Today's blog post about what to say when a kid asks you “what is infinity?” reminds me of something that I have been angry about for years. My family once went to visit some old friends. During the visit, two of our hosts had the following exchange:
Holy fucking cow, even stipulating that these nice folks' religion is literally true and that this answer is literally correct, it is a terrible answer because it answers nothing; they might as well say “shut up, kid, and don't ask questions.” Just saying “I don't know” is a thousand times better than this.
If you believe, as perhaps this mom did, that God is the almighty lord and creator of the universe and the most important subject of human attention, and that her answer is correct, then it is important to consider the immediately following question:
Does God prefer blue? Is blue better? Is there a moral or theological reason why it should be blue? We know from the Bible that God's truth wasn't revealed all at once; there were later revelations. Maybe next week someone is going to realize that the blueness of the sky is really an important communication from God about something, and we should have been paying closer attention to it. (This is well-precedented; see for example Gen 9:13, Exo 10:22, Josh 10:13, the famous vision of Constantine.)
Or perhaps Mom is wrong and God doesn't want it to be blue! A standard explanation for certain features of the world is that they are the work of Satan and are contrary to God's wishes. Could the blue sky be one of these? Was the prelapsarian sky some other color? Should we be trying to correct this? And how can we be sure which it is? How could it be unimportant whether the blue sky is the work of God or Satan?
Supposing that the blue sky is part of God's plan, shouldn't we try to understand this as we do the rest of His plan? What alternative is there? Who could be so presumptuous as to say “The almighty lord and creator of the universe made the sky blue for no reason at all, it was an arbitrary choice” or “God's plan is all-important, but not this particular part, which is merely an unimportant detail.”
And one might go a step farther with the next question:
Did God command Sherwin Williams to deliver unto Him one hundred trillion gallons of sky-blue paint? No, of course not, I'm just being silly. The actual answer is surprisingly complex: God's plan includes Rayleigh scattering. Now we should ask, why does God want Rayleigh scattering?
Religion can be used for good or for ill. It can be used to further inquiry, or to terminate its own understanding. There are varieties of religious feeling that are thoughtful, and others that are lazy and thoughtless, and disdainful of even the questions that religion itself claims are supremely important. To make oneself more lazy and thoughtless than necessary is not piety. It is despising the gifts of the bountiful God, who giveth us all things richly to enjoy.