A man went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. As the barber began to work, they began to have a good conversation. They talked about so many things and various subjects. When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said: “I don’t believe that God exists.”
“Why do you say that?” asked the customer.
“Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn’t exist. Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can’t imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things.”
The customer thought for a moment, but didn’t respond because he didn’t want to start an argument. The barber finished his job and the customer left the shop. Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkempt. The customer turned back and entered the barber shop again and he said to the barber: “You know what? Barbers do not exist.”
“How can you say that?” asked the surprised barber. “I am here, and I am a barber. and I just worked on you!”
“No!” the customer exclaimed. “Barbers don’t exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside.”
“Ah, but barbers do exist! That’s what happens when people do not come to me.”
“Exactly!” affirmed the customer. “That’s the point! God, too, does exist! That’s what happens when people do not go to him and don’t look to him for help. That’s why there’s so much pain and suffering in the world.”
I like the “anecdote” style of presenting an argument and wish I saw more of it. It can make complex topics accessible and fun to read. The problem is, stories like this usually oversimplify a subject or make a number of unspoken assumptions. But at least that gives us a basis for discussion.
So, let’s take a look at the barber story.
The barber assumes that, if God exists, God is loving. But how is loving defined? In my experience, theists generally say that “loving” includes allowing your “children” to make mistakes and live with the consequences of those mistakes. That’s why they don’t see a contradiction between a loving God and a world in which human evil exists.
I don’t have a problem with that. But, unfortunately, this story implies much more than God allowing people to make mistakes. For example:
1) I can understand why a loving God might allow people to choose to be evil, but why can’t this same God prevent those evil people from being successful? Why should Hitler (using everyone’s favorite debating example) be allowed to engineer the murder of millions just because a loving God wants to let him and his followers make mistakes?
2) The barber mentions abandoned children. Sure, a parent might abandon a child because the parent is not “good” and God might let this happen because the parent didn’t turn to him for help. But what about the baby? The baby hasn’t turned away from God, and I see no evidence that God tries to make sure that innocents such as these have a chance to grow up and decide for themselves whether to worship him. Is it loving to allow a child to suffer because its parent is bad? I would say no.
3) The barber also mentions sickness. The argument I generally hear from theists is that disease, parasites, etc., were introduced into the world after the sin of Adam. But if this suffering was introduced into the world because of the sin of someone thousands of years ago, then a) a loving God doesn’t have a problem with punishing people for hundreds of generations because of the sins of their ancestor, and b) you can’t avoid this kind of suffering by turning to God. Unless, that is, you are saying that people who follow God never get sick, which is a claim that we could test scientifically.
It seems to me that the problem with the barber analogy is that we are, in a sense, dealing with an all-powerful barber who allows the shorn to suffer for the slovenliness of others and sometimes gives people cancer because their great, great, great grandfather refused to get a haircut. And things just get more difficult when people describe the barber with words like “infinitely just,” “infinitely good,” and “infinitely loving.”
What do you think?