Hancock, Superman and Israel

August 10th, 2014
by Chris

This may be just another piece of fun. Then again…

I got to thinking recently about a few things put together: the film “Hancock”, Larry Niven’s short story “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” and Israeli excuses for civilian casualties in Gaza.

“Hancock” features a drunk, depressed superhero who overdoes even the simplest attempts to use his powers, particularly in the beginning of the film. “Man of Steel…” discusses the immense problems faced by Superman in having sex with Lois Lane. Israel, of course, says that it is extremely difficult to avoid civilian casualties when trying to kill terrorists who are moving among a civilian population – dodging the issue that they are using weapons built to cause major damage in an area rather than more surgical means (or, indeed, just not trying to kill anyone where there are a load of civilians around). The first two are comedies, the third is the antithesis of comedy.

In all these cases, the issue is of someone who possesses immense power, but is unable to moderate it or apply it in a minutely controlled manner in order to prevent damage which is not desirable.

However, there was a fourth thing in my mind at the time (and actually, it was the first thing which I was thinking about), that being the issues I have with omnipotence, and why, if God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, the world is still full of things happening like – well – Gaza. The usual argument (with which I tend to agree) is that you can’t have all three of these at the same time, and if anything has to give it’s not omnibenevolence, i.e. God’s love for everyone (and everything). I’m usually fairly happy to dispense with omnipotence and omniscience.

But here’s the thought – maybe God does have the kind of omnipotent power which can speak an universe into existence (as is one interpretation of Genesis 1). Maybe he can even manage the rather greater fine tuning needed to stop the rotation of the earth while simultaneously temporarily cancelling the inertia of the earth and everything on it, and then reversing the process, as in Joshua 10, where the sun stands still in the sky at the siege of Jericho (in a literalist interpretation), or the (by those standards) additional delicacy of touch of parting the Red Sea – but that’s as fine as it gets. Maybe, if he tried to (for instance) create me a parking space in response to prayer, the best he could manage would be a whirlwind which would destroy the supermarket I was planning to visit, killing most of those in it as well as shifting a few cars?

Perhaps this is just a ridiculous suggestion. If it is, though, it’s probably because omnipotence is a ridiculous concept.

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  • Chris says:

    Interestingly, in this lecture (at about 35 min) Dana Nolan Fewell comments that the early concept of punishment by God did have this problem with fine control, and she links to “collateral damage” in current Middle-Eastern conflicts. She goes on to draw some painful parallels with current US policy.

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