This was a question I posed to a friend on a WhatsApp chat group because I suspected that a discussion was taking place without everyone first stating their assumptions (and those assumptions being properly qualified). For example, if we are going to blame God for this or that, surely we first all need to agree on a common definition of God, to be more specific, if you assumed God was not all powerful, could you at the same time blame him for allowing a natural disaster?
I’ve relayed the conversation as it happened (with some minor edits to the colourful adjectives to keep it family friendly!):
What kind of God don’t you believe in?
Okay, let me tell you what kind of God I don’t believe in:
#1. I don’t believe in a God who creates people who are so f*ed up that unless they repent they are doomed. It smacks of poor engineering.
#2. I don’t believe in a God who demands to be constantly worshipped as that smacks of narcissism.
#3. I don’t believe in a God who is vengeful as that smacks of an immature soul.
#4. I don’t believe in a God who has to command people to love him – smacks of neediness.
I could go on but you get the idea. I think people see God as they see themselves, hence these themes resonate with the masses and that is why religion evolves as humanity evolves – our gods who we pray to are a mirror image of how we see ourselves.
Before I begin we’ll need to accept some basic assumptions without which my responses will be pointless.
The first is that there is only one God and that he is omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere) and omnipotent (all powerful).
The second is that he made us like himself in terms of every aspect of our human personality functions (mind, will, emotions) (although he is, of course, quite different to us in terms of capacity, as per point 1, and in his degree of moral “rightness”. But you needn’t accept either of these latter points now, they still need to be argued later, I’m just putting them in for clarification).
The third is that God is rational i.e. his responses to a situation should satisfy conscience and logic (and by extension he doesn’t suffer from mental conditions like many humans in varying degrees).
Regarding the 3 core assumptions. I am okay with #2 and #3. For me it comes unstuck at #1. If there is a Source, or Divine Intelligence, as I prefer to call him/her/it, to me we as humans (souls) are shattered fragments of that. Imagine a bucket of water (aka God) and imagine each of us (each soul) is a drop of that. Although the bucket does not get emptier as the drops splash off. By now you probably think I’m bat shit crazy and maybe you are right. But I don’t think Jesus was kidding when he said “I am the son of God”. But he never said that everybody else wasn’t.
#1. (Design Flaw Objection): As I’ve mentioned, we were made like God in every function (mind, will, emotions) and at the point of creation (and for a period afterwards) the original design was “good” (referring to God’s standard of good i.e. without flaws/sin). Think of it as the perfect car rolling off the production line. But now God gave every car a driver (soul) with a free will. He also told man clearly “avoid that byway over there, there’s bad ditches and you’ll get stuck. In fact, you won’t come back alive”. Did man listen and apply his free will wisely? Nope, we applied free willy instead. Now if you think any of us would have been better than the original design, I’ll only point out the fact that I have now twice been stuck in ditches (in my car)…and leave you to do your own maths :-).
Jokes aside, free will was a critical part of God’s design because of the principal of love. The reason why God made us in the first place was because he had one Son but wanted a larger family**. Now, a family where we are all programmed to love regardless… well I think you’ll agree that this would be the truly flawed design. But, of course, with free will comes risk. Risk that your child will turn around one day and not love you/hate you/reject you. Listen to the angry song by Pink “What about us?” It’s incredible that we then project our failing to make wise choices back onto God as if it was his fault for making us with free will in the first place…
Knowing all this, would you even consider “programming” your child to prevent sin ever happening and in the process kill true love? I can give you a concrete example: Our Daniel (2y old) is in my opinion the cutest toddler around. But he only has eyes for his mother. In fact he sometimes screams when I just try to take him from her. All I want is the occasional cuddle to at least give me some feeling that this is a two way street. Yet I could never conceive of even thinking that I’d like it if he were “programmed” to love me just because I’m his father. I still remember vividly as a child cursing God because he didn’t help me when I was in trouble. What I conveniently “forgot” was that I was the main cause of my trouble. I hope I’ve made the point that we were not f*ed up to begin with, but each of us have made choices you get where we are.
**Slight aside: this is why God gave us the injunction to multiply. This wasn’t a crude command for us to go bonk and breed like rabbits. It was a blessing given by God to man and anyone who argues that sex isn’t a blessing obviously hasn’t had any. The Roman Catholic injunction that priests shouldn’t be married is nowhere in scripture (neither are priests, but that’s another discussion) and possibly the most destructive heresy ever. It came from a former Greek philosopher turned influential – but confused – Christian (Augustine). In the Greek worldview nothing in the physical realm could be holy so sex was a no no for priests. In fact many of the Catholic and Reformed churches’ skewed doctrines came from this man and unfortunately his extra-biblical views have probably informed most of our views of God. Point being, this is a straw man argument against God.
#2. (God’s Worship/Narcissism objection): In the ancient world, worship was primarily expressed in the sacrifice to idols. In most middle-eastern cultures e.g. Caananite it involved super-heating a golden bull statue and then throwing live (human) babies into its furnace as a sacrifice. See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/
Now before we assume God’s command RE worship and idols is irrelevant today, we all still worship something or someone – it is that thing to which we direct all our time and attention. It could really be anything, a hobby, a specific possession, our work, a loved one etc (e.g. my neighbour absolutely worships his new Merc, he literally bows down before it daily and cleans and polishes it in a weird obsessive ritual). The problem is that all worship, if directed towards an imperfect “object” will inevitably result in harm to yourself or others to a greater or lesser degree, even if it’s just lost time or affection. On the other hand, if our worship is directed towards something truly good, then it will have a positive impact on us. An imperfect example of this would be a “good” role model. So contrasting the extremes of Molech and Yahweh I think the point why God gave the first commandment becomes clear.
But now let’s talk about the real issue: man wants to be in place of God. We consider ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution, we consider our wisdom in making our own laws as ultimate, our definition of right and wrong as supreme. God’s command is an affront to these ideas. Interestingly, not many people complain about the second commandment Jesus gave to love one another. We like that in principle. The problem is we are incapable of practicing it because of our human nature (ref. your first question). We need the first command, which addresses our nature by pointing us to the perfect goodness of God, to be able to fulfill the second.
As to the claim that God is a narcissist because of this command, the fact that he would send his only Son to die for the redemption of a race that had rebelled against his lordship, is testament to the exact opposite. Every other deity requires others to sacrifice for it, God, however, made the ultimate sacrifice for us.
No doubt statements like this will anger those who hate God and therefore detest being told that he alone should be given the biggest honor, but I’m just giving you my honest answer. I’m not very political correct, sorry, and you did ask the question 😉
#3. (God’s Vengeance objection): You’re using human definitions and standards to judge God on this point. The fact (again one you may not like, but I’m just answering your question) is that this is God’s world, not ours. And we are cocking it up royally. God has given us thousands of years of grace in the sense that he hasn’t wiped us off the planet, which he’s entitled to do since we’ve broken every house rule. If a people (take your pick of just about any ancient near eastern culture e.g. philistines) decide that they will worship Molech and this in practice requires them to actively sacrifice their children alive in the mouth of a superheated idol and they do this for hundreds of years, is it wrong for God to command Israel to wipe them out? Maybe by U.N. genocide laws, but it’s not the U.N’s planet and quite frankly I’d pick God’s side on this. And as much as I’m no supporter of the catholic church as you’ll have gathered, watching the movie Apocalypto puts some perspective on God “using” one people to judge another where a greater moral good is at stake (b.t.w. he did this regularly with Israel in the opposite direction too, so his justice was not “biased”)