It has been almost four years now since I’ve become an atheist. I wrote a lot about my experiences and my intellectual stances during the first few years, but it occurred to me recently that I’ve not written any sort of atheistic essay since then. Thinking that perhaps it was about time to do so, I began to wonder what, if anything, I needed to add to my arsenal of acerbic ramblings on this topic. That led me to revisit some of the old theology that I used to subscribe to… back when I was still lost and tangled up in the hopeless religion that is Christianity. When you’ve been removed from that cesspool of absurdity for long enough, you begin to look at your prior beliefs with a different lens than you did when you first left the religion, assuming you came to atheism from Christianity, as many do. So it was with me. I spent a few days pondering the nature of the God I used to believe in, and some new insights occurred to me, insights I intend to share now.
Perhaps it was because I recently re-watched it, but there was a certain episode of South Park on my mind during this time. It was the episode where Stan Marsh encounters Jonathan Edward, the famous (and bogus) medium. After a heated exchange of differences, Stan calls Edward a “douche,” at which point the alleged psychic starts throwing a childlike tantrum, stomping his foot and whining in this ridiculous voice that he’s not a douche and that Stan better shut up if he knows what’s good for him. And that, if you ask me, is exactly what the Christian God is like. Just watch South Park’s portrayal of Jonathan Edward in that episode, and you’ve got the full measure of the biblical God.
Allow me to explain what I mean. Picture, if you will, some entity that is supposedly a “perfect deity.” Imagine that this being decides to create some toys to play with. But when he’s done making them, he observes in his lofty wisdom that they are not perfect like he is. They are less than him since, even though he made them, they themselves are not divine like he is. And so, immediately after having made them, he looks upon them with disdain and judges them for being what they are: 1) less than him, and 2) imperfect creations wrought from his hands. In his displeasure at these imperfect toys he’s created, he throws a tantrum, stomps his foot, crosses his arms, and, with some pouting, says to himself: “I’m too good for these imperfect things. I shall therefore destroy them.” So he picks the toys up and, in his tantrum, throws them against the wall, at which point they shatter and are thus no more.
What could be said about this so-called “perfect deity?” I know what I would say about him. I’d say he’s a spoiled brat with no comprehension of the consequences of his actions. I’d say he’s an uninspiring, run-of-the-mill specimen, no different than the billions of snotty kids that have come and gone on this planet.
Suppose he doesn’t destroy the toys right away. Instead, he decides to subject them to ongoing punishment for being less than he is. So he erects a “reality” around the toys, a rigorous, cruel one that is designed to test them, perfect them, and weed out the good from the bad. He makes this reality as difficult as possible, then hides himself from the toys while, at the same time, demanding that they love and worship him. He offers no reason for their love and worship other than that he’s perfect. “I’m perfect and you’re not,” he whispers from some unseen location, “so serve me and adore me and praise me and revere me.” And when the toys demonstrate their inability to do so (because, let’s face it, you can’t love someone who’s absent and nor revere someone who’s acting like a pissy little brat), he is further angered and decides to create a “place of eternal punishment.” Not just a regular place of punishment—no, an eternal place of punishment, where their violation, which is nothing more than the result of their natures (which he created), can be horrifically penalized unendingly in a manner that surpasses time.
What now could be said about this so-called “perfect deity?” Words like psychopath and sadist come to mind. I mean, what would be said about a human who behaved this way? If a mother has a child and then punishes it ceaselessly for being imperfect, or for one measly offense that in no way measures up to the corresponding wrath, we would call such a mother a “monster,” take the child away from her, and subject her to legal and psychological correction. But no one raises an eyebrow when the supposed God of the Universe is portrayed this way by the Christian religion?
Suppose these “toys” our little psychotic child has created aren’t just inanimate objects but living creatures with feelings and vulnerabilities and fears and reasonable proclivities for error given their imperfect nature (which they didn’t ask for) and the incongruities of reality (which they didn’t choose). What could we say about a God who judges them? I just see South Park’s Jonathan Edward stomping his foot and getting all pissy, ranting at us with that ridiculous voice, saying, “But I created you. You’re supposed to love me. It’s not fair. I’ll get even,” at which point he decides that nothing will satisfy his displeasure with his own creation except the shedding of blood. Someone has to die. Blood has to be spilled. Atonement must be paid in full. It’s not like he decides to just man up and accept that he created something faulty. No, he removes his own complicity in the matter and puts it all on the living toys. “Your nature displeases me,” he says, “even though I’m the one who made it. Therefore, I shall sacrifice something that is perfect, shed its blood, and use that blood to mollify my irritation. Yes. In fact, I think my own son would be a good candidate for that. Where is he? I’ll make him die. That’ll make up for the fact that I created something faulty.”
This is fucking insane.
And yet, when you really think about it objectively, this is, in essence, the basic assertion of the Christian religion. God is perfect, the Christians say, and he created us. But he can’t look upon us for being less than he is. So, even though it’s not our fault, we are subjected to eternal punishment unless we employ this thing called “faith” and decide to worship the God who wants to punish us if we don’t. Who can honestly look at the gospel of Christianity and describe it any other way but this? It’s as if this God is saying, “Believe in me and you shall be saved from what will happen if you don’t believe in me.”
And this, we are told, is love.
Oh, certainly. Yes, I know my wife would just love it if I held a knife to her throat and said, “Think worshipful things about me or you die.” What an inspiring act of love that would be. Or if I hid from her, never letting her see me, and demanded that, in order to escape certain death, she love me in spite of my conspicuous absence. I mean, you can’t even make this shit up without people wondering if you’ve got a few screws loose, and yet this is the pill Christianity wants you to swallow.
Now, I am not perfect. I’m not even that intelligent compared to some the other human specimens lurching about out there in the world, but I am smart enough to know that if I fold a piece of paper into an airplane and it doesn’t fly, the error was most definitely a result of my poor engineering. I wouldn’t get mad at the piece of paper. It’s not like it did anything or had any say in the matter. I wouldn’t zap it into oblivion with a death ray and think, “How dare it be less than me!” But then again, I’m not the insane, crybaby God of Christianity.