Does God Give no Great Gifts?

That title is a bit of a challenge, of course, and I am sorry if you got here due to its inflammatory nature–but it is always something I have wondered. Why is everything powerful in the world considered by many pious Christians to be of the Devil?

The Devil put Obama at the head of the United States. The Devil gave the witches of Salem their power. The Devil makes the rich man rich. Why is it that the Devil seems to put so much more effort in our plane of existence to win people to his side than God does? Perhaps you don’t believe me, and that’s OK, too. It is just something that has always bothered me.

If God wants us all to go to Heaven, if God loves all of us, why are the gifts from the Heavenly Father so seemingly insignificant to those offered by Satan? If witchcraft and magic are of the Devil, why are we to fight it with piety from God? If Satan gives the wicked power, why are we supposed to fight them via being humble? If Satan makes an evil man rich, why are we supposed to fight it by giving all that we own to charity?

The battle seems so lopsided to me. Do we suffer in this world for glory and paradise in the next? Do the wicked prosper in this world to balance the suffering of the next? Let me put it another way.

If God is our Father, a parent then, let’s use metaphor. There are bullies at the school, and they are constantly beating us. Every day, they are beating us. The teachers don’t like us, so Satan gives them baseball bats so they can beat us more fully. God, our father who loves us, tells us when we arrive home, pious and humble, that “Their beating you is making you stronger, testing you. When you get out of school, those bullies will all be in jail and you can have any job you want!”

That’s great, Dad, but that does me no good now.

Tell me the parent who loves their kid that would let this happen. Show me the parent who wouldn’t step up to the school board, take it to the media, fight the bullies themselves, try to get the parents fired? Show me the parent, who failing all of the above, would not move their child.

And yet God asks us (and please forgive the colloquialism here) to bend over and take it, and don’t worry, it’ll all be over soon.

Satan, however, has a kid that is bullied at the same school. He sends the kid to school with a baseball bat, then shows up at the school to make a stink about it. Satan protects his children. If things continue to escalate, it seems, Satan continues to escalate with them, protecting his kids.

And yet God loves us? And Satan doesn’t? This isn’t a battle of souls, it is God testing us at best, and leaving us to the wolves at worst–it is an uneven playing field, a soul destroying wasteland where only the strong survive. If God was infinitely loving, and if God is infinitely powerful, and if God wants every soul to go to Heaven, why does he leave us with no tools save a book and our own fortitude to defend ourselves with while Satan gives weapons and wealth and power?

I have to clarify at this point that I don’t really believe in either God or Satan, and all of the above was written from the standpoint I held during my crisis of faith. The above were questions, only a small number of them, that swirled through my head at the time. They were things that made no sense to me. They are things that still make no sense to me; how can the faithful sit there and take it like that? How can they suffer so badly at the hands of so many, and yet believe that their God loves and protects and shelters them? He shelters them from nothing; he doesn’t even give them canvas to make a net out of. He just says “Hey, you are doing a great job!” if you are doing well, or “To the pit of hell with you for eternity,” if you stumble.

I have stumbled. I have fallen. I have railed against God in my rage. The world is actually easier for me to accept when I think of it as a human construct with flaws than when I think of it as a construct created by someone who loves us, but leaves us to suffer. Leaves many to suffer for eternity, if the strict rules for getting into heaven are to be believed.

If the Word of God is a defense, walk up to someone in a war-ravaged country, and use your words against them. I’ll wait.

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Best Friends with God

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?

Nuremberg Morality

The legendary Nuremberg Defense is generally accepted to mean “I performed these tasks under orders,” and it was used extensively by Nazi soldiers and officers during the Nuremberg Trials (trials after World War II to charge participants in war crimes). Why did you kill so many Jews? I was doing it under orders.

Where did those orders come from? They came from an authority above me.

Where did his orders come from? The totem pole is climbed until we arrive, eventually, at Hitler (conveniently at this time well and truly dead).

