Blame God

So I’m talking with a friend of mine and he says something like, “God has a good thing going for him.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Well,” he replies, “Who else do you know that gets thanks and praise for all the good things he supposedly does, but cops none of the blame or criticism for the bad things which, surprisingly, also happen on his watch?”

My brain seems to draw from somewhere deep in my subconscious, Evangelical past and (embarrassingly) comes out with something along the lines of, “You can’t blame God for what humanity has brought upon itself by its continued rejection of God. After all, God has given us freewill and, if we choose to go against his laws, there will be consequences.”

(I cringe now to think there could have ever been a day when I said such things; after all, this is exactly how loonies such as Pat Robertson and Jim Bakker portray their God and his interaction with ‘dirty rotten sinners’.)

My friend (let’s call him Bob) continues.

“Yeah, but you believe God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and present everywhere, right?”

I nod my head in agreement.

“And yet, in spite of the fact that God could stop the tsunami, cripple the 9/11 hijackers, bring the Pakistani earthquake below 1 on the scale, heal my mum of cancer and turn back that massive hurricane, he didn’t.”

I respond: “God can’t just arbitrarily interfere with the course of nature and, in the case of the hijackers, he won’t overrule the free will of human beings to decide to do evil.” (My response is a little weak, given that I catch myself partway trying to justify God’s actions, or kinda trying to place limits on The Almighty–and feel somewhat guilty for doing this.)

Bob isn’t satisfied with this canned, classic textbook answer.

“If you were able,” he says, lifting a semi-accusing finger to my face, “to save your child from certain death by running out in the street and grabbing him, pulling him to safety before the truck roared past, you would, wouldn’t you?”

The way he asked this question made me wonder if Bob thought I was some sort of monster.

“Of course I would; he’s my kid. I would never allow him to be harmed.”

I noticed that smug, “gotcha” look come across Bob’s face. I instantly knew where this conversation was headed.

“Yet, God—whom you say loves all of us as a father loves his children—will allow his children to go through hell, to lose family members, their health, their homes, their livelihood, and even their own lives in disasters that he himself could have stopped.”

“Yeah, but . . .” (I sensed I was starting to sound like a whining 3rd-grader) “. . . but God can’t change the natural course of things. He’s put laws in place that govern the weather, the earth and human beings. He can’t just override these laws.”

Bob laughed. “Seriously, you should listen to yourself! You sound like you’re trying to convince yourself that your God isn’t as big or powerful or loving as you’ve been led to believe. So would you say to your son when he gets hit by that truck, ‘That’s the consequence of not obeying my rule of staying in our yard’?”

He had a point. I was beginning to realise that I had created a wonderful, rather small box to contain my God. I had assumed that those who were supposed to know all about God (theologians, pastors, Sunday School teachers) were right when they taught me this catechistic auto-response, that God allowed such happenings because he couldn’t go against his natural laws and couldn’t and wouldn’t interfere with humanity’s free will.

But this put God in a predicament because throughout the Bible (it is said) he did intervene, did interfere and did overrule. If the Bible is fact, then God could choose to step down out of heaven and come to our aid (Isn’t it funny how we placed him “up there” when we say that he is everywhere? But then, it’s also humorous when we anthropomorphise God to be a male when ‘he’ is not even human. But I digress.) God could choose to stop the winds and the waves, the wars, befuddle hijackers and terrorists, or heal the young mother of her cancer.

But.

God.

Doesn’t.

Why not?

I know this has led many people just like my friend Bob to stop believing there is a God, or at least a personal, loving, interacting Deity. I can understand their frustration and the incoherence of much of what religion portrays God to be.

I am also aware of the multitude of books, articles and talks that have been published on this problem of human suffering. Most de-converted Christians would say this is the one big question that caused them to rethink the whole idea of the existence of God.

Personally, I continually try to reconcile this dichotomy in my own mind. While at one time this had caused me great concern and anxiety, I now am now beginning to see how I can live with the tension as many before me have also learned.

 

Despite this, I take a page from the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, the legend of Job, from David’s psalms of lament, and from Ecclesiastes and don’t feel in the least bit conflicted when I cry out in anger to God, “Why?” when my words sound more accusing than trusting, when I place the blame solely and completely on Him who, tradition tells us, is without blame.

