12/14/2014 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Ben Love ~
1. “I don’t understand what this means, but God does.”
Well, it’s great that God understands it, but what good is that supposed to do for you? To me, this is the same as saying:
“I believe in Bigfoot, and I use the word ‘believe’ because I’m not fully certain he really does exist. This is where my faith comes in. And if there are things about Bigfoot that I don’t understand, I won’t worry about it, because at least Bigfoot understands them.”
How incoherent can we be here? I mean, seriously. Here you have this entity that you’re not even sure exists, and when you encounter attributes about this entity that could or should make you question your belief in the first place, your answer is to shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, he knows the truth about this. I don’t, but I’ll go on believing.” The only thing that can be said about your “belief” at this point is that you maintain it merely because you want to, because, clearly, there is no possible evidence in existence that would ever make you question this belief, not when you can just write this evidence off and feel pretty good about knowing that at least God possesses the answer to this otherwise unsolvable riddle. If this is not a classic example of the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, what is?
2. “God moves in mysterious ways.”
Okay. Um, question: what does this mean exactly? Oh, I get it. It’s meant to be a comforting mantra you tell yourself when something happens that you don’t particularly like or understand. Okay. Cool. But, again, um, what does this mean? Oh, I see. Since God is mysterious by nature, he must therefore do mysterious things. Alright. But isn’t this sort of a given? I mean, if you believe in this great big unseen person, doesn’t it sort of stand to reason that he might do some great big unseen things? Ah, I see. I see. Yes. This meant to fill in the blanks when God does something you either do not expect or that seems totally contrary to what you otherwise know about his character. Well, then, is it possible that you don’t really know his character at all? Seriously, how well do you know this God? If my wife had a vague idea of what I might do in such and such a situation, but then I end up doing something that is not only utterly unexpected but completely contrary to what she otherwise knows about me, how well does she really know me? If she said, “Well, my husband just moves in mysterious ways,” wouldn’t someone be warranted to inquire just what kind of relationship she has with me?
3. “You have more to lose if you’re wrong than I do.”
This is purely a matter of opinion, and the opinion depends solely upon where you’re standing when you make this statement. If, according to your worldview, I’m going roast in Hell for eternity, then you might have a point. But this is presuming that your worldview is the correct one. What if your worldview is wrong? What if you die and then everything fades to eternal black and you have no knowledge whatsoever that you’re no longer alive and that you were wrong about God? What if absolutely nothing happens when you die? Couldn’t it be said, then, that you squandered and wasted your only chance to live?
“No,” the Christian says, “because at least I lived with joy and peace and purpose.”
Oh really? Tell me, dear Christian, how many other Christians do you know who really are happy? How many of them really do have joy? How many of them have anything that looks like true peace? A few, possibly. Maybe. And even if they do, and assuming that Christianity is wrong, is not their peace and joy and purpose based entirely on a lie? Would you really be satisfied to live your only chance at life based on a lie, assuming that it is in fact a lie? Is ignorance really bliss? Is the Matrix not evil as long as you don’t it’s there?
A quote from comedian and atheist Ricky Gervais: “It’s a strange myth that atheists have nothing to live for. It’s the opposite. We have nothing to die for, we have everything to live for.”
Besides, how do you define “to lose” in this instance? Lose what? And the opposite of “to lose” is “to gain.” Who is gaining what around here? I was miserable as a Christian. I’m happy as an atheist. What have I really lost? I’m not afraid of eternity. And at least I can confidently say that whatever may or may not occur in eternity is not a bargaining chip to me. I have a lot more respect for reality than that.
4. “God’s not responsible for suffering; he just uses it for our good.”
This is interesting to me, because it highlights a very glaring contradiction of which many Christians aren’t even aware (and it smacks of the old Free Will argument). Christians will, on the one hand, say this: “God is sovereign.” Okay, but what does this mean? They will also say, “God is in control.” Again, what does this mean? One would presume the implication is that nothing can possibly happen without it first passing through God’s approval and having his ultimate consent. This must be what the terms “sovereign” and “in control” mean. Otherwise, if things can occur without first passing through God’s approval and consent, what exactly is he in control of, and just how is this supposed to demonstrate his sovereignty? If God really is in control, then nothing can possibly occur at any instant whatsoever that does not have his stamp of approval on it or his expressed consent.
