Responding to “10 Myths About God” (3 of 3)

Christian mythsLet’s conclude our critique of a Christian ministry’s video series of ten myths about God (part 1 here).

Myth 7: People are basically good. The Bible says that we have an inherent dignity and that there’s good within us, and we’re created in the image of God. But the guys reject the idea that we’re good at heart. No, it’s like humans are infected with a virus. Our hosts wallow in descriptions of our corruption, depravity, and rebellion against God and in the hopelessness of our condition. (Color coding explained in part 1).

I’ll agree that people suck sometimes. We’re not much, but we’re all we’ve got.

But we start looking pretty good when you consider what mankind has done that God didn’t. We’ve ended slavery as an acceptable institution in the modern world, we feed billions of people with industrial agriculture, and we’ve improved the health of the world through vaccines, antibiotics, clean water, and so on. Human society is far from perfect, but it’s a lot better than the Old Testament society that God was responsible for.

Myth 8: All paths lead to God. Remember the story of the blind men and the elephant? Each one felt a different part, and each came to a different and incomplete understanding. This myth says that Jesus is like the elephant, and different cultures just describe him differently. But no, the video dismisses this and tells us that the message of Jesus is an exclusive one. “No one comes to the father but by me” (John 14:6).

To the idea that the sacrifice of Jesus would be called just one path of many, one host called this a slap in the face of the father. I disagree. I don’t see the slap since the “sacrifice” wasn’t really that big a deal.

We’re told that the other options are wrong but are given no reason to accept the Christian path over the others. Or why any religious claims are correct.

Let me sketch out the obvious natural explanation: life is scary, and our fragile, imperfect minds have cobbled religions together to help explain the things that go bump in the night. The answers offered by Christianity were okay when it was the only game in town, but it’s not anymore. Humanity has grown up, we have far better explanations, and it’s time to leave childhood superstitions behind.

Myth 9: I go to church, so I’m a Christian. Just like being in a barn doesn’t make you a horse, being in a church doesn’t make you a Christian. Don’t be like the Pharisees, who focused on the godly appearance.

They say that the church is about fellowship and relationship. It’s easy to understand the community among people in church, but isn’t it ironic that God isn’t as obvious? What does that tell us?

Myth 10: Satan is the opposite of God. The myth is that God and Satan are like yin and yang—equal and opposite forces, and we can only hold our breath, hoping that God wins in the end. It’s like comic books where the superhero is equally matched to the villain, and we’re on the edge of our seats until the last scene.

The truth, according to the video, is that this is actually the most boring and mismatched matchup ever. God could, in an instant, wipe out Satan’s works and even his existence. Imagining Satan defeating God is like imagining any of us defeating God. But since Satan has read the Bible, he knows how it all ends. Why then imagine him putting up with the charade?

Yet again, I wonder if the boys have actually, y’know, read the Bible. For example, it wasn’t Satan in the Garden of Eden, it was a talking serpent. To imagine it was actually Satan in disguise is simply to map Christian thinking into a non-Christian story. The book of Revelation vaguely makes this argument, but it’s not justified.

We see Satan in one of the Bible’s oldest books. In Job 1:6–12, Satan is “the adversary,” like a prosecuting attorney. Here, “Satan” is a title, not a name. Far from being God’s sworn enemy, Satan is simply God’s handyman or assistant. Satan tests God’s people to make sure that they are as stalwart as they appear.

Only later in the Bible do we see Satan or the devil as a bad character.

[Jesus said,] “Away from me, Satan!” (Matthew 4:10).

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

[The angel] seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years (Revelation 20:2).

We can see the complex background from which our modern idea of Satan as a villain arose when we consider the many names and ideas that are often conflated: Satan, Lucifer, Leviathan, Belial, Beelzebub, the devil, the dragon, the serpent. That we do see Satan as evil in the New Testament only argues that the idea has evolved and that we’re reading a library of manmade books.

Any being that wants to be worshipped
has shown itself to be unworthy of worship.
— commenter Without Malice

Photo credit: WSJ

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The Hypothetical God Fallacy

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  • MNb

    @7: you failed to address one important point. We need to distinguish between mankind in general and specific individues. The first says nothing about the latter and vice versa. It’s a mistake I have seen apologists make on this very blog, always connected to the doctrine of sin.

  • Nemo

    Regarding point number 7, I’d just like to point out that Christian apologists love to insist that only in their “worldview” can humans have any worth, despite Christianity saying the exact opposite.

  • TheNuszAbides

    “The answers offered by Christianity were okay when it was the only game in town,”

    not to mention that it was only able to achieve that status by alliance with warlords…

  • Kodie

    I take a lot of this metaphorically and don’t have a problem with it. It gets warped when you say something like Satan is trying to tempt people from this or that, but the truth is it’s easy to make bad decisions and to continue bad habits. The bible lists what is good and what is bad, and a lot of these are just arbitrary. The fear is that making a bad decision will lead to disastrous results. This is made up into a story about getting into heaven or ending up in hell. You must strictly work very hard to maintain good attitudes and good habits. The part about us being sinners I have always thought that we are fairly weak-willed animals some of the time, but what I don’t get is how this is resolved via religion. Religion seems to prey on this human aspect more than anything going. It preys on the emotions and the want to be loved and known deeply, no matter what, the want to be fixed from whatever we don’t like about ourselves, the fear of dying and potential conditions of afterlives, and the major imperfection of gullibility and lack of the development of critical thinking in favor of mere survival.

    I think nobody thinks mere survival is satisfying. Working to eat, eating to live, and living to work is something I have a huge problem with, and this is where “meaning” comes in. Religion is like taking a “meaning” pill. You don’t have to break out of your trap, your routine, and maybe you can’t, and you toil your life away to create another generation, and the mere survival of our species. Without god, how can li’l ol’ me label any of this “meaning” something, when after all, this is how animals live. It feels like it means more than that, I’m able to imagine that it does, so it must. I really think we’re a stupid kind of animal with some bright thinkers showing the rest of us the way sometimes, and more pressing matters that take over critical thinking and logic, and a somewhat innate ability to exploit (maybe innate?). I have more to say (probably) but have to get going with my day now.

    • Annerdr

      If you have no meaning in your life, you might want to consider finding some. A job that you are passionate about, volunteer work, build a sense of community — things that mean something to you.
      EDIT: Sorry, Kodie. I clearly didn’t read your post well. I agree with you. If we can help people find more meaning in their lives, do you think they would then be somewhat more likely to leave their religion?

      • Kodie

        You’ve missed the point completely.

        • Annerdr

          I re-read, but couldn’t delete my comment. I was hoping no one would notice. Shhhh!

      • Kodie

        Well the problem also lies in the message that they’re not worthy of assigning meaning to things, only god is, and only through god are any of the items on the list of things most people enjoy or would enjoy able to feel meaningful to them. If we’re after all only animals, who gives a shit, is what they think. And yet they are all mouth with judging whether or not anyone else led a meaningful life, like whether they had a family, whether they worked, or derived pleasures that many cannot, like world travel or whatever.

        I’ve been watching this series on PBS about genealogy, Finding Your Roots, indulging celebrities with a trip through their family trees, and note the relatives they pick out to tell the stories – which is, not everyone. Mostly not anyone has a “meaningful” enough life for someone to dig up hundreds of years later, much less maybe 25, and tell a fascinating story to anyone. And it’s funny, and I’m taking a broad brush here, but people seem to want to know more about someone dead for hundreds of years than their neighbor. People have a strong need to justify taking up oxygen on one hand, and feel entitled to more than you on the other. “I’m here because…” Animals took a boat ride. Maybe that’s what Noah’s Ark is all about – animals took a boat ride, yadda yadda yadda, I was born.

        Now I’m just freestyling. Carry on.

    • MNb

      I’m a lucky bastard who finds meaning in his work and hence enjoys it very much. But yeah, just my work is not enough.

    • smrnda

      I think most religious people probably find meaning in the same things most non-religious people do. My work is decent, I have hobbies, friends, cats and good things to eat and drink. Plenty of religious people just add ‘and I have these things because G-d’ whereas I skip that step.

      With religion, it’s always seemed more of a hobby, social club and such for most people. I’d imagine in the total absence of other positives, the ‘meaning’ from religion is more significant.

      I look at that the way I find people can push themselves to endure pretty lousy conditions if it’s for some better purpose. Sort of “I want to get a better marathon time, therefore, I will start running at 0500 during the winter every day this week.” Or “I will live super cheap since I want to take a trip next year.” Religion just pushes the reward to after death.

      • I’ve had Christians challenge me on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, and they’ve said, “Aha! But who do you give thanks to?! Gotcha!” As if just being thankful for my own good fortune plus being appreciative of all the important people in my life isn’t sufficient or has a gap of some sort.

        • smrnda

          For thanks, gods are most notably absent in terms of the things we have we’d be thankful for. If I was thanking a god for Thanksgiving dinner, I’m erasing the people who actually grew the food, who made it, where the money for buying it came from.

        • Pofarmer

          That’s why the Catholic meal prayer bugs the shit out of me.

        • The Issues Etc. radio show and podcast (Lutheran) has a number of taglines. One is, “Thanks to God’s gift of the internet …”

          Wow.

        • MNb

          The majority of mankind is not thankful on Thanksgiving, neither on Christmas.

        • Yeah, but it’s American Thanksgiving. They do know that, right?

    • adam

      Satan?

      they have imaginary friends why not imaginary enemies?

      http://foreveryoungadult.com/2013/09/19/netflix-fix-animal-odd-couples/
      If you have netflix, this is a very interesting movie that demonstrates than animals find meaning in their lives as well.

  • Sophia Sadek

    It is true that people are inherently good. It take religious indoctrination to train them into a regime of vicious brutality.

  • Scott_In_OH

    Re: #10

    God could, in an instant, wipe out Satan’s works and even his existence.

    And yet He doesn’t. Why is God such a prick? (Restatement of the Problem of Evil)

    • adam

      Since there is no ‘god’ or ‘gods’ outside the human imagination, it isnt that God is such a prick (in this one case anyway) it is that the politicians need a boogie man to rally the people around in murderous rampages when it is needed to exploit the resources of other countries against their will.