And I believe that God welcomes my dissent. I think it’s this honest, confrontational, letting loose that God expects from his children. As Rob puts it, God wants us to rip open our rib cage and let our heart out. It’s in these moments of openness and vulnerability that we are changed and we begin to see things framed in a new consciousness, a new understanding and a deeper relationship with the Divine.

This is not an easy answer. There is no such thing. As long as we have apparent inconsistencies, we will struggle to understand God or conceptualise Deity. We may change our way of seeing things. Hell, we may even decide it’s easier not to believe.

Regardless of what we choose to do, I’m sure God is more generous, and more loving than we could comprehend anyhow, and would still do all he or she could to get that message across to us, even if it’s in the most unlikely of sources, like Bob.

Where we go Wrong

crochety-old-mr-gruff-tiger-lilly-jan-28“Watch out for them. They will corrupt your mind. They have no sense of morality or accountability. They do whatever they want and most of what they do is evil and an abomination to God.”

This is the message I heard from the authority figures in my life as I was growing up. Being atheist immediately placed a person in the same category as paedophiles, wife-beaters, and mass murderers. They were depicted as angry, mean and downright unfriendly. (The leaflet shown above is just one of the many I have seen that were used to teach us that atheists are evil, mean, uneducated, corrupting and immoral influences and we should avoid them at any cost.)

So imagine my surprise to find out that non-belief doesn’t make you a Grinch, or even put you on the Most Wanted list! The fact that someone such as this could be friendly? Really? But they don’t have Jesus in their heart. They don’t read the Bible. They wouldn’t know how to be nice. Right?

How wrong I was.

Not only do they embrace such mantras as “Live better. Help often. Wonder more,*” but they give blood, volunteer at the soup kitchen, drive for Meals-on-wheels, run charities, volunteer for humanitarian causes and care deeply about many of the same things I care about. Some of them I have the privilege as counting as good friends and valued associates.

That’s probably why I was drawn to The Friendly Atheist website and then podcast by Hemant Mehta. Hemant started this venture after selling his soul on eBay and then writing a blog and a book about it. He has no problem having conversations with Christians and non-believers alike and learning from anyone with something of value to say. I find his method intriguing and insights compelling.

Reading his book I Sold My Soul on eBay, I was struck by someone who was open-minded and willing to admit that he didn’t know it all. He put that which he didn’t believe existed, his soul, up for sale and not only took bids on it, but agreed that, for every $10 raised, he would visit one religious service. The winning bidder, John Henson, compiled a list of all the churches he wanted Hemant to visit and then asked that he write blog posts about these churches and what he learned about Christianity through his interaction with these people of faith.

These blog posts became the book.

He experienced some crazy stuff, was amazed by other committed and caring folk (I guess we aren’t the only ones who pigeonhole whole groups of people), and was able to examine Christian worship from a purely objective point of view.

He admitted that many things the Church in general has gotten right, though he tends to qualify this by emphasising that his sample set was a small proportion of Christianity as a whole, and mostly focused around the Midwest U.S.

He also sees a whole lot that we have gotten wrong, including the idea that all atheists are sad, angry and have experienced a God-centred trauma at some point in their20130221-105105 life (which is essentially the theme of the insensitive, ignorant and grossly inaccurate screenplay of the movie God is Not Dead.)

The truth is, we as professing Christians (at least a fair percentage of us) are also angry, mean-spirited, immoral and hateful people. Our tradition has us believing in a god who throws people who have never been given a chance to repent into a place where they will be roasted forever, who commanded horrific acts of genocide, even presiding over the intentional elimination of every man, woman, child and creature on the planet at one point in what many believe to be ‘history.’ I intentionally use the word ‘god’ because this god is small, tribal, angry, and manipulative. The God I believe that is shown in Jesus is a God of love, peace, joy, inclusion and acceptance. This is a God whose character I cannot reconcile with the god of the Hebrew patriarchs. In this, and many other areas, I must admit that I, too, don’t have all the answers.