To say, then, that God is not the one responsible for whatever suffering you’re currently experiencing is to also say that it occurred without his approval and consent. Well, is he God or isn’t he? I understand making the case that he uses suffering for your good (though this too comes with its own hideous problems which we will, for the time being, shelve), but to say that he is not responsible for it is to deny his sovereignty even while you yourself go on voicing this as a mantra of sorts. Just what is “sovereign?” What does the word “control” really mean? If God allows suffering for his purposes, but doesn’t create suffering, isn’t this just the splitting of hairs? If I allow something, it means I had the ability to stop it. If I could have stopped and don’t, I’m responsible for its actual occurrence regardless of what the first cause was. If a man pushes his wife in front of a bus, and I see this happen, and I know I can rescue her but choose not to do so, I’m just as guilty as he is.
To me, all I can really induce from this statement is evidence of what Christians do all the time: they contrive seemingly clever yet incoherent theological statements that reconcile two separate and contradictory suppositions, thus getting their God “off the hook.” But does this serve God, or does it really just serve them?
5. “Your faith is being tested.”
My faith is being tested? By whom? Oh, by God? Okay. But, wait a minute. Doesn’t God already know everything? Isn’t God in possession of all knowledge even before it exists? Why does this God, who ostensibly knows everything, need to test me to see how I will respond? Doesn’t he already know without testing me what the condition of my heart is? Doesn’t he know the answer to the question before he asks it? Why, then, does he even ask it at all?
“No, the test if for you,” the Christian says. “It’s so you can see where you’re at.”
Oh, okay. Wait, what? If God wants me to know where I’m at, why doesn’t he just tell me? Why not sit me down and say, “Look, Mike. You’re way off. Way off. You’re here, but you need to be there, see?”
This would be a lot more straightforward. This would be a lot less ambivalent. This would cause a lot less confusion (see point #7). To put this into perspective, let’s say you had a 9-year-old child. Let’s suppose also that this child shows a tendency toward thievery. As the parent, it is your job to teach the child not to give in to that tendency but rather to resist it, right? Okay, well, how would you go about doing that? Would you create a series of scenarios in the real world that play out in the child’s life, possibly causing the child psychological harm, and which may or may not teach the child the intended lesson? Or would it be better to just, you know, uh,teach the child, person to person, on an ongoing, verbal basis that stealing is wrong?
Besides, how coherent is this statement: “I will grow your bank account by removing money from it.” What? Huh? This doesn’t make any sense at all! If I wanted to grow your bank account, I would deposit money, not withdraw money! To say, then, that when our faith goes unrewarded this is just God trying to grow our faith, um, well, isn’t this sort of backward? Wouldn’t evidence of our faith being rewarded now serve to give us more faith for the future? If faith does not work, and this is supposed to increase our faith, well, where is the wisdom here? If you want my faith to get stronger, withholding the things I ask for in faith (testing my faith) is not likely to do it. If you want my faith to get stronger, show me that it works to begin with.
6. “You don’t have to like it or understand it; you just have to believe it.”
Assuming that this is an accurate description of how to please God when we have an issue with something, doesn’t this sort of make God a bully? Let’s suppose that we encounter some theological issue that, for whatever reason, causes us a great deal of psychological harm. Perhaps we just know down deep in “our waters,” as the British would say, that this is wrong, that this cannot be right, that there is absolutely no way to reconcile this to the rest of what we believe. Suppose that, in order to achieve this difficult reconciliation, we have to jump through all kinds of mental hoops and make all sorts of contrived answers—answers that make us feel just as bad as the original issue. How healthy is this? Isn’t it far more likely, and even acceptable—even admirable—to question whether something is off kilter here?
I mean, if you were being brainwashed to believe that you’re actually a rabbit who thinks he’s a human, and you didn’t know that you were brainwashed (because no one who is brainwashed knows they are, otherwise they wouldn’t be brainwashed to begin with), but then you started to suspect it when A, B, or C seemed inconsistent, it would then be the height of mental unhealth to say: “No, I refuse to believe that I am brainwashed. I will just accept this and go on my way. I’m a rabbit.”
Alright. Accept it. Go on your way. But you’re still brainwashed, and all the faith in the world isn't going to change that.
7. “God is not the author of confusion.”
I hear this all the time and it is quite fascinating. This statement comes from those same people who will look you in the eye and tell you with absolute assurance that this same God is the author of the Bible (the very book where this quote can be found).
