Wednesday, March 4, 2009

God, the Devil and You

god, satan, devil, good, evil, christian, christianity, jesus, bible, religion, morality,
Daniel Florien at unreasonable faith wrote an interesting post on how christianity hinders maturity. That post inspired me to write on a topic that has long bothered me about christianity- and when I say "long", I mean since I could tell you how old I was using my fingers.

The point of Mr. Florien's post is that christianity externalizes morality. There is no goodness for goodness' sake- all morality comes from god, and without god no one is moral. Hence this frightening episode:

For example, one time I was talking with a pastor about atheism. He said, “Let me tell you something. If I wasn’t a Christian, I’d have no reason to be good. Live up life! If someone offended me, I’d kill them. If was attracted to a girl, I’d rape her. Why would I care? Without God, there is no morality.”

“Surely you’re exaggerating simply to make a point,” I replied. “I don’t think you’re capable of such a thing.”

He looked me in the eye and said, “I’m not exaggerating.”

What disturbs me is that not only does christianity externalize morality, it externalizes good and evil. (Just to avoid the inevitable "Ah-ha! I've got you! You really do believe in god!" comment, I am using "good" and "evil" in the generally accepted sense of the words. Everyone who speaks English knows exactly what I mean, and I'm not here to reinvent the wheel.) Every bad thing is the work of Satan, every good thing is the work of God. In case you're not familiar with the way fundys view Satan as a clear and present danger in our lives, review this poem. (If you're interested in poetry, go someplace else.)

I understand the urge to externalize evil. It isn't easy to look at oneself and say, "yes, that is who I am. I am capable of terrible things. In fact, I have done terrible things, because I wanted to." It is far easier to say, "I was weak and fell for the devil's ploys. That wasn't me, though. All I did was let the devil use me to further his plans."

The problem with this is that we cannot conquer evil unless each and every one of us admits that we are the evil. It is inside us all. It is our responsibility and ours alone. Christians make this impossible. They are like a small child who breaks a vase while alone in a room and then says, "ummmm . . . Timmy did it!"

The converse of "the devil made me do it" is "god made me do it"- the externalization of good. It is the natural byproduct of externalizing evil. Christians cannot look in the mirror and say, "I am the good. It is me. I do good things because I choose to and I can choose to do them every day." This, too, makes it difficult to conquer evil in our world. Christians simply shrug at this and say, "Well, if god wants good things to happen, they'll happen. If not, bad things will happen."

To the christian, humans are like living puppets, null states of morality, stuck in neutral until some greater force- god, satan- intervenes. Like any puppet, we are powerless to effectuate change, powerless to choose, forever condemned to being pulled this way or that as something else twitches our strings.

This view of humanity is so bleak, I wonder at those who choose it. Is personal responsibility really so frightening that trading it away is also worth giving up hope? My only possible conclusion is that the concept that we choose the good and the evil and that our choices change the world is too much for them. It is too much responsibility. It is frightening. What offers the atheist hope offers the christian only fear.

Where do we go from here?


  1. Don't be so quick to attribute such beliefs to ALL Christians. There are many "brands" of Christianity, and they don't all believe the same thing. That particular type of belief is more prominent in Baptist and Pentecostal groups, but it is hardly the belief of ALL Christianity.

    The Bible does talk about men's conscience coming from God, but that doesn't necessarily mean that one must actively be practicing Christian faith in order to HAVE a conscience. It's my personal opinion that drawing that conclusion is a gross misinterpretation of the Bible and misrepresentation of Christian tradition.

    In fact, I think it WEAKENS tradition. It's one thing to say that the evidence of a conscience and drive to love shows that there must be some sort of absolute good and saying that the only way to have a conscience or offer love is through Jesus.

    There's another Biblical passage where it says that all good and all faith are born of Christ, which causes another misinterpretation (that you must confess Christ to be saved) where in context it's much more sensibly interpreted as that Jesus is the CREATOR of goodness and faith. (In the beginning was the word (Christ) and the word was with God and was God...) Anyway, it's all worth discussing and debating.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that 1) I take personal exception to your attributing the kinds of beliefs you're talking about to ME- I'm a Christian and in ministry and I absolutely do NOT share them and 2) the fact that there's a whole realm of belief that you don't seem to be aware of.

