Can one reasonably believe in God–or even define the word God–after the Holocaust?
The Holocaust certainly seems to have undermined the notion that God is all good and powerful, and loves all people–for He did not lift a finger to save the Jews.
So even the very definitions of God, good, and love must necessarily be fuzzied-up after the Holocaust–if one is still to believe in God at all.
Notice, for example, that the ad hoc explanation, “God loves all people, but works in mysterious and complicated ways,” when deployed by the theist, doesn’t clarify God, but brings God’s definition into a softer and more elusive focus. It makes God more confusing, complicated, and distant from human language and human sensibilities. God becomes less akin to a gate and more akin to an aporia (an impass); something Kafkaesque.
And if the believer has a problem with the (unverifiable) ad hoc explanations on offer, it’s her problem, not God’s. The burden of proof shifts away from the God thesis and onto the wavering believer: “Do you think, o sulfurous worm, that you can stand in judgment of God’s wisdom surrounding the Holocaust? You are to answer to God, God doesn’t have to answer to you!”
In this way, “God loves all people,” especially after the Holocaust, takes on a certain meaninglessness in the real world, not just because there’s no way to reality test it, but because it doesn’t make a difference (save psychologically, within the soft-focused believer) to any conceivable situation. The Holocaust can happen, but “God loves all people.” Rape can be left out of The Ten Commandments, but “God loves all people.” There’s always some strained and lurking ad hoc explanation for why such things can hold together.
Prayer is another example. “God answers prayer.” “God hears your prayers.” These claims dissolve on the least scrutiny. Look too closely at such statements, and the plain sense of them starts to slam into contradictions with other things said about God–or what you know or would reasonably predict based on them. (One would think, for instance, that God would have heard and answered the prayers of Holocaust victims before fretting about a contemporary person’s prayer to stop a runny nose).
The believer’s focus thus has to fog, ultimately, into mystery, complication, and cognitive dissonance. For religion to function, God has to act like “a black cat in a black room that isn’t there,” and the believer has to exercise faith in the mirage-like, ad hoc, explanations on offer for why the cat never behaves in a predictable way or gets caught. Thus the virtue of the believer is to go on believing in God even after things like the Holocaust. It is a virtue of faith not to be swayed by your external circumstances. Indeed, that’s what faith is. That’s what religious metaphysics is. You go on believing where others have looked at outward circumstances and abandoned belief.
This is why the theist’s emphasis on utterly walling metaphysics and theology off from empiricism and reality testing functions as just another iteration on this black cat in a black room game. Metaphysics and theology unhinged from empiricism and reality testing become the revelatory scene from Mad Men, in which Don Draper realizes that, if the Feds say you can’t make real-world health claims in ads about tobacco anymore, and you’ve got a half dozen competitors in the same regulatory boat, then “This is the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal. We can say anything we want!” (See the clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GALMX2BO5ps .)
This is the theist’s charmed situation when walled-off from history, reality testing, and empiricism by metaphysics and theology: he can say anything he wants. He can build a system and ad campaign for God (a word always ill-defined, functioning like a brand), and in the competition for followers and converts, whoever can come up with the most pleasing, elaborate, coherent, and ad hoc patchwork of explanations for why God remains hidden and silent in the cosmos wins.
What is won is not the truth, but converts. Sales.
But when the onion layers of fuzzy definition, system-building divorced from reality testing, rationalization, and justification are peeled away, what remains at the core is nothing.
Metaphysics and theology are the pretty packaging of nothing. The way theists grapple with the Holocaust–or simply ignore it (!)–exposes this.