Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Who Does God Cheer For?

My best friend is originally from New York and has always been a Giants fan. Our 20+ years of association (has it been that long?) causes me to equally support the Giants when they play anybody except my poor Detroit Lions. He was at our house for the Superbowl, each of us on the edge of our seats hoping the underdogs could pull through.

When the Giants gained the lead with only seconds left to play our entire house erupted with shouts and screams of joy. We were ecstatic.

The next day, I was talking with a co-worker who was at a party with predominantly Patriot fans. At the same moment we were whooping and hollering, they were swearing and punching fists in the air. They were enraged.

So what was your God doing at that precise second in time? Cheering? Jeering? Or ambivalent…it is just football.

See, we are social creatures. We react to both positive and negative reinforcement. If a crowd roars approval, or our spouses give support or our employers give a word of encouragement, we get a boost of confidence; a shot of adrenaline. We think we can take on the world.

As humans we react to those social signals. We also react to negative signs. All my parents had to give was a slight pursing of the lips, and I knew whatever I was doing needed to stop. A sigh from a spouse. A lack of laughter from an off-color joke. When we are in our social settings we are constantly interacting and reacting to the signals relayed back to us from other humans.

What reinforcement do you get from your God? As a Christian, I would have to honestly say I received silence. Sure, there were times I would talk to God, and as I was talking a solution would present itself in my mind, or I would feel better about a decision—thinking somehow God had given me an emotional pat on the back, or messed with the synapses in my brain to present the resolution. And I thanked him for it. But I never heard words. I never heard, “Good Job!” or “Bad job!” or “I don’t care!” What I heard was my own brain working.

At best all humans get is some type of feeling that somehow their God is saying something. I do not need to point out how humans vastly disagree with each other on these feelings.

And a second issue comes into play. As humans, when attempting to figure out other humans, we use ourselves as a baseline. We start with the premise what motivates us would motivate others. What we like; others like. Sure, we quickly realize other humans are different, but to start off, we presume they are like us.

I prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla. It makes no sense to me as to how anyone could like the blandest flavor in the word as compared to the rich, semi-bitter sweet wonderfulness that is chocolate. Yet I have heard such people exist. If you came to my house, and I offered ice cream, I will presume you would want chocolate. Because I would at your house. If you said, “No, I would like vanilla” I attempt to suppress my shock. If you said nothing, you would get chocolate.

In the same way, it always intrigues me what people think motivates others. I often think it says quite a bit about the person. Husbands who come to me claiming their wives are having an affair are often the ones guilty of it. Mothers fear the man will want custody of the children; that is the mother’s prime concern. And we all know the adage of people who don’t trust others are generally untrustworthy themselves.

We all start with the basic presumption other humans are like us, and then look for variances from there. We like chocolate; they probably like chocolate. We would have an affair given the opportunity; they would probably as well. What happens when we couple this with the lack of reinforcement from any God? I see many theists naturally veer towards a god who is similar to themselves. They don’t receive any positive or negative reinforcement to believe otherwise!

The way we are raised, and our social setting creates a conscience within us which many then equate to God’s approval or disapproval.

“God, I felt pretty good about giving to charity.”

“God, I feel guilty about seeing pornography.”

The lack of any response causes the theist to believe their God just supported their own internal feelings. Because they felt good about charitable giving and their God didn’t say anything otherwise—it must be moral. Because they felt bad about seeing pornography and their God didn’t say anything—it must be immoral.

We see it in history. Long hair “seemed” wrong. Felt wrong. So it must be wrong. Rock ‘n Roll felt wrong. In the southern United States, mixed bathing felt wrong. Alcohol feels wrong. Smoking feels wrong. Without any God giving yeah, nay or indifferent, people elevate their own feelings to claiming God must be against it. ‘Cause he isn’t saying he is for it.

I am seeing it in doctrinal shifts. People don’t like to be against homosexuals. Feels discriminatory in some way. So they claim, “I interpret the Bible to say…” and lo and behold the Bible no longer teaches against homosexuality. And the person knows its right, ‘cause it feels right. And their God doesn’t provide any negative reinforcement to claim it is wrong.

I am watching more and more god(s) being created in the Christian community as this person goes with their gut, eliminating Hell, but keeping homosexuality prohibited. Or that one eliminates both. Or this one eliminates inspiration. Or that one is pre-millennium. Or preterist. Or some faction of some faction of some faction. And it all “feels good” and it all must be true, because their God isn’t providing any negative reinforcement.

