Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thoughts on the Christian God

The overwhelming majority of Christians are all good, moral, smart, caring, loving people. I am well aware that different Christians believe different things, so for the purpose of this article, I will define a Christian as someone who accepts Jesus into their life as their personal savior, believing that Jesus was the Son of God, sent by God to be crucified, so people could be saved from their sins. For many years, I was such a Christian and a serious one at that. I accepted the belief that I was a sinner and believed there was a devil and a hell. I frequently read and studied the Bible for guidance, understanding and to strengthen my faith. I prayed to God in the name of Jesus multiple times a day. When I would do something that I believed was a sin, I would ask God to forgive me in the name of Jesus and again would reinvite Jesus into a relationship with me, so that I would avoid sin and the Devil.

Yet as I grew up and in reading a lot of the Bible, I struggled for many years with the actions of a God whose behavior and choices were so unlike the good Christians I knew and myself. These doubts only grew as I read and learned about logic, reasoning, and critical thinking. I felt confused and guilty for these thoughts. Looking back, I feel the confusion really stemmed from the fact that our society as a whole and the church neither teaches nor encourages logic, reasoning, and critical thinking. If anything, such thought is not only discouraged in most churches, but it is actually mocked and scorned to an extreme degree. My own experience of being taught in Sunday School that it is wrong to be a "Doubting Thomas", is but one of many examples.

Ironically, it was the story of Jesus and God which was the biggest problem for me, though the number of contradictions in the Bible didn't help either. According to the Christianity I described above and was taught, God was omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. God created people. God gave people rules to follow. It was at this point that the problem began for me, because essentially, God set people up to be tempted to do the very things he told them not to do, by creating temptation, a devil and "free will". God also told them that if they broke these rules, which is sin, they would be punished by burning in hell for all eternity. I could actually stop here, because I have always believed that torture is evil. In fact, it's hard to imagine anything more immoral and evil than torture. The fact that a being would willingly cause excruciating pain to another being for the sheer purpose of inflicting pain is the worst thing I can imagine. Yet the Bible was telling me that God's punishment for finite misbehavior was ETERNAL torture. There was no way I could reconcile that contradiction in my head. How could this omnibenevolent God do such a thing?

I was also taught that we are the children of God and that God loves us more than we could ever love anything or anyone. I have two children and there are no words in the English language that could possibly encapsulate the love I have for them.  Even before my wife and I had them, I knew I would love them more than anything. I also knew that no matter what they ever did, there was no way I could intentionally cause them harm, especially physical harm. Even spanking was simply never an option.  To this day, the idea of a parent torturing their child, is inconceivable for me. Not only is it inconceivable for me, but I'm willing to bet anyone reading this would feel the same way. Ask yourself this: Is there any rule which your child or the person you love most could do which would lead you to feel justified in torturing them by actually burning their skin with fire, even for a few seconds? Of course not, because doing so would be not only wrong and immoral, but evil. Any parent who would do that in our society would be sent to prison and rightfully so.

For me, the story only became worse and more contradictory, because after thousands of years (accepting even the most conservative estimates by Young Earth Creationists) of witnessing people sin, while beforehand knowing that people would never be able to live up to the expectations He set, God then decided that He had to "create a loophole for himself", so these humans wouldn't go to hell (quote credit to Matt Dillahunty). Of course, God could have chosen any option or loophole to fix this. He could have just appeared and said, "Hey humans, just say you're sorry for breaking my rules and I'll forgive you." But no. Of all possible options, God chose to create an innocent human being, who was also Himself, and decided that this person had to be horrifically tortured to death so people could then go to heaven. In other words, God chose to torture to death part of Himself to correct His own problem that He created and would have foreseen. There simply is no logic in this story.  Logically, it completely falls apart. It made no sense to me years ago, and it makes even less sense to me now, as I have had children and now truly know what it means to wholly and completely love your own child.


  1. This all sounds very familiar to me and I suspect you knew me best at the time in my life when I was casting my own net in the darkness, trying to make sense of these exact "facts" that I was assured by my upbringing to be true, but that had the texture of being self contradictory and cruel. Christianity really asks us to believe in things and behave in ways that are contradictory to our natural instincts, this doesn't seem to be restricted to Christianity either.
    The entire argument for belief rests on a giant case of special pleading and argument from authority. I guess in the long view, when we were a more ignorant and superstitious species (though we still cling to those tendancies) it was beneficial to our social grouping and it was satisfactory to our emerging brains to have a cause and effect, a big daddy figure to fill the holes of understanding and reinforce "good" behavior. But hey, this is the new enlightenment and our country probably has more Christian politicians now than it has ever had. Growing pains maybe?
    Carl Sagan makes some compelling arguments for the basis of our collective superstitions in "The Demon Haunted World." I got my dad to read it this year too and he really enjoyed it, if you haven't read it yet I highly encourage you to do so. (That's an argument from popularity.) ;P
    Anyway, here's a fun link. http://eternal-earthbound-pets.com
    Look forward to reading more of your thoughts soon!

  2. Thanks again for the excellent comments. I'm in the process currently of writing on the topic of Atheism and Morality. The article will partially discuss the social groupings you discussed and the likely development of morality.

    I also read "The Demon Haunted World" by Sagan. It is without a doubt one of my favorite books on the subject and one I learned a great deal from.