Let us just think about this for a moment. Let us survey the scope of recorded history from, say, the 200s and 300s AD (when the Bible was officially compiled) up to the present. Let us ask if there has been one book that has caused more collective confusion, misinterpretation, division, and complication than any other book. Oh, duh! Of course there has! It’s called the Bible.
“No,” the Christian says. “That’s the devil. The devil can use God’s word to twist things around and lead humans astray.”
Really? Just think about what this means, for a moment. Let us say that one camp uses Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code to stir up controversy in the media. Another camp defends the book and argues that entertainment literature shouldn’t be taken seriously. Another group finds The Da Vinci Code so objectionable and theologically incendiary that they begin to speak out about it and stage protests. Another group, who has never even read the book, watches all of this transpire and wonders what the big deal is. The point is this: here you have a book that has caused an awful lot of confusion. Now, who is the author of this confusion? Is it the various groups using this book for their own ends? Maybe. But not really. Isn’t the true author of the confusion the one who wrote it to begin with? Had Dan Brown himself never penned the words, this gamut of varied confused situations wouldn’t exist in the first place. If the Bible therefore causes an untold amount of confusion, does the problem lie with the reader or ultimately with the author? Besides, if the devil can use the Bible to his own insidious ends, how inherently good can it be anyway?
By the way, speaking of confusion, have you ever stepped back and taken a good look at the wide scope of Christianity as it exists in today’s world? Can you possibly nail down what “being a Christian” is supposed to be? Me neither. Which of the thousands of divided (and thus, apparently confused) splinter groups do you ask? Some Christians will say that they are the true followers. Others will say, “No, weare.” A third group will think the first two are going to Hell simply for not adhering to their particular creeds. A fourth group may not even believe a Hell exists at all. A fifth group refuses to associate with any of the others. A sixth group accepts all the others and, in a sense, doesn’t really believe anything concrete. All of these groups proclaim Jesus (whatever he may mean to them individually) as “Lord.” If this is not confusion, what is?
“That’s humanity,” the Christian says. “The Church is just messed up because it is made of humans.”
Granted. But if God is not the author of this Church, then, what exactly do you mean when you call it “his Church?” Has God lost control of his Church?
Oh, I see. When God speaks of “his Church,” he’s only talking about the true Church (which means you, right?). Those other people aren’t really part of the true Church. Got it.
If God is not the author of confusion, then the word “confusion” has no meaning.
8. “God doesn’t want to be loved by robots.”
Thus, the Christian will argue that humans have Free Will. What exactly is Free Will? One would think it means that God, who is supposedly in control, can decide not to be in control in certain situations, namely, the choices a human being makes during the course of his or her life. (If God surrenders his control, doesn’t what happens during this lack of his control still ultimately fall under his control? It has to. It was his lack of control that allowed for it to begin with. This is still under the purview of his control.)
Question: if I give my 5-year-old son a loaded gun, and I, knowing more about guns than he does, instruct him to choose freely what he will do with it, is it really his fault or mine if he blows his own head off? It’s my fault, right? Who would disagree with that? I gave my son a responsibility that was beyond his scope and capacity (a loaded gun) and then let him choose what to do with it. He chose poorly and now he is dead. Sure, I could have advised him what the right choice was. But this did not guarantee that he was going to follow my advice or that he was obligated to do so. He might have had ideas of his own. If my son is dead, it’s my fault for putting the gun in his hands and then making him choose how best to use it. Why is it my fault? Because he is the child and I am the adult! He was in my care.
Maybe I wondered if he would shoot me. Maybe I wanted to test my son to see if he could possess the means of destroying me without opting to do so. I don’t want my son to be a robot, after all. I want him to choose to keep me alive even if he possesses the ability to kill me, because if he does that, I’ll know he really does love me.
How messed up is all of this?
Besides, regarding Free Will, let us observe that if you gave me the freedom to choose, then you are also the one who could ultimately take that freedom away. In either case, it is still you who are in control. Doesn’t this make Free Will a nice illusion, but still an illusion nonetheless? If I were truly free, I would be so without you having to tell me that I am. Further, if you tell me that I am free to choose, but then you also tell me that if I don’t choose what you want me to choose I face extreme, horrendous punishment, how free am I really? Isn’t it likely I’ll choose what you want me to choose just so I can avoid the punishment? Is that really Free Will? Isn’t it a bit more like coercion? And if it is coercion, then we are like robots anyway and the whole argument loses all of its validity.