It’s Time For a New God

My misgivings with the deity most Christians believe in began during my college days. I attended a conservative religious school. The administration of the institution tried to steer the bulk of the student body towards being pastors or missionaries. One tactic they employed was to make us feel guilty about the “billions of unreached people” who would go to Hell because nobody preached the Christian gospel to them.

I recall the man who taught my New Testament introduction class saying that God had provided the means for humanity’s salvation on the cross, but that He left it up to the church to spread the news of that provision. Thus, anyone who did not hear about Christ in this life, for whatever reason, would be tortured forever to satisfy the “justice” of the Almighty.

So, for the Buddhist monk who died five minutes after Christ issued the Great Commission, there was no slack. He was toast. Same for the Native American shaman an ocean away, and the folks in sub-Saharan Africa. According to Professor Richard Collier of Toccoa Falls College, they were all equally screwed.

Not only would things turn out horribly wrong for those poor souls, but matters would not go well for us at the Final Judgment either, if we heard God’s call to preach and ignored it. At the very least we would watch as the unsaved were tossed into the Lake of Fire. And Jesus would be forever disappointed with us for letting it happen.

But the hereafter wasn’t our only source of anxiety. Like most young people, we were concerned with our futures here on earth. We wondered how we would make a living, who we would marry, and how we would ever repay our student loans with the tiny pay most ministers earn.

Not to worry, we were assured. God was in control, and would care for all of our needs. Our job was to simply step out in faith and we would be miraculously taken care of. To reinforce this message we were told apocryphal tales about cash strapped clergy who the Lord had miraculously provided for. We all knew the story about the pastor whose church couldn’t pay him a proper salary, but who received a check in the mail just in time to pay his rent and buy his family some food.

For some reason the man’s name and location were never mentioned, so we were unable to verify the account.

Another yarn peddled to us concerned two missionaries lost in the jungle and on the verge of starvation. Weak with hunger, they collapsed to the ground, and as they did one looked up and saw a nearby fruit tree. Struggling to his feet, he picked the sweet produce for him and his companion, and they regained their strength and went about the work of evangelizing the locals.

Exactly who this devoted pair were remained a mystery, but we were assured the story was true.

Needless to say these wonderful tales clashed with reality. The little town the college was in was filled with graduates who had finished school deeply in debt. Unable to raise financial support to be pastors or missionaries, and without marketable job skills, they labored in low paid factory jobs, stocked shelves at grocery stores, flipped burgers or waited tables for their former classmates.
There were no miraculous checks showing up in their mailboxes.

Like all people of faith, our trust in our beliefs was tested from time to time. Particularly tragic was what happened to the Dean of Men’s daughter, a lovely young girl named Kimberly, who was traveling in a car that struck a tree at a high rate of speed one sunny afternoon. She flew through the windshield and into the large oak that the vehicle had collided with. She was rushed to the hospital and the entire campus prayed intensely for her recovery. For the first few days after the wreck it seemed that God was listening, as reports came from the hospital that she would be fine.

Then about five days after the accident she slipped into a coma. She was dead within seventy two hours. It seemed the God who routed checks to cash strapped pastors and grew apples for starving missionaries was unwilling to intervene in her case.

Not that this caused any of us to lose our faith, of course. The power of the human mind to rationalize unwanted news is nothing if not astounding. I recall one of my classmates saying that a pair of people had gotten saved after hearing of Kimberly’s death. “I can see why God would let her die,” he opined, “if it would save two souls from Hell. It was worth it.”

One friend of mine chose not to dismiss her doubts so easily, and she approached a professor with her concerns. Instead of addressing the issues she raised he told her that she needed to “surrender her rights to the Lord,” including her right to question her faith.

I share these bleak memories with you to illustrate the kind of God that too many people believe in:

1.) One who tosses people into Hell for not believing the correct facts about Him, even if they never had a chance to hear them;

2.) One who has a highly detailed plan for our lives, including our choice of vocations and the exact identity of our spouses;

3.) One who provides for his followers, unless He sees that sacrificing one of them will gain him two additional pawns for His chess match with the Devil;

4.) One who demands we stop thinking for ourselves and blindly trust what we are told by ecclesiastical authority figures.

Over the years I have watched dozens of old friends who believed in this God degenerate into bitter, enraged and pitiful caricatures of their former selves. And it’s little wonder that they’ve turned out that way. Committing one’s heart, mind and life to such a deranged Creature is like being married to an abusive, alcoholic spouse.
The victim is worn down by the need to make excuses, to rationalize, and to blame oneself for the failings of their partner.

This goes on year after torturous year, until finally they realize how deeply they have been betrayed. When that dark day arrives there is nothing left but a final plunge into nihilistic despair.

It’s said that we all create God in our own image, and I wonder how sick the people were who invented this Cosmic Despot from their fears, hatreds and insecurities. Their twisted view of the Almighty has haunted humanity for too long. It is time for their God to go.

All well and good, of course, but then the question comes to mind of what kind of Being will take his place. That’s the topic I will be exploring in future posts. We’ll explore how powerful God really is, how He can and cannot intervene in the universe, what Christ’s death really means for us, the kind of life Jesus wants us to live, and how we will be judged in the world after this one.

