Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why Atheists would Disobey God

As one wanders through internet conversations, it is common to see an exchange like:

Christian: What would you do if you were convinced there was a God?
Non-Theist: If it turned out to be the Tanakh God, I wouldn’t worship it, because I find such a God to be a monster.
Christian: Oh, you just don’t want a God; that is why you claim to be a non-theist.

The problem with this exchange is that the participants are talking about different perceptions of God. Two different Gods, in fact.

Richard Dawkins is quoted as saying:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully

And Christians find this offensive, because they view this same God as an all-loving, all-merciful, all-grace creature that would never, NEVER perform an immoral act.

Let me try and put this in perspective. Think about the nicest, kindest person you know. The person who you would nominate as “Most Moral Person Alive.” The type of person who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Got that person in mind?

Imagine this person rushed up to you with a kitten and said, “Quick, bash this kitten on the ground, killing it!”

You would probably pause and a few questions would cross your mind. Sure, this is atypical and so out-of-character, you would think they MUST have a good reason for such a request. This is so unlike anything they have ever done, and this is the nicest person you know. To kill a kitten? Something doesn’t add up.

Secondly, you might ponder why they don’t do this deed themselves? Why do they need to involve you, as they seem perfectly capable of killing this kitten if it is so necessary?

Thirdly, you might question the rush. Why must this kitten die right now? Is there some disease? Is it rapid? Is it carrying the plague that will end the world?

Despite your past dealings, you are going to hesitate. You are going to question why this person wants this kitten to die right now.

See, you have your own moral barometer. Your own moral determinator causing you to question the morals of another. Even a person—up until that very minute—who you thought had the same moral barometer as you did. A person who would never want to kill a kitten.

This is why atheists would question God. A Christian envisions a God who would only ask his followers to do a moral act. A Christian envisions a God who, if asking the followers to kill a kitten, must be asking the Christian to be doing a moral act. A God who, if asking its followers to kill another human, must have a moral reason and justification for that human’s death.

We do not share that same vision! We have our own moral determinations that would question such an action. Now, it is possible some God could provide extremely convincing proof another human would die, but we would still be left with the question as to why God doesn’t do it in the first place? If God has the ability, justification and moral reasoning to kill a human—why involve me in the first place?

Personally, with my understanding of morality, I would seriously question anyone who blindly followed such an authority simply because it was an authority. Think of this scenario:

King: Subject, kill your son as proof of your loyalty to me.
Subject: O.K.
[kills son]

Do we read that and nod our heads, thinking, “What a great moral act?” Of Course not! Every fiber in our being says, “Wait a minute, something is wrong, here!” Yet this is the God the Christian is surprised we would dare question (Gen. 22:1-2):

God: Abraham, kill your son as proof of your loyalty to me.
Abraham: O.K.
God: Good job!

If this was Allah, Christians would use this scene to point out the atrocities of Islam. Instead, they smile and pat Abraham on the back for being such an obedient doppelganger to whatever God orders. I would have more expected:

God: Abraham, kill your son as proof of your loyalty to me.
Abraham: O.K.
God: You ignorant dolt! That was a test to see if you had any sense of morality at all and you failed miserably. Don’t you question even child-sacrifice? What is going to happen, a dozen years from now, when some priest says I want a child-sacrificed? Are you going to so easily and readily give up your child, simply because you think I ordered it? Can’t you even crawl, morally, on your own?

See Christians, when they hear we non-believers have the audacity to question the morality of their God are aghast. Non-theists, when we see how believers are willing to do anything if they think their God ordered it, are terrified.

While I do not live in fear of Christians thinking God has ordered to genocide me…well…at least not yet…Christians do feel justified to deny homosexuals the right to marry, to ostracize non-believers, to treat women as second-class citizens, to support the battiest of candidates—all because they think their God ordered it.

I wish they could see why we question the morality of such decisions.


  1. you're missing a tail portion of this blog, methinks :)

  2. The idea that someone would deny the reality of an enforcing agency just because they disagree with the rules being enforced is deeply irrational. It's logically possible that atheists are that irrational, but without supporting evidence, the hypothesis is undermined by its irrationality. Certainly I don't deny the reality of the federal government, even though I disagree with many of the rules it enforces.

    Also, Christians seem to view God's omnibenevolence as a metaphysical principle; God is good by definition, therefore anything He commands is therefore good, valid (if not sound) logical deduction. Skeptics infer the goodness of an agent from its actions: a good agent is one who does good actions. As you note, this implies that human beings can make independent judgments about what is or is not good.

    Indeed, to a skeptic, deferring one's day-to-day moral judgments to any other agent under any circumstances is itself deeply immoral in itself. Such deferral is the essence of slave morality. Deferring moral judgments even to democratic governmental institutions is (or should be) abhorrent: it is not the case that some activity is immoral because it is illegal; an activity ought to be illegal because the people consider it immoral.

  3. This is a superb post!!! I just posted a snippet on my blog and recommended folks come over here to read the whole glorious piece. You've outdone yourself! Bravo!

  4. larry, the "omnibenevolence of god" is one of the first teachings i questioned that led me away from christianity, and for the reasons you described.

    i find this post extremely true. christians judge others and themselves, but never judge god. if they did judge him according to his own criteria, they would find him very much lacking, if not outright criminal.

  5. Well said indeed. Got referred here by Taoist's blog.

  6. Yes, the concept of one God as described in the Tanakh versions is troublesome. That God is indeed an unpleasant fellow and as such was perfect for keeping the mostly illiterate folks at the dawn of civilization in line. He was obviously an amalgamation of different concepts and the result was a useful and creative representation of a deity by all the early scriptural writers. These scribes did the best that they could and set down what they believed was the customary societal interpretations appropriate for their place and time. To try and equate their limited capacity for literary interpretation with modern standards is not very useful. It makes more sense to believe that some of these writers knew that their target audience would not be able to grasp the complicated abstract themes of an all knowing and powerful being and had no choice but to keep descriptions to an earthly plane. It stands to reason that those descriptions carried with them each of the authors’ personal quirks and biases with some being somewhat extreme by today’s standards.
    I imagine that if there are 6 billion people alive today, there are probably close to 6 billion different Gods. I had to say “probably” for those few who totally dismiss the concept of God altogether. ;-)

  7. Christians do feel justified to deny homosexuals the right to marry, to ostracize non-believers, to treat women as second-class citizens, to support the battiest of candidates—all because they think their God ordered it.

    Indeed SOME Christians might feel justified but not all. IMHO, Christianity has never been an all or nothing endeavor and the rules as set down in scripture have mostly been interpreted by its followers to be just a set of suggested guidelines. The literal interpreters have always been outside the mainstream and confined to a small segment of zealots.
    The formation of attitudes described above cannot be considered exclusively as a result of Christian teachings but may be ascribed to a variety of learned behaviors and societal factors. I agree, however, that anyone claiming a religious (not just Christian) justification, with the exclusion of any other reason for the above described attitudes, is at the religious extreme and not to be taken seriously.