So I defer to kindness, peace, hope, love–all traits that good-hearted people of both atheist and theist positions embrace. I choose to live in harmony with my non-believing brothers and sisters. I choose not to have an agenda of persuasion whenever I am with them. I (and I think God is with me on this because, as you know from my previous posts, God thinks like me) would rather see a kind atheist than a mean Christian. 

_________

* The mantra of a growing popular humanist movement, The Sunday Assembly, that replaces the church service with an uplifting secular meeting, held on Sundays.

Nobody Won

Bill-Nye-vs.-Ken-Ham-Debate_f_improf_645x254One would have to be living under a rock not to have heard about the much-publicised debate in the U.S. between Bill Nye (can I not resist adding, “The Science Guy” after that?) and Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis) held February 4th in Kentucky. Well, OK. If you don’t live in North America and you’re not either an Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christian, or an atheist, you possibly don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

But, nonetheless, it happened. “Ham on Nye” as it has become known.

There are numerous clips on YouTube and well past hundreds of search results on Google that will show you anything you wish to know about this event.

But, for me, the sound bites say it all. The answer to the question, “What would it take to change your mind?” was, according to Nye: “A single piece of solid evidence.” According to Ham: Nothing. That’s right. Nothing. Since the Bible is obviously literally (according to Ham’s interpretation of it) fully accurate in Science and History, he needs no other evidence. Nothing will change his mind that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and created in 7 literal 24-hour days (albeit, several of those days did not have the time-telling benefit of the sun–go figure!).

How does he know the earth is less than 10,000 years old? He’s done his Math and added up the generations found in the Bible’s genealogies. This is what he calls the “historical science” method. Since his literal understanding of the Bible is correct in all matters historical, then so is his guess of the earth’s age.

And here’s where the debate is unwinnable: the basic underlying world-views of these two men couldn’t be further opposed to each other.

To those of fundamentalist ilk, Ham was the hero, standing for the truth, defending the faith, and holding fast to sound doctrine and a literal reading of Genesis 1 against the tide of the Satanic theory of evolution.

To atheists and more progressive Christians, Bill Nye won with his solid evidence and logic, his proven hypotheses and superior intellect. To the atheist, the foundation of Ken Ham’s argument was as shaky as that of a flooded beach: how could one trust a book written by men of an ancient tribal culture (see *Note) with the aim of proving their deity was superior to those in the lands around them? After all, every culture has its own creation myths.

To the more progressive Christian, while claiming the sacred text to be inspired by God, it is seen to be, still, as bearing the indelible imprint of humanity with all its tendencies to interpretation in the light of current culture and the desire to prove tribal superiority. Progressives care not so much about the “how” of the universe’s origin as much as the “why” and the “what does this mean for us now?” So, while this event aroused cursorily, it held no real sense of consequence.

In the days following, source after source declared Bill Nye as the hands-down winner (even Christianity Today’s poll showed a 9-1 lead). However, in my opinion, “Ham on Nye” proved to be a fizzer, a debate which was more of a publicity stunt to showcase Ham’s Creationist exhibit and the organisation he has created to promote his own views.

Surely the church has learned from its own dealings with scientists such as Galileo or Copernicus. Surely they cannot take as historical fact a creation account that was written from the perspective of a flat earth, a fixed ‘dome’ (or firmament) and a sun, moon and stars that orbited over and under this flat earth. But this variant of the Christian Religion still prefers to remain staunchly opposed to proven scientific theory and overwhelming evidence. Its adherents see no need for science and evidence except when it bolsters their own interpretations of the world. The simplistic answers to the complex questions of origins are comical and, as one blogger states, takes the Jesus Movement back ten steps in its respectability and relevance.

Unfortunately, the wide brush of dogmatism has splattered the rest of Christianity with its ignorance and stubborn refusal to consider the evidence thousands of earnest scientists have uncovered since the dark ages.

Nobody won. Unless, of course, we have learned that debating those who choose to remain in the dark ages is futile, in which case good sense has won the day.

____________

*Note: This is a huge flaw in reasoning that I see in many creationist writings: they assume the reader will accept “The Bible says” as authoritative evidence when, in fact, many would see ‘The Good Book’ as having no more authority than a Superman comic. Even when I accepted their teachings, I cringed every time I read their work because I knew it would carry absolutely no authority in the secular world. They are indeed preaching to the choir.