Saturday, April 17, 2010

I Don’t Believe in Atheists – One

God Is Not

Some who claim there is no God argue against religions, superstitions, or human constructs and then assert that, since they have proven some point about their “straw man” of choice, they have disproved God.

God is not a book.

The Iliad, the Torah, the Bible, The Book of Mormon, and the Qur’an are all man made. The Book of Mormon admits this up front – on its title page. Quote, “And now, if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.” Close quote

The error of equating God with stories about him is illustrated in a PBS film, God on Trial. The premise of the film, which I understand is based on Elie Wiesel’s play The Trial of God, is a group of Jews, awaiting death in Auschwitz, who put God on Trial. The charge is that God, called the Lord, Adoni, has broken His covenant with the Jews. I have transcribed the dialogue from the final inquisition into God’s behavior through the questions asked by Zamkevitz, a mystical rabbi, to a young scholar, Idek.

Zamkevitz: “Who led the Children of Israel out of Egypt?”

Idek: “God.”

Zamkevitz: “Why were they in Egypt?

Idek: “The famine.”

Zamkevitz: “Who sent the famine?”

Idek: “God?”

Zamkevitz: “So God sent the Children of Israel to Egypt and God took them out of Egypt.”

“How did God bring the Children of Israel out of Egypt?”

Idek: “Moses asked Pharaoh.”

Zamkevitz: “And when Pharaoh said no?”

Idek: “The plague.”

Zamkevitz: “First Moses turned the Egyptian's water to blood, then God sent a plague of frogs, next mosquitoes, then flies, then He slew their live stock, next a plague of boils. Next, came hail that battered down the crops, trees, and structures everywhere.”

Idek: “Except Goshen, where the Israelites lived.”

Zamkevitz: “And then a plague of locust and then the days of darkness, and finally what?

Idek: “God slew the first born of Egypt.”

Zamkevitz: “He struck down the first born, from the first born of Pharaoh to the first born of the slave at the mill. He slew them all.”

“Did He slay Pharaoh?”

Idek: “No.”

Zamkevitz: “It was Pharaoh that said no, but God let him live and slew his children instead; all the children.”

“And then the Children of Israel made their escape taking with them the gold and silver and jewels and garments of the Egyptians. And then God drowned the soldiers who pursued them. He did not close the waters up so the soldiers could not follow; He waited till they were following, then He closed the waters.”

“Then what?”

Idek: “Well, the desert and then the Promised Land.”

Zamkevitz: “Now, the Promised Land, was it empty?”

“‘As Israel, when you come into the land you shall cast out many nations, nations much greater and mightier than you are. You shall smite them and utterly destroy them, and you shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.’ ”

“And He gave them a king in Saul. Now, when the people of Amalek met Saul’s people what did the Lord God command?”

Idek: “Crush Amalek, put him under the curse.”

Zamkevitz: “Was Saul to show mercy, to spare anyone?”

“Do not spare him but kill, kill man and woman, babe and suckling, ox, sheep, camels, and donkeys. So Saul set out to do this, and on the way he met the Canaanites (merchants). They were not Amalek’s people; he had no quarrel with them. He told them to flee.”

“And the Lord our God, was He pleased by the mercy of Saul, by the justice of Saul?”

Idek: “No, He wasn’t.”

Zamkevitz: “And when Saul decided not to destroy all the livestock, but to take them to feed his people, was God pleased by his prudence, his charity?”

Idek: “No, no He was not.”

Zamkevitz: “He said, 'you have rejected the word of Adoni, therefore He has rejected you as king.'”

“So, seeking to please the Lord our God, Samuel brought forth King Agag and hacked him to pieces before the Lord at Gilgal.”

“After Saul there came David; who took Bathsheba the wife of Uriah the Hittite by arranging to have Uriah killed. – Against the wishes of God.”

“Did God strike David for this? Did He strike Bathsheba? Adoni said that since you have sinned against me, the child will die.”

“You asked earlier, ‘Who punishes a child?’ God does.”

“Did the child die suddenly, mercifully, without pain? Seven days, seven days, that child spent suffering and died in pain; while David wrapped himself in sack and ashes and sought to show his sorrow to God. Did God listen?”

Idek: “The child died.”

Zamkevitz: “Did that child find that God was just?”

“Did the Amalekites find that God was just? Did the mothers of Egypt, the mothers, did they think that Adoni was just?”

Idek: “He was our God.”

Zamkevitz: “What, did God not make the Egyptians, their rivers, and make their crops grow? If not Him then who? Some other God?”

“And what did He make them for; to punish them, to starve, to frighten, to slaughter them?”

“The people of Amalek, the people of Egypt – what was it like for them, when Adoni turned against them? It was like this.” [He gestures to the death camp barracks.] Today there was a selection. When David defeated the Moabites, what did he do?”

Idek: “He made them lie on the ground in lines, and he chose one to live and two to die.”

