe theists have such a poor
understanding of God that there is no significant difference between them
and non-theists, so far as God is concerned. In other words, people's
nonbelief does not bother God because the only sort of belief of which
humans are capable is of no value to him. Yet, he might be perfectly loving,
My conclusion regarding Schellenberg's argument is that, as worded, it is a
failure. It should have dispensed with the unclear and irrelevant appeal to
the culpability of nonbelief. To make a case for premise (1), it should have
been exclusively applied to some specific deity (e.g., the God of
evangelical Christianity) rather than God in general. And in place of its
premise (2), it should have gone beyond the concept of divine love, perhaps
making an appeal to scripture or to some additional properties of God..
Overall, I would say that the basic idea of an argument from nonbelief is
sound, and it does indeed provide support for a certain form of atheism, but
it needs to be formulated in a different way.
We first need to recognize that there are different concepts of God and for
some of them people's nonbelief is not a serious problem. One could simply
assert that God does not care whether anyone believes in him and that would
end the matter right there. However, there are many theists for whom
people's nonbelief would be a serious problem. We could use survey questions
in an effort to locate them. I suggest questions such as the following:
Q1: Does God have great love for humanity?
Q2: Does God strongly desire that humanity love him?I think that more than
half the theist population, at least of the U.S., would answer both
questions affirmatively, and for those theists there is a problem of
nonbelief, which in this context is the problem of explaining why there are
so many non-theists in the world. If God wants the non-theists to love him,
then he must also want them to believe that he exists, since such love
requires such belief. So, why, then, hasn't he simply appeared to them or
done something else that would have effectively eliminated their nonbelief?
It seems that no reasonable explanation can be given here.
That gives rise to an atheological argument, similar to Schellenberg's,
which may be called "the Argument from Nonbelief" (ANB for short). Here is a
formulation of it:
1. If God were to exist, then he would have great love for humanity and a
strong desire that humanity love him in return.
2. If such a deity as described were to exist, then probably all, or
almost all, present-day humans would believe that God exists.
3. But many present-day humans do not believe that God exists.
4. Hence [from (2) & (3)], probably there does not exist a deity as
5. Therefore [from (1) & (4)], probably God does not exist.
This argument is not to be applied to God in general, only to that specific
concept of God with respect to which its first premise would be true. That
would include the concept of all those theists who answer both survey
questions Q1 and Q2 affirmatively, which I believe would be the majority of
them, at least in the U.S. It thus aims only at atheism with respect to that
specific concept of God.
The rationale behind ANB's premise (2) is that people cannot love God if
they do not believe that he exists. Thus, if God exists then he must want
people to have such belief, which implies that he would have done something
to bring about universal (or near-universal) theistic belief, even if that
would require giving humans some sort of "brain-boost" to help them
comprehend his nature. The appeal to God's desire for humanity's love fills
out what was missing in Schellenberg's premise (2). In my opinion, ANB
presents good evidence for the nonexistence of any deity which satisfies
premise (1). However, defenses might be mounted against it.
Consider, first, the Free-will Defense. Might God refrain from clearly
revealing himself to people in order to avoid interfering with their free
will? I think not. People's free will is not affected by them merely
learning or being shown the truth about something, even by God. For one
thing, people do not normally use their wills in the process of belief
acquisition but rather rely on the available evidence. For another thing,
they want to know the truth and therefore would not be forced against their
will to acquire it if they were to be shown something. Assuming that God
exists, for non-theists to become aware of that truth would actually make
them more free than they were before, for it would open up options to them
that were not available before. Schellenberg thinks that if God were to
exist then he would reveal his existence to people by providing them with
some sort of religious experience.(2) Maybe that would work, but I shall not
pursue that line of thought. There are a great variety of ways by which God
might impart knowledge about himself. One way would be by appearing to
people and performing spectacular miracles. Another would be by inspiring
humans to write scripture that possesses special properties, showing it to
be divinely inspired. God could then help disseminate knowledge of such
scripture worldwide. We need not pursue the details of this. It is
counter-intuitive to claim that God cannot do any of these things without
interfering with people's free will.
Another objection to the Free-will Defense makes an appeal to the idea of
irrationality. There are well over a billion people on the planet earth who
lack a belief in God. And with the great proliferation of conflicting belief
systems even among those who are theists, presumably billions of them
ascribe properties to God which he does not possess. Assuming that God wants
all those people to come to believe in him and to come to have correct
beliefs about him, how does he expect them to do that if he is unwilling to
provide the evidence they need? Does he want them to arrive at the relevant
beliefs in some irrational manner? That would certainly conflict with the
usual concept of God. Theists may reply that there is evidence for the
existence of God and so theistic belief is in no way irrational. But if
people are aware of good evidence for God's existence, then how is their
belief in God "free"? Advocates of the Free-will Defense may say that there
is just the right amount of evidence: enough to make their theistic belief
rational but not so much as to interfere with their free will. If God were
to provide still more evidence of his existence, no matter how slight, then
that would cross the line and interfere with free will.
One objection here is that there really is no good evidence for God's
existence, especially when God is given the attributes mentioned in ANB's
premise (1). That is a large topic in itself, which we need not get into.
