A Severe God?

Some atheists reject the claims of Christianity because the God they read about in the Bible seems harsh.  Implicit in such a step, however, is that the Bible must be the word of God.  Otherwise, the logical thing to do would be to reject the Bible as being authoritative about God; not to reject God.   A person in this position is not really criticizing God.  He’s criticizing people (the writers of the Bible) for making up a God they disapprove of.  It makes no sense to say that the Bible is God’s word, and at the same time say there is no God.

Materialist Doctrine on Evil

An important reason to make this distinction is that if you just say “I don’t accept what the Bible says,” you tend not to get to the next question, which ought to be:  If there’s no God at all, then how do I explain evil and bad things then?  Because that takes us to a strange place.

If there is no God, then there is no purpose to anything.  Everything that happens is just the result of all the past movements of matter in time; we do things solely because of the combination of influences on us right up to the moment we do them.  There is no basis for calling those things bad or good, because there is no real decision-making about them, they just are.  (Philosophers would say “no moral agency”).  There is no shame or blame or honor or altruism or respect because how can we be faulted (or credited) for simply acting in the way pre-determined by all those movements of atoms from the big bang to this moment?

Basis for Morality

And if there is no bad or good, just things that happen, who are we to try to say some of those things are bad; others good?  How is it possible to evaluate the existence of God on the basis of Him doing good or bad?  How can a person reject God on the grounds that He does something we think is bad? Talking of God doing bad or good gives the game away, doesn’t it?  Isn’t it more rational to try to reconcile the fact of bad things happening, with the fact of God’s control even over those bad things?

We have an innate sense of good and bad because God placed that sense in us.  Indeed, the conscience that we each feel, and the near-universal moral sense that people share, is proof of the existence of God.  There is a moral law.  There has to be a moral law-giver.

God and the Fact of Evil

God is (or, an atheist might say, God is conceived to be) all-powerful, so the existence of any bad thing anywhere happening to anyone indicts God, if we are going to put him in the dock like we would a person.  God is the ultimate moral agency, after all.  But it is a mistake to do this.  We’re looking at the whole thing upside down if we look at it this way.  God is not a person like us, who sometimes does good, and sometimes does bad.  God defines what is good.  It is good if God decrees it.  That’s what it means to be God.

Besides that, people are not innocent.  Their own moral failings mean that they’re not in a position to say that what happens to them is somehow wrong.  Certainly it does not put them in the position to say that what God does is wrong.

We All Die

People are harmed by natural events, like earthquakes and tsunamis, and also by human evil. Where is the justice in that?  But before we accuse God, or conclude that He doesn’t even exist, we should pause and consider something.  We all die.  We can say that some deaths are less just than others, but that again asserts a moral prerogative that we don’t have, if there is no God.

How is any death justified if God is good?  Is He toying with us?  Squashing some and leaving others alone, on a whim?  No.  We all die.  There is purpose even to a tragic young death; one purpose being to recall us to our own mortality in the body.  We’re human, we have no conception, really, of immortality.  Life is fleeting.  It is so brief, compared to endless time, and death is so certain.  The big lesson, the one that God is screaming at us, is that this life has meaning for eternity, not just for itself.

Evil and Materialism

If there is no God (so He can’t be responsible for evil) then what do we say? How does an atheist explain evil?  Well, bad things just happen, if there is no God.  There is no purpose to any of it.  There is no reason to say something is evil or it’s good.  You were born with a tendency to high cholesterol, so you have a heart attack and die young.  Too bad.  No one to blame.  No one to get mad at.  But also no point to any of it.  No purpose to dying, but no purpose to being born and living, either.  No one to blame for the heart attack, but no one to be grateful to for the life that you did have.

Desire for Truth

That’s the world without God.  Now if there’s no God, tough.  We don’t wish God into existence because it makes us feel better about things; so that we can attach bogus meaning to meaningless events.  We must have the truth.  We feel it necessary to human dignity.  Insistence on truth is planted in us by God, too, though.  Atheists desire the truth, but deny God. What they believe to be true doesn’t even explain the desire for truth.


3 thoughts on “A Severe God?”

  1. Does it really matter if you choose theism over atheism, if you don’t choose correctly? Won’t a Muslim, Jew, or Pagan go to the same hell as an atheist?

    Is it not legitimate to believe something is unknowable or Is it necessary to claim some specific God belief just for the sake of I it. And can we even believe what we want? Or do we not have to come to our conclusions based on what makes the most sense to us, having no control over what we conclude or believe? Is there a decision process occurring with respect to what we believe?

