What if they were right?

The reason I don’t believe in God – and, believe me, I’ve tried – is that I could never get over the feeling that I was fooling myself. That I was choosing to believe in life after death because I did not like the idea of dying; that I was choosing to believe in a benevolent Creator who stood for fairness and justice because I didn’t like the idea that the Universe was indifferent to people’s suffering. Religion as wish-fulfillment.

But there are people who, once convincing themselves that God exists because it’s a comfort, then develop from that a version of God that is very much not a comfort. A rigid, unsympathetic, cruel God. A God that threatens appalling punishments for things that shouldn’t be crimes at all; a jealous, insecure God that demands to be worshipped according to this or that arbitrary set of writings. A God that wants his believers to dominate the unbelievers through any means necessary.

Where this comes up is something I was reading over at Fred Clark’s site about the way one would respond to proof of such a God. If the God of George Pell or Fred Nile or Jim Wallace or Pat Robertson suddenly revealed Himself, and denial and doubt was no longer a rational response, what would you do?

If I learned that such a God was real, I think I’d be done with praying. Learning — encountering absolute proof — that the universe is governed by power rather than by love, and that the only hope for survival was to pledge one’s allegiance to power against love, I would still not be inclined to offer that allegiance…

Or, in Mark Twain’s shorter version, “All right then, I’ll go to Hell.” The proper response to proof of LaHaye’s God would be neither submission nor denial, but opposition.

That’s not a response that LaHaye and Jenkins imagine anyone having when coming to terms with the proof of the cruel Power God of their story, this Almighty destroyer and co-conspirator with the Antichrist in the destruction of the world. But if you love this world or if you love anything or anyone in it, then what other response could you possibly have?

I think I’d do likewise. I’d hope I’d have the courage to do likewise. Just because something’s all-powerful doesn’t mean it’s right.

Nobody ever asks the people who demand obedience to cruel parts of their religious writings just why we should obey such strictures, if they don’t make sense. Say you’re completely right, and God has indeed laid down these laws – why should we obsequiously do His dirty work for Him? It doesn’t really matter whether it’s divinely endorsed or not: cruelty is cruelty, and it’s wrong.

ELSEWHERE ON CLARK: I’d never heard of John Woolman – an eighteenth century Quaker who almost single-handedly changed his religion’s approach from pro-slavery to anti-slavery:

John Woolman believed slavery was unjust — that it was cruel for those in bondage and corrosive for the bondsman. So he wrote an essay explaining why (“Some considerations on the keeping of Negroes: Recommended to the professors of Christianity of every denomination”). And then, since he was sure that his condemnation of slavery was true, and that the truth of it was compelling, he set out to talk to those who disagreed.

One by one, meetinghouse by meetinghouse, home by home. He would speak to gatherings of Friends, or would arrive for dinner at the home of Quaker slaveowners, and he would talk to them about his “considerations” and concerns with this practice. After the meal, he would pay wages to those slaves who had attended him. And he would invite the slaveowners to liberate their slaves, paying them back wages for their years of service.

Crazy. But even crazier: This worked. Conversation, liberation, transformation. That was Woolman’s method and he continued it, unchanged, throughout his life.

And you thought arguing with people on the internet was a waste of time. (Well, not you, obviously, but people around you.)

UPDATE: The Onion with a terrifying scenario of what could happen if they were right. But would you really worship such a God? (Elsewhere on The Onion: Pope To Ease Up On Jesus Talk.)

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16 responses to “What if they were right?

  1. jordanrastrick

    My religious views could fairly be described as “complex”, having been heavily influenced by the effects of manic thought processes during the most severe periods of my Bipolar disorder.

    For what its worth,

    SPOILER WARNING:

    I think if you really want to wrestle with these issues its well worth reading both CS Lewis’ Narnia series and the “response” written by Phillip Pullman, the His Dark Materials trilogy (in all cases, skip the movies).

    Both are beautifully written and crafted stories, and aim to capture the hearts and minds of children first and foremost although they contain an intellectual depth that puts most adult authors to shame.

    The former is an apologia for Christian values, the latter a rejection of them (or at least Pullman’s take on them) and an indictment on the worship of an evil God.

    Reading HDM more or less triggered a relatively severe manic episode for me that actually of all things pushed me closer towards accepting a version of Christianity, funnily enough.

  2. “I think if you really want to wrestle with these issues its well worth reading both CS Lewis’ Narnia series”

    Ironically, if you go to the Fred Clark link, the bit that I excluded with ellipses from the quote was a section from The Silver Chair about Puddleglum.

  3. if you want to wrestle with the issues by reading c.s. lewis (though i did love his narnia books as a youngun’) you should try ‘the great divorce’.. or ‘out of the silent planet’ / ‘perelandra’
    it is not so ironic.. he really did make the best explanations of the desire for a belief in a god and the most clear and logically valid arguments to maintain a faith once established. he made no bones about the fact that he chose the christian faith because it was the faith of his parents and his society. being a philologist and logician he also as i remember, favored the arguments of the greeks or descartes or kant more than, say, peter or thomas aquinas..
    he really was an atheist’s christian.