The answer to the question posed is quite simple. If you are a Giants fan, when Plaxico Burress drew that football in, and the numbers on the scoreboard changed, your God jumped up and knocked over the popcorn bowl.

Because that is what you did


  1. If you are a Giants fan, when Plaxico Burress drew that football in

    God HAD to have something to do with that! :-)

    I think the quick interpretations of silence are part of our culture's "Hot and Now" mentality.

    1 Samuel says about the days of Eli, "the Word didn't come around much in those days". That's why the written inspired Word is such a bestseller.

    BTW the Dolphins perfect season record is still intact. Thank God.

  2. I may agree with you here more than you realize. I agree that people often define their belief systems based upon what they want to believe. Paul specifically talked about this when he said that people would listen to those who were saying what their "itching ears" wanted to hear.

    Of course, that just goes to show how people arrive at their personal belief systems. It says nothing about what is objectively true.

    I also think you may find many theists (myself included) who will tell you that God has spoken to them, and not just in "feelings." We don't need to hear actual words in our head. God can speak to us through other humans in situations that would stagger the laws of probability. I have been in situations before where I have asked God a question or made some request of Him and had some complete stranger walk up to me immediately thereafter with a direct response to my question or request.

    Is it perhaps possible that by limiting what your ears were listening for to the proverbial "burning bush", you missed other times when God was speaking to you in other ways?

    Oh, by the way, according to most people in Texas, God wasn't cheering for either team in the Super Bowl. He is supposedly a Dallas Cowboy fan (hence the hole in the stadium roof, so He can look down on His team).


  3. What you say is not only true, DagoodS, but as ten minas points out, it's been said before:

    II Timothy 4:3-4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned into fables.”

    Matthew 7: 14 “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

    There is one thing that keeps us from that road, and that is not a questioning mind, but a disinterest in truth.

  4. Ten Minas Ministries,

    I find it curious your God would violate a human’s free will in order to give you a direct answer to your request, yet the most common defense of why the Christian God allows tragedies such as tornadoes killing 44 people is that God doesn’t want to violate free will.

    Apparently in your God’s priorities, answering your question is of greater import than saving lives. Odd.

    This is exactly what this blog entry is about.

    By what method do I determine when your god is speaking to me through other humans? I have had humans tell me rock ‘n roll is evil and from the devil. I have had humans tell me the beat is O.K. but not the words. And I have had humans tell me rock ‘n roll is fine. Which one (if any) was from your god?

  5. jennypo,

    You will find much of what I say has been said before. *grin* I just hope if I keep saying it, the theists reading will understand I am saying it about them--not the “other” theists.

    See, I am claiming you do this. And Ten Minas Ministries. And the author of 2 Timothy. And the people who chose 2 Timothy to be in the canon.

    I’m not posting this so theists will thump me on the back and say, “You go, brother. Shine that light on those wrong-minded theists.” I hope the theists use the entry to look in the mirror at themselves.

  6. DagoodS,

    I do understand very well the point you are making. We can only use such a criticism for ourselves, since you ask us to compare beliefs with desires and presuppositions - things that can be truly known only by the person who has them.

    However, the examples you use point out the discrepancies within so-called Christianity as a whole. I realize that this is the only evidence available. I am not, as you suggest, trying to defend myself or my own ideas, but Christianity itself.

    The Bible says that Christianity will appear just as you say it does. But there is a reason for it:
    Matthew 13:24 “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 28. ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. ‘The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29. ’No’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”‘

    Here is how Jesus explains the parable.

    37. He answered. “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38. The field is the world, the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39. and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41. The Son of Man will send out his angels and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

    I understand that you will call that my idea of Christianity, since you can only assume that it matches my own ideas, presuppositions, and desires. I, however, can compare the two. It is neither necessary nor possible to convince someone else that what I believe is not what I want to believe. You appear to know a little of the difficulty in this, as you have earlier explained in relation to others assuming that you chose atheism as an excuse to let go of morality. They may assume that, but only you can know it. In the same way, only I can know that the God I have encountered is no God I would ever dream up.

    What convinces me of God is that he is not as I imagined him. He is not as I even want him. He both frightens and surprises me. He is not comfortable. In fact, he continues to change my thinking and my expectations.

    It's not that I think your advice is not for me. It most certainly is for me. It is something I need to be continually aware of. But the problem you point out is in human thinking, not in Christianity.

