Friday, February 22, 2008

A good reason to be happy

I realised today that I have a very good reason to be happy. No matter what other misfortune I experience, the fact that the Judeo-Christian god almost certainly doesn't exist is a cause for great cheer. This might seem a strange thing to say, but the Bible describes the character of this god in some detail, and it is not one of absolute goodness. Rather, God is portrayed as belligerent, bloodthirsty, vengeful, jealous, and megalomaniacal. Those who doubt this should read the texts for themselves. It is disingenuous to attempt to define God as omnibenevolent, when the contrary evidence in the Holy books is there for all to see. Words can have no use if we can just redefine to suit our own tastes.

If such a god existed, and was present in our daily lives, then there is every reason to think that life in this theocracy would be similar to that in a totalitarian state. If we go by what the Bible tells us, then there would be no democracy, no freedom of speech and movement, no equality of sexes or races, slavery would be acceptable, blatant homophobia would exist, and death would be meted out for a large range of supposed crimes. Moreover, it would be totalitarian to an extent only dreamed of by leaders such as Stalin, Mao, and Kim Il-sung. As God knows your very thoughts, the level of surveillance and control would be absolute. You can’t even escape through death, as eternal punishment awaits you.

Of course, we might say, contrary to all of the evidence, that God is not like that, and would not institute such a system. However, such Christian luminaries as Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther paint a very different picture, with their support for blasphemy and other imaginary crimes being punishable by death. Some Christians might object that the New Testament gives a far kinder message, as preached by Jesus, and describes the new covenant between God and man. However, the New Testament still contains various odious strictures to hate one's family and abandon it (Matt. 10:35-37, Matt. 19:29, Mark 10:29-30, Luke14:26 etc.), and to kill disobedient children (Matt. 15:4-7, Mark 7:9-10). Furthermore, the second coming will see the destruction of any who do not accept Jesus (Matt. 10:14-15, Luke 10:12, Matt. 24:37, 2 Pet. 3:7,10). And God promises further death and destruction (Rev. 6:8, 8:7, 8:10-11, 9:13, 17-18 etc.).

However, the worst aspect of the New Testament is that it introduces the abhorrent concept of eternal punishment in Hell (Matt. 7:13-14, 13:42, 25:41, Luke 3:17 etc.) - which tells us much about God's personality. In some Christian worldviews, the avoidance of hell comes by accepting Jesus as one's saviour - which therefore condemns to hell all those who existed before Jesus lived, who don't hear his message for any other reason, or who have heard his message but have chosen to reject it in favour of some other belief system or of none. Some other Christians subscribe to the idea of predestination, in which entrance to heaven is down to God's personal whim, with those he rejects for his own inscrutable reasons being consigned to eternal damnation. Some Christians at least preach that entry to heaven is based upon the deeds of one's life, but it is still absurdly harsh to commit sinners (including those whose only 'sin' is a very rational lack of belief) to eternal punishment.

Moreover, the whole concept of the New Testament preaching a kinder message implies that God's personality or teachings have changed from those described in the Old Testament. But surely this cannot be so, as this would imply some sort of moral development or improvement on God's part, but he is by definition omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect. As such, how can he improve, and for what reason could he ever change his mind, since he already knows all there is to know?

For further evidence of God's character we need only look around us. What kind of an all powerful being, given an infinite amount of time, would come up with our world with all its attendant suffering? For most of human history, the majority of people have led short, brutal lives, and have died in pain - being killed by other humans, natural disasters, animals, hunger, thirst, or disease. Every day millions of people suffer and die horribly for no apparent greater reason, and no obvious benefit to themselves or others.

The whole of the natural world is so engineered that animals must compete for finite resources, and must kill and eat each other in order to survive. Sure, it might all be for some mysterious greater reason that only God knows about, but that type of ad-hoc reasoning could be used to justify anything. And trying to justify all of this suffering by recourse to the benefits of human free will, as a means of spiritual or moral growth, or as a test fail dismally too. The existence of human free will is a moot topic in the first place, with determinism and compatibilism arguing that it is fully or partially illusory, but is irrelevant anyway when considering suffering caused by natural disasters (earthquakes, floods etc). Furthermore, an all-powerful God could surely have created a system in which we had free will, but made it a law of nature that we could do no harm to others.

And, when it comes to moral development, surely God could have created humans to be virtuous and morally good in the first place, without any need for self-improvement. Even if some amount of suffering is necessary in order to allow for such virtues as compassion and heroism, the vast quantity of suffering present in the world hugely outweighs any supposed benefit. Was all of death and suffering of the concentration camps justified so that a few people would have the opportunity to be saintly? Further, some good people suffer terribly, whilst other bad people do not suffer at all. Why is that? Also, much suffering goes unseen by others. How is this beneficial to the sufferers?

The idea that our actions and our choices to believe in God and Jesus or otherwise are some sort of test is equally absurd. What need does God have of tests since, being omniscient and omnipotent, he must by already know what the outcomes will be? As he does know these outcomes, to choose to create human beings who he knows will fail his tests, and thus be consigned to hell, is the work of an horrific sadist.

Is the creator of all this the type of being whose rule we would want to live under, and who we should praise?

No, I for one am very happy that such a god almost certainly doesn’t exist

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