  4. The only rational conclusion I have been able to come to, is that if God – at least as described by the Abrahamic religions – exists, he is either utterly indifferent or maliciously cruel. Historical and contemporary religious teachings incline me to lean more towards maliciously cruel.

    Either way, I see no reason to throw my lot in with him.

  5. CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters is also entertaining and insightful read. I especially liked the bit where the main character is in a library trying to concentrate his mind on important questions regarding God/the meaning of life etc, but finds himself quickly distracted by the rumblings of his tummy and a bus driving past the door. He promptly forgets what it was he was thinking about and gets up to go and have lunch.

    Believing in an omnipotent creator does not necessarily entail subscribing to a religion, being a member of some strange cult or believing in the debil.

    This logic of ‘if there was a god how could he let so many bad things happen?’ is a pretty childish one if extrapolated to its logical conclusion. Eg, I stubbed my toe/ crashed my car/got the ‘flu/had my heart broken/was in a bad mood today, ipso facto: there can be no God. And on wholescale death and mass destruction? Well nobody said planet earth was without its hazards or that humans were ‘all good’.

    Most religions are dead as the do-do and have been pretty much completely stripped of any inner meaning by the childish interpretations of humans (mostly men) and their warped agenda loaded egos.

    You’re dead a long time, it makes sense to think about the possibilities of life after death and what/how one could possibly ‘be’. Sans a body, and beyond space and time, it’s pretty obvious that what might survive after death is the states of being we carry around within our souls and for me, these states need a pretty thoroughgoing examination as to their merits or otherwise.

    The first sacred text I easily ‘got’ as both inspiration and practical instruction was the Hindu Upanishads.

  6. narcoticmusing

    “he is either utterly indifferent or maliciously cruel”

    Or completely powerless and thus irrelevant

  7. You’ve got to hear Screwtape read by John Cleese. Absolutely perfect casting.

  8. Most religions are dead as the do-do and have been pretty much completely stripped of any inner meaning by the childish interpretations of humans (mostly men) . . .

    An interesting comment. It sort of reads as though you believe that religion exists independently of humanity, but has now been corrupted by man.

    I would argue that religion is a creation of man, and that it is therefore inherently corrupt.

  9. jordanrastrick

    Screwtape was good and has influenced a lot of my thinking on Christinanity, as has Mere Christianity.

    Funnily enough discussion on what of the other posts trigged a brief and mildly manic period of thinking for me that lead to a kind of synthesis of Lewis and Pullman… a fairy tale I would like to tell that incorporates some of the ideas of both…..

  10. The problem with debating religious dogma, is giving the religious wacko’s a another forum that gives them further opportunity, to further proselytise their twaddle. Merely debating this issue gives them the idea that you are unsure of your position as a non believer.

    I would have thought by 2011 we would have rid the human race of this abject nonsense, and moved in the direction of a science that would have benefited us all. Like sex drugs and rock & roll.

  11. Yeah mondo I’d argue that last one too. But it seems like a a bit of a circular argument. I think mankind has an innate religiosity which tends him towards a sense of the sacredness in some things– birth, death, generalised awe, etc.

    I may not have expressed myself very well; Western Christianity, goes through the motions of what were once highly symbolic rituals (largely ‘borrowed’ from the Ancient Egyptians’ while no-one seems to have the slightest inkling as to what those rituals mean any more. Therefore they rightly seem utterly lifeless and pretty much completely meaningless.

    It’s hard to say when it all went so horribly wrong, around about the time it all got co-opted by lawmakers I’d say.

    John Cleese in The Screwtape Letters. Perfick.

  12. An odd thing about Screwtape is that it is actually full of excellent advice and analysis even if you reject the fundamental theological premise. I find it gives handy hints on being a better person, even whilst not being at all persuaded that Christianity is in fact true.

    And it’s a fine, witty piece of writing.

  13. I think Rowan Atkinson’s “Devil” sketch shows the whole thing for just how ridiculous it is. I particularly like the line: “Yes, sorry everyone: the Jews were right.”

  14. narcoticmusing

    “I would have thought by 2011 we would have rid the human race of this abject nonsense”

    I thought we were all Jedi and Ninjas now anyway?

  15. “I thought we were all Jedi and Ninjas now anyway?

    Ä certain right wingnut blog would confirm that very idea, for some anyhooo.

  16. I don’t think that’s odd at all Jeremy, being a ‘Christian’ for the few and extremely rare individuals who actually manage it, (& I can’t think of a one right now–maybe the Dalai Lama (hehe) is actually supposed to be about being a better person. The Divine wants the company and usefulness of souls who know themselves, which is why TSL is so appealing as it cleverly reflects back to us how stupid some of our weaknesses are in a humerous and clever way.

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