God on Trial

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In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, a small sect of legal-minded libertines, men and women from all three major monotheistic religions, put their God on trial for crimes against humanity. Outraged by the carnage wrought on that fateful day, it was a most unlikely appeal that was quickly turned down not only by local courts, but also by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Refusing to give up on their goal of seeing God tried before the scales of justice, they decided to hold a mock trial. The leader of the sect would serve as judge and jury. Members would represent both the plaintiff (the faithful) and the defendant (God).

The trial received little media attention, partly because the country was too caught up in laying blame on who they believed allowed this to happen, and partly because the group was written off by the media as “a bunch of quacks” and “an extremist organization which seeks to throw salt on the wounds of a country trying so desperately to heal in the face of indescribable tragedy.” This did not faze anyone taking part in the trial. At the opening of proceedings, the leader issued the following statement: “We are trying to come to terms with the God-size hole that has consumed the space where faith once grew.”

Arguments were heard over the course of a single day. Those representing the faithful delivered passionate arguments about the events that unfolded on September 11. They opened by defining a crime against humanity as a murderous persecution or atrocity against a body of people. This condition was met unequivocally with the events of September 11, they said. Then, taking the time to distinguish the charge of crimes against humanity from war crimes, the lead attorney for the faithful cited the fact that crimes against humanity are targeted against a particular group—in this case American civilians, and the American way of life in a broader context—and need not occur in a state of war. This, the plaintiff asserted, was clearly demonstrated because the events of September 11 had transpired during a time of relative peace for the United States, whose citizenry at the time enjoyed one of the most enviable standards of living in any country and the highest average income per capita in the world.

They went on to say that 9/11 was different from the myriad tragedies that had occurred throughout the course of history. The unimaginable loss of life was of course surpassed by wars, diseases and natural disasters. Yet the felling of the WorldTradeTowers and the two plane crashes in WashingtonD.C. and Pennsylvania were broadcast for the entire world to watch. The traumatizing effect this had on people, especially children, was collateral damage that needed to be considered, and something that had to be admissible in a trial of this sort.

Finally, the terrorist attacks had been perpetrated in the name of a God whom a significant portion of the world’s faithful adhered to, and was carried out by civilians against civilians. If God was omnipotent and allowed the terrorist attacks to take place, God was unnecessarily cruel and guilty of crimes against humanity. The alternative, a God incapable of stopping such a tragedy from happening, was inconceivable and even more disturbing, because it meant that God was neither omnipotent nor a Supreme Being. Therefore, those representing the faithful concluded, God must be held responsible for what transpired on that day, and be punished to the maximum extent of the law.

The defense was just as spirited in their argument. They insisted that God was not an entity or a being that could—or even would—intervene in the lives of mankind. That was not God’s intent. God did not have a modus operandi or any other human trait that could be held accountable for what did or did not happen on Earth, regardless of the scale of devastation.

They maintained that God was the highest being of all, absolute perfection and worthy of honour and worship. However, because God’s existence was so different from anything else, God could not be treated prosaically as a mere link in the chain of being. Their contention was that God is and always has been a success because God is effective in preventing despair while inspiring hope. Ultimately, the defense said, God should not be held responsible for the sins of mankind, no matter how obscene or morally abhorrent they might be.

For many hours the leader considered both sides of the case. The majority of the faithful waited in the nave of the temple. While some sat alone, gripping their holy texts with fervour, others chatted nervously to fellow members. At the back, one person sat in the lotus position, eyes fixed to the ceiling. The leader finally emerged, late in the afternoon, looking spent and hollow. As the sun began to set behind a horizon of cement idols, the leader read the verdict:

“Today, I’ve been given the untoward yet necessary task of determining whether the God we pray to, the God we look up to for guidance and hope, has abandoned us in our time of need, and allowed these atrocities which you have spoken of at length to occur. I have been asked to weigh the arguments set forth by both sides, and to conclude which one will serve justice to those of us who continue to reside in this Earthly kingdom. As such, it is the belief of this court that God be held responsible for the terrorist attacks carried out on the United States on September 11, 2001, and that God face a penalty equal to said behaviour. Therefore, I am recommending that God be given the death penalty.”

The gasps that swept through the temple were so palpable that people could feel their beings emptied of a presence that, until then, they had never acknowledged. In the ensuing silence, the leader walked down from the rostrum and said, “Now, let us say our evening prayers.”

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