    And just as you point out, the nature of this problem leaves us with this imperative: trustworthy knowledge of anything must come from outside us; from outside our own thinking and wanting and believing. I have heard many wax eloquent on the beauty of "faith" - but if that faith is in my own thinking, it's all hooey.

  7. Jennypo,

    How does your god Frighten you? How does your God surprise you? How does your God change your thinking?

  8. "I hope the theists use the entry to look in the mirror at themselves." (Dagoods)

    That's reall the best you can ask of us - and I tend to agree. I read the whole post and it is true - we all come up with various ideas for various reasons - however - I think that is good thing vs, such a bad thing...we are all unique (at least that's my opinion of humanity).

    That being said, having a variety of opinions is a good thing - it can help one to think through a tough issue and choose what they think is most accurate for their expereince (so far). Things do change though and people do grow - and sometimes what worked as a belief 6 years ago does not quite fit anymore. I find little problem with that type of thing - I actually think it is rather beneficial to the community and normal.

    I do think the throwing out of the 2 Tim passage by jennypo is a little strange - it's almost as if we all have to have the 'exact' same beliefs/truth...I don't think that is truth at all. I didn't beoome a Christian to become someone's clone - but to work through issues in my life. Now that I am much older in this faith (only 32 in real life though) I realize that varying opinions are good and challenge the hearer and the thinker - and discussion is what we need for change. I see change as a positive thing - and i se holding on to the 'old time gospel' of the 50's (and even further back) as somewhat destructive.

    Huamnity has grown in 2000 years - faith should also reflect that.

  9. "How does your god Frighten you? How does your God surprise you? How does your God change your thinking?" (DagoodS)

    To do this question justice requires more detail than it is fair to post in a comment, so I will prepare a post on this subject. Here's the abridged version:

    God frightens me by refusing to let his vast power be subject to my wants; by insisting on his purposes even when they cut directly across mine; by being too big and too high subjecting my life and my wants to his. Power that I can control, that serves my comfort, is comforting; but power that relentlessly serves a purpose higher than mine, that allows me to get caught in the crossfire, is scary.

    God surprises me by not being the person I expect; by being subject to reality in a way that he is not in my imagination. In my mind, no one characteristic of God has to have a bearing on any other characteristic, because he doesn't have to make sense except in the way I think of him. In real life, he has to be what makes sense even before I've gone over the parameters and the consequences of his characteristics; even before it makes sense to me. I have to know what he is before I understand why it's necessary for him to be that way.

    God rearranges my thinking by pointing out not only my weaknesses, but the core selfishness in my most prized strengths. He doesn't merely add to the established structure of my thinking - he shows me how my whole perspective has been skewed. He brings my thinking into line with what he teaches in the Bible, even when that means an entire paradigm shift for me. The more I learn about him, the less I trust myself.

    He gives me what I don't want - pain. I know you think that this is no proof, since we all have pain. But let me tell you what is different about the pain God gives: It doesn't result in distortions, resentment, weakness. Instead, it gives birth to love, joy, peace. The pain God chooses for me sets me free, every time.

    I am aware that my report of my own thoughts is no proof to you, so I don't pretend that this ought to be convincing to you. I do think it explains, unless I am lying or vastly more deluded than the average person, a little of why God is convincing to me.

  10. Thanks, jennypo,

    I guess I was looking for specific instances of a god intervening. Something different. Not a god concept which is basically a person doing what every other human does—living and coping.

  11. DagoodS,

    I'm not sure what kind of "interventions" you are interested in knowing about. Do you mean something "magic" or miraculous, or something in that line? Are you looking for details about how God speaks to me and how I know it's him? If it's interesting to you, I'll gladly explain as best I can.

    In any case, I am even more sure than you are that no comparison of my knowledge with my expectations, nor any description of my understanding will ever become convincing to you, since you have no way of ascertaining what either actually are. I am happy to contemplate your questions and explain as best I can, though I realize that the idea of a physical proof for a metaphysical being is ludicrous.

    I also understand that to you the possibility that I am either a liar or completely deluded is more convincing than the possibility that I know and am known by a the creator of the universe. That doesn't offend me. I don't expect to pull out some argument that will clinch the matter and convince you that, after all, I am right. In the same way, I can never know whether or not you are sincerely searching for truth or just looking for an argument, which is why I don't call you immoral nor do I criticize your complaints against the God I worship.

    But each of us knows the truth about ourselves, and that is the only truth that matters to each of us.

    I am content to understand your thinking and offer explanations for my own even while we cannot agree, but certainly, I don't expect you to change your thinking on my say-so.