In the meantime I close with a prayer for my old mentors and fellow students. It’s based on a quote from Voltaire which I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing for the occasion:

“May the true God of the Universe, who doesn’t send people to Hell for other’s actions, doesn’t micro-manage His children’s lives, doesn’t treat us like pawns, and doesn’t demand that we commit intellectual suicide – may He forgive the pitiful creatures who blaspheme Him.”

To which I say a hearty “Amen.”

Hell is for Christians

You’ve heard of Christian love and Christian charities. You’ve probably even heard of Christian tee shirts and DVDs. But I want to tell you about Christian scandals – or at least one in particular.

Imagine something with me: two men are on trial. Both are guilty of murder.

One was reared in a home where he was beaten daily by his parents. He was born with brain damage due to his mother’s use of alcohol and drugs while she was pregnant. When he tried to gain an education he was denied books and the chance to attend school. When he got old enough to seek a job he could only get the lowest paying, most menial work imaginable. In his entire life he has never had a reason for hope.

The second man was born into wealth. From his earliest years he has had the finest of care, the best teachers, and every advantage that can be had. He has never been abused, hungry or in want of any kind. He attended the finest schools, where he was taught by philosophers and theologians of great wisdom. He was admonished by them to always be humble, to look for the best in others, to seek the good of the community before his own.

Again, both these men are guilty of murder. The poor man stabbed a passerby for his wallet so he could buy drugs. The wealthy one poisoned his business partner so he could gain control of the firm. Each crime was abhorrent. Each was committed in a callous fashion. Each is inexcusable. Neither man has shown remorse.

Of the two, who is more deserving of the maximum punishment allowed by law?

Most persons would agree that the second of the pair should receive the greater penalty, simply because he was shown so much of the noble and fine side of life. And they would be right. Those who have more beauty, intelligence, privilege, power, money, wisdom, opportunity, etc. simply have less of an excuse for screwing up than those who came into this world with the odds stacked against them. Jesus saw things this way, hence his statement “to whom much is given much will be required.” (Luke 12:48)

Christians have been given much in the way of moral wisdom. The man they call their Lord and Savior was a model of compassion. He urged his followers to love others, to return evil with good, to meet brutality with forgiveness, to be harder on themselves than on others. Most of them have read and learned these words all of their lives.

And that is why they are without excuse, when they stir up hatred against Muslims and members of other faith communities. They are without excuse when they lie about President Obama’s place of birth or religious affiliation. They are without excuse when they demonize homosexuals, a people group that Christ never mentioned once.

They are without excuse when they form alliances with politicians who favor the wealthy over the poor, in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus. They are without excuse when they spend vast sums to build giant churches, when Jesus would have used those funds to help the poor.

They are without excuse when they cry “Socialism!” every time the 1% are called upon to pay more, yet never mention the evils or excesses of unrestrained Capitalism.  They are without excuse when they offer excuses for greedy CEOs that chisel away at pay and benefits so they can pocket more cash.

They are without excuse when they have a comfortable home, a full belly and a reliable car, yet claim that they’re not rich.

They are without excuse when they condemn godless atheists like Karl Marx and praise godless atheists like Ayn Rand.  They are without excuse when they look down on self-serving hate merchants on the Left, while cheering on Ann Coulter and
Rush Limbaugh.

They are without excuse when they fear militant homosexuals and not militant homophobes.

They are without excuse when they point the finger at everyone but themselves for the problems of the world. They are without excuse when they blame the media or liberals or Lady Gaga for the decline in church attendance, when in reality it is their own hateful and vindictive spirits that have driven seekers away from Christianity.

They are without excuse when they sing hymns of love during the morning service, and an hour later leave a paltry tip for the waitress who is trying to feed her kids on a tiny income.

They are without excuse when they send pennies to a starving child in Brazil, yet refuse to buy the fair trade coffee that would enable the child’s father to provide for his kids himself.

They are without excuse when they run their businesses for the sake of profit, and not for the good of their customers and employees.  They are without excuse when they don’t offer health insurance to their workers, and when they oppose efforts to make sure that everyone has access to quality medical care.

They are without excuse when they cheer at the news of a man, any man, being killed, and try to justify such sentiments with words from the Bible. They are without excuse when they say that God cares more about a person’s theological views than the condition of their heart.

They are without excuse when they call others false teachers, heretics, or servants of the Devil, when in fact their own twisted, hate-filled hearts make them twice the servants of evil than those they so quickly condemn.

And they are completely, totally without excuse, any whatsoever, when they say that others are destined for eternity in torment, while they are safe because of a prayer they prayed when they were a child. They are without excuse when they think that their intellectual assent to a list of truth claims is anything like the faith that opens the doors of heaven.

And yet even a cursory look at American Evangelical Christianity shows that it is rife with these sorts of evil, hypocritical monsters, who see everyone’s faults but their own, who condemn the world while filling their store houses with its treasures, and who would turn that same world into a nightmare of ignorance and intolerance if given the chance.

They are the ones Jesus spoke of in Luke 12:47-48, when he said that those who know the right thing to do and fail to do it are the ones who will receive the greatest punishment.

And that is why Hell is for Christians.