Another objection is that even if there were such evidence, apparently
billions of people are unaware of it and are in need of something more.
Presumably for God to provide that little extra would not interfere with
those people's free will, for it would only bring their level of awareness
up to that of the theists who (with no interference with their free will)
already are aware of the given evidence. Thus, there would be no good reason
for God to permit nonbelievers to remain that way. If there is a level of
evidence sufficient for belief but less than that which would interfere with
free will, then God should see to it that everyone is made aware of evidence
for his existence which is at that level. There are still other objections
which we need not get into. From what has already been said it is clear that
the Free-will Defense will not work.
Another defense, which is very similar, is proposed by Daniel Howard-Snyder
in an exchange with J. L. Schellenberg.(3) According to it, God knows that
if certain non-theists were to be presented with good evidence for his
existence, then they would respond inappropriately. For example, they might
come to hate God or be indifferent to him. For that reason, God simply never
presents himself to them, thereby permitting them to retain their nonbelief.
One objection to this defense, among others, is that a person's immediate
response to theistic belief may not remain fixed. People could come to
believe in God and at first respond inappropriately, but after some time has
elapsed, they may come to modify their response. Schellenberg makes this
point in his reply to Howard-Snyder. He suggests that God, being all-loving,
would "seek in various ways to facilitate a better disposition."(4) I agree
with that. Certainly it is hard to see how God could get any better behavior
or better disposition from non-theists by having them remain ignorant of his
existence than by causing them to become aware of it. I shall omit
discussion of other objections. It does seem that the given defense can be
refuted in somewhat like the way in which the Free-will Defense was refuted
Theists usually fall back on the Unknown-purpose Defense according to which
God has some adequate though unknown purpose for permitting people to be
nonbelievers. Schellenberg seems to resist this line of thought, for in his
book he says: "Without strong independent evidence for the denial of my
argument's conclusion, S [a person] has no reason to appeal to the
possibility of an explanation unknown to her, perhaps beyond her grasp.
Without the indirect support for an appeal to the possibility of unknown
explanations afforded by strong independent evidence of God's existence, S
must, if she agrees with this argument, come to believe that there is no
God.(5) This seems to be a rejection of the Unknown-purpose Defense out of
hand without due consideration. Someone could agree with the basic points of
Schellenberg's argument and yet suspend judgment on whether or not there
might be some divine purpose which would adequately explain why God remains
hidden from (at least a large part of) humanity.
We are confining our investigation to theists who believe in a deity who
strongly desires that (almost) everyone at least be aware of his existence.
What are we to make of the claim that such a deity exists but has some
unknown purpose which conflicts with his desire for (near) universal
theistic belief among humans and which outweighs and overrides it, thereby
falsifying premise (2) of ANB? Is there any good objection to that claim?
Theists who answer questions Q1 and Q2 affirmatively are saying that God
loves humanity greatly and wants that love to be reciprocated. But if God
were to want people to love him, then it would seem to be counter-productive
(and perhaps even irrational) for him to stay hidden from them. Of course,
it is logically possible that God desires people's love and yet have some
(unknown) purpose which overrides that desire. Nevertheless, the idea does
appear to be counter-intuitive.
Another consideration, the focal point of Schellenberg's argument, is that
if God has great love for people, then he presumably wants whatever would
benefit them in the long run. But surely that would include a close personal
relationship with himself. How in that case could God deny a large portion
of humanity such a benefit by staying hidden from them? If he loves people
greatly, then presumably he could not permit them to be so deprived. The
appeal to the Unknown-purpose Defense again becomes increasingly
far-fetched, though, admittedly, more is needed here to clarify the benefit
that non-theists are supposedly missing out on. Perhaps what should be
emphasized is the intrinsic value of wisdom, or genuine knowledge of the
ultimate nature of reality. If God loves us, then he must want us to have
My overall assessment of ANB is as follows. I readily grant that the
argument has no force whatever if the concept of God is left unrestricted
(using, for example, just the dictionary definition of "God" as the
all-powerful creator and ruler of the universe). However, many theists have
a more definite concept of God, and ANB becomes much stronger when it is
applied against that more definite concept. I think that more than half of
them (in the U.S. at least) would answer both survey questions
affirmatively. For all those people, ANB presents a formidable case for the
nonexistence of their deity. On a scale of zero to 100, with fifty being the
cutoff between weak and strong arguments, I would give it a score of
seventy-five. (Of course, that figure would be reduced for theists who
answer only one of the questions affirmatively, and it would be zero for
theists in general, apart from the survey questions.) ANB may not prove
conclusively that God does not exist, but it does render that result likely.
It presents good support for a certain form of atheism and a serious
challenge for theists which they have yet to overcome.
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(1) J. L. Schellenberg, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1993), p. 83.
(2) Ibid., pp. 47-57.
(3) Daniel Howard-Snyder, "The Argument from Divine Hiddenness," Canadian
Journal of Philosophy 26 (1996), pp. 433-453, followed by J. L.
Schellenberg, "Response to Howard-Snyder," pp. 455-462.
(4) Ibid., p. 460.
(5) Divine Hiddenness, p. 211.
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