Kagan, Obama and the thumb of empathy

In the British comedy show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” a cartoon God would often send a giant foot down from Heaven to squash malefactors. Some see God’s justice in the non-cartoon world to be similarly imposed, with Him smiting the unjust, albeit minus the giant foot. The Old Testament gives examples that fit this model, but things get complicated upon closer inspection. Was God a little indiscriminate in His actions? While the Israelites were the Chosen People, there must have been a few virtuous souls among the various Runners-Up Peoples that the Israelites, with God’s help, destroyed. The New Testament offers more material for theological puzzlement, for we are urged to love those who do us ill which, one could argue, rewards evil. Our experience of the world adds to the confusion about God’s justice for, while bad things happen to bad people, bad things also happen to good people and, very irritatingly, good things happen far too often to bad people. How simpler it would be, if He actually did send His foot down upon evildoers. Presumably, God has the capacity to dispatch as many giant feet as required and soon the Earth would be thrumming with a divine version of River Dance as He trampled out some of His wrath upon evil human grapes. It would certainly send a strong message to the criminal classes if, for instance, when the police located a killer, God had already dispatched His foot to flatten him. To invoke another television program, imagine an episode of “CSI” in which forensic expert Grissom leans over a paper-thin corpse, scratches his chin, and declares, “He must be the murderer. He’s been God-stomped.”

While we may wonder whether and how God imposes His justice in the here and now, many believe He will certainly and unmysteriously impose it après vie. He permits us the exercise of free will, which, in turn, makes us responsible for our actions, and whether those actions are worthy will be determined when we face ultimate adjudication on Judgment Day. God’s courtroom will be overflowing with angelic advocates and demonic prosecutors contending over humanity’s souls while, undoubtedly, great hordes of idle busybody souls look on curiously, munching the Heavenly equivalent of popcorn, as they await their turn before the bar where God sits as judge. Being omnipotent, no trimming of the truth will escape Him. He will understand our motives and know the exact measure of the harm we’ve done and will be able to apportion precise justice. There will be no reasonable doubt, no contested evidence, no unreliable witnesses, no ambitious prosecutors, no loophole-finding defenders and no biased jurors. We, His creations, will receive the bluntest of legal treatment—a completely fair trial—with the small solace that none of us will be called upon for jury duty for any of the other souls on God’s docket.