    Should I use my own sense of what is rational and logical to make my conclusions? Can I do otherwise? If I honestly make a conclusion based on what I know, what I observe, what I experience, am I not simply exercising my reasoning skills to determine what reality is? Certainly I could be wrong, but if I’m being intellectually honest, the notion of hell for getting it wrong seems awfully harsh to put it mildly. In order for hell to make sense as a consequence, a theist must have to believe there is a conscious rejection of God, warranting hell. The theist can’t believe the nonbeliever is honestly just coming to a conclusion about reality that may be wrong, because eternal damnation wouldn’t fit the crime. Instead, the theist has to find a nonbeliever to be a malicious liar who believes but rejects. Otherwise, it would be analogous to accusing one who doesn’t believe in Santa Clause of rejecting the person Santa, versus simply not believing he exists.

    Putting forward the philosophical proofs or logical assumptions of why a god exists may succeed in convincing one to conclude there is a supernatural reality, a God of some sort, but these proofs have nothing to do with the specifics of a particular religion. Grappling with what a first cause must be; “Can something come from nothing?”; or “What is and from where comes morality?” might be necessary to establish if the notion of a god makes sense. But can it be more than merely thought exercise upon thought exercise?

    Wouldn’t it be more productive to appeal to non-Christian theists to come to your biblical beliefs? After all, they already buy into the notion of a revealed God. Or do you understand that once locked into a specific religious belief, it’s nearly impossible to free someone from it, with all the cultural underpinnings, being indoctrinated from childhood, etc.? And certainly, as a Christian, you couldn’t get far asserting other religious texts make claims that are just too fantastical. So perhaps it is much more difficult to attack or unravel other theistic religions using logic, or even philosophical arguments, such as those which make a case against a pure atheist. I ask because of how anti-atheist you seem to be; calling well known atheist “pseudo-intellectuals” even though they have impressive credentials and resume’s, or referring to them as “professional atheists” seemingly to disparage them in some way (does your pasture get paid?). And as for those who drink their Cool Aid, you must really have a low opinion of their intellectual prowess.

  2. Thank you for your insightful comments.

    You asked if it really matters that we choose theism over atheism, if we don’t choose correctly. The short answer is “yes.” It matters what we believe. The reason for saying that rejecting the God of the Bible is not equivalent to embracing atheism is that a lot of people seem to equate them. The main point of the post, however, is that the argument from evil doesn’t work, regardless how one conceives of God. Sorry if that was confusing.

    About how we think and get to conclusions, I’m not sure where we disagree. I think what we should all be about is trying to make sense of reality given the evidence. It’s what we do in all of our rational thought processes, really.

    Christianity is a set of beliefs about ultimate reality. Atheism is, too. And there are others. Some involve a transcendent God. Others don’t. I agree that many considerations of evidence, such as those you cite (“Something from nothing,” and so on) do not relate to Christianity in particular, but would apply to several different human conceptions of God. All of the theistic sets of doctrines can’t be right, because many are mutually exclusive. Christianity for example claims the centrality of Christ as the means of reconciliation between sinful man and righteous God.

    This site isn’t (primarily) about differences among theistic doctrines. It is attempting to encourage sound thinking about the atheist proposition. The reason for this effort is that many people in our culture now reject Christian claims, and reject any theist claims, but don’t really consider what their resulting atheism really means about the big questions. I think this is because they continue to think of atheism as what it isn’t, instead of what it is. Hence the numerous posts on this site about atheist doctrines, and their failure to explain the evidence about reality. It is my view that in the exercise of sound reason, atheism is much more difficult to defend than Christianity.

    You write about hell, though I did not. This causes me to infer that you find it offensive. In fact, you have said as much, because you think it “doesn’t fit the crime” of not accepting God as He is presented in the Christian Bible. Do you reject Christianity because you feel that its doctrines concerning hell are coercive? If so it’s understandable, because our culture repeats to us all day long that we are good, or a mix of good and bad; not that hell is what we deserve, given our natures and God’s. On top of that, issues like sin, death, and hell are premised on an idea of humility before God. This flies in the face of the current secular worldview.

