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In response to the question that I posed at the end of my last post we might point to the (alleged) inherent contradiction in supposing that a God would issue commands for us that he himself is not willing to fulfill. It would not be reasonable for God to expect us to love our neighbors if he is cruel or callous. From a Christian perspective, at least, the message of universal love found in the gospels is incompatible with the supposition that God does not love all of humanity.
I think that this response is hopeless. Even granting that the gospels do contain exhortations to universal love of mankind, I don’t see this as evidence that God himself exemplifies this expansive benevolence. There are many reasons that a cold and callous despot might want his subjects to love and respect one another: it is more conducive to internal peace which is a necessary condition for a well-functioning economy, not to mention the fact that a loving polulace might be less likely to revolt. Obviously and all-powerful being need not worry about revolution and perhaps would not be overly concerned about economics, but he may be worried about the fact that constant fighting between his peoples means that fewer people will be focused on worshipping him. It is often man’s inhumanity to man that causes us to question God’s existence (e.g., Elie Wiesel began to lose faith because of his experience in the Holocaust).
In short it is not a contradiction to suppose that God might exhort his creation to love each other while he is himself unconcerned with our individual welfare. His reasons may be completely self-centered; he wants a stable population to worship him and fulfill his wishes; and a populace that is committed to trying to live up to the ideal of universal love will be more likely to satisfy God’s desires.
The supposition that God’s commands should match (or flow necessarily from) his nature is, I think, unmotivated. It is reasonable on the assumption that God is good; since a good being would not expect things from us that contradict his own nature. But in the context of this investigation, specifically the attempt to find reasons for believing that God is good, this assumption begs the question.
Premise 1: If God is omnipotent, then he is able to prevent every instance of evil.
Premise 2: If God is omniscient, then he is aware of every instance of evil.
Premise 3: If God is omni-benevolent, then he wants to prevent every instance of evil
Thus, 4: If God exists then he would prevent every instance of evil.
Premise 5: There are a great many instances of evil.
Conclusion: There is no omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent God.
During class discussion of this argument, a couple of students pointed out, correctly, that God does not come across as omni-benevolent in the Bible. One very bright student said that he never was told that God is all-loving and asked why it matters whether he is or not. “Ah” I said, “If God is not omni-benevolent, then why should we worship him? Can a being that commits or allows evil be worthy of worship?” Standard question, stock response.
But then the student says, “We worship him because we want to get into heaven.”
“So it doesn’t matter whether God is uncaring or callous, we should worship him for the reward?”
I probably shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised by this answer. “Isn’t that self-centered in a way that completely contradicts the message of the gospels?” I asked.
“Well we care about others and want them to be forgiven also, so that is why we spread Jesus’ message.”
A wonderful solution to the problem of evil. The conclusion is fully embraced, there is no omni-God; but there is a God who created us, expects certain things from us, and can punish us for failing to live up to his expectations. So why don’t more theists take this way out?
Those that believe tend to believe in a God that is good. Why?
Well, the Bible and tradition have said that God is good. God created us, why would he hate his creation? God loved the world enough to send his son to die for our sins.
I’m sure there are other answers. But they all reveal a troubling lack of imagination. Of course the Bible says that God is good; because the Bible was inspired by an evil God who wants us to believe that he is good. Of course the Holy Spirit inspired the Church fathers with an image of divine love, because God wanted them to transmit a false message. His only interest was to get people to believe in God to bring about the inevitable power struggles and wars that would be fought over the correct characterization of this belief. He knew that people would be reached by a message of divine love and redemption. Once the ball got going, he could just sit back and enjoy the chaos.
Of course he sent a man to earth who preached a revolutionary message of love and forgiveness and of course he wanted this man to die. He made sure that people would believe that this man was their savior and the their sins could be forgiven so long as they believed in him. Isn’t it so obvious that this emphasis on belief as the defining element or religious faith would facilitate the coming battles between groups that had different understanding of what that belief must consist in? -“We believe that Jesus is both the son of God and also identical to God.” -“But that’s not possible. We believe that Jesus is God’s son but then he can’t literally be God.” -“Well, you’re a heretic.” And God knows what we do with heretics.
A good God would not make it a condition for avoiding eternal torment that we believe that a man born 2000 years ago was both the son of God and also God and that he died for our sins. This is just too much to ask of a person who could not possible know any of these things directly. It is much more likely that this is the work of a divine troublemaker.
Alright. This is only partially facetious. I do believe that positing an evil God who has been systematically deceiving humanity since the beginning is at least as consistent with the facts as the supposition of a good God. So what decides the matter? Why believe in the good God rather than the bad one?