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.)