I think the true effects of this are far reaching. I am going to have a focus in this post, as I am not subtle; I have an agenda, and I won’t apologize for it. My agenda is to bring more happiness into the world than I take out of it, but to make any cake one has to break a few eggs.

Frequently throughout the Old Testament, innocents are murdered at the command of God. In Numbers, as I quoted in my previous post, men, women, children, animals, crops, everything except female virgins, were ordered killed. In Judges, the Israelites would kill anyone who stood between them and Jerusalem, as God not only told them to kill anyone who stands in their way, but to do it right. In Deuteronomy, the tale of the city of Jericho is told as an illustration of the might of the LORD your God, and God ordered the walls to fall and the people put to the sword. Why? Because Jericho stood between where the Jews were and where the Jews were going. To me, this seems odd; if the city was walled, could they not go around? Does it matter?

As per the Nuremberg defense, they were ordered to kill all inhabitants.

How does that relate to today? Now, as opposed to then, God is a God of love and mercy! Unless you worship other gods, or are gay.

The Bible is held as the moral code for just over 2 billion Christians, and for the most part the New Testament isn’t so bad, but you run into problems. The Golden Rule, the true commandment of Jesus Christ, is held in such low esteem, or pre-empted by Old Testament rules; where is homosexuality mentioned in the New Testament? Nowhere, that’s where.

So why do Christians hate homosexuals? We have mentions in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, of course, stating that homosexuality is an abomination to the LORD your God. But why? Who are homosexuals harming? As nearly as I can tell, no one; they engage in love in their way in the privacy of their home. Who is being harmed by Christian hatred of homosexuals? Millions of people who merely do not love how society says they should. Where does the Golden Rule apply here? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? Do you want gays to hate and persecute you? Because if you do, you are working really hard to make them not like you very much.

And again, why do Christians hate the gays? As I mention above, it hardly seems to stem from the New Testament message of the Love of Jesus Christ, and it seems a blatant violation of the Golden Rule. They do it because God said so. Why did God say so? “Ours is not to know, but to do and to die.” (An interesting quote from Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his poem The Charge of the Light Brigade that applies so heavily to any religion (admittedly out of context).)

It is what I term Nuremberg morality; if the Bible is the height of moral teaching, and it teaches hate of homosexuals, then “hate because I was ordered to hate,” reads just as “I killed Jews under orders.” Did I just compare people who hate homosexuals to Nazis? No, you did, reader! I was just telling two parallel stories. *Cough*

If anyone were to think about the morality of why hating homosexuals was… You know… A thing? I think the world would be a different place. Instead of Christians (or Muslims, as the case often is) applying Nuremberg Morality, imagine what the world would look like if an internal monologue of morality sounded like this:

“Should I hate this group of people? On the one hand, I find their beliefs weird. On the other hand, are they hurting anyone with their beliefs? No, they aren’t hurting anyone. OK. Would I want anyone to hate me based on my beliefs? No. So won’t hate them because of their beliefs, as their beliefs are not impacting the happiness of anyone else.”

As I’ve often said, in about one third of all of my posts, my goal is to bring more happiness into the world than I take out of it. That is the basis of all of my moral internal discussions.

The next time someone is being persecuted, don’t lean back on the Bible. Ask why they are being persecuted. Have they hurt someone? Do their beliefs cause unspeakable evil? No? Then why are they being persecuted?

This can be applied in so many of life’s situations. The next time you ask yourself what to do in a situation involving other humans, don’t ask “What would Jesus do?”, because even the four Gospel writers had no idea what Jesus would really want in the long run. Ask “What can I do to make the most people the most happy?”

I guarantee you, if 10% of the world thought this way, the world would be a much better place within the month.

Or, you know, you could go looking through the Old Testament for a verse that says that women on their period are unclean (Leviticus 15:19), and then decide that because of this all women are far closer to demons than men are, and then persecute women for several thousand years. That’s cool too. But I like my way better.