    The Bible really never DOES say that everyone who doesn't believe in God will burn in hell, or even that you need God to be Good. Thank the LORD (*snerk*) because obviously the existence of Ghandi and the Dali Lama seems to prove the fact that such a belief is a fallacy.

    And I'm going to stop rambling now.

  2. you are absolutely correct that i should make it clear that i am not talking about the majority of christians, and i apologize for that.

    in general, when reading an atheist's rant against christianity/christians/christian practices, etc., it is helpful to keep in mind that we are speaking to/of/about christians that represent a small, but very vocal, minority.

    this minority attempts to legislate religion, hates atheists, and generally is not a force for good in the world.

    again, i like you and your beliefs, the same as i like the slacktivist and a number of other christians that i know. all of you seem to be sincere, caring, giving people who work toward the betterment of humanity, rather than trying to tear it all down, and i do appreciate it.

  3. "It isn't easy to look at oneself and say, "yes, that is who I am."

    It may not be politically correct for me to say so, but, as a white, anglo-saxon, middle class able bodied male, I have no one to blame. If people don't like me I can't say "Oh it's because I'm a catholic" or "oh, it's because I'm Mexican"
    If someone doesn't like me I have to consider the idea that "oh, it's because I'm an asshole"

  4. LOL! if you ever get held down by the man, you probably know him by name!

  5. Unfortunately, people use "God made me do it" as an excuse for doing horrible things. I'm pretty sure someone has committed a hate crime and rationalized it as "God wants me to do this".

    If one accepts that God and Satan are asymmetric in power, with God being omnipotent and Satan not, it becomes impossible for both to exist simultaneously. If Satan is evil and less powerful than God, and God is opposed to all evil, God could either get rid of Satan or reform Satan for good. Either way, an omnibenevolent omniscient God cannot exist simultaneously with a less powerful evil entity.

  6. I tried to have that conversation with someone recently, making that exact point (clearly god wants satan to do terrible things to people and clearly god wants people to burn in hell, because he could certainly stop it if he wanted to) and the ultimate reply was "that puppies and kittens god you believe in doesn't exist [you ignorant atheist you]!"

    um, what?

  7. i thought i posted this...? you haven't moderated me yet, so maybe something happened on this end. so, here is what i tried to post a few days ago (friday night. which is why i hadn't looked until today, you are never on on the weekends, i'm pretty sure)

    ok, so supposing a God in the Christian sense. assume this omnipotent etc being. Satan? Lucifer? Asmodeous? (ok, Asmodeous is from D&D). these aren't rebels, they don't have FREE WILL. Man has free will, Angels are close to god and have immortality and power and great terrible beauty. NOT free will.

    these aren't rebels. their entrapers. they are there to do what God wants them to do - tempt men, in whatever form, and test them. scare them into reform, and if that doesn't work, tempt them to so much sin that they HAVE to go to hell which (i think) has a wonderful prison-to-work system...

    but all of that is assuming this sort of God. i don't assume a god with this attitude. i DO, when i contemplate Christianity, wonder if Yaweh and Lucifer are brothers of a sort...

  8. blogger's ridiculous. better than wordpress and typepad, imo, but still dysfunctional.

    the problem you're having with satan (be'el zvuv in hebrew: lord of the flies) and xtianity is that none of the stuff xtians believe about satan, heaven and hell are actually in the bible. the average xtian conflates the bible, paradise lost and dante's inferno as if they were all the same text. in fact, angels aren't described as perfect, pretty humanswithwings, they are described in Ezekiel 1:2-18 as

    I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, 5 and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, 6 but each of them had four faces and four wings. 7 Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, 9 and their wings touched one another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.

    10 Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out upward; each had two wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering its body. 12 Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. 13 The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. 14 The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.

    15 As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. 16 This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. 17 As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about [d] as the creatures went. 18 Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.


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