    For example, we have this idea that personal autonomy is of the essence of human existence. More and more we derive our morals not from an outside Author of them, but from a collective consensus about what is good and bad. We think of ourselves as not being accountable to anyone, but if we think about it, we should recognize that we are held in check, morally, by the opprobrium that would be visited upon us by transgressing secular principles of morality. We should inquire about what those principles are, and from where they are derived, and therefore whether they should in any way be binding on our conscience.

    If we adopt a point of view that our own understanding about what is moral is the starting point for inquiry, then we make the mistake of measuring God by our standards, rather than ourselves by His. We tend not to see that we derive our standards only from the consensus of people around us. That is weak authority. Why would something be right or wrong just because people around me say that it is? This would be the place I could invoke the societal acceptance of Nazism, but I’m sure you get the point anyway. We should of course try to decide what is moral and what is not, and live accordingly, but it would be unwise to do so without considering the source of that morality.

    It is a goal of this site to encourage that, by pointing out that secular society’s default assumptions are not necessarily right. It’s true about morality. It’s true about the other doctrinal positions that atheism necessarily implies. The secular culture embodies doctrinal claims just as much as Christianity does. They tend to go unexamined, however, even while Christianity is examined quite thoroughly. Christianity is all too often rejected because it doesn’t meet one’s poorly-understood presuppositions.

    You ask whether it might be more “productive” to appeal to non-Christian theists, rather than atheists. Well, productive of what? The goal here is to demonstrate that there is a God, and in particular, by showing that the alternative – the atheist proposition – does not withstand scrutiny. That entails highlighting what the atheist position is.

    By the way, what’s wrong with describing someone as a “pseudo-intellectual,” if they are? Slip-shod reasoning to support dubious conclusions would certainly seem to be the work of a “pseudo-intellectual.” Many of the recent atheist works are polemics, not works of intellectual rigor. For example I keep reading that “faith is believing something without evidence.” Anyone who gives that a moment of critical thought can see that the statement is false. People who say that have to know it’s wrong. Atheist writers of recent years routinely argue that inculcating a child in a religious point of view is child abuse. But teaching them the atheist version of ultimate reality is not? Those who make inane schoolboy taunts should not be taken seriously. They’re not intellectuals, but they attempt to wear the mantle. They’re pseudo-intellectuals.

    On a related note, let’s do consider the “credentials” you mention. Credentials might be a reason to give extra weight to what someone says, when evaluating questions that are matters of their expertise, and not of common understanding. But please realize that what we’re talking about here is the question: “What is ultimate reality?” Now who would have the credentials for examining that question?

    The only one I can think of would be a theologian, but atheists aren’t theologians. They’re not credentialed at all in this sort of thing. I do think that atheism is akin to theology, in that it is also a worldview concerning ultimate reality, and one that is doctrinally identifiable (that’s a point hammered on this site over and over). And so atheists might decide to develop their own study programs and become credentialed experts in it. But they won’t do that. You know why? Because it would undermine their ability to make the ridiculous argument that they believe in “nothing.”

    Instead you get people who write their opinions about reality from all kinds of non-credentialed sources. Like these: Richard Dawkins (biology); the late Christopher Hitchens (journalism); Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett (neuroscience); Victor Stenger and Lawrence Krauss (physics); Phil Zuckerman (sociology). They’re not “credentialed” in the relevant subject at all. When they write and speak to persuade to atheism, yes, they’re “professional atheists,” just as much as pastors are professional Christian ministers.

    I’ve saved for last the question “[D]o you understand that once locked into a specific religious belief, it’s nearly impossible to free someone from it, with all the cultural underpinnings, being indoctrinated from childhood, etc.?” Yes. I do. Now apply that question to the “specific religious belief” of the default secularism of our society, or the blinders-wearing position of agnostics. Yes, I understand this all too well, hence this site.

    Thank you again for commenting. Your comment is thoughtful and thought-provoking. It is sincerely appreciated.

  3. I assume you would agree the ultimate consequence of choosing the wrong faith, be it atheism or any other religion, is the same – hell. So in that sense it “doesn’t matter”.

    I acknowledge that I may not be properly staying on topic with the associated post, and confess my rant is more of a general reaction to the accumulative posts. I am sorry for lacking focus.

    I wouldn’t say I find the notion of hell “offensive”, rather I believe it doesn’t make sense (that is, illogical) because it doesn’t seem to fit the “crime” of sincerely coming to the wrong conclusion based on an honest evaluation of evidence (evidence of course being in the eye of the beholder).

    We do certainly agree that we should try to make sense of reality given the evidence. So I’ll end on that note.

    Thank you for the reply.

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