The below contains some straw man arguments; it is not because I am intentionally doing so, it is more because as soon as a Christian hears an atheist speak of their religion, the conversation ends. I would like to speak with someone about my concerns below; I am not irreligious because I want to be, I am irreligious because no one seems to want to answer my questions and religion has left me adrift–but atheism took me in with open arms.
I have many Christian friends of various faiths, some nondenominational, some Anglican, some Catholic… I have one Muslim friend, and several atheist friends. I have one friend whose own personal religion would be impossible to describe without at least three textbooks, some art supplies, and a team of interpretive dancers. I am not going in the direction you might think I am going in with this; what I am saying is that, despite the fact that we may disagree on questions of ultimate meaning, we all have personalities that are otherwise very compatible. If my Christian friends were of the intolerant kind, I would be deprived of great friendships for my latent atheism (and, if they would permit me to say so, I think they would be deprived of a very eccentric friend in me).
So, let’s talk about our relationship with God; I don’t care whether or not you believe in Him, I don’t, but even then my nonbelief could be framed in terms of my relationship with the idea of God.
My relationship with God, my not believing in His existence (or, at the very minimum, my not believing in the existence of the Christian God) could be seen in a fairly negative light. If He exists, I suppose it could be said that I have a fairly dim view of him. But let’s talk about your relationship with Him, theoretical straw man who doesn’t like to talk to me!
How would you describe your relationship with God? Do you love Him? Does He love you? Before you answer “Yes, and yes!” I would like you to step back and think very hard about the reason you are answering the way you do. I would like for you to give me examples from the Bible that show God’s love for you. I will not permit things such as God saying I love you, as words are fickle and can mean many things. God says He is Just and slow to anger, but it was very, very, very shortly before saying this very thing that He said “They built a golden calf. I have chosen my people poorly. I will kill them all.” (Exodus 32:9-10, 34:6)
So please, let us let God’s actions speak for Him, and tell me why you think He loves you. I am going to disqualify a couple of things that I know you will mention, and if you manage to requalify them by evidence that’s ok–but it had better be pretty good.
First, sending His only begotten Son to redeem our Sins. This seems great, as I have been told many times “Sins must be punished,” but you are using this as a “Get out of Jail Free” card; ‘I don’t have to go to hell because Jesus died for my sins.’ This is odd to me, as Jesus did not die (or rather, it was a temporary condition) and then, if Jesus did, how do you justify this? God can forgive your sins now, because Jesus died? Is that the condition for your God’s love? That something dies? Is that love?
“I am sorry, dear wife, that I have cheated on you.”
“Oh, well, if you kill our son I will forgive you.”
No, this does not indicate love. If our God was a God of “boundless” love, of “unconditional” love, of “unconditional” forgiveness, as I’ve been told colloquially, where is the evidence of that? It sounds to me like the bound of His love is “sinning even one time,” like the condition of His love is “kill something in my name, and make it good,” like the condition of His forgiveness is “recognizing that I killed something awesome.” The things i have just mentioned are bounds and conditions that completely and logically prove that God has conditions and bounds.
So how would we describe this relationship, then? I would say we have, or rather you have, a friendship with God. Not just a friendship, but a best friendship. You can tell Him anything, because He already knows your secrets.But you can disagree with His views on the universe and still be friends with Him; Moses did, and Abraham did. “What what what?” you say, “Moses and Abraham disagreed with God? But I must take His will in the most literal and binding sense!”
In Exodus 32, God says “I am going to smite the Israelites and start over.”
Moses replies “No, don’t do that. How could you even think of doing that? No, let’s go and work with them, maybe only kill a few of them.” (Well, 3000 of them ended up being the death toll of Moses’ judgement of the Israelites, which admittedly is far more merciful than God tends to be. Exodus 32:27-28)
“But Jesus blotted all of that out! He preached love and tolerance and acceptance!” Yes, he did, to a degree… But he certainly did not blot out the Old Testament’s draconian rules and commandments of sacrifice (Matthew 5:17-20). Jesus may have preached a more tolerant version of the Old Testament, he still thought that sacrificing lambs and doves was a requirement for the forgiveness of sin. If you want to use Jesus as an example of God’s love, I fear you are teaching not Jesus but Paul. I am perfectly willing to admit that Paul taught a doctrine of love, but Paul was but a man writing letters to people containing his version of morality, and I fear that using him as an example of God’s love gives my column more points than it does yours. Paul became a force for love and tolerance, though prior to his conversion to Christianity, he was a draconian acolyte, killing Christians wherever he found them.
“But Paul is a story of redemption, of a man who realized he was in the wrong and came back to the light of Christ!” What you have to remember is that Paul was preaching Paul’s own brand of Christianity; the gospels were not formalized back then, it was mostly oral, and until the second and third centuries there were so many different views of Christianity, so many different gospels, that the two biggest forces in the history of the young Christian Church, Paul (Saul of Tarsus) and James, the brother of Jesus, whom they call the Christ (Quoted from the Jewish historian Josephus), may have engaged in fisticuffs on the temple stairs (Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth)
So again, show me something that indicates God’s unbounded love through action, not through Paul’s letters, or God himself saying “I totally love you in an unbounded way. Now turn around while I annihilate this city. Also, I am slow to anger, but please forget that I wanted to wipe out the Israelites (again) two chapters ago, and that it was a human who had to remind me of the covenant I made with Abraham.”
The good thing about being friends with God is that you can disagree with Him but still like Him. I think that would be a much healthier religion, personally. I know that isn’t what your current relationship with Him is, but consider it.
I do not want you and God to break up, I just want you to communicate and work through your problems. This teenaged crush you have on Him (OH EM GEE He is like… SO PERFECT! I can’t even tell you how perfect He is! YOU HAVE TO LOVE HIM TOO!) is not helping anyone. So figure some things out between the two of you, because it makes me sad that you let God emotionally abuse you so much, and yet you still come to His defense.
Let Him defend Himself. Let God’s actions defend God. If God is all that, why should you have to defend Him at all? A perfect, timeless God should have been able to make an unambiguous book that speaks through the ages and across languages, and if that is what the Bible is, let me read it and come to my own conclusions. If the Bible is perfect, I’m sure we’ll all agree in the end… Right?