Zamkevitz: “We are to become the Moabites. We are learning how it was for the Amalekites. They faced extinction at the hand of Adoni, they died at His purpose. They fell as we fall, they were afraid as we are afraid. And what did they learn? They learned that the Lord our God, our God is not good, is not good, He was not ever good. He was only on our side. God is not good! In the beginning, when He repented that He had made human beings and drowned them, why? What had they done to deserve annihilation? What could they have done to deserve such wholesale slaughter? What could they have done? God is not good. When He asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Abraham should have said no. He should have taught our God the justice that was in our hearts. We should have stood up to Him. He is not good. He has simply been strong and on our side. Who is to say God is not with the Nazis?”

Before the Judges can render their verdict, the Nazis come and march half the inmates to the gas chamber. The audience is left to judge.

This “trial of God” is typical of the attacks on God by some who claim to be atheists. The reasonable response to the foolishness attributed to Adoni is that the Torah was written to justify the actions of the Israelites and excuse their crimes. A reasonable answer to such a charge is that these unreasonable parts of the text have nothing to do with God. God is not unjust, and any scriptures that claim otherwise have nothing to do with God; and cannot prove anything about Him. One may as well talk about the chariot of the sun, the palaces on Mt. Olympus, the Spanish Inquisition, the mass human sacrifices of pre-Colombian Mesoamerica, or the terror bombers of 9/11. To justify evil in God's name is to lie, it does not indict God.

Reason explains the atrocities committed in the name of God to this day. Logic easily dispels all such similar attacks against His existence. This is so absolute a Law that it, in fact, reveals which religions can pretend to any claim to truth at all.

God is not unreasonable.

In his lecture, Faith, Reason and the University, given on September 12th 2006, Pope Benedict XVI also discusses this point. He quotes “. . . the dialogue carried on – perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara – by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. . . . The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur’an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man . . . the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. . . he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. . . “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably . . . is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats. . . To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death. . .”

The Pope goes on to explain that, “The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion [I would argue against injustice of any kind in the name of God.] is that: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to Gods’ nature.” He sums up the emperor Manuel II’s arguments with this powerful quote: “Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God. . ."

God is not a religion.


Reach Upward said...

Almost all believers in God would agree with the statement that God is the embodiment of all truth. Some would add that God is the embodiment of pure love.

While I think that most believers would agree that God is reason, I think that most would also concur with the suggestion that there is a qualitative difference between God's ability to reason and man's ability to do so. God's reasoning has a complete and true eternal perspective, while man's reasoning is necessarily finite and faulty.

What may appear unreasonable to man may indeed be reasonable to God, who alone has full command of all of the facts in their proper perspective. Thus, the warning voiced in some way in nearly all writ held by various believers to be sacred, not to charge God foolishly.

If one accepts the concept of an omnipotent God, one necessarily accepts his own limitations in the face of God's perfection. Given these limitations, it comes down to a matter of trust. Who or what do you trust to provide insight into God's reasoning when your own fallible reasoning proves inadequate?

Job says in Job 13:15, "Though he [God] slay me, yet will I put my trust in him." Similar sentiments are echoed in all systems of sacred belief.

Answering the question of who or what to trust in the face of imperfect reasoning is the thing that leads to the variety of actions we see that are done in the name of God.

Lysis said...

When Adam partook of the tree of knowledge he became as the Gods – KNOWING good from evil. The Spirit, or Light, of Christ is given to all men. God will not do evil things – only good comes from God. This is how we can judge – and judge we must!

Reach Upward said...

Agreed. However, the divine trait of humility must be applied to all judgment.

Jack Rawlinson said...

This is weak apophatic drivel, of course.

The refusal to define god by what it is, only what it is not, is as ridiculous and empty as trying to define an ice cream by what it is not. You go up to the ice cream van and the man says "What'll it be?" and you say "Well, I don't want an iced lolly." And the man says "So what do you want?" And you say "Well, are those chocolate bars you have there? I don't want those".

Keep that nonsense up in regard to anything and you'll get a well-deserved punch before too long.

This is the god of the guessing game. The great thing about this is that you can play it forever, can't you? You make your silly delusion untouchable by refusing to say what it is, only what it is not. People used to believe that god very much was accurately portrayed in the bible (and plenty still do). Then devious apophatic intellectual cowards realised this caused problems, so, like you, they said "Oh no, that's not where god is". Problem solved. Other people used to believe that god really was a man-like being who lived in heaven and then the smarter apophatic intellectual cowards realised that this didn't gel with modern cosmology so they said "Oh no, that's not where god is. You're so silly with this 'sky pixie' straw man stuff." Problem solved.

And so on. You can play this puerile, self-deluding game forever.

It's sort of like the god of the gaps. As rationalists keep shining the searchlight on "god" the apophatic intellectual cowards keep shifting their amorphous, shapeshifter of a god around in the darkness that remains, never defining it, never allowing themselves to be pinned down, never realising that the more they do it the more desperate and pathetic and absurd they appear to rational people. It's like they're constantly trying to hide their invisible security blanket because they know, deep down, that it really is invisible and they hate to hear other people pointing that out. Can't bear it. Can you? But I'm afraid we see through it. It's always